Crash Test Mark and his three-Volkswagen entourage pull up at my apartment at 5:45 on a recent Sunday morning. The plan: to drive across the state with 70-something members of two car clubs, then chill at FixxFest, a yearly drag-racing competition in Bradenton. Although I had no idea what it meant to be part of a car club, it didn't take long to catch on.
The nickname "Crash Test Mark" comes from the totaling of most of the cars Crash Test Mark has owned. The real name's Mark Porudominsky. He's a blond, 26-year-old, half-Peruvian architect who at all times would rather be racing and destroying and rebuilding and talking about his black Mark-3 Volkswagen. And like all cars that are worshiped, this one has a name.
The Fat Bottom Girl.
License plate: FATBTMGRL. Ring tone: the eponymous Queen song.
As I slide into the car, it's impossible not to notice that nearly all the emergency lights on the Fat Bottom Girl's dashboard are illuminated. If you ask Crash Test Mark, these do not indicate problems but "things I have done."
The air-bag light is on because he switched out some seats. The washer light is on because he installed a Super Soaker. Those other two? Oh, just traction control. Crash Test Mark says something about unplugging mass airflow to run smoother, but it's hard to hear exactly because the engine, a 1.8-liter turbo, is so damned loud. It sounds like the piercing moan of a dying grizzly bear.
The car rides so low that with every bump in the road, the fenders scrape the tires and it sounds like this: "rehrehrehreeeeeeeeh." Like a dental drill.
"It's a 'How extreme are you?' thing. How low can you go?" Crash Test Mark says matter-of-factly. "You sacrifice the health of your car for show."
South Florida Dubs - How We Do
There's also the small fact that the back of Crash Test Mark's car is dragging on the asphalt. We'll fix that later, he says. We just have to take out the back seat. He also needs to cut a wire to his hatch, which annoyingly keeps opening.
With every "rehrehrehreeeeh," Crash Test Mark winces as if this terrible noise — a noise that means his tires are turning to goo — is somehow out of his control. As if he weren't the one who lowered the car just yesterday. "I'll never get used to that sound," he says.
We've got a 230-mile drive to the Bradenton Motorsports Park, where hundreds of Volkswagens and Audis from around the state will converge. About 30 are from Crash Test Mark's car club, the South Florida Dubs. Every time we drive past one of the enhanced German cars, somebody will give the shocker. Or pretend to eat pussy. Or push a passenger's head down. That's how they roll in the South Florida Dubs.
The whole car club thing started about two years ago, when Crash Test Mark, Mike Lopez, John Falciglea, and Andrew Clarke were hanging out every day, talking a lot about their Volkswagens. They knew of car clubs up north, and they had seen videos that one of those clubs — Dub Audi — created and posted on the Internet. Falciglea had a video camera and some editing equipment that he put to use on the road. He set the first car club video, Dubsblown, to Bloc Party's "Helicopter" and mixed in a few shots of boobs, partying, and eating. Then the Dubs posted it on their webpage, www.southfloridadubs.com.
The video and website, on top of a word-of-mouth campaign, did the trick. It seemed as if everybody in South Florida who liked to mess with his Volkswagen was showing up. Buying T-shirts. Going to rallies.
At a concert in Orlando, Clarke was approached by a stranger wearing the same South Florida Dubs T-shirt he was. Crash Test Mark saw kids he'd never met wearing them in the mall.
The club began to travel to national drag-racing events all over the East Coast. There was H20 in Maryland, FixxFest in Bradenton, Durtyfest in Georgia, and Waterfest in Jersey. "We rolled into places like rock stars," Crash Test Mark remembers. "We always traveled as a pack. People envied the unity."
The Dubs posted videos of their trips on their site and on YouTube. People starting joining like mad. Other than owning a Volkswagen or an Audi, there were no prerequisites for entry. "There's no admission fee," Crash Test Mark says. "All you do is hang out." And while anyone can join, there's a kind of survival-of-the-fittest mentality. "If you're not cool, you'll get made fun of," Crash Test Mark says. "Don't be a dick. Don't be a douche."
As the group expanded, it became more difficult to manage. Nobody really wants to talk about that. It was a very sad thing, and let's just put it this way: There was drama. Falciglea — and his video expertise — eventually left the group.
But for this trip, a newer member of the club, Anthony Anderson, stepped up. Bought a new XLH1 video camera. So he'll be shooting and editing the tenth video of the South Florida Dubs.
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?
"I've never not loved cars," Crash Test Mark says. He remembers admiring Steve McQueen in his Mustang and James Dean in his Porsche. "It's an image thing," he admits. As a kid, he loved big trucks.
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.
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On the track, cars are lined up waiting their turns to drag-race, two by two, on the quarter-mile run. For $10, a driver can race a car all day long. But not many of the core group of the South Florida Dubs are interested. Either they don't feel like paying the $10 or their cars are not in racing condition. They've brought folding chairs and have parked behind the bleachers, where they can't even see the track.
A couple of girlfriends are dutifully standing in the sun as their boyfriends cruise the tents, where car parts and magazines are on display. Conversations mostly revolve around what the drivers will do to their cars next and how much it will cost. To Mika, an 18-year-old Broward Community College student and a friend of Clarke's, this is baffling.
"How much can a person do to their car?" she says. "Every week, they're like, 'I'm doing this. I'm doing that.' Isn't there a time when it just ends? When the car is just perfect?"
"Never," one guy responds. "You're never done."