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The Great American Run: Our Highlights
Now everybody returned home safely after the rally, it’s time to review. First of all we like to thank the organisers and the crew for putting a great event together! This article brings you our personal highlights of the coast-to-coast adventure!
This years Great American Run had two different start locations: Around 35 cars started in Miami on sunday evening and about 45 teams started in New York at the same time. After 4 days on the road all teams got together in Las Vegas and drove the final leg together to the trackday at Willow Springs Raceway where the final timing for the 61 mph challenge was held. After a couple laps (in a convertible) in 110 degrees fahrenheit (43 degrees celcius) the teams continued to the Biltmore hotel in downtown LA for the final dinner and award ceremony.
Our highlights from Miami to Los Angeles:
Start in Miami
The weather was certainly not a highlight at the start in Miami: with more rain then sunshine the day of the start, my image of Miami as a place where the sun always shines and the girls walk around in bikini every day is destroyed forever… Still can’t believe nobody told me to bring an umbrella! But as always there’s something on the bright side, before the start we met a lot of the Cannonballers that checked in at our Great American Run forums and we definatly had fun together! After checking in with Jo and Nina we had a little bite in one of the casino’s many restaurants as we knew we wouldn’t have much time to eat during the first stage of the rally. The first briefing gave some insight in our fellow rally drivers: only 10% of the teams had done a similar event before and 60% was driving a rental car. After the usual organiser chit-chat about rules and who not to call when in jail, we were good to go and made our way to the startline.
Leg 1: Miami to New Orleans
When we got our first routecard we got what we expected with a twist. The first checkpoint was indeed in New Orleans but we had to follow a designated route. This route took us over Tampa instead of the faster and shorter Florida turnpike over Orlando. The first 400 miles we saw a lot of other Cannonballers, then after our first stop for gas it became quiet. We drove for another 250 miles without seeing anyone. One of the Chrysler 300C hemi’s (#49) blew past us to be stopped by the police a couple miles ahead, he only got a warning for tailgating (still can’t believe it!). Another 100 miles down the road we pulled in for gas the 2nd time. While we set a new fill-up-and-pee record in 4 minute something we expected to be somewhere among the first 6 cars. Only 5 minutes after our little break a trooper on the other side of the road clocked us when we came over a little hill (even the valentine1 couldn’t save us), he immediatly turned through the median and pulled us over. 97 in a 70, 200 something dollar fine. But the US is nothing like Europe where you can pay on the spot and even get away with a little cash-discount, you have to send the money somewhere before you leave the country. Some people obviously didn’t post it but they will have a hard time getting into the country next time.
In the meantime while we were standing there on the side of the road for 15 – 20 minutes we saw 8 Cannonballers driving past us. Among them were Molly Saleen, the red and blue Mustang convertible, the #49 300C and a couple Corvette’s. That’s when we realised we were the leading car and worked like a cop sweeper for the cars behind us. After that we were more cautious in corners and over hills to make sure we were not pulled over again. Soon we started to overtake them again, one by one. After we crossed from Florida into Alabama the roads were really empty and we didn’t see a single cop until we reached the city limits of New Orleans. We figured there were maybe 4 cars still ahead of us when we drove into New Orleans, a couple minutes later we found ourselfs 2nd only a few minutes behind Molly Saleen in the pink Saleen. The BMW M5 (#112) pulled in 10 – 15 minutes after us immediatly followed by the red Mustang convertible. Minor detail, the checkpoint wouldn’t open until 9am in the morning and we arrived at 4:15am almost 5 hours before the checkpoint opened. There was no crew present yet and the hotel wasn’t really expecting us, but we managed to get a room and take a well deserved nap.
After a New Orleans sightseeing tour by car, we gathered in the hotel for the first dinner together where the winners of day 1 were announced (closest to 61 mph average winners that is). Scott stole the show by walking in with the bar and making drinks at our table. After dinner Greg and Tim (#333) as Louisiana locals showed us their favorite Karaoke bar on Bourbon street. The french quarter had plenty to offer so some of us stayed out all night to party.
Leg 2: New Orleans to San Antonio
After a very fun night out in New Orleans we left the hotel at checkpoint closing time while most of the teams left at checkpoint opening time. After about an hour on the I-10 I got a call from Greg that they stopped somewhere in Lousiana with the film crew and a couple other teams, so we pulled over and had some lunch with the others. After lunch a couple local cops showed up and were willing to give us a police escort on the highway towards Greg and Tim’s house. So we pulled out with some big burnouts and waited on the onramp until the cops came to close down the highway for us.
After this very friendly police escort we stopped at Greg’s house for some refreshments and fresh material for the film. After saying good bye to the families we carried on towards Houston. With just the four of us (#333, BMW M5 #26, Lotus and us #34) we got a good pace all the way out of Louisiana into Texas. Brian had a scary moment when the tyre of the car next to him popped and the car crashed into the wall. We were driving right behind it and captured it all on video (coming soon). Near Houston we took the exit and made a rather large detour to the Houston Space Center. We never had a chance to visit it before so we thought during the rally would be a good time. After a small tour of the vicinity we had to buy some souvenirs in the shop and that’s when we stumbled upon two orange astronaut suits. We had to get those! So we bought them and arrived in style at the checkpoint in San Antonio. As we were the last to arrive 2 minutes before the checkpoint closed there was little time before dinner and we didn’t even make it up to the room.
During dinner Hece insisted to show us the best drink for astronauts. After a quick stop at Coyote Ugly and another bar we called it an early night.
Leg 3: San Antonio to Tucson
The next morning I got a wake-up call from one of the checkpoint girls who wondered where we were since they were about to close the checkpoint at 8.30am, a simple ‘in bed’ was enough for them to slide our mission for day 3 under our door and around 10am we left the hotel for the next destination: Tucson. Day 3 was a very long drive of more than 900 miles, we kept a good average until a Texas Trooper pulled us over.
This was at least a quick stop, he probably pulled over 15 Cannonballers already that day and he wrote the ticket quickly without asking to many stupid questions. After a couple hours we overtook the Mustang with number 366 and not long after that we saw the Mercedes CL 500 (#54) on the back of a towtruck going to wrong way, later that night when they made it to Tucson they explained some of the wheel bolts broke and one of the wheels was about to come off. There was some kind of police meeting in El Paso and we were lucky to drive past it just when it ended… This resulted in an unwanted police escort from at least 4 police cars all the way into New Mexico. When the police finally left us alone we saw a sign on the side of the road ‘Zero visibility possible’ and had to laugh about it as the sun was shining. Little did we know that 5 minutes later we ended up in the worst rain / sandstorm ever. We couldn’t see more then a couple meters and it was the first time we were glad the highways are straight as an arrow for ages! Around 8pm we arrived at the beautiful hotel in Tucson and were greeted with some cold coronas (thanks girls!).
The winner of day 3, Team 21, managed to get an average of exactly 61.000 mph (respect). It was another easy night for most of the drivers with Las Vegas awaiting them the next day, some however decided to hang outside the bar and enjoy the view of the valley with a bottle of Tequilla.
Leg 4: Tucson to Las Vegas
The next morning something got into us and we even made it to breakfast on the way to the startline. We were 8th car to start just a couple minutes after the checkpoint opened. As usual we tried to keep a steady pace all the way to Vegas. As we took a little detour getting to the hotel the night before I remembered a faster way to get out of there than the route suggested by the crew. While approaching Phoenix we overtook the car that was first to leave that morning. After Phoenix it was all roads with oncoming traffic, hills and bends making it more fun to drive for us Europeans. Suddenly team number 6 popped up in our rear view mirror, at first they followed us but we knew they couldn’t resist overtaking us. We lost sight of them to find them on the side of the road a couple miles later, their car hit the ground when they overtook a truck earlier so we thought something was broken, but it was to late to stop so we pulled over at the next gasstation, to our suprise they drove past us a little later. We got back in the car and went in pursuit. A bit later they were on the side of the road again but this time with a lot of smoke coming from the car and both Scott and Eric waving us to stop. We stopped and asked them what happened. Eric said maybe the car is leaking gas or oil so he had to move it, suddenly they jump in and take off leaving us with a smokebom in the middle of the road… They got us! A trucker nearly gave them a bit of payback when they slowly tried to get back on the road with spinning tyres in the dirt. The semi was driving about 75 mph and had to stand full on the brakes not to hit them.
Next stop was Hover Dam 20 miles outside of Las Vegas. Team 6 arrived there first followed by us in the Corvette and Team 112 in the BMW M5.
This unofficial checkpoint was our last stop before the official checkpoint at Eurotech Motoring in Las Vegas. There we met up with teams from the NY route, among them Team Punisher and Roush05 from the forum and Great American Run organiser Tim Porter. The Venetian was our hotel for the night and we rushed down the strip in pursuit of Tim Porter and Molly Saleen to get to the hotel. Of course Vegas means you have to make a little bet in one of the casino’s so that’s what we did before heading over to the tallest building of Nevada: The Stratosphere tower. Just before we had dinner in the top of this observation tower we experienced some of the best thrill rides. My personal favorite: Insanity: The Ride
A massive mechanical arm extending out 64 feet over the edge of the Stratosphere Tower at a height of over 900 feet, Insanity spins the passengers in the open air at speeds of up to three ‘G’s. During the ride people are propelled up to an angle of 70 degrees, which will tilt your body into a position – facing straight down!
We also did the Big shot, but when it comes to gravity it was nothing compared to the moments we had when Sten took over the controls during our little sightseeing tour by plane in Norway last year. Anyway after the big shot we had to rush back to the restaurant to join the other Cannonballers for dinner. Some courses and wine later we grabbed a limo back to the Venetian and partied the night away in TAO’s nightclub, special thanks to the guys from Bespoke International for the great night there!
Leg 5: Las Vegas to Los Angeles
The last day, once again the rally flew by in no-time and we couldn’t believe it was almost over already. First we had to get back to Eurotech Motoring for the opening checkpoint, due to an accident on the highway the checkpoint opening time was delayed till 9am and we had some time to recap the previous night with other drivers. When at 9am the checkpoint opened we were the first of the Miami group to leave. As soon as we hit the highway the yellow carrera GT and a couple other cars blew past us followed by a helicopter with the film crew onboard. The cops got word of their movie style driving and one by one they were pulled over. The cops only tailed us for a while but never pulled us over. We pulled in at the checkpoint at Willow Springs in time to fix our average so we were confident of a good time. After a couple laps around the track with the roof down and the aircon off something started to smell a burned, still not sure if it was the car or one of us but it was definatly hot out there. We were hungry and still had to sort our tuxedo’s for the night so we left the others to it and headed for Los Angeles.
Few hours in traffic later we got to the Millenium Biltmore hotel in downtown LA and immediatly tried to find a tuxedo rental place, the congierce in the hotel was quite useless, sending us in a random direction for 3 times and I think the 4th time he was only right because we already went North, East and West. Everybody gathered all dressed up down in the bar until at 9pm the dinner started. Directly after dinner the winners of various awards were announced. But most people were waiting for the overall winner. First the runner up of this years 61 mph challenge was announced and it happened to be us! We still can’t believe we went 0.016 mph to fast over a distance of more then 3000 miles. The winner was team 13 with a Saleen Mustang, they had a total average speed of 60.991 mph, congratulations! They were very happy with their prize: a brand new Saleen Mustang!
1 #13 Saleen Mike Jones & Steve Games -0.009
2 #34 Corvette Des & Hece 0.016
3 #112 BMW M5 Dana Bonik & John Betchell 0.046
4 #30 Chrysler 300 Scott Wetmore & John Diniakos 0.118
5 #202 Audi A6 Jimmy Ramsey & Rick Barringer 0.139
6 #66 Porsche Cayman S Jeff Osler & James Cochran -0.144
7 #67 Cadillac XLRV Bud Wentz Jnr & Bud Wentz Snr 0.224
8 #18 Saleen Nick Fluge & Bill Lowblad 0.263
9 #117 Mercedes S600 Jeff Yarchever 0.326
10 #22 Porsche 911 Ron Paasch & Gary Dattner 0.450