Over the next few weeks, we are going to take you from the genesis of the endurance road trip to the modern international road rally. Each day we will share a bite sized history lesson about the development of this motorsport. We hope that you’ll join us for this absolutely fascinating ride.

This is post 2/5 covering our participation in the 2012 Dustball Rally.

7/31/2012

6:00 am My cell phone is shrieking. It seemed like it was still 3am. I made a mental note that last night’s to-do list may have been a little much.

A few hours earlier I crafted an infographic about the event, our team, the competition, and our arsenal. I named it “DIE FEINDEN PILOTEN”, The Enemy Drivers in German, in homage to rally legend Alex Roy’s 7th chapter in “The Driver”. The chapter discusses how Alex meets his fellow Gumball drivers for the first time, the intimidation of the other cars, and the overall uncertainty of rallying for the first time. We were going to experience that same situation today.

6:55 am The DFW drivers are gathering at 7 at a McDonald’s a few miles west of Fort Worth. We’re late. The short ride to the meeting point was an ideal time to explain to Marcus, the black #85 Team SportsCarHunter’s BMW Z4 codriver, the electronics running in the car. Wires are everywhere. This discussion needed to occur.

“This is our radar detector, she has four noises, two of them mean “SLOW THE **** DOWN!”

“This is a CB we used to take on family vacations. It’s from 1991 but still works fine, even though it’s huge.”

“Where is the road map? Wait, you didn’t buy it yet? Required first purchase, we’ll get one on the way.”

So on and so forth. To his credit, Marcus diligently notes each point in his logbook. Good qualities in a navigator.

7:08 am I make a right into the McDonald’s parking lot. There’s barely a place to park. How can this many people want McDonald’s at 7 in the morning? Wait, dead ahead, we size up our competition for the first time:

  • The black #41 Team Flat Out BMW 335i…a Panzer of the BMW line. We want these guys as allies guys.
  • The blue #76 Team Abilities Unlimited Subaru WRX STI…driven by the least Asian looking man in history.
  • The silver #43 Team Radar Love C6 Corvette…American muscle will help in appeasing any fuzz that gets in our way.
  • Lastly, there is the sliver blue #00 Team W0T Aston Martin Vantage Roadster that brought the Dustball Rally to our attention a year ago. We meet again.

7:15 am David and James in the black #26 Team SportsCarHunter Aston Martin Vantage Roadster arrives. They’re less awake than we are, but our smiles are the same. Us four walk into the McDonald’s. We are new and first impressions are everything…

7:20 am The final car makes it to the meet up. It’s the silver #44 Team Four Horsemen’s Ford Mustang GT. Should I make a joke about the American muscle being slow to the start? No. That would be an example of a BAD first impression. I stay quiet.

Our Z4 wasn’t going to win any drag races OR endurance races for that matter. Our gas tank holds a paltry 13 gallons. We are going to be lucky to hit a fuel range of 300 miles. That Mustang can probably double that. We’re definitely rookies.

7:25 am The group shuffles out to the gas station across the street. Already I feel a certain glow being around these asphalt maniacs. Everyone is excited. We select a common CB and handset radio frequency, take a few photos, and continue to judge everyone else’s ride. I think to myself “The two Aston’s will make for some great photos.”

There was plenty of time to stage pictures later, and Marcus said it best with, “Let’s get the hell out of here, we have a rally to catch.”

His door slams shut as I hit the ignition and put the car into sport. The #85 Z4 is leading the DFW Dustball snake out of the first gas station. Damn this feels good.

7:35 am Seven fast cars are tearing west. I catch myself being too eager and brag, “Maybe we are going a little TOO fast for these veterans.”

7:40 am All of a sudden, just like in one of those weird Japanese anime shows, there is a screeching howl as a blue spark spits past us. It’s the blue #76 Subaru WRX STI. He wants to race.

We could do this, right? Our composed German straight six pedigree versus a whiny four cylinder with a turbo?

The road was clear and Subaru’s horn made the decision for us:

Beeeeeeep.

Beeeeep.

Beep!

I am planting the gas pedal inversely into the floor. The wind is loud with the top down but it is drowned out by the Japanese Zero-like screech of ninja laced octane exhaust from the Subaru’s tailpipes. We are losing. Badly.

I lean over to Marcus, “Ouch. That is no ordinary WRX. That’s a Dustball Rally veteran’s WRX.”

We pull even with the #76 STI and smile, pissed off. I ease off the gas. This is my obvious cue to step back, as I’ve kindly been told, “The regulars are going to set the pace from here on out.”

I oblige. So much to learn and only 450 miles left to figure it out before El Paso.

7:42 am As a consolation, we decide to introduce our secret weapon for the first time. I gun the accelerator and we pass the #76 STI, cut him off quickly, and with all four hands release a stack of Monopoly Money. That duel may have taken our pride, but no one else had a pastel Fort Knox in their trunk.

Tony, the driver of the #76 STI, would later remark, “I thought you guys were losing all your shit at first – then I realized you were throwing Monopoly Money at me! That’s AWESOME! I couldn’t see SHIT! How can I get some??”

He immediately went from enemy to compatriot. Die Feinden Piloten be damned.

7:55 am The radio squawks. “A car has lost its brakes…” I pull over, surprised. Other teams want to help out a failed car? This seems rare from the rally research we had done.

Lo and behold it’s our other half in the #26 Aston. Their lone Maryland license plate is hanging on by a single rattling screw. If that plate falls off then the car is running absolutely unlicensed.

I say to Marcus, “We stick with this group as much as we can. They’ve got our backs and we’ve only known them an hour.”

He makes a notation in the logbook.

Someone quickly pulls out a few zip ties and patches the plate up. Genius!

A new precedent has been set. When a Dustballer is struggling, you put on your hazards and lend a hand.

10:00 am We are in Big Spring, Texas; 230 miles west of Fort Worth. We just covered four and a half hours of normal driving in two and a half hours –including a lengthily stop to reattach a license plate AND a rest stop for all the coffee drinkers. Damn.

…Abilene…Midland…Odessa… The miles seem to be ticking away. Going west in this part of Texas is dull. If you’ve driven it then you know the feeling. The silver #43 Team Radar Love C6 Corvette had cautioned earlier in the day, “It’s a place where Halliburton trucks will pass you if you aren’t going 100.”

The mathematical side to rallying really is against everyone NOT in the lead pack. For every minute someone is driving 10 mph faster than you, you must go 20 mph to catch up. 15 minutes of laying low can set a team back miles.

We are all sticking in a pack and time and again the #76 STI proves that is no fluke. The #41 335i? Lost. The #00 Vantage? Lost. I chuckle at this, and throw some more Monopoly Money into the wind.

10:30 pm Marcus turns to me, “Do you realize that, even with a few stops, our travel time to El Paso is going to be ridiculous?”

I reply, “In order to keep up with whoever is in the lead, we WILL have to throw our speed limit integrity out the window. Dustballers haul ass.”

Immediately as I say this, a white Ford Crown Victoria edges neatly onto the highway – just in front of the #46 Corvette who may or may not have been pushing 40 over.

The radio blares:

“How fast were we going?”

“Is that unmarked?!”

“SLOW DOWN JACKASSES!”

After driving 4,000 miles in the last few weeks dealing with our Z4’s seemingly countless issues, I became pretty good at spotting each states’ cruisers.

“Marcus, that’s an old couple going under the speed limit. Let’s get our shit straight. Pull out the binoculars you bought in case this happens again.”

Marcus rummages around to find his specialized binoculars, and makes an entry in the logbook.

10:45 am We are just west of Odessa and something interesting is happening. The route…it’s beginning to turn pretty. This wasn’t what I was expecting…or was it? Wide open roads. Clear blue skies. Friendly driving. Funny radio chatter.

Was the purpose of rallying really to beat everyone else? What about taking in new sights and landscapes? What about sharing the road with other petrol heads in gorgeous cars?

I turned to Marcus, “This is what we came for.”

2:45 pm We’re stopping in tiny Van Horn, Texas. The driver of the #00 Aston, Blake, wants to go to a restaurant named “Chuy’s”. Apparently it’s Hall of Famer John Madden’s de facto rest stop on trips out this way.

We are hungry and are open to anything at this point, but this town looks like it’s on the dusty set of Rango.

As soon as the cars are parked, locals begin asking us questions, “What kind of car is that?!”

“Aston Martin. Here’s a koozie.”

I’m too hungry to carry on a conversation, and I leave all the talking to David and James. They’re in a chatterbox mood anyway.

This restaurant was obviously famous at some point. Say 1994? There is fan memorabilia of every pro and college team you can think of, but it’s all covered in a layer of fine dust. Unfortunately the décor does not make up for my beef tacos.

3:00 pm I quietly apologize to a future toilet that is bound to hate me.

3:10 pm I walk to the back wall and place one of our Dustball Rally stickers on the door.

3:15 pm I want to get to El Paso immediately and these guys are taking far too long. The front emblem on our #85 Z4 has fallen off. The auto body shop must have forgotten to lock it in place. I sigh, thankful to even have a car after hitting a deer nine days ago.

Marcus speaks up, “We are 125 miles away from BMW of El Paso and they close in two hours”

I ask, “Do you think we’ll make it?”

“Dude, this is Dustball Rally. Anything is possible. Let’s patch it up with our stickers; at least we’ll have Free Parking.” He took out his logbook, and began to crunch the numbers. I place two more stickers on the hood.

I peel the car out in a shower of gravel and park at the gas station down the street. I leave a handful of Monopoly Money as tip on top of the pump, and then look over to the #00 Aston and laugh. There’s a green $20 bill wedged in his front grill. “No easy way to get that out” I say to myself. Still, there’s something uncannily funny about seeing high end sports cars with Monopoly Money all over them. I ask Marcus to document our hits in the logbook.

4:00 pm I ask, “Don’t you think the CB has been a little quiet lately?”

Marcus replies, “Man, it hasn’t made a noise all day long.

This doesn’t add up. I take the vintage CB and examine it. The outside antenna had been unplugged this whole trip. I plug it in and the first thing we hear is, “DO YOU BOYS LIKE MEX-I-COOO?”

We’re laughing our asses off. Did we really just drive 550 miles missing out on this banter? I suggest to Marcus that we crack everyone else up by explaining our quietness.

“No, we are not doing that. That’s a rookie mistake. Awful. We can’t be that dumb. Too embarrassing dude. Too embarrassing.”

“I agree.” The topic is never brought up again.

4:30 pm These drivers in El Paso are bold. Very bold. As in, “If I don’t get past you I will be deported” bold. We had been running a lean and mean horsepower parade all day and no one in the DFW snake is in the mood for congestion.

4:40 pm All of a sudden a police siren wails and the #00 Aston starts splitting traffic like the Red Sea. We are minutes from the hotel, but watching these cars attack El Paso traffic is something else.

“Oh shit!” Marcus exclaims, as the #00 Aston and #76 STI mount shoulder to get past a reluctant pickup truck. Dust is flying EVERYWHERE. I try to get close enough to continue the pass but the lane closes fast. SportsCarHunter’s #26 Vantage and #85 Z4 stick together, making moves in tandem wherever we can. I say to no one in particular, “Maybe this traffic isn’t so bad after all?”

5:00 pm We arrive at the hotel in downtown El Paso in extraordinary time. Thanks to a heads-up from the black #15 Team Saint Mini in the Clubman S, we were able to stay in the same location as a few other teams that had arrived earlier in the day from different destinations.

5:05 pm The DFW cars are driving into the tiny parking garage one by one. Each car is revving out a few octaves in the confined tunnel for sheer pleasure. These walls sound marvelous. I throw a few green $20’s out the window in appreciation of the hotels new found acoustics.

5:20 pm Now that we’re checked in, Marcus and I decide to drive over to BMW of El Paso to pick up our replacement badge. It won’t match the slick carbon fiber on the rest of the roundels, but we reason that it’s appropriate to have the Bavarian flag at the forefront of our rally car.

6:00 pm I park in the hotel for a second time and run into a few new Dustballers. I see #17 Team Saint Mini’s driver, Rob. He had given me a great overview on the rally a few weeks back. I’m glad to see him again. He introduces me to his wife. I immediately remark, “She’s your codriver?” What a keeper!”

I meet two happy go lucky guys from North Dakota, Team Firestarter, who are driving the red #66 fire truck. They seem like genuine gear head goofballs. I ponder, “Their truck isn’t a threat, so I might as well find some people to share a beer with, right?” I like them and pass out a handful of koozies.

7:10 pm Team SportsCarHunter is late as hell to the Dustball Rally Auto Show. We are 20 minutes in the wrong direction. Marcus is quietly fuming, jotting notes in the logbook.

He remarks, “Sorry for the navigation issues.”

“No worries, buddy, we’ve never been here before. This stuff happens all the time.”

“No. Unacceptable navigational behavior. Won’t happen again.”

I get the feeling that he is taking our Dustball Rally German persona to heart. “Let’s see what happens when he meets the blue #17 Corvette C5 Z06 driven by Team Siebzehn” I whisper to myself.

7:30 pm I park the #85 in line with the other rally cars. The #26 Aston does the same.

I start to unload our war chest all over the car. I am tossing stacks of Monopoly Money in circles around the car. The ground around me looks like a bulimic Candyland. I take out a few dozen koozies and stickers and throw them on the hood. Lastly, I place Mardi Gras beads on every surface I can find…and put them on all the nearby cars. Reality sets in. We will be in New Orleans in three days.

All this time Marcus, David, and James had been sizing up the competition.

  • The Camaro’s eyes are sleek.
  • The pack of Mustangs will be formidable.
  • The Lambo has an aftermarket twin turbo.
  • The Bentley driver and navigator are bros, henceforth they will be known as the Bently Bros.
  • The Porsches…what I would give to see them go around the Texas Hill Country.
  • The WRX STI is doing sake bombs all by itself in the corner. It’s tired from kicking everyone’s ass this morning.

An engine roars as a classic silver Mustang pulls into the parking lot. It sounds like hell on wheels. Before I melt, I take a photo.

 

Immediately after, a red Ferrari 458 Italia parks nearby. I am in awe.

 

An F-150 shows up with a “KATRINA SURVIVOR” sign. The truck is covered from the doors down with a blue tarp, signifying a flood. The passengers are paddling from the bed of the truck while simultaneously throwing out Mardi Gras beads. How dare they steal our idea! I grab a magazine of beads from our windshield and launch them back at the stranded hurricane survivors. I hit one guy in the face. I’m an ass for doing it, but he had it coming. If they want to start war, I’m confident that we have more ammunition.

7:45 pm A television crew is filming a segment for the El Paso news and the blue #17 C5 Corvette Z06 team is in full Berlin Wall mode. They are wearing cut off jean shorts, boots, and driving gloves. I recognize these imposters from my Die Feinden Piloten research the previous night. It’s Team Siebzehn – the OTHER German aficionados.

Just as I predicted, Marcus is pissed. He degrades, “Herr Asshats! They aren’t even driving Bavarian. Nor are they blonde!” I tell him to make a note in the logbook that he isn’t either.

8:00 pm Team #85 is one of the last teams to grab a seat at Famous Dave’s, a motor-inspired barbecue restaurant. We place our orders as the black #07 Porsche 911 Team DeansList.US Andy and his wife Leandra, the organizers of the 2012 Dustball Rally, give us the first directions and gimmick packet.

They are telling us to obey the signs, drive safely, and to choose our spirited driving wisely. He mentions that the Dustball was not a race, but a rally. We oblige them with applause, but his smirk implies that he is aware of what already occurred today.

8:45 pm A film crew is taping team introductions. Some are funny while others are cute couples celebrating honeymoons. A few teams even stage a pseudo song/poetry battle. They are going by team number and we are #85. I don’t expect anyone to pay attention to us, but we say hello accordingly. It’s obvious we’re new.

9:30 pm We get up to leave. I place an extra tip of pastel yellow $100’s on our table and on the Famous Dave’s wooden bear at the entrance.  Already my mind is racing towards what is to happen over the next few days. I admonish myself to “Stop racing to answers, you’ll be rallying towards them tomorrow.”

The time of departure in our information packet read “Police escort, tomorrow morning. 7:00 am.” I make a mental note to have Marcus write this in the logbook.

Thank you for reading “The Car Rally Hasn’t Even Started, and We’re Doing What?! – SportsCarHunter’s Day Before the Dustball Rally”

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-Sports Car Hunter Ry