Never Stop Driving #40: Drag and Drive
My closest brush with death was in the summer of 1991. I was working as a summer intern for Car and Driver and was assigned to ferry a film crew on the week-long One Lap of America road rally. One Lap was the civilian version of the Cannonball Run, the illegal cross-country dash made famous by C/D scribe Brock Yates and the movie with the same name that starred butterball Dom DeLuise. The Hagerty Foundation published a terrific video on the topic. One Lap is a one-week driving adventure that includes many racetrack stops, where competitors are scored based on a lap time. The cumulative time over the week declares the overall winner. Basically, the teams drive for many hours, stop at a track, go as fast they can around said track, and then drive to the next. Naturally, there are breakdowns, flat tires, and all manner of mishaps.
My job required us to be at every track before the competitors arrived and stick around until the last one had left. The distance between tracks was so great that we’d typically drive through the night. For the first few days, sleep deprivation was offset by the adrenaline released by bucket-list experiences like driving our Toyota Previa film van around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. (Some 30 years later, I actually got to race there!)
I don’t remember the cameraman’s name but something about him made me want to do all the driving and he was happy to sleep in the back. At some point, I couldn’t keep my eyes open, so he took the wheel and I immediately feel asleep on the floor of the van. Not even 15 minutes later, I was jolted awake by extreme shaking. The driver was asleep and the Previa was crossing the highway’s grassy center median, heading for oncoming cars. I grabbed his shoulder and he jumped awake, panicked, and sharply cut the wheel to the right, which caused the Previa to violently fishtail back-and-forth.
Any number of small things could have sent us into the opposite lane or sent the van rolling, but miraculously, the cameraman righted the Previa, we went on to finish the entire One Lap, and the incident retreated to the furthest corners of my mind. Until last week, when I watched Tony Angelo’s video of his beautifully painted and very quick Firebird at Sick Week. This event is very similar to One Lap of America, but it goes to drag strips instead of road courses. These drag-racing focused versions are called “drag and drives” because many competitors tow trailers with tires and tools. Angelo, who’s based in Pennsylvania, drove to Florida to do Sick Week.
Angelo’s video, and our written piece on the event, reminded me that, although I was too exhausted to enjoy One Lap back in 1991 and easily could have perished in the Previa in the dark of night, I’d had a once-in-a-lifetime adventure helping passionate people do passionate things with cars. Angelo uses high-speed punk music to start the video and then you get clips of all the things people love about these tough events: Speed, heroic repairs, hanging out, and, of course, gas-station corn dogs. Drag and drives are getting so popular there’s a website that lists the events, many of which are sold out.
Modern life is so physically cushy that some of us want a struggle during vacation, or so goes my own half-baked theory. What else explains the growth of grueling events like One Lap, Sick Week, and these glorious maniacs who ride minibikes through Mongolia?
I hope you’re planning your own automotive adventure for the coming driving season, and if you don’t have the right set of wheels already, check out these 12 ideal road-trip classics that can be had for less than 20 grand. More immediately, this weekend Hagerty sponsors The Amelia concours in Florida. We’ll be covering it on our social channels and here is a preview of the cars that will be auctioned, including—hubba hubba—a Gurney F1 car.
My colleague Sam Smith launched a new podcast called Driven to Fail that you’ll love. And for you hot-rod fans, we covered last weekend’s Autorama show.
With winter waning, I’m definitely thinking about where I’ll be driving soon and could use your help: I know the roads in southeast Ohio extremely well but am relatively clueless about the routes in nearby West Virginia that are just across the Ohio River. Google maps might show the density of turns and lack of houses, but not pavement conditions or typical traffic. Please post your favorites in the comments.
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I can’t believe that you posted the picture without expecting to get some comments, so I’m proud to lead off: “Nice pecs, Larry!”
Okay, with that out of the way, I enjoyed the story. We don’t get many “drag and drive” events out here in the wilds of the Northwest, but I do enjoy watching videos and reading stories about them. I’m getting to the point in my life where road trips are taken much more for the joys of driving and lots of sightseeing stops than for overnight slogs to get to the next venue and try to find parts to repair breakage along the way. But watching youngsters like Tony Angelo do it are fun.
That being said, most of us have probably had a similar experience to your van excursion during an extended “ya gotta stay awake long enough to get to XYZ”. Glad you and your camera guy made it through okay.
There’s a guy that does maps of several states and he updates them every year. His focus is motorcycle routes, but they’re all paved back roads with main criteria being decent pavement and curvy techinical backroads with little or no traffic. His name is Randy Freeman and his website is http://www.freemanmapstore.com Randy’s maps are the best I’ve ever run across and his phone number is on the map if you ever want to call and discuss anything or ask questions. He actually answers the phone when you call! He’s a great guy and is always looking for input from people using his maps. The best part is the maps are free. Just send him money to cover postage is all he asks. Tell him Terry Ward sent you.
Hey Terry, thanks for the tip! I have some of those maps and agree that they are terrific. The WV one is sold out but I’ll reach out to Randy.
My own little road trip is to drive a classic mini along with my adult son in his fiat 124 on Washington’s Cascade loop. Nothing cushy about that and very likely to involve a comical if not heroic repair. Good beers is we will spend Inc $50 on gas.
Oh wow, that should be a fantastic adventure. Enjoy!
With a title like “Drag and Drive”, I really thought that this article was going to be about a Transvestite driving a pink Cadillac Convertible !!!!!
I typically do some arduous/fun trips in my FFR Cobra every year. Like you you, I look for some hardship and effort to help me appreciate the cushy life. So, when my son, who is a new Marine stationed at Camp Lejeune near Jacksonville, NC said he wanted his truck, I said to myself, adventure! From Denver the trip would be 1850 miles, which ended up over 2000 total. The truck is a 30-year-old Toyota base pickup with the 2.4 four-banger and a manual five speed transmission. Before even reaching Colby, KS I was second guessing my decision, but after buying a memory-foam cushion at a truck stop and stopping to see family in three different states I learned to love not only the trip, but that little pickup my son nicknamed Pancho.
I did my last cross country drive five years ago in an old RX-7. Pretty fun gig. Glad you enjoyed your jaunt!
I did One Lap of America in 1985 – the start/finish was on the banks of the Detroit River at the RenCen in Detroit – early March, if I recall correctly. There were 3 of us, in a Mercury Topaz, 5 speed manual, 2 door coupe. The national speed limit was still 55 mph – a lot of time penalties for various competitors were from being stopped for speeding tickets in various states…we drove most of the perimeter states of the USA – 8,800 miles in 8 days. I agree with you that it was a helluva car-guy experience – we only had one night to sleep in a hotel – the Portofino Inn in Redondo Beach – otherwise one guy slept in backseat, and navigator was supposed to stay awake to keep driver awake – you needed “a third guy!” There were track sessions, and time-speed-distance with pop-up check point sessions along the route. We went from blinding snow conditions in the Northern Rockies to 90 degree plus heat in the Bayou country of Louisiana, to driving on ice in upstate New York…toward the end we were changing drivers about once an hour – sleep deprivation being a real challenge. All said – we finished 4th out of 70+ entrants…the first non AWD finisher. Glad you survived your One Lap experience Larry!
You finished 4th in a Topaz?!?!?!?!?! Well done!
Larry, Thanks for bringing back all of those good memories. I competed in One Lap in in 1986, 1987 and 1988. It has provided a lifetime of memories. I was a huge fan of Brock Yates (met him once at Lime Rock during a C&D showroom stock race) and met his son (still doing One Laps, albeit a reduced version) at Palmer Raceway a couple of years ago. The hijinks from those One Laps will provide amusement to me for the rest of my life. Thanks again for a great lift.
I loved Brock and miss him, even though I was only lucky enough to have a few experiences with him. Such a neat person with a huge personality.
On my favorite drives list is Mill Valley ( Tam Junction ) to Valley Ford CA. All on CA Hwy1, thru Stinson, Olema, Pt Reyes Station, Marshall and Tomales. Best done right at day break. Stunning views, light and sometime courteous traffic, and a few passing areas. As I recall C&D once did an article called ” The Ride ” about the same group of motorcycles doing the Tam Junction to Inverness portion of this.
That is a great tip. I did Highway 1 up to Sea Ranch last winter and it was pretty fantastic and empty.
Those “out of the way” experiences stick with us forever. In the 70’s, I went to the NA unveiling of the VW Scirocco at the Transportation research facility in East Liberty Ohio. It may be owned by Honda today of it still stands. It turns out, my boss and I were the only media to show up. Mark Donahue was there as the demonstrator. I ran up to his car with my reel to reel tape recorder and asked if I might get some comment on tape. He said “sure, jump in.” I stayed there the entire day with him, on the big 7-mile oval, gymkhana, skid pad, etc. It was such a blast. But our comments on the oval were sufficiently ruined by the centripetal force that slowed down the reels while we were lapping at the guard rail. No proof I was there, only in my heart and mind. No cell phones back then, just sheer fun and so memorable like your one lap! I’m in Michigan now, Haggerty’s home and always not far from car stuff and car guys and my own 40 Ford Pickup project, insured by you guys.
Larry our BMW group, Free State Bimmer Zs, Z Series Car Club of America has made runs in WVA multiple times. The roads are smooth, the curves are fun, and the people friendly.
Rt 16, Back of the Dragon. Started near Tazewell. With the Miata group last fall. Smooth, good sightlines, not much traffic, you can keep up a good pace.
Also 226A in NC if you want to venture south.
Thanks Dave. Yeah, I did that once and it is terrific. I’m looking for roads in the Northeast part of the state.
Larry – loved the article but even more, your AAR Formula Ford! I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Gurney at Lime Rock Race Track circa 1970. What a nice guy! I mentioned I was from Long Island NY, his birthplace, and mentioned his boyhood hero Ted Tappett, and he took interest in this college hootenanny with long hair. He actually walked me over to meet to Swede Savage who was back further in the pits. He was a great guy. Fly that AAR flag proudly, Mr Webster!
Thanks Bill. Oh yeah, I understand the Gurney lineage and overpaid handsomely to buy that FF.
We went on a mission trip to southern West Virginia a feww years ago. Mullens, southwest of Beckley was home base for a week. I was driving a 2000 Dodge Dakota. Not ideal but I had a blast, and scared some passengers in the process. Most of the back roads were in pretty good shape then – twisty and hilly.
Larry, do not forget the Delorme Atlas and Gazetteer paper maps of each state. So much easier to find great routes when everything is on the same scale.
Thanks Mike. Yeah, I have one but same problem with regards to the surface conditions and traffic.
Larry, I live in WV and travel up to central and northern Ohio a LOT…..I’m thinking….but most road conditions are CRAP. I’ll get back to ya.
Thank you. Yeah, that’s been my experience….the roads near Ohio border are not good.