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.