Friday, July 20
Los Angeles to New York
I'm wandering through Los Angeles airport. I'm supposed to fly to New York, but the reason why has escaped me. Perhaps this is the first stages of Alzheimer's. But I'm not naked or wearing a dress. I have money, keys, and an iPod. This isn't too bad this Alz-whatever.
I manage to board the right plane and wander out into JFK a few hours later. A man holding a white board with my name written on it motions me to follow. I'm soon standing in front of Hotel Gansevoort, a stunningly refurbished place in the heart of Manhattan. On my bed is a bucket of champagne, a few snacks, and a letter welcoming me to the Bullrun. Oh yeah... Bullrun. What the hell is that? According to the letter, Bullrun is an invitation-only, eight-day rally across the United States, punctuated with nightly bacchanalian activity in exclusive locations. Essentially, Bullrun is a rolling party, a ticket to play with fast cars in cool places. I can do that-even if I can't remember my own name.
After a great meal at Lou's, a classic Italian-style ristorante, I amble across the street and check out the hardware. Ferraris, Bentleys, Lamborghinis, Ford GTs... they're all getting Bullrun decals. And although it's close to midnight, the street is abuzz with people, many of them the female flavor.
With several new 'friends,' I decide to hit the hotel's nightclub, but the line outside snakes for several blocks. As I soon learn, wearing a Bullrun driver's badge opens doors. We are ushered inside to a reserved table. Paparazzi take my picture. I am king.
Saturday, July 21
New York to Toronto, via Pocono Raceway
Our conveyance for this gig is a Brabus CLS55 K8, a 550-bhp study in automotive hedonism. It is big, powerful and impossibly luxurious. It's also understated and, for reasons that will become obvious, that's a good thing.
My co-driver is Claus Ettensberger, the brains behind the CEC empire. Claus and I go back almost 20 years, when I had all my hair and no children. I'm lucky to consider him a close friend. Lucky because I don't have many. If I'm going to spend a few thousand miles with a guy, it had better be someone I don't want to kill after the first 50. Claus will do just fine.
We are sent to Times Square-pronto. I've often seen Times Square on TV, usually with Dick Clark on December 31. It's much different in person; it's sensory overload. The mood is like Mardi Gras, New Year's Eve, and the Indy 500 all rolled into one. The idea that we'd get through this mass of humanity is insane. No one is going anywhere fast.
An hour later, a small squad of cops manages to part the crowd like Moses at the Red Sea. It's an admirable feat. I have great respect for NYPD blue-I think they are some of the finest cops in the world. They manage to be authoritative without being dicks.
Around 11 am, someone waves a green flag and we are off. Off to where, we have no idea. Upon reaching the starting line, we're handed a small card that says Pocono Raceway Park, Pennsylvania. In a haze of tire smoke, we blaze through the city streets before cheering crowds and flashing cameras. And then promptly get lost. The drivers of a Ferrari 550 up front have hired a taxi to lead them through NYC's Byzantine streets. It's a brilliant move and we are wise to follow.
After lunch, we poke Pocono Raceway into the Merc's navigation computer and the resulting route is direct and fast. It even gives the option of using non-highway roads, something we'll be thankful for later. There's a way to make good time on a rally, one that doesn't have you driving like a lunatic. The majority of Bullrun contestants adhere to that. Some do not.