"Not only do I think we can win," Macfarlane wrote in an e-mail to fellow team members a few days before the start, "I believe we will grind their bones into the dust."

There are five days left before the race, and the Crown Vic needs serious attention. It's parked on the gravel front lot of Frank's Service garage in south St. Louis, and the towering team captain of Project Interceptor has come to give it a once-over.

Wearing his customary leather jacket, Macfarlane lifts the hood. A kitten is sleeping on the engine. Mechanic Frank Pretz, who's missing a few front teeth and uses words like "whatchamashit," shuffles over and promises he'll get around to futzing with the car later in the day.

The Cookin' With Gas team's 1979 Lincoln Continental Mark V, which gets about five miles to the gallon.
Nicholas Phillips
The Cookin' With Gas team's 1979 Lincoln Continental Mark V, which gets about five miles to the gallon.
An employee of the famous Red Ball Garage time stamps a team's envelope.
Dean Engledow
An employee of the famous Red Ball Garage time stamps a team's envelope.



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As Macfarlane describes his plans for the 2904, Pretz rolls his eyes and says, "Guess we all gotta have our little whims that we do."

The Crown Vic has 168,789 miles on it and cost the team $1,000. Macfarlane lists aloud the modifications he wants: an oil change and a transmission flush. This counts toward the race budget, so he'll have to keep the receipts as proof. Safety features, though, such as new tires, a windshield and repairs to the brakes and suspension, don't count.

Macfarlane believes the GPS, radar detectors and laser jammer, which can wreak havoc with a traffic cop's radar gun, will give Project Interceptor an edge. Ficarra disagrees. "They don't make you go faster," the race organizer later says, adding that the whole point of the $2,904 budget ceiling is to "prevent people from building racecars."

Officially, every dollar over budget results in a minute added to your time. Ficarra says the race is still new and that the application of rules is somewhat negotiable — so long as you're racing in good faith.

However, any "act of douchebaggery," he says, such as buying a Lamborghini from Grandma at $500, means you'll lose the car, and your rivals can take a sledgehammer to it. It hasn't happened yet, notes Ficarra, but it could.

Macfarlane is aware of the health hazards inherent in a race involving high speeds and precarious automobiles but says, "It's good for the soul to take dangerous risks every once in a while." And besides, his wife is supportive — nervous, but supportive.

He pops the trunk, revealing his supply of RealTouch dildos and tongue-vibrator kits that he plans to hand out during the prerace festivities. His wife, a schoolteacher, is "totally cool" with his job at Red Square LLC, the adult-toy company where he's a partner.

While taking the Crown Vic for a quick spin, Macfarlane offers a suggestion for cutting down on pit stops: Texas catheters, or condoms with a tube running into pee-collection sacks. But he concedes, "There seems to be some resistance to that idea."

At the 2904 sendoff party inside a Lower East Side bar in New York, go-go dancers high up on a table twist their bodies to guitar music. Some last-minute bailouts have narrowed the racing field to only three teams.

The flamed-out Lincoln Continental boasts a plush interior that features a Cartier clock and an eight-track player rigged to a cassette player, which is then rigged to an iPod. The team was forced to replace the small motor that adjusts the driver's seat because one teammate is barely over five feet tall and couldn't reach the pedals.

"Had I known how much it would cost," Corinna Mantlo says, "I would've gotten her platform shoes."

Mantlo's team, which expects to achieve five miles to the gallon, plans on preparing a meal of chicken breast and Brussels sprouts under the hood — during the race — hence their name: Cookin' With Gas.

Roaring up to the curb fashionably late is the Creative Film Cars trio, a.k.a. the A-Team. Ficarra, with a Mohawk haircut, denim vest and fake gold necklaces, is a dead ringer for Mr. T's B.A. Baracus, his obvious whiteness notwithstanding.

Ficarra swings open the back doors of the van to reveal their secret weapon: two stand-alone fuel cells that hold a combined 44 gallons of gas. With those babies piped into the main gas tank, Ficarra gloats, they'll only have to stop every 750 miles.

Finally, Team Interceptor rolls in, fresh from St. Louis. Chris LaCon, who is ditching classes, has just hopped off the train from New Hampshire and trades handshakes with the team for the first time in person. Macfarlane met and recruited him online.

In the dimly lit bar the music blares, and Dean Engledow, the short, stocky cop-turned-motorcycle instructor, is chatting up every lady within a 50-foot radius.

At night's end Macfarlane's adult toys are being doled out by the bar's staff to anyone who orders a drink. Engledow rips open a box of tongue vibrators and, when he can't figure out their function, begins chucking them at the bartenders.

The forecast for the next morning, race day, calls for clouds and hangovers of moderate severity.

"This is not a race," John Ficarra announces to the contestants, gathered in Brooklyn beneath the Manhattan Bridge. "This does not exist. I'm not an organizer. I make no liability claims whatsoever, and if any of you try to come after me, I pity the fool!"

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