In spring of 2012, a team of six intrepid travelers set off in two 1970s…
5 tips for the perfect road trip this spring
It’s finally the time of year when much of the country once again takes to the road. Since we’re all frequent road warriors (and, as such, students of the journey), I thought I’d pass along a few tips based on my recent three-day trek from Michigan to Charlotte, North Carolina, and back. So please dive in and add your own tips in the Hagerty Forums below.
1. Pick a mission
We don’t need an excuse to drive, but hey, life is busy and sometimes a nudge helps. In this case, the Mustang Owners Museum planned a grand opening in Charlotte along with a festival at nearby Charlotte Motor Speedway. Part of the activities included an attempt to break the record for the most Mustangs in a parade. Never heard of this record? Neither had we, but it was set in Mexico and the number is 960 cars. That record should be held in the U.S., right? We loaded our 1994 Ford Mustang Cobra and headed South.
2. Choose partners wisely
My son Sam is 10 years old, lives for burnouts, and would never forgive me for going without him. He’s my copilot. We also joined forces with Hagerty folks Doug Clark and Matt Lewis, who drove a 2013 Mustang GT500 to help set the record. I’m all for solo road trips, but in this case, the extra drivers and company only added to the experience.
3. Be open to detours
A few days before departure, I found a 1987 Honda Prelude Si for sale near Zanesville, Ohio, that wasn’t terribly far off our route. I’ve long considered those cars to be a high point in Honda’s playlist and the pictures looked fantastic (as they always do). I needed to see and drive the car before purchase, and luckily Matt and Doug generously agreed to go along. Four hours after our Wednesday morning departure, we pulled into the restaurant parking lot where the Prelude’s owner said we could meet his girlfriend, who would show us the car.
The meetup lot: adjacent to the Airport Café in rural Lore City, Ohio (pop. 325). True to its name, the Café was once part of an old grass airfield and had a remote, roadhouse feel, like this an odd little stop-off in the middle of nowheresville. There we met a couple of fireplugs, Rhonda, the cook and girlfriend, and Mimi, the mother of the owner. We got a tour, learned that the burnout box out back is a popular attraction for the Harley crowd, and heard about one night where Rhonda had a scuffle with another woman who accused Rhonda of an affair with her boyfriend. “B***, just put your hands on me,” Rhonda recalled telling the other woman, “And I’ll punch you right in the *&^* mouth.” The car was in the metal as advertised and I made a deal to buy it and pick it up on the way home. Oh, the burgers at the Airport Café were fantastic.
4. A Football is rarely a bad idea
You need something to move the blood during rest stops. I often travel with kids, so a soccer ball, football, or hacky sack is gold. Don’t overlook the simple stuff.
5. Embrace the mishaps
A sea of Mustangs filled the infield of Charlotte Motor Speedway. We met folks from China, Brazil, and the Netherlands, who had all flown in just to set the record. The Brazilians barely spoke English but arrived in matching club-branded polo shorts and enough enthusiasm to power the track lights. Mass confusion eventually turned to a single-file parade of Mustangs that took two hours to circulate the 2.4-mile Charlotte oval. While pre-parade confidence was high, this attempt fell far short, with only 848 cars in the procession. Mildly bummed, we headed north that night.
Roughly two hours later, at 11 p.m., we pulled into a hotel near the Virginia-North Carolina border. I secured our room key and returned to the car to see a tired Sam standing outside the car holding his pillow. “I locked it,” he said proudly. That’s nice, except THE KEYS ARE IN THE CAR. Ugh. We all tried using a coat hanger to press the unlock button with no success. Finally, we called Hagerty roadside service and were back inside the car a little past midnight.
After a Waffle House meal the following morning, Sam rolled down the window. I looked over to see that my boy’s breakfast was making its exit. Most of said contents landed inside the car. Sam, who loves our Mustang more than me, was mortified, and I have to admit that I probably didn’t do a very good job of hiding my own horror. We had a new passenger: stench.
Sixty hours after departure we pulled back into our driveway. If one had a scorecard of our trip, the minus column held the failed record attempt, trapped keys, and—not to be outdone—the vomit. In the plus column, we added the Honda to our fleet, witnessed some spectacular Appalachian views, and spent quality time with Doug and Matt. I’ll happily take the good with the bad.
I’m a firm believer that these excursions are all about making memories. What will you talk about years later? Is it the trip that simply rolled down the highway without a hiccup? Definitely not. Instead, I’d wager that years from now Sam and I will laugh about the record that wasn’t broken, the burnout box of a rural bar, and the stains left on our Mustang’s carpets. Modern life is overly ordered. Sometimes you need the freedom of the road to take you to the unplanned. Here’s to hoping you make your own adventure this season.