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Rally Diary, Day -1: Is the Mille Miglia the Old Man’s Gumball 3000?

Sex! Drugs! Sports cars! And those are the boring parts. Add heroes, scoundrels, scandals, exotic locations, fatalities and cover-ups, and you start to get the full picture. I’m not talking about the Gumball 3000. I’m talking about the Mille Miglia.

Is there really a difference?

Where there’s smoke there’s fire, and every May in Europe, that means a late-model Ferrari on a flatbed, a Cayenne full of hookers, and an English banker in the back seat with a nosebleed and accounts in the Channel Islands.

Why does Gumball’s traveling circus of Pagani-driving rich kids get demonized, while their parents on the Miglia get a free pass?

The Miglia is the original road race reborn as a rally, wrapped in mythology and Chopard watches. Translation: people died “a few years” ago, so it had to go away and come back once people forgot—or didn’t care. Just like the Gumball, except for the going away part.

Some would have you believe that while the Gumball represents the worst in car culture, the Mille Miglia represents the best. Bullshit, I say. You don’t need to be a scientist or a wizard to know that human nature is a constant, and you don’t need to be Nostradamus to know that where there are men, money and sports cars, things are going to happen.

Bad things. Things like flagrant materialism, speeding, running red lights and cheating on your wife. But that only happens on the Gumball, right? Impossible.

I’m not excusing the bad behavior I saw on the Gumball—there was a lot of it—but for every trust fund kid passed out in a Lamborghini’s passenger seat each morning, I saw someone like Charles Morgan stop to change a stranger’s tire, or give rides to kids who’d only dreamed of sitting in a supercar.

Why should the Miglia have a monopoly on good press?

I’m bored to tears with the annual bukkake of Mille Miglia articles talking about heritage, history, legacy, respect—blah, blah, blah. Why do we love Stirling Moss? It isn’t just his driving. It’s the idea that if one drives fast enough one can defeat time, stop the clock and marry a woman half one’s age. It’s an idea that compels grown men to risk everything for nothing but ego. Unless you’re paid to drive, nothing’s at stake. No matter what you call the Miglia, the recurring stories of accidents and death point straight back to the Gumball, which at least wears gratuitous risk shamelessly on its sleeve.

After driving five Gumballs, three Bullruns, the Baja 1000, the 24 Hours of Lemons and a season with the “gentlemen” racers of Grand Am, I’m just not convinced there is a group of people in car “racing” that’s better behaved than any other.

I’m also not convinced one has to spend a lot of money to have fun in a car.

Based on what I’ve heard, the Mille Miglia is the Gumball 3000 with higher entry fees and a better publicist. Actually, the Miglia’s entry fees are lower. A lot lower, but we’ll get to that in my next entry.

Well, it’s a theory, and there’s only one way to find out. I’m going to hit two boulders with one car. I’ve decided to enter the Mille Miglia in the cheapest way possible, infiltrate the automotive 1% and see what’s really going on behind the Robb Report and buff book puff pieces. If there’s a dirty undercarriage to the Miglia, I intend to find it.

Research? None so far, except my past observation of human nature behind the wheel.

Heritage? Let’s light a match.

The Mille Miglia starts on Thursday, May 19th at 1430hr local time in Brescia, Italy. I’ll post updates until I finish Sunday night, or am found in an Italian ditch, depending on connectivity and the availability of medical services.

You may also follow my team’s progress on FacebookTwitter  and Instagram.

Alex Roy, best known for breaking the Cannonball Run record in 2007, is author of The Driver and Editor-at-Large for The Drive.