I'm just back from an illegal road race. It's called the Bullrun and it's held every year in America. I say every year, but 2005 marks only the second rally. Last year it went from Los Angeles to Miami, but it seems there was just a bit too much boring driving involved in that, so this year the organisers opted for a West Coast loop. Thus we "did" Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Telluride and Boulder, Colorado, Salt Lake City, Reno, San Francisco and Los Angeles again in the space of a week. It's a rally for rich people, essentially, which at least means that you can see some interesting cars going through their paces.
The 2005 line-up included a hot-rod based on a 1931 Ford Model A, a new Rolls-Royce Phantom, various Lamborghinis, a couple of Ferraris (including an F40 shipped over from Britain), Mustangs old and new, Corvettes and a McLaren Mercedes SLR, which I think only managed the first leg of the race. However, I found a berth in what was the nicest looking car in the parade. Most of the 3,000 plus miles of the journey I spent in the back of a bright red 1971 Chevrolet Chevelle SS convertible, one of that magnificent breed of muscle car that so defined the American automotive scene. My host and driver for most of that time was lady named Amy Boylan, or "Hot Wheels Amy", because she used to run the Hot Wheels model car business of the mighty Mattel Corporation, among other things. She was hot, so were her wheels and so was the weather, which topped 112F.
This white-hot desert odyssey will be the subject of a much longer illustrated article just as soon as we get the photos back from the chemists. For now I want to reflect on the American way of doing things.
For in all those long, long miles of highway we didn't once encounter a speed camera. No, siree. Over in the US they have a variety of police forces whose job it is to ensure that drivers behave themselves and they were out in force for the Bullrun. They knew we were coming, you see, and their visible presence on the central reservations deterred most Bullrunners from behaving like complete idiots. There were exceptions, though, and the Ferrari F40 driver found himself in a jailhouse and his car impounded after doing 140mph on a 75mph-limit road. Quite right, too. I wasn't there for that particular exercise in American justice, but I did find myself in the back of a Jaguar XK8 stopped by a Nevada state trooper. It was an instructive experience.
Our driver, an English ex-pat named Nicholas Frankl who was once a member of the Hungarian bobsleigh team (go figure, as they say), had been naughty. His offence was, predictably, speeding, at 89mph in a 75mph zone. The signs were clear and he was banged to rights. Having left his licence in another car, the Nevada state trooper informed him, firmly but politely, that he would have to accompany him to post bail at the courthouse in Elko (population 35,000).
When we arrived, the clerk was able to see to us right away and somehow, after paying the speeding fine of $187, the bail got forgotten about. It was far from the stereotypical idea of a brutalised American justice system. No doubt there are some law enforcement officers who would have beaten us up. Indeed, switching on my TV that very night I watched news footage of a couple of cops wielding their batons like baseball bats on a pick-up truck full of illegal immigrants.
However, we were given little to whinge about. Our driver's plea that the long straight roads of Nevada posed no danger for a Jag in the right hands and that careless driving was a bigger problem was met with agreement. It was pointed out, in return, that American roads and drivers aren't used to folk flooring it, and from my observations he was right about that. But it was all conducted with humanity and with at least the illusion for the motorist that there might be a little leeway, and in this case, there was. It made a refreshing change from being flashed and fined by a machine. When was the last time you saw a traffic cop on a British motorway?