The race itself was thrilling stuff with Peugeot and Audi slugging it out for the top step, and Porsche and Acura within striking range should either falter. They did, and the Penske Porsche went into the record books. The morning after what went down the night before at Sebring is usually forgettable and mostly artificially induced. Lizett wanted to get on the road and packed the Q7, while I attempted to work by having coffee with Allan McNish and Dindo Capello.
Following the 1984 running of the Daytona 24 Hours, I drove with the late Len Frank back to L.A. in a Saab turbo. The appearance of the Swede in the south was met with curiosity amid mostly indifference. The most memorable quotes came from a gas station attendant a few miles outside Houston who had never heard of Saab. This time I was curious how the Q7, diesel motor and all, would be received by those who had interest or were already familiar with the only Q7 variant currently available here (meaning gas).
The delta by dawn was the objective but by leaving Sebring in the afternoon, the best we could do was getting almost to Highway 61. A black Q7 with red letters proclaiming "Hey, I'm a TDI" was not a distraction on the road. The background, however, was.
As darkness fell, things got a little spooky on the panhandle. Scanning across the radio we find a station right out of the '30s or '40s playing "Jerusalem Gospel Music." A host with voice of southern timbre, right out of a Jack Kerouac novel, reading, "Man was born of woman's womb." It was an awesome station that began, fittingly, near Tallahassee and stayed through Mobile. I expected to see Billy Jo McAllister's ghost thumbin' or Hank headin' back to Alabam'. Biloxi came and went after phone calls to the Hard Rock Hotel resulted in no answer. It was after midnight-what time do the rockers turn in on the Gulf Coast anyway? Highway 61 was only a few miles away.
One problem arose quickly. The mandated low-sulpher diesel fuel wasn't readily available in many parts of the country and the south was no exception. We were careful to find a station when the tank hit the halfway mark. On a few occasions, the gauge hit almost empty before the right stuff could be found. The southeast had been hit by a series of raging storms that caused major flooding. The kind of weather the Quattro system had been built for and the Q7 TDI had plenty of ground clearance. After desperately seeking Starbucks at the mouth of 61, the goal was the bright lights of Memphis. Leaving Baton Rouge and getting to Jackson came first though.
Natchez provided me with my first view of the mighty Mississippi. The oldest city on The Big Muddy, Natchez was founded in 1716. A local suggested The Pig Out Inn Barbeque for eats-mouthwatering barbeque, easy on the pocketbook, eclectic dcor, and the best local eavesdropping hands-down. Next stop, Port Gibson, one of Grant's first conquests after crossing the Mississippi River during the Vicksburg Campaign of 1863. Grant stated that the town was too beautiful to burn and left it intact. Port Gibson is a good spot to pick up the Natchez Trace Parkway. The original Trace is alive with the ghosts of travelers who followed that ancient trail running approximately 500 miles from Natchez to Nashville, Tenn. If you stand quietly on the path it seems possible to hear the sounds of generations of people and animals traversing the historic track. We followed the Trace to Jackson before doubling back on Highway 20 to Highway 61.
Then cruise control started acting up and it became evident that we'd picked up some bad fuel. Because of the storms there were a number of stations that had run low, and the bottom of the barrel can hide some evils. By the time we refueled, the bad had worked its way through and cruise was back in control.