I miss the Gumball. I really do. I miss the spectacle. I miss the outlaw sensibility. I miss paying for the privilege of having dozens of one-percenters in supercars run scrimmage and eat tickets while I sneak past in a fake German police car. The parties? I’ve had more fun for free. The roads? Most highway, and widely available for free, or $50k less off-event.
So what is it I’m really missing? I did five Gumballs, from 2003 to 2007, and I long supposed I missed being part of something surreptitious. The winkwink, nudgenudge of being part of a race. That’s nonsense, of course. The Gumball doesn’t claim to be a race. It’s a rally, an automotive circus in cars that co-opts the mythology of the illegal races of the seventies. It digs deep in subcultural appropriation, because there never was a Gumball race back in the day. There was only The Gumball Rally movie, itself a ripoff of the Cannonball Run movie, which was based on the original illegal race, which was the Cannonball Baker Sea-to-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash.
I had a fantasy of being part of something underground, cooler and more dangerous than even the mythology Gumball still sells for $50k or more. The reality? I miss the camaraderie shared with those who saw the Gumball as I did, which was no more than a dozen out of the hundreds I met. They, like I, have since grown up, and have left the Gumball behind. I’m one of the few who still cares about things like setting records on public roads, but we all know that’s best done alone, if at all.
So what’s left? What is the event for people who’ve “graduated” from the Gumball?
The continuum of organized events on public roads is wide, with enormous gaps. On one of the spectrum is the Gumball and myriad copycat events. Variations on a theme, running from $15k to $75k. That theme? Stickers, nightclubs, high speeds, parties, press, celebrities ranging from C- to A-, and tons of attention from law enforcement. I made some great friends, but just as many enemies. At 44, I’m not interested in Dubai’s high school parking lot. As for the nightlife, I've owned clubs. And a bar. You don't need to do the Gumball to go all out. Actually, you can go harder for less, but that's another article, and probably one that would have to go through legal.
On the other end are tours like those organized by Porsche, who provides rental cars and subcontracts the event to a corporate travel agency. No stickers. No parties. No press. Fine dinners and great European driving roads, but still basically a marketing event dressed up as a vacation. Good stuff, but vertical integration does not an adventure make. I’ve never met anyone who did one of these twice.
As the President of Europe By Car, I long thought about launching an event right down the middle. Five star everything, but discreet. Open to all cars. No stickers. No interstates. No press. Dinners and hotels included. No DJs. No celebrities. No assholes passing on the shoulder. Something that combines the best of road rallies with luxury travel...but not the deluded fantasy of luxury as defined by the cast of Jersey Shore.
I wasn’t alone, because an old friend was thinking exactly the same thing. The event is called Adventure Drives (or AD), and it’s the brainchild of Rob Ferretti, best known as the man behind SuperSpeeders and Gotham Dream Cars.
AD01 took place in July of 2015, and Rob was kind enough to invite me as a member of the press. I’d refused to participate in any rally since the unfortunate events on the 2007 Gumball 3000, but Rob assured me that AD would be completely unlike the Gumball, and it was true. It was the opposite of the Gumball in every way, and I loved it. A few dozen cars went halfway cross country over the course of a week, and only one guy got one ticket.
Did I mention that legendary Lamborghini test driver Valentino Balboni was on it? And YouTuber David Patterson? And Rob Dahm? I’d never met any of them, and had this been the Gumball I wouldn’t have. AD01 only had 20 or 30 cars, I think. The perfect number of people. By the end I’d gotten to know almost all of them. I liked all but one, which I’m pretty sure what everyone there would say, except that I’m probably the one everyone else was referring to. As usual.
AD01 started in Denver and ran through Telluride, Park City, Zion, Vegas and Yosemite before wrapping in Napa. I would do it again even if it was the same route, only I’d bring something a little faster than my 1987 911 Targa. Everyone else brought things a little more up to date, but most were kind enough not to let me feel ashamed of my little 225hp flat six. There was an NSX, however, so I wasn’t quite the slowest. (Sorry, Rob Dahm.)
I had to skip AD02, which ran from NYC to Nashville this past October, because I was busy driving my Morgan 3-wheeler through a snowstorm in a fit of masochism.
Now that I’m recovered from that (and the Mille Miglia, and my latest secret record run) I’m just waiting to find out if the Morgan will be ready for AD03, which departs July 13th from Denver. The route goes through Pikes Peak, Vail, Jackson Hole and ends in Seattle. If I’m not on it, it’s because I refuse to ride shotgun or I’m in jail.
I don’t own a piece of Adventure Drives, but I sure wish I did. It’s exactly the kind of event I should have launched when I quit Gumball back in the day. I didn’t get it at the time, but I sure do now.
I sure hope to see you in Denver on 13th.
Alex Roy is an Editor-at-Large for The Drive, and author of The Driver and set the 2007 Transcontinental “Cannonball Run” Record in 31 hours & 4 minutes. You may follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.