The next race of the season was taking place at Sebring Raceway in Florida. It was five in the morning. I brushed my teeth and readied myself for a big day on track. But when you are staying in a hotel full of race team members — all driving rental cars — the battle to the racetrack can sometimes be fiercer than the actual race.
Little did any of us know that this particular morning was going to produce one of the most epic rental car races of all time.
Let's face it, rental cars are cool to drive. After all, they don't belong to us, so we feel a little more relaxed about destroying its four, rock-hard economy tires. I mean, they aren't usually particularly nice cars. In fact, if you are anything like me, most rental cars you will drive have coffee-stained seats, smell of sick and have curly little black hairs presumably left as a gift from the nether regions of the previous renter.
As we leave the hotel, I greet a team member with the obligatory traffic-light bump. He responds with the usual middle finger salute. I'm driving a rather fetching, light-blue Chevy Aveo; he's in an ice white Kia Rio. Both cars cost around $12,000 and each have a mind-blowing amount of horsepower. Roughly 110, actually. Getting from zero to 60 takes about a week and top speed compares to the world's fastest turtle. A few other racers are at the lights, too, also driving some of the worst shitboxes known to man.
What's cool about slow, vomit-infused economy rental cars, is they start to slide when cornering at about six mph. Even when you are just driving normally, the tires screech for mercy. If it's wet, they're Richard Nixon slippery. So you're always having fun. I bet you the tweed-jacketed gentleman driving his Jaguar is having a far less enjoyable drive. Sure, he is surrounded by lush walnut rather than pubic hair, but we are the ones with the big smiles on our faces.
As the lights turn green, of course, the saluting team member stamps on the gas. His little tires spin faster than the legs of Usain Bolt on bath salts. I mimick the maneuver, as do my fellow compatriots behind. It appears we are in a race.
The distance to the track is only a few miles and there isn't another soul on the road this early on a Sunday morning, so it looks like the scene's set for a bit of low-speed, low-risk fun. At the first 90-degree left-hand bend, I throw my Aveo down the inside, after braking a few yards later than he does. Apparently the saluting man (we'll call him Bob) doesn't get the memo that I'm coming through, and he turns directly into my right-side door.
My first thought? Glad I took out the coverage! I look in my rear-view mirror just in time to see a buddy of mine (who shall remain nameless) glissando through the turn way too fast, sliding off the road and into a ditch. I figured he was likely dead, and if not would presumably be eaten by an alligator. So we raced on.
Of course you could argue my explanation on why rental cars are more fun to drive could apply to any cheap cars. But again, rental cars do not belong to you. You do not need to replace the tires, brake pads or live with the damage you will undoubtedly cause by driving like a buffoon. You simply won't drive this way in your own car. Plus, the smudged human excrement adds character that ordinarily wouldn't be there.
I'm side-by-side with Bob, and we're consistently bumping into each other. I notice a car pull up within inches behind me. "Uh oh," I think. He's driving a Ford Focus, a considerably quicker car. I slam on the brakes and he careens into the back of my rental Aveo. Confused and flustered, the man behind stutters and has second thoughts about partaking in the race we were in. While he dithered, I went on after Bob, followed closely by two other team members.
As we approach the final couple of turns, I've reeled in Bob and pulled along a pair of cars to join the battle for rental-car supremacy. I know I need to be smarter than my compatriots, so at the penultimate turn I wait, biding my time. The impatient man behind (in our fictional world named Harry Junior) launches down the inside but doesn't see the curb sticking out and smashes into it, causing his plastic hubcap to shatter into a million shards. I keep to his outside, as he keeps it floored.
Coming into the final bend I go to the inside, but Harry is blocking my way, so I brake as late as I can and try to use the old, "Days of Thunder" technique — driving right around the outside. The two inside of me make contact and for a brief second I think I'm clear. Then, the two cars intertwine and drill me on the right rear, sending us all into a three-way spin towards the entrance of the track.
Once we come to rest, we all pause, looking at our smoking rental cars in disbelief. How did it get this far out of control? The lady at the gate is also looking shocked as we roll on forward and present our hard cards to enter the facility. "Morning boys. Having fun?" she says with a wry smile. My steering wheel is out of sync by about 40 degrees and the right side of the car is destroyed. My buddies' cars are in similar disrepair.
In retrospect, I had more fun that morning than I did in the real race that afternoon. It says a lot that I can have more enjoyment driving a 110-hp rental car than a full-on racecar. After all, nothing is more fun than punishing someone else's car.
(Disclaimer: Professional idiots on an empty road, in cars incapable of going above 30-mph. Please do not try this yourself! Oh, and my buddy in the ditch ended up not dead. He is living a long and healthy life in Indiana, reading this saying, "Lloydy, you bastard!")
About the author: @Alex_Lloyd began racing in the U.S. in 2006. He won the Indy Lights championship in 2007. He's competed in the Daytona 24-hour twice and the Indianapolis 500 four times — placing fourth in 2010. The native of MADchester, UK began racing karts at age 8, open-wheel race cars at 16 and finished second to Formula One World Champion - and close friend - Lewis Hamilton, in the 2003 British Formula Renault Championship, followed by a stint representing Great Britain in A1GP and winning races in Formula 3000. He lives in Indianapolis with his wife Samantha (also from England) and three young "Hoosier" children. He also enjoys racing in triathlons and is rather partial to good old English cup of tea. But not crumpets.
Photo Credit: Getty Images, Anthony Kolesov