I went to my first Formula 1 Grand Prix at six weeks of age and have been brought up surrounded by cars. My father raced in the last Cannonball Run in 1979 (and came in dead last), and he, my brother and I all test and write about cars. I guess you could say that all things automotive are in my genes, and so my driving in a cross-country rally isn't as strange as one might think, although women are definitely in the minority behind the wheel.
Bullrun Rally 2008 — Calgary, Alberta, Canada to Scottsdale, Arizona. Forty cars, 3,700 miles and seven days. These basic numbers encompass the Bullrun Rally 2008 but fall well short of describing the amazing experience this event represents. The Bullrun Rally, now in its fifth year in the U.S., is the brainchild of two cousins from the U.K., Andrew Duncan and David Green. Dubbed "the most glamorous and high-profile luxury lifestyle rally," it brings together petrolheads from every corner of the country and, indeed, the world who, for one week, put their lives on hold and embark on an automotive adventure. The $20,000 entry gains two drivers access and includes all five-star lodging, meals and parties for the week of the rally. Teams are comprised of friends, colleagues, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, parents and children, ranging from 18-70 years of age but all young at heart. This, my third Bullrun — after a "classic" New York-L.A. in 2006 and a 2007 East Coast jaunt from Montreal to Key West, Florida — was an epic experience.
I am one half of "Team Twins," driving with my rally-veteran brother, Nicholas, in a car decaled to within an inch of its life with various childhood-to-adult photos of us, plus all the sponsor stickers and Bullrun logos. Our ride for this year's rally is a 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X, generously loaned by Mitsubishi North America. This 291-horsepower rally car is mixing with some high-priced — and high horsepower — company: two Audi R8s, two Ferrari F360s, a Ferrari F430, an Audi RS4, an Aston Martin DBS, a Porsche 911 Turbo, a Shelby Hertz Mustang, a Hennessey Jeep, two Spyker C8s, a Lamborghini Gallardo, a Chevrolet Corvette Z06...the list goes on. Oh, and of course a Smart Car that won the rally's Green Award, plus team Pink Linc, a bunch of Aussies in their 25-foot Lincoln convertible with bull horns on the front and a 60-mph top speed. Pink Linc arrived dead last each day...and didn't care.
On each morning of Bullrun Rally 2008, we arise not knowing that day's destinations, although the route is generally an open secret by Day 3. This year's Bullrun navigates ski resorts, national parks, racetracks and some of the most stunning roads we've ever driven.
This weeklong escapade feels like a month while you're doing it and yet is over all too quickly. Smaller than in years past, it makes for a more intimate rally, especially when many faces are those of friends made on previous Bullrun rallies: Team Oh! Canada — Kevin and Christine, in their "trusty" red 928 that has yet to finish a rally but they bring it anyway; Gesine and Justin, mother and son, in the Team Safety Car Hertz Shelby, who are always out in front, particularly if she's driving; shy and retiring Richard Rawlings of Gas Monkey Garage, in a sea green '75 Caprice with an '08 Escalade motor under the hood, riding on 22-inch rims; Bill, Allen and Cindi Wu in their 1,400-horsepower Hummer, topping out at 110 mph but still beating most of us to the checkpoints; Mike "Mr. Angry" Musto in a flat-black Dodge Daytona that breaks down on the first day, only to be replaced by a rented Ford Fusion; Claus Ettensberger of Team CEC in his shark-toothed 911 Turbo, desperate to win and disbelieving of our Evo hanging tough in his rearview mirror.
The Evo may be lower on horsepower than many of the cars in the rally, but it quickly impresses everyone with its gutsy performance and ability to keep pace with even the fastest of the supercars. Third place at the track, in a tightly fought competition, it is only bested by a Porsche 997 and a Ferrari F430, simply losing out on straight-line top speed. On the street, though, despite triple-digit speeds on deserted roads, the Evo is happy to run with this high-octane crowd.
Each day is unique and special in its own way, offering up ever-changing topography, near-misses with law enforcement and the knowledge that this beats anything else we'd all usually be doing in a "normal" week.
Day 1 — Calgary via Whitefish, Montana, to Big Sky, MontanaA very long drive. Fifty miles from Big Sky, we encounter flashing lights and a F360 and Z06 at the roadside. A low-speed U-turn snafu leaves the Ferrari cosmetically worse for wear but drivable; the Z06 looks OK but is toast. It's 11 p.m. as we snake up the mountain and a near-miss with a deer makes the hotel a very welcome sight. Late-night snacks and a penthouse party reunite us with the other Bullrunners, many with tales of police woes — with many more to come.
Day 2 — Big Sky via Yosemite and Grand Teton National Parks and Jackson Hole, Wyoming, to Aspen, ColoradoThe most stunning drive of the Bullrun Rally. The scenery makes up for the glacial pace as cars convoy through Yosemite and Grand Teton, forging toward Aspen. Running with Team Safety Car, Team Oh! Canada, Mike and Chris in the '05 Z06, plus Kristine and her dad, Marash, in the white 335xi TT, we're all headed for Top 10 finishes when flashing lights stop us dead in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. "Reports" of cars with stickers driving fast on the highway is enough "evidence" to keep us roadside for an hour as five $67 tickets are leisurely completed, the charge "careless driving."
Day 3 — Aspen via Miller Motorsports Park, Utah, to Deer Valley, UtahAn autocross at the amazing Miller Motorsports Park in Tooele, Utah, leaves Wu's Hummer oozing fluid and Todd's F430 with a fried clutch. A sunset arrival at the phenomenal Stein Erickson Lodge in Deer Valley offers up sumptuous dining and a group of us who are already so far off the pace of the leaders quickly decides to ditch all checkpoints and head straight for Vegas come morning.
Day 4 — Deer Valley via St. George, Utah, to Las VegasThe First Ever Bullrun Wedding takes place at the Little White Wedding Chapel, as Cameron and Genevieve tie the knot sitting atop the Pink Linc, with an Elvis impersonator serenading them with "Can't Help Falling in Love" in front of 30 cheering Bullrunners. Upon leaving, they are immediately pulled over by the police but get off with a warning.
Day 5 — Las Vegas via Spring Mountain Motorsports, Pahrump, Nevada, and Death Valley to Los Angeles, CaliforniaAfter fast laps at Spring Mountain, a very fast convoy heads through Death Valley: Andre and Larry in the R8, Mike and Chris in the Z06, Claus and Joaquin in the 997TT, Justin and Gesine in the Hertz Shelby, Michael Schwab (a.k.a. "Schwabie") in the F430. The Evo loves the company but can't sustain the fuel consumption. We use our jerry can at the top of a hill — and get a low-level fly-by from two F18s — then coast down in neutral for a $5.79/gallon fill-up, headed for L.A. and a Hollywood-style party.
Day 6 — Los Angeles via West Coast Customs, Corona to Tucson, ArizonaArizona — the Police State. More "reports." We're pulled over somewhere outside Phoenix but just get a warning. (We're doing 60 mph as the officer trails me for five miles.) Tucson's Ventana Resort is a welcome sanctuary, and the celestial display is beautiful.
Day 7 — Tucson via Apache Trail and Firebird Raceway to Scottsdale, ArizonaA first for the Bullrun, we decide to take an alternate route and drive 40 miles of unpaved road on the Apache Trail, through the Superstition Mountains. Driving in the opposite direction of everyone else, our detour allows us a visit to the Arizona State Prison Outlet to buy gifts and meet inmates! Luckily, this year, that didn't include us.
Our 2008 Bullrun Rally adventure ends with a red-carpet party in Scottsdale and a weekend of sleep, pool time and reliving every moment of the rally, the stories getting better with each retelling. We're elated, exhausted and in no hurry to return to our real lives. Bullrun recovery and decompression sucks, and the only cure is to swap pictures, keep in contact with your Bullrun family, both old and new, and make plans for next year's rally. Although it's only a week out of the year, it's a true highlight, an escape from one's everyday responsibilities and an immersion into a world where people from all walks of life and all corners of the country, and the globe, come together and put their fates into the hands of two blokes from England who know that the right mix of people, cars, roads and destinations makes for an unforgettable experience. Bullrun 2009? I'll be there.
To find a dealership that knows how to treat shoppers right, please visit Edmunds.com's Dealer Ratings and Reviews.