THE LOVE OF AUTO: Arkansas Gumball Rally
We arrived at 8:30am with our camera gear prepped and ready to shoot the inaugural running of the Arkansas Gumball Rally (AGR). Over the course of the next few days we would follow 40 teams and their cars from all eras as they traveled through some of the most scenic back highways and interstates of Arkansas. Cars "slowly" began arriving to the wet parking lot of Lewis Top Gear. It was a cloudy morning but people's spirits were high with excitement for the long weekend ahead.
There were several historic cars that made an appearance this weekend. Here is Team Flat Four Duo's Porsche 356 looking nostalgic as ever.
Team Motorsports Authority's 2013 Nissan GTR is shown on the left wearing a unique HaloEFX Covert Black dip accented by GC-47 Alien Pearls. On the right we have Team Sign Planet representing the British lightweights in a flat black Lotus Exige.
The AGR not only had a variety of cars, but the SUVs and trucks started showing up in full force. There are enough light bars in this picture to light the Mariana's trench.
As Teams continued to roll in, so did the different exhaust sounds. Team Grandpa's Money was running Borla unequal length headers on their FR-S for some good ole fashioned boxer rumble.
The parking lot fell silent when this replica Ford GT MKI crept in through the back entrance. Being a fan of auto racing it was a blissful experience seeing a piece of motorsport history in person, even if it wasn't an original. The detail on this replica was insane. I could only imagine what it would have been like seeing the later version MKII race cars sweep the podium in the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Auto enthusiasts are a diverse group of people. That's why this had to be one of my favorite teams. Team Girl Power in their 911 convertible had a certain elegance about them, but what else would you expect from this dynamic mother - daughter duo.
After the opening ceremony it was time to hit the road. I-49 provides scenic views of the Ozarks. It's many tall bridges and the Bobby Hopper Tunnel add to the allure. Scott Huddleston, the rally organizer is pictured above in his all black Hyundai Genesis Support Vehicle.
Nearing the end of I-49 we were able to get a quick snap of Team Topless doing what they do best in the 5.0 Mustang.
After a short drive we arrived at Checkpoint One, the Ft. Smith Historical Museum. It was interesting seeing the cars roll in at different times, sometimes solo and sometimes in packs. For lack of a better term, the AGR quickly took on the persona of a traveling circus in my mind. Every checkpoint gave us more time to get to know the drivers, navigators, and their cars. We would experience the checkpoint and then pack up and head out to the next location.
Ethan and his girlfriend, Mashia, arriving at Checkpoint One in what had to be one of the most vicious sounding vehicles in the rally. You would usually hear Mashia exclaiming from the passenger seat as well. These two always appeared to be having an absolute blast.
Friends or foes? Team Army National Guard in their '13 Focus ST and Team Flat Four The Win in their '13 WRX parked side by side letting their turbo four bangers cool off. They share similar blue oval badges but the mechanics of both cars are quite different. It was pretty cool being able to compare the two.
If you have ever wondered what a twin turbo V10 looks like then feast your eyes on Wallace's 1100 rwhp Viper. This thing makes the ground shake even when idling in the parking lot.
I know it's not possible to see thunder but that's probably because no one has ever tried harness it and paint it orange. Team Toxic Venom heading south on HWY 71 toward Checkpoint Two.
Team Onyx's Rubicon may not have sounded like thunder but it was intimidating nevertheless. It was a real sight to see the Jeeps running with the rest of the pack on the back roads.
Checkpoint Two had a real rawness about it. Brodix is known for producing high caliber racing heads, blocks, and manifolds and they have been doing so for the past 40 years. The tour of their factory gave an in depth look at their manufacturing processes. It's an intricate operation and the fact that it all takes place under roof is impressive. After the tour, the teams loaded up in their vehicles and headed to the final checkpoint of the day, the Embassy Suites in Hot Springs.
It had started raining just before arriving to Checkpoint Two but it had really picked up the pace after leaving Brodix. We were in a torrential downpour for the next hour. The roads heading to Hot Springs are curvy and were holding more water than I had expected. I had my wipers turned on the highest setting and I was still having trouble seeing. The summer tires on my car were a clear disadvantage and even with AWD I was hydroplaning quite often. We took it slow and eventually cleared the storm and headed to the hotel. This concluded Day One.
The media team departed early Saturday morning to get a head start on the rally participants. Today was definitely going to be an amazing day. We had so many great roads ahead of us, one being the infamous Scenic 7, and the first checkpoint of the day had everyone excited. Here are two of the three media vehicles getting prepped for some photos and copter filming.
I mentioned it before but this photo reiterates the diverse group of cars present at the rally. Where else would you see a 911, a Cooper S, and an H2 partaking in some spirited driving together. The rally continued to snake up Scenic 7 towards the next stop.
Checkpoint Four put a big smile on the team's faces. Centerville Dragway is an 1/8 mile and 1000 ft drag strip located just south of Russellville. The AGR would get to enjoy a private session over the course of the next few hours. After a brief drivers meeting it was time to prep the vehicles and head to the starting line.
Not every day do you get to see a lifted Jeep run flat out on an 1000ft drag. It sounded like it was riding on hundreds of suction cups as it approached the Christmas Tree. Apparently grabbers can grab more than dirt.
Team Cadzilla was a fan favorite. Chris and his wife Stephanie took their 600+ whp CTS-V Wagon down the strip more than a handful of times. This thing can haul ass while hauling whatever else you want. The best part...It was a 6 speed manual.
Team Army National Guard taking on Team Quattro's Audi A4. This ST sounds amazing. It might have something to do with the larger turbo setup, meth injection, and the electronic exhaust cutout...me boosta.
Gabe and his '01 F-250 rolling a bit of coal. This truck looked and sounded mean, but don't be fooled by the black body and red accented wheels. Team HTABR was one of the nicest teams on the planet.
The AWD platform paired with the Michelin Pilot Super Sports gave the GTR massive amounts of grip at Centerville. It put down the fasted time of the day, running a 9.87 in the 1/8 mile. The Meisterschaft race exhaust played a beautiful melody as it exploded down the track.
After leaving Centerville, we had a quick stop for lunch at Buffalo Wild Wings (Checkpoint Five) in Russellville and headed to the Historic Automobile Museum atop Mount Petit Jean. Each car represented a snapshot of automotive history. I couldn't help but wonder if by some small chance one of the rally participants cars would end up in this museum 25 years from now with a little plaque beside it that read "one of the cars that participated in the inaugural Arkansas Gumball Rally." We headed to the next checkpoint as a large group.
We stopped on Wye Mountain (Checkpoint Seven) for a small photoshoot on our way to the final checkpoint of the day. MSA's Black Rhino had been offered to us as a media vehicle just one day before the rally kicked off. It was definitely an awesome experience helping maneuver this behemoth across the state for three days. Huge thanks to Bryan at MSA for offering it up for our team.
After a long day we had finally arrived at the final checkpoint of the day, the Marriott in downtown Little Rock. At this point, it was hard to tell the teams apart. Everyone had blended into several larger groups. There was a sense of fellowship but also a hint of sadness as everyone knew the next day would be the last of a great weekend. But, the best was yet to come.
It's Day Three. We are headed back to northwest Arkansas for the final checkpoint. Team Baby on Board overtaking our media caravan in style.
Team Ramrod was piloting a brand new Z06 Stingray. Chevy really nailed the new body style.
After driving for several hours we arrived at the NWA Children's Shelter, the final checkpoint. After putting on a small car show for the kids we presented the shelter with a donation. It was an inspirational moment and smiles were abundant. In all we were able to raise a little over $1300 for the shelter.
After suffering a catastrophic engine failure, Team Flat For The Win borrowed their navigator's wife's Subaru Forester XT for the last day of the rally. These guys had hustled hard all weekend. They finished in a different car but they made it to the end. They are seen here pulling back into Lewis Top Gear for the closing ceremony.
Awards were given out for all sorts of categories - everything from the most gas used, to the most breakdowns, to the most miles driven to participate. Despite their engine failure, Team Flat For The Win had reached more checkpoints first than any of the other teams.
The Spirit Award was well deserved by Team Kiss My S. Caleb and his mother had set out on the first day in their Mini Cooper S. After experiencing some engine issues it seemed like the weekend would come to an abrupt end; however, they bounced back in another Mini and were able to finish the rest of the rally.
After a long action packed weekend I was finally headed home. Even though I was exhausted, I was grinning from ear to ear thinking about all of the fun I had had. It was a surreal experience; I never thought that I would experience such a thing on the roads that I learned to drive on or in the towns I grew up in. I had an excellent time with the media team and it was awesome meeting so many new people with a common interest - the love of auto.