Forget your Ferrari pilots, the happiest driver I've seen in ages was behind the wheel of an old minivan.
At a rally, after the last race cars go by, a set of big 'sweep' trucks run the stage to tow out any stuck/crashed vehicles. After the race cars and the sweep trucks go by, then come a few officials' cars to check on everything and not long after the road is opened back up to the public. But there is a short window in there between the final officials and the first locals.
It's a moment of absolute automotive heaven - clear, closed roads.
The window is usually filled with rally marshals keeping order on the stage returning back to rally headquarters, with media people driving off to the next stage, with spectators filing away to the next viewer area.
I was at the Empire State Performance Rally in Rock Hill, New York over the weekend. It's a one-of-a-kind event here in America, as it's the only current stage rally run on tarmac. That is, it's run on paved roads. That is, it's run on country roads snaking straight through towns and developments about an hour and a half outside of New York City.
I'd volunteered at one of the stages, and the last of the two dozen or so rally cars flies by, ten feet from me and at nearly a hundred miles an hour. And then the sweep trucks fly by. And then the officials' cars fly by. There's a bit of a breeze brushing the budding trees overlooking the lazy river next to the road and puffy clouds wander across the sky in and out of the sun's way.
And I hear a roar growing louder, and I swear it's another rally car. I hop up to look and see why another racer is coming by after all the sweep vehicles when a huge '90s minivan screams past, engine blaring. The window is down and in an instant I see the driver beaming at the wheel. And he screams out "Woo hoo!!" as the old box on wheels tears by.
The road ahead of him is one of the nicest I've seen, with rises and dips and flowing curves. And there were no cops, and no cars coming the other way.
For a few minutes there, that minivan dude had the road to himself, and he could see just how much the suspension leaned in the turns, and just how much he was willing to scare himself behind the wheel. I think he was the happiest driver I've seen in years.
So forget all your high-priced exotics you can never really exploit. Happiness is a closed road and a minivan.
Photo Credit: Raphael Orlove