Finally, the team reunites outside an O'Reilly Auto Parts and installs the new parts. But we've lost crucial hours, and we have half a country to go.


Our radar detectors light up like Christmas trees as we rip through Nebraska. So far the only Smokeys we've spotted have been cruising in the opposite direction. Surging past a rest stop, the laser jammer spurts out a wild string of beeps. Somebody's nailed us with a radar gun.

We slow down to 70. LaCon watches our tail closely with the binoculars. No one seems to be following. Macfarlane expresses concern about "wolf-packing," when state troopers flood a small stretch of road to make sure no speeders escape their trap.

Corinna Mantlo of the Cookin' With Gas team relaxes in the trunk of their Lincoln.
Nicholas Phillips
Corinna Mantlo of the Cookin' With Gas team relaxes in the trunk of their Lincoln.
2904 founder John Ficarra with veteran Cannonballer, John Harrison.
Nicholas Phillips
2904 founder John Ficarra with veteran Cannonballer, John Harrison.
2904 fail: The Interceptor gets towed in Nebraska.
Christopher LaCon
2904 fail: The Interceptor gets towed in Nebraska.
To the victors go the "spoils" — the Crap Cup.
John Ficarra
To the victors go the "spoils" — the Crap Cup.
Engledow, Macfarlane and LaCon.
Scott Paz
Engledow, Macfarlane and LaCon.
Richter, Ficarra and Pierce Plam.
Scott Paz
Richter, Ficarra and Pierce Plam.
Donald Almquist, Corinna Mantlo and Robyn Almquist.
Scott Paz
Donald Almquist, Corinna Mantlo and Robyn Almquist.

When we resume speed, the duct tape holding the rear driver's side window pane flaps so violently that LaCon has to wrap his windbreaker around his head in order to sleep.

As we push westward through the Great Plains, the names of service stations become increasingly quirky: Pump n Pantry, Loaf 'n Jug, Kum & Go. We glide past a convoy transporting the blade of a windmill. It's at least three school bus-lengths long and looks like a giant whale.

When the sun drops behind the sugar-glazed mountains of western Wyoming, the A-Team sends us a text message: "You might still be in it. Can you get back up to 78 mph?"

A debate ensues over how to respond. If we say we've given up, they might relax, and we can gain some time on them. But they also might feel encouraged and push even harder. We agree on a vague response and press forward.


Flooring it through the dark Nevada desert, Engledow is loopy with fatigue and convinced all is lost. "What's the word for when you come all this way and you lose and you're crushed?" he says.

"I'm just demoralized. I'm too competitive, that's what it boils down to. I don't know if I need to change my character or what." He glances up at the inky sky. "God, it looks like an astronomy class up there. Just clusters and clusters of stars."

This will be his final shift. LaCon takes over and brings us far into California before handing off the wheel to the team captain for the final leg.

"It's our last chance to bank time," says Macfarlane as we scream toward the Bay Area.

At 2:33 a.m. on November 9, we cross the Bay Bridge into San Francisco. It just so happens that an hour later, a truck loaded with pears will topple over the bridge's squat guard rail and crash 200 feet below onto Yerba Buena Island.

It's the finish line at last when we roll up to the Classic Cars West garage in the Mission District. We park and totter up to the entrance with rubber limbs. It's been 38 hours and 29 minutes on the road.

Our final task is to find the secret word taped on the garage door and text it back to Ficarra's wife in New York. The send time of our text reads 2:46 a.m. Pacific Standard Time. It is our official end time. We don't know yet if we've won.

Last year the secret word was "Dirty Sanchez." This time the word is "merkin." We have burned through four time zones, two mountain ranges and several sacks of jerky, not for money, but to brag that we found out, in the shortest time, that the word taped on the door is "vagina wig."

Now it's time for noodles in Chinatown. We consult the GPS system and let our Australian female guide us. "I kind of want to date a girl named Sheila now," Engledow muses.


After one speeding ticket in Ohio, a sumptuous under-the-hood chicken dinner and thirteen pits stops, Cookin' With Gas takes third place. The A-Team, though hit with a speeding violation in Wyoming, came in at 37 hours and 8 minutes — besting St. Louis' Project Interceptor by 1 hour and 21 minutes.

"Project Interceptor would have kicked our ass this year if it were not for the breakdown," Ficarra admits.

Macfarlane knows it, and while it tears at his guts, he plans to sign up for the 2010 race. "I've gone through every conceivable emotion with this race," he says. "It was almost as stressful as my wedding. But I'll be doing it again next year."

So will Ficarra, who is already scheming to race either an ambulance on biodiesel or something that resembles Star Wars' Millennium Falcon.

He hopes the race might someday swell to twelve teams but refuses to advertise it. "You gotta find your way to us by word of mouth," he says. "I've had people come to me directly, and I've turned them down."

One person he'd never turn down, however, is Alex Roy. Ficarra says he sent Roy a direct challenge via e-mail, but Roy never responded. "He's probably too afraid he'd lose," Ficarra laughs. "And he probably thinks I'm some nutball."

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