Gumball 3000 Rally Day Five: San Francisco to Los Angeles

It takes a lot of guts to show up at a rally that crosses two continents in a pair of 46 year old cars, pitting their old bones against some of the world's most expensive and exotic metal with price tags many multiples higher than the home that I live in. This is especially true of our 1969 Chevrolet Camaros, because rather than invest six figures and take all of the character out of each of our Z/28 clones, decided to stand out from the crowd and campaign two muscle coupes that quite honestly almost any working stiff could afford to park in his or her garage.

It's a strategy that works: I've developed more of a bond with these fuming, raucous, grumpy Camaros than with any of the other faster, better, and stronger entries on the rally (except maybe the Audi RS6 wagon with its absolutely absurd and unnecessary aero. Canards for everyone!) I repeat this to myself this morning when I learn that our yellow Chevy won't be joining us on the starting grid alongside Anthony's ringer. A missing nut on the starter has backed it half-out, necessitating a 25 minute replacement procedure that saves our day but makes it miss the flag drop outside of San Francisco's town hall.

Snakes In The Valley

It's a trade that's well worth making, because no one wants to miss our first stop of the morning. Buttonwillow Raceway is playing host not just to the Gumball 3000 rally, but also Dodge, which has promised us a fleet of waiting Vipers and Challenger Hellcats to play with on the track. This exuberance buoys us through the morning, and in fact gets one of our support drivers so fired up that he's clocked at 98-mph in a 55-mph zone, a charge that he deftly reduces to a ticket for 10 over using his Swedish charm and an unusual link to the Scandinavian country in the CHP officer's past (involving a lost love and a life that could have been). As my teammate Per explains to me later on in the day, 'everyone has ties to Sweden.'

We arrive at Buttonwillow mid-pack, and there's already a driver's meeting going on under the canopy explaining to us what we can, but mostly what we can't, do out on the road course. I manage to snag a helmet and sneak out to pit lane before the meeting breaks up, where I walk right into the open door of a bright red Viper. If only this were an every-day occurrence! Three quick laps later and I'm back in the pits, handing the keys to the next Gumballer so that they too can rasp the Dodge's V10 around the track's sinuous curves.

I cross the pit wall and am walking through the staging area when I am asked to 'please move out of the way' of the Charger SRT 392 behind me by one of the Betsafe video crews, as 'a burnout is about to be happening.' Almost as soon as these words leave the lips of the would-be director, a sharp-eared track official comes bounding over from the huddle at the front of the Viper line, arms waving and face signifying that no, burnouts will not 'about to be happening' after all. I'm tempted to call the No Fun Police, but then I remember that I was just driving someone else's Viper around a race track, and keep my head down.

Brush With Fame

The crew aren't the only ones at the Gumball flexing their mighty Swedish charm muscles. Dolph Lundgren put in an appearance at Buttonwillow, too, driving SRT metal for the duration of the American route after having parked his Ferrari FF in Amsterdam. Friendly and graceful for a man who'd been dealing with the same grueling travel schedule as the rest of us for the past five days, Lundgren is best remembered for starring roles in Rocky IV and Universal Soldier, but aside from Masters of the Universe, which I saw as a child, my first exposure to the Fulbright scholar turned Olympic athlete was in Army of One.

In it, he plays a former race car driver who boosts and fences exotic cars, with one iconic scene seeing Dolph spin a Ferrari F40 720 degrees through a desert - the very one we'll be driving through tomorrow, in fact, on our way to Vegas through Death Valley. I think I might be the only one who remembers Army of One (I'm not even sure Lundgren ever thought about that movie again after he cashed the check) but it seems like an appropriate amount of early-90s foreshadowing for a man who would one day run with the Gumballers.

Almost Home

Leaving the twin thrills of Vipers and Dolph behind wasn't easy, but we found a way, piling into our chase car to keep pace with the yellow Camaro on the last two-hour stretch that would lead us to L.A.  The split between some Gumballers taking Interstate 5 and others opting for the more scenic Highway 1 meant few encounters with other teams out on the road, but at least we're rolling six deep in our crew convoy once we hit traffic just outside of Pasadena.

Behind the wheel of the canary Z/28 for the afternoon today is Jeff, who has managed to avoid both incarceration and bodily assault for 24 contiguous hours, a new record for our Gumball team. He also happens to be a Los Angeles native and expertly guides us to the parking area at L.A. Live, where an array of local exotics (including Koenigseggs and Paganis) join us on what will be tomorrow's starting grid. Anthony's car arrives roughly an hour later, stuttering and stumbling its way across the line, the victim of a bad ground that Steve will troubleshoot the next morning.

Gumball has attracted some interest in this recently-constructed den of downtown revitalization, but the California crowds aren't quite as vociferous, nor nearly as large as their counterparts in Sweden and Denmark, leading me to wonder if there isn't something encoded in the DNA of the Nordic people that predisposes them to line the shoulder three-deep at rally events. Despite the temptation to adopt a rock star mentality and delude myself with visions of grandeur as people mill about the paddock with their phones out and cameras flashing, it's clear that regardless of which continent we're driving on, the people are there for the cars, and not so much the drivers.

That's ok, because that's why I'm here too.

Gumball By The Numbers: Day Five

Ryska Posten Crew Members Excitement About America Level: 9/10
Exotic Car Death Count: 1 (Miraculously, the Viper has been repaired and is back on the scene. Balancing out the universe, a Porsche 918 rolled into the hangar smoking in Reno yesterday never to emerge again)

Team A-Date Sleep Deprivation Force Multiplier: +25
Number of Times I Heard A Russian Sing 'Good Vibrations' by Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch To Explain Her Feelings About California: 1
Number Of Guys Named Clint Crazy I Met Today: 1
New English Words Learned By Per, Our Swedish Driver: 'Chilling,' which means 'Relaxing on the highway so that the yellow Camaro can catch up to us because we took a shortcut that wasn't really a shortcut.'

Read how Day Four went HERE.

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