By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
A silver, nearly full moon still owns the sky when we pull up on the slick asphalt of our first stop, a lighted Home Depot parking lot in Pembroke Pines. About 15 cars have been waiting for us, and a welcoming honking ensues. These aren't just any honks, though. Everybody's got custom honks. In fact, Crash Test Mark's sounds like it belongs to a 1920s buggy.
Teenagers and 20-somethings are circled around their cars, smoking cigarettes, drinking Bud Light, chip-proofing the hoods and rims of the cars with red, blue, black, and green painter's tape. The leftover tape is perfect for posting slogans such as "EURAHOE" and "WTF 69 LOL" along with depictions of the shocker hand on rear windshields.
Crash Test Mark unloads FixxFest competition stickers along with a giant box of T-shirts from his car. The black shirts read "Road Head Run 2007." Cum-squirt designs surround the letters, and to their right is a yellow caution sign bearing a black car. Inside it are two passengers: one spiky-headed male driver and one pony-tailed passenger apparently doing road-head duty.
One after the next, the drivers hand over their $30 and collect their merchandise. They are mostly male and wearing sideways baseball caps. Some brought dedicated girlfriends. Some have earrings that stretch their earlobes. Clarke's carrying a 57-day-old, fist-sized Chihuahua named Anna.
There's a lot of banter. Though clearly not meaning to be offensive, everyone calls everyone else a "nigga." (Almost everyone is white.) The topic of who slept and who did not is central.
"What'd you do last night?" somebody asks.
"Dude, you mean like 20 minutes ago, when we were all at a house party and we watched a girl tumble into a fuckin' pool?"
It's hard to believe, but there is a handful of female drivers. And they're hot. One with sleek black hair and major cleavage has prepared cupcakes. A svelte blond says she's disappointed that there won't be a dunk tank this year, because the proceeds were supposed to go to charity. These women are in the extreme minority, though, as most of the females in the parking lot are tag-along girlfriends.
The sky gradually transitions to blue, and the birds begin the day's chirping, and we're running 45 minutes late. With Crash Test Mark's trunk emptied, the Fat Bottom Girl is no longer dragging. He opens his window so friends can watch him chug his bright-red Full Throttle energy drink; then we follow the 30-plus cars out of the lot, heading for Alligator Alley.
At some point, because I too haven't slept, I pass out. When I wake up, Crash Test Mark glances over from the driver's seat. He wants to know, what's the fastest I've ever gone in a car?
I'm really not sure. A little over 100?
Wrong. While I was sleeping, we went 145, he informs me.
All the way to Fort Myers, Crash Test Mark gets calls on his cell phone. People have various questions. Some have warnings about cops. Apparently Anthony Anderson, the new videographer, didn't get that call soon enough. Standing up through the sunroof is not exactly legal, and he didn't see the cop until it was too late. Yep, Anderson got yanked. But Anderson's OK. Didn't even get a ticket. Just a lecture. Still, "this is why it's so hard to do this," Crash Test Mark says.
In a Cracker Barrel parking lot in Fort Myers, the Dubs meet up with another Volkswagen and Audi club and receive the ceremonial honk welcome. There's time for cigarettes, sticker distribution, and then we've got to haul ass.
Now 70 strong, we get back on I-75 for the final hour-and-a-half stretch.
I take the opportunity to try to figure out what I consider the biggest mystery of all of this. What is it about cars?
What's Crash Test Mark's dream car?
"Whatever I'm driving."
"Yeah, OK, but what car would you most like to own in the world?"
He looks truly stumped. There are just so many for so many different reasons. Well, maybe an old-school Porsche, he says finally.
The passion borders on obsession, and it's not something his parents are happy about. Especially his dad, a doctor. "His second job is picking on me," Crash Test Mark says. "He says this shit holds me back."
His old man wants Crash Test Mark to move up in the architecture world, he says, which can't be done from South Florida. But he's not about to abandon this car club. He worked too hard getting it started. Sure, he could join some other car club in New York City or San Francisco, but he wouldn't be the leader. And when it comes down to it, Crash Test Mark wants to be the guy whom everybody listens to and looks up to. The one with the lowest, fastest car. The big boy.
"It's about the respect," he says.
By the time we arrive at the Bradenton Motorsports Park, the sun is hot overhead, glinting off the hoods of more than 1,000 Volkswagens and Audis. There's a snack hut, some tents, some bleachers, and practically no shade. Drivers peer out of their windows at all the shiny cars and discuss what looks good, what looks hideous. How fast so-and-so's car can go. How low it is.