Crash Diary: 2004 Lamborghini Murcielago
Can friendship survive busting another man’s supercar?
Vegas Mike had a lot of things I didn’t. A linebacker’s build. A hot girlfriend who may have been a porn star. A Bullrun rally support bus he had decided to fill with girls instead of parts. Also, a brand-new Lamborghini Murcielago. Bright yellow, three hundred grand, sitting in pit lane at Sebring surrounded by other high-priced exotics.
Vegas Mike had another thing I lacked: complete, blind trust in a virtual stranger. When I told him that not only did I not own a Murcielago but had never even driven one, his response was to hand me the keys.
There was a catch, but as catches go there are far worse: Vegas Mike also wanted his friend, a gorgeous brunette named Shannon to accompany me during my laps.
“I’ve told her you’ve won a bunch of races,” Vegas Mike said. “And that you’re my personal security driver and racing instructor.”
I pointed out that I was neither of those things, but it didn’t bother Vegas Mike any. He told me “she’ll feel safer” with the lie, and indeed there she was, already climbing into the car. Truth, it seemed, was at the mercy of momentary conveniences for a guy like him.
Here, I should mention how I knew the Vegas Mike. We’d seen each other around during several prior rallies, but only really connected when I heard he was in the hospital in 2003 and had called to wish him well. He was apparently quite touched by the gesture—enough to invite me to Vegas to select from among his vast collection a car to borrow for the 2004 Bullrun. Let’s note here that if somebody is willing to lend you a $200,000 Renntech Mercedes-Benz CL600 for a week without any documentation, you probably shouldn’t accept the offer. But if you do—like I did, because obviously—and you manage to make it from L.A. to Sebring without a scratch, do not then go and push your luck by agreeing to lap the man’s Murcielago around Sebring. Especially if there’s a TV news crew on hand, like there was that day.
But, hey: give a narcissistic fool a set of car keys and an audience and he’s unlikely to disappoint.
I pulled out onto Sebring for the first time in my life. Maybe I should have mentioned that to Vegas Mike, I thought. Truth is subject to convenience, I reminded myself. My palms were already wet against the steering wheel as I ambled down the straight toward Turn 1 when Shannon asked my name.
So Vegas Mike really had told her I was his personal security driver and racing instructor—as if I worked for him? L’audace!
“Alex Roy,” I said. In my head it came out defiantly: Alex f*****g Roy. “I can do this,” I thought. “I’ll show all of them how good I am.”
I bore left and accelerated into Turn 1, enough to make her think something important was happening. Something important was happening, but it wasn’t the masterful display she was expecting. It was a 6/10ths lunge by a man trying to intuit the track layout.
I coasted into the next turn without braking, turned hard left and glanced in the mirror: no one behind us, thank God. Then a gentle right, with another hard left coming quickly.
“When are you going to start going faster?” Shannon asked.
“This is called, er, a warm-up lap,” I said. I squinted past what I thought was Turn 4. Maybe it was Turn 5? How many turns could Sebring possibly have? You didn’t need to be a track designer to know that it was about time for a nice long fast section. I coasted through another chicane and was blessed with the long gentle turn I was looking for. I tapped the paddle and downshifted for the first time, the pitch of the V12 increasing. I tapped the throttle again and Shannon’s hand darted out to grab my forearm.
I floored it. She let go, her palm slapping back to her tanned thigh. My eyes darted between her leg and the windshield.
72 miles per hour. 86...101...121…
I could feel Shannon tense, could almost hear her gritting her teeth. I smiled and gritted my own. Then I spotted the tight right shimmering in the fast-approaching distance, a run-off clear behind. Oh, shit—I knew this turn. It was the hairpin everyone buggered up on television. I braked—hard. Shannon groaned against the shoulder belt.
“Brake test,” I lied. “We’ll go faster on Lap 2.”
She fixed her bra. I meandered around the track making mental notes.
“Is this a big racetrack?” she asked.
“The biggest, except for Le Mans,” I said. “That’s in France. I was arrested there for speeding.”
And there it was, finally: a straight so long it had to be the next-to-last before the pits. I remembered that from Speed Channel. The stands were on our right. Time to get this alpha-male display over with; all I had to do was impress her once, show some grit and some skill through a single hairy turn, and I could spend the rest of the lap playing it cool and strategizing when to meet up with her and her friends in Miami later that night.
Where better for such heroics than the big, wide Turn 1? The Murcie had all-wheel drive and traction control! Maybe it was even engaged! I hadn’t actually thought to check, I realized, before I floored it through the straight.
We passed the pits. Was Vegas Mike watching? Was that Richard Rawlings waving? I braked a little, then I braked some more, that walled apex in my sights, then I let go. I turned, contemplated adding throttle. All the lessons from Skip Barber school had gone out the window. I had no idea how fast I was going. I added power anyway, a great heaving surge.
The Lamborghini yawed left, the back end rocketing out like a screen door in a hurricane.
The good news was that I hit the apex perfectly. The bad news was that I hit it with the front bumper. Shannon screamed and the car rebounded off the wall, coming to a stop.
“Are you ok?” I whispered. She nodded. The car was still running. I got out to inspect the damage. The bumper was hanging off. The car was driveable, but I felt like running. Off the track, away from the busted car and the shame and stupidity. Instead, I got back in the car.
We completed Lap 2—the longest, slowest lap of my life—without a word.
I was thirty-two years old when I punted the Murcielago. It’s a funny age. They say you don’t become an adult until you lose your virginity, but we all know that’s far from true. At the time I thought I’d become an adult at twenty-eight, when my father died and I became responsible for my mother and the family business. Then I believed it was when I broke the Cannonball Record, then again when I finished my first book. I thought I maybe I was finally an adult when I proposed for the first time; I was sure of it when she left me.
A ten-year old can have character. A grown man, none. We are only what we do when it counts.
Vegas Mike’s was the first face I saw when I pulled into the pits. The TV news crew was behind him in a sea of laughter. He waited impassively for me to speak. I thought about how I hadn’t asked whether he had track insurance, and the replacement cost of a 2004 Murcielago front bumper, and where the money might come from. Given the guy’s propensity to throw money around as sport, I probably could have wiggled out of it. I could save a shot to my bank account if I let my conscience take the hit instead.
I also thought about this man in the hospital, surprised to hear from me because so few “friends” had called, and about his unbelievable kindness toward relative strangers. I wanted to repay that faith. In a sense, be it based on circumstance or convenience or a shared love of big, loud, fast things, we really were friends.
“Whatever it costs,” I told him, “I’ll pay it.”
The estimate was $34,786. I paid a decent chunk of it.* What I learned was far more valuable.
*Despite previous recountings, published elsewhere, to the contrary. Long story.