A FOUR DAY RALLY THROUGH SOME OF THE BEST DRIVING ROADS IN THE US
I was invited to be a part of the Crown Rally by a fellow Audi enthusiast by the name of Jason. Jason resides in Chicago and is the proud owner of a 2015 Audi R8. We know each other through the Internet but he felt comfortable enough to extend a co-pilot invitation to me. Obviously, I decided to take the plunge and accept his generous offer. I flew to Chicago on Thursday, May 30th to meet up with Jason and meet the rest of the rally teams at a launch party held at Collector's Car Garage. Prior to the launch party, Jason and I met up with some fellow ralliers from Georgia and ripped around town for a bit.
Friday was launch day. The teams assembled on a barricaded stretch of E Jackson Drive adjacent to Buckingham Fountain. Once all teams were in position, we made our way out of town behind a Illinois State Police motorcycle motorcade. The first stop was a one-mile air strip where drivers tested their top end in a 1/2 mile drag race. I decided to let Jason tackle this challenge on his own. He achieved a max speed of approximately 135 mph. From there, the rally followed a twisty path of back country switchbacks to Indianapolis, Indiana. Teams converged on Monument Circle in downtown Indy and many of the local residents were there to admire the rolling car show. Jason was exceptionally gracious allowing onlookers to sit in his car and we spent the better part of the evening talking with people before feasting on a steak dinner at a nearby restaurant.
From Indianapolis, the teams headed to Louisville, Kentucky for a BBQ lunch before arriving at Knoxville, Tennessee. Saturday's route was intense. The roads of rural Kentucky were unbelievable. I don't think we saw a stretch of straight road the entire day! Drivers were quite exhausted by the time we arrived at the Knoxville Hyatt, but teams had an opportunity to unwind on the rooftop while enjoying a spectacular buffet of Southern fried chicken, biscuits and country gravy. The hotel accommodations were amazing at each stop of the rally.
Sunday began with a team meeting in which event organizers reminded teams to continue making smart decisions as the Tail of the Dragon is an unforgiving road. Jason and I found ourselves in a great pack of cars with an even greater pack of drivers. The Tail of the Dragon is a stretch of road that boasts 318 curves in 11 miles. The TOD is the most amazing road you are going to ever see and the way these cars gobbled up the road was simply inspiring. After completing this stage, the rally concluded with an awards ceremony at a charming mountain resort. Following the luncheon, Jason and I took some time to explore the amazing roads of this area and snap some shots of the serene landscapes. We drove back to Chicago the following day and I was on a 7:45 flight back to Calgary.
10 things the Crown Rally taught me
1) I like being in control
I have always been a driver and very rarely do I find myself in the passenger seat. The intensity of the rally revealed my limitations in terms of feeling fully comfortable riding shotgun. Jason was more than capable behind the wheels, but not being the one in control was a new sensation that took some getting used to.
2) Performance cars need to be pushed
I rarely get the chance to witness the level of performance cars like this are capable of so this was a real treat. Seeing cars of this caliber being put through their paces was something I will never forget. What stood out to me the most was the sounds. The glorious sounds.
3) American police are way more tolerant than their Canadian counterparts
Hearing my American friends talk about the "warnings" they received from local law enforcement really made me wonder why Canadian law enforcement is so unforgiving in their policing efforts. When is the last time a Canadian was issued a warning? And the financial penalties Canadians are forced to pay for a vehicular transgression is way more than those imposed in the US.
4) America is a beautiful place
I was amazed at how green and lush the vegetation was on our rally route. There were times when I could have sworn we were driving through the middle of rain forests. The idyllic houses that dotted the country side were extremely charming and I saw many people on their riding lawnmowers attending to their manicured grounds. I could easily see myself living in this part of the world.
5) You don't call American bikers "gentlemen"
While trying to find the back of the line to purchase my "Tail of the Dragon" t-shirt, I asked a couple of burly biker dudes if they were standing in line. Being a good Canadian, I asked, "Are you gentlemen waiting in line?". They were not impressed and pulled no punches in informing me that they were not gentlemen and did not appreciate being referred to as such.
6) Corvettes can handle
The long standing knock on Corvettes has been that they perform great in straight lines but can't handle the twisty stuff. That is not true and I have seen it with my own two eyes. We had the good fortune of following a pair of Vettes through some of the most challenging roads of the rally and I can say with 100% confidence that a Corvette can handle every bit as good as any other car on the road. I have always been a fan of Corvettes, and this rally has renewed my respect for these machines.
7) V6 Chargers are not to be trifled with
At one point during the Indianapolis to Knoxville leg of the rally, a convoy of supercars was cruising down the Interstate at a pretty good clip. Out of nowhere appears a navy blue V6 Dodge Charger. It was obvious this Charger driver had become one with his car and he proceeded to show everyone that the spirit of MOPAR is very much alive and kicking. The fact that he had his arm out the window made it all the more amazing.
8) Americans are awesome
There is no doubt that the driving was the pinnacle of the Crown Rally experience, but I found myself enjoying the social aspects of the rally just as much, if not more. I was fortunate to meet some great people and it was actually quite emotional saying goodbye to some folks. The organizers did a masterful job of balancing the driving and social experiences of the rally and I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to connect with so many cool people.
9) The shortest distance between two points is a straight line
The organizers of the rally undoubtedly spent many hours studying the various route options. In the end, they designed a route that was mesmerizing for a number of reasons. We spent many hours on the twisty back roads of Illinois, Indianapolis, Kentucky and Tennessee. With each hour of driving, I could feel my stress level rising because we had to make our way back to Chicago in a single day, and I just couldn't see how this was possible. Jason assured me I would make my Monday 7:45 flight with time to spare but the sheer number of hours we spent winding our way through the American countryside had me doubting his math. As he predicted, we made our way back to Chicago via Interstate highways with many hours to spare, proving Archimedes knew what he was talking about.
10) Cars connect people
Obviously, the teams had a good time connecting with each other over the course of the four days. What struck me was the extent to which the general public connected with the teams when we rolled into the various stops. In particular, the stop over in Indianapolis demonstrated how much love people have for cars. Jason and I spent a lot of time talking with people who saw his car and wanted to learn more about it. He was gracious and allowed many people to sit in his R8 and he posed for many photos. I spoke with a number of people about the experience and they expressed how cool they thought it was. I'm sure a few people found the convoy of cars obnoxious, but the vast majority of people I met thought it was incredible.
I produced a series of videos that communicate my Crown Rally experience:
Jason's 2015 R8 is equipped with the 4.2 liter V8 packing a 430 bhp punch. I can attest to the fact that it is a superior specimen of automotive engineering. That exquisite power plant was relentless and we were both shocked at how fuel efficient it was given the extreme workout it received. The suspension was equally impressive and the Quattro system allowed the car to capably carve its way through the challenging switchbacks with precision and relative ease. The car has a custom exhaust that is on full display since the rear bumper has been deleted. The exhaust system is a work of art and generates an aggressive bark on every downshift. The lack of a rear bumper was a major conversation starter on each leg of the rally. Jason has tricked his car out with a custom lighting package he can control from his iPhone and people really gravitated towards his car at each stop along the route.
This is a list of the cars that participated in Crown Rally 8:
Lamborghini Aventador SVJ
Lamborghini Aventador S
Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder
McLaren 720S (2)
McLaren 600LT (2)
Ferrari 458 (2)
Aston Martin DB9
Dodge Viper ACR
Dodge Viper (3)
Dodge Charger SRT
Porsche 911 GT2 RS
Porsche 911 GT3
Porsche 911 Turbo S
Porsche 911 Turbo
Porsche 911 (4)
Audi R8 V10 Plus (4)
Audi R8 V10 Spyder
Audi R8 V10
Audi R8 (2)
Audi TTRS (2)
Audi RS3 (5)
Nissan GTR (5)
BMW i8 (2)
BMW M5 (3)
Jaguar F-Type SVR
Chevrolet Corvette ZR1
Chevrolet Corvette Z06 (5)
Chevrolet Corvette (2)
Chevrolet Camaro Z28
Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 (2)
Chevrolet Camaro SS (3)
Ford Mustang GT350R (2)
Ford Mustang GT350
Ford Mustang GT
Ford Shelby F-150
Ford Focus RS (3)
Cadillac CTS-V (3)
VW Golf R (2)
'92 Mazda Rx7 fd2
The most rewarding part of this experience was getting to meet people from all over the US and I can't say enough good things about the people I met while on this rally. Upon my return to Canada, I have maintained contact with many of the rally participants and I anticipate staying in touch with them in the years to come.
I can't thank Jason enough for inviting me to take part in this truly unique and exciting automotive adventure. He was incredibly generous along the way and I took a lot away from our experience. I was highly impressed with his skill behind the wheel and his laser focus that made the trip safe and exciting at the same time.