The U.K. Telegraph has called the Gumball 3000 "The ultimate 3,000-mile road trip" and published a remarkable photographic series on the event. GQ, Esquire, MTV, the BBC and similar publications have all caught the fancy of the public through their coverage of this unique race

The U.K. Telegraph has called the Gumball 3000 “The ultimate 3,000-mile road trip” and published a remarkable photographic series on the event. GQ, Esquire, MTV, the BBC and similar publications have all caught the fancy of the public through their coverage of this unique race

(Editor’s Note: Since 1999, journalist and photographer Anthony C. LoBaido has followed the rapidly consistent and organic growth of the epic Gumball 3000 motor rally to the four corners of the Earth. LoBaido has attended the race, studied the course’s roadways, and researched the crews in the U.K., Denmark, Germany, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, as well as other locations like Salt Lake City, Utah, Memphis, Tennessee and San Francisco, California. This article addresses this singularly unique event, including its genesis, creator, sponsors, transnational itinerary, the celebrities participating as drivers, the associative gala parties concurrently running, as well as various other elements of the race. LoBaido also touches upon several automotive-based narratives and road adventures as ancillary cultural products from Hollywood and elsewhere.  The esoteric notions of the psychology surrounding race car driving are also examined.)

He’s off and flyin’ as he guns the car around the track
He’s jammin’ down the pedal like he’s never comin’ back
Adventure’s waitin’ just ahead.
Go Speed Racer! Go Speed Racer! Go Speed Racer, Go!

– Lyrics from the popular “Speed Racer” cartoon

The 2008 Gumball Rally made its way from the breathtakingly beautiful city of San Francisco all the way to the Beijing Olympic Games – with a sleepover in North Korea also on the itinerary (Photo by Anthony C. LoBaido)

The 2008 Gumball Rally made its way from the breathtakingly beautiful city of San Francisco all the way to the Beijing Olympic Games – with a sleepover in North Korea also on the itinerary (Photo by Anthony C. LoBaido)

SAN FRANCISCO – For countless millions, the innocence of childhood is filled with dreams of one day becoming a race car driver, the president of the United States or perhaps an astronaut piloting the erstwhile space shuttle. Retro classic television cartoons like “Speed Racer” are reminders of popular ancillary cultural products fueling the dreams of American children toward similarly exciting careers. Children often see the world as beautiful and limitless.

And such childhood dreams – for those with the vision, moxie, courage, time and financial means – can actually become reality. One such example is the “Gumball 3000.” This is the name given to an exotic and fascinating event that’s perhaps unrivaled anywhere on Earth. It is an annual 3,000 mile (4,800 kilometer) transnational celebrity motor rally. What’s vitally unique is that unlike NASCAR, this race takes place on various public motorways.

The Gumball 3000 began back in 1999 when a man named Maximillion Cooper brought the idea to life. That same idea has now reached a pinnacle of success few could have accurately predicted. Cooper is a talented man who wears a variety of hats. These roles include creative director, designer, explorer, car and art collector, as well as philanthropist – in addition to being a husband and father. Cooper’s plethora of interests in the fields of entertainment, fashion, music and automobiles have all somehow combined to influence and inform his elaborate vision for the Gumball 3000. The rally has grown since those heady days of 1999, as this year more than 60 million people in 100 nations will watch the event either via the Internet or on television.

The year 1999 was a special year unlike any other, perhaps the apex of the then-emerging postmodern globalization epoch. That year supposedly marked, “The End of History,” and was embodied by “The Summer of Corporate Love,” as Wall Street and the global economy were reaching new heights. With the global scene looking relatively steady, prosperous and peaceful at the time, the sendoff party for the inaugural Gumball 3000 was held at the Bluebird Club in London. A good-looking supermodel named Kate Moss was on hand, along with Guy Ritchie and others.

The checkered flag was waved by Sir Terence Conran. Mr. Cooper’s friends, numbering no less than 50, raced off from London to Italy and then back again. Stops in Germany and Austria were a part of the itinerary in terms of the broad architecture of the event. It was an auspicious beginning, about as good as anyone could have hoped for.

Psychological motivations and ancillary cultural products

Happily, this writer has been granted the opportunity to attend the Gumball 3000 at various venues all around the world. It is truly a life-changing experience. For casual motor-racing fans such as myself, who prefer to drive carefully in the slow lane with the grandmas of the world, and who are not perpetually surrounded by supermodels, the Gumball 3000 first appeared as a glimmering chimera, an oasis of alpha male testosterone. Perhaps the rally initially served as voyeuristic chance to be all things to all men and to all women, to dare, to imagine, to dream, and to journey forward without inhibition. If the conscious mind is the gardener of the unconscious mind, as the psychologists claim, perhaps the inaugural Gumball 3000 acted as a rake and a hoe helping to plant seeds for adventure without limits. Is there a man anywhere who doesn’t secretly wish to drive off 3,000 miles in a race across exotic lands while cheered on by supermodels? The Gumball 3000 presents the chance to fill the mind with new destinies.

Most Americans realize that having a good mechanic who is honest, knows what they are doing and won’t rip you off rivals having a terrific doctor. Do you know what a valve cover gasket is? Could you change a valve cover gasket if you had to? Can you accurately check the oil and use a tire pressure gauge? There are plenty of terrific, intelligent and successful men in the United States and around the world who struggle with such things, as they may not be mechanically inclined, and they have wisely chosen to focus on developing their other talents.

This lack of mechanical ability might actually fuel secretive dreams of being in the Gumball 3000. By attending the events, you can actually feel the heat from these fine automobiles. There’s a sense of excitement in seeing a vehicle in pristine condition, not unlike watching an Olympic athlete perform. Man and machine lurch toward one another in both a physical and esoteric manner as the race car is seen as an extension of the driver. The less we know about cars, the more we seem fascinated by them.

In an age of runaway globalization, we increasingly find a hunger in the culture for serialized auteur dramas, grand treks and sweeping epics that butter the bread of our need to travel and seek out the new and the unusual. Consider also the series “Marco Polo” on Netflix. Consider also the DeLorean time-travel machine from “Back to the Future.” That film features a script passed around to students at the University of Southern California’s Film School to be studied and held in high esteem as “perfect.” (Others affectionately refer to USC as “The University of Spoiled Children.”) Consider the classic road warrior female adventure of “Thelma and Louise.

The Stand” is one of the most successful novels ever written, and spawned a hit TV miniseries all its own. When “The Stand” was re-released with hundreds of additional pages, one of the most memorable characters birthed to the world was “The Kid,” a homicidal lunatic who drove around post-apocalyptic America in a really cool car. When “The Kid” meets up with “The Trashcan Man,” an arsonist from Indiana who’s busy setting America on fire, “The Kid” decides not to kill the interloper when he hears, “I like your car!” Writing in Danse Macabre, author Stephen King notes that while “The Stand” was never his favorite novel, he was happy that his fans finally got to meet “The Kid,” who had wound up on the floor of the editing room in the earlier edition of the novel. “The Kid” was based on the real-life spree murderer Charles Raymond Starkweather, and within the mythology of “The Stand,” he hailed from Shreveport, Louisiana.

It is clear that many Americans tend to identify with characters that live and develop and overcome great obstacles while on the road. This notion is as old as the Three Wise Men, Baby Jesus fleeing with Joseph and Mary into Egypt to escape the sword of King Herod, or post-carpenter Jesus leaving Nazareth to begin his three-year mission. “Thelma and Louise” and “The Stand” reflect long-standing narratives of “on the road,” good versus evil, coming-of-age adventures.

When it comes to cars, we might think of Vin Diesel and Nicolas Cage engaging in madcap missions at high speed. There’s also “The Cannonball Run.” Even in the film “Leap of Faith,” star actor Steve Martin, a legend from “Saturday Night Live,” stated succinctly that he once “hotwired cars and hung out in bars.” Martin’s memorable role as an advertising executive on a cross-country journey in “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” is another American classic.

Mel Gibson’s work in “The Road Warrior” also offers post-apocalyptic nightmares, featuring mutants carrying around chainsaws and wearing NHL ice hockey pads on the outsides of their clothing while rampaging through the Australian Outback. Few films have done more to paint a portrait of a dystopian future within Western and global culture. These narratives are so ingrained that we don’t even give them a second thought. We see cars and roads as extensions of ourselves and metaphors for our own journey through life. Along the way, we grow and win.

Speaking of “The Cannonball Run,” Forbes published an article, “Racing in an Evening Gown,” which explains the origins of such rallies, saying, “… A host of rallies … have sprung up in the U.S. and Europe in recent years. The rally phenomenon dates back to Erwin G. (Cannonball) Baker, who, starting in 1914, crisscrossed the U.S. setting speed and distance records. His 1933 coast-to-coast transit of 531/2 hours inspired imitators, including, in 1971, Brock Yates, later editor in chief of Car & Driver magazine. Yates went on to pen the movie ‘Cannonball Run.'”

When it comes to combining women and motor cars, few events can rival the Gumball 3000 in terms of marketing and appeal to both super intense and casual fans

When it comes to combining women and motor cars, few events can rival the Gumball 3000 in terms of marketing and appeal to both super intense and casual fans

Start your engines

In the year 2000, the Gumball 3000 went from London to Spain, Italy and Germany, among other stops, before finishing up where it began, back in London. It was a well-chosen locale. People on hand pointed to the fact that London had for centuries been the head of the British Empire and later the British Commonwealth. The Bank of England, Lord Clive’s much examined conquest of India, the British East India Company’s growth and reach, as well as other historical points of note were all mused upon. (I had been sent to the U.K. to work on a story about the British Commonwealth. I met with a prominent member or Parliament, and eventually backpacked completely across England from Avensmouth to Gravesend – 176 miles in 12 days through one of the greatest heatwaves in the history of modern Europe.)

Those gathered in attendance before the race noted that globalization was not a new phenomenon, and had been occurring over the shifting sands of many centuries. There was globalization unfolding through Alexander the Great’s conquests, the Roman Empire, Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan, the Crusades, Columbus, Magellan, the Conquistadors, Puritans and other state, non-state, transnational and supranational actors. One Gumball 3000 fan made the salient point that “South America is different from New England simply because the Puritans sailed in one direction and the Conquistadors sailed in another – as values determine outcomes.”

A brilliant woman I met at the Gumball 3000, an erudite professor from Wales, even noted that the Roman leader Crassus had sought to conquer India, but that his army was annihilated by the ancient Iranians near what is today’s Anbar Province in Iraq. I was able to tell the professor about Crassus’ “Lost Legion,” which is said to have left behind DNA and other evidence in Western China. This was after having (according to one audacious theory) been subsumed into the Parthian (Iranian) Army for their fighting prowess, and then brokered out as elite mercenaries in the Far East. The London Telegraph published an interesting piece of journalism on this subject that can be read right here. If I were to sum up the Gumball 3000 in one word, that lexis would be “globalization.”

This particular professor went on to explain the various accents that can be found within the U.K. She said that in Scotland it is often very cold, so people talk with their mouths mostly closed. As a result, this gives their accent the archetype Sean Connery appeal. Conversely, during the Industrial Revolution, workers had to speak very loudly over the machines in the factories – thus opening their mouths widely – and this led to the development of yet another accent. She then described the sing-song accent from Wales thusly: “She’s having her nails done in Wales.” There’s no telling just whom you might encounter while attending the Gumball 3000 events. It could be said that interacting with the racing fans is sometimes almost as enjoyable as the race itself. They are truly a passionate and varied group of men and women of all ages.

In 2001, the race meandered through the welcoming Scandinavian nations of Denmark and Sweden, and then continued on elsewhere. Already the event had grown to the point that it was filmed by the BBC. Former One World Champion Damon Hill was a part of this race in his flashy Lamborghini (the kind of car the Anthony C. LoBaidos of the world can only dream about).

In 2002, the Gumball went from coast-to-coast across the United States. Actor Matthew McConaughey of “True Detective” TV fame via HBO participated, as did fashion guru Donna Karan. One can point to the linkages between Mr. Cooper’s fashion interests and the participation of Ms. Karan. The truth is that it’s as much fun to speculate about the cognitive motivations of the participants as it is to following the race itself. When we speak of cognitive dissonance reduction, we’re talking about a reduction in the discrepancies between one’s own belief system and incoming information. Why do the transnational elite act the way they do?

In fact, more than a few racing fans I met at various Gumball 3000 venues pointed to Cooper’s fashion interests as the main reason why they were pulled into the Gumball 3000 in the first place. Several fans mentioned a fashion show called “Project Runway,” and asked if I’d ever watched it. I told them that it really wasn’t my cup of tea per se, but that I did see it just one time. In fact, I felt very badly for an entrant on that very program who had lost a fashion competition and then broke down weeping. I said I wished I could have encouraged that aspiring fashion guru since, “We should support people who work hard and want to succeed very badly.”

One of this writer’s favorite participants in the 2004 Gumball 3000 was the Oscar-laden actor Adrien Brody. Brody zoomed around in a Porsche 911, another of LoBaido’s favorite high-performance automobiles. Brody starred in “Predators” and “Harrison’s Flower.” The latter is a film that should inspire and thrill any aspiring international journalist and photographer. More than a few Gumball 3000 racing fans noted (when speaking of Brody’s role in “Predators“) that back in 1987, if you were told two of the actors starring in the original film “Predator” would become governors of two U.S. states, you might have thought that person was flat-out crazy. One Gumball 3000 fan explained another actor from “Predator,” Sonny Landham, ran for governor of Kentucky in 2002. So it easily could have been three governors. One adoring fan of Brody’s lamented that he had failed to run for governor of her state – the Beehive utopia of Utah.

In the ensuing years, the Gumball 3000 made its way through Salt Lake City, Morocco, France, Brussels, Prague, Vienna, Rome, Serbia, Thailand and (perhaps appropriately) concluded at the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles, California. (The latter tapping once again – in what might be an unconscious sense – into what some claim to be the reptilian side of the male brain.) As noted, a stop in North Korea and the Olympic Games held in China also came into play. Is there any place the Gumball 3000 fears to tread? Imagine seeing the splendor of the Canyonlands and Arches National Park in Utah. Imagine examining the history of Salt Lake City, Brigham Young, the building of the Transcontinental Railroad and touring the Bonneville Salt Flats.

The "Gumball 3000" movie has added to the evolving narrative and fascination surrounding the motor rally

The “Gumball 3000” movie has added to the evolving narrative and fascination surrounding the motor rally

Not surprising is the fact that as the years passed by, as they always so, a “Gumball 3000″ movie was produced. The film was narrated by actor Burt Reynolds, who back in the 1970s was considered to be the sexiest man in America. The BBC published a review of the film that can be seen here. Take a look at the movie here. A video game for Sony Play Station 2 was also created. Here’s a look at the latter on YouTube. Another interesting video can be seen here. Clearly the Gumball 3000 was gathering a keenly devoted transnational following appealing to both sexes and varied age groups. The event has not “jumped the shark,” as exemplified by Fonzi on “Happy Days.” “Jumping the shark” refers to Hollywood lexis for a show that’s overstayed its welcome with even the most enthusiastic of audiences and zealous followings.

And that’s one of the keys that make the Gumball 3000 a “franchise” (in the widest sense of the word) worth studying. The creators keep the event fresh and exciting. They can and do rotate in and out some really hip celebrities. They change the routes. There are the gala parties. The supermodels are certainly easy on the eyes. Social media, the Internet and a relentless 24/7/365 instantaneous global communications network make these and similar events perfect fodder for the technologically aware. With the BBC and others on board, with car manufacturers and elite drivers, as well as Hollywood Oscar winners all showing keen interest, it’s probably fair to say the Gumball 3000 hasn’t begun to reach its apex – this as the 2016 event rapidly approaches.

The 2016 Gumball 3000 approaches with great anticipation from fans all around the world. It’s hard to believe this is already the 18th Annual event. For 2016, the motor rally will start in Dublin, Ireland, and run between April 30 and May 1, before finishing up in Bucharest, Romania. Of course, as per usual, a smattering of countries will be passed through by the race cars in an effort to connect these two cities from start to finish. Istanbul, Turkey, was eliminated as the closing point of the race due to concerns about terrorism. This is a shame but sadly a fact of life we all must face head on. The decent people are forced to live with the actions of the indecent, and even the transnational elite cannot escape this universal fact.

Future Gumball 3000 motor rallies may well pass through the likes of Germany, Austria, Hungary and Bulgaria. Other possibilities include France, Slovakia, Serbia, Greece and Switzerland, among other locations.

Some of the potential routes Gumball 3000 fans have discussed with this writer include the following: a race along the Andean mountain countries in South America. A journey through the Australian Outback with a “Road Warrior theme” that may or not include the obligatory mutants, weirdo people sporting chainsaws, and wearing NHL ice hockey pads on the outsides of their clothing. Others champion a “Marco Polo – Silk Road” Gumball 3000 from Italy to China. Another idea was put forth for a “Cecil Rhodes” Gumball 3000 from Cape Town, South Africa, to Cairo, Egypt. One fan suggested a “Magellan” Gumball 3000 that would start at the Arctic Circle in Canada and go all the way down to Patagonia, Argentina, and culminate at the appropriately named Straits of Magellan. All of these ideas have merit. Who can say they won’t one day become a reality? Indeed, there exists no shortage of possibilities. And once again, we loop around that ethereal racetrack set out in the attic of our minds, entertaining the notion of how children (including many of us) once viewed the world as beautiful and without limit.

The 2006 Gumball 3000 passed through Phuket and Bangkok, Thailand. The highways of the Kingdom of Thailand are well known for mayhem and a general lack of safety, especially during national holidays (Thailand photo by Anthony C. LoBaido)

The 2006 Gumball 3000 passed through Phuket and Bangkok, Thailand. The highways of the Kingdom of Thailand are well known for mayhem and a general lack of safety, especially during national holidays (Thailand photo by Anthony C. LoBaido)

Complete coverage direct from the start grid of the 2015 Gumball 3000 supercar rally from Stockholm, Sweden to Las Vegas, Nevada. No less than 100 supercars depart the Swedish capital to an amazing crowd and an awesome atmosphere, with plenty of revving and activity to keep the crowd buzzing:

The Gumball 3000 Rally passed through the beautiful state of Utah, which boasts the Delicate Arch basking within the Arches National Park in Moab (Photo by Anthony C. LoBaido)

The Gumball 3000 Rally passed through the beautiful state of Utah, which boasts the Delicate Arch basking within the Arches National Park in Moab (Photo by Anthony C. LoBaido)

The Gumball 3000 route for the year 2012 went from coast to coast across the United States. This map was published on the official Gumball website

The Gumball 3000 route for the year 2012 went from coast to coast across the United States. This map was published on the official Gumball website

Take a look at another transnational Gumball 3000 itinerary, which would no doubt be an exhausting endeavor for the average American commuter

Take a look at another transnational Gumball 3000 itinerary, which would no doubt be an exhausting endeavor for the average American commuter

Alpha males, beautiful people

Gumball 3000 driver Michael Madsen starred in "Thelma and Louise" and played an elite government bounty hunter in the Science Fiction film "Species." The latter presented actress Natasha Henstridge to the public

Gumball 3000 driver Michael Madsen starred in “Thelma and Louise” and played an elite government bounty hunter in the science fiction film “Species.” The latter presented actress Natasha Henstridge to the public as the most beautiful woman on earth

Another celebrity who entered the 2010 Gumball 3000 as a race car driver is Michael Madsen. He might be best remembered for his role as Susan Sarandon’s ultra-cool, almost perpetually brooding boyfriend in the aforementioned “Thelma and Louise.” (Madsen departed the rally in the nation of Belgium after one of the vehicles was flagged by the police for exceeding the speed limit.) Gumball 3000 racing fans were sure to note Madsen’s work in the film “Species.” This sci-fi film presented actress Natasha Henstridge to a global audience as the most beautiful woman on the entire planet. Within the story arc, Henstridge’s character was the product of alien DNA. She escapes her holding cell before she can be terminated by a shadowy character played by Ben Kingsley. Enter Madsen as a bounty hunter sent by the government to hunt down the alien.

Josh Cartu, race cars and MIGs

Josh Cartu might embody the idea of the consummate “man’s man.” He’s a person who is able to push the envelope to the outer limits. Another classic film, “The Right Stuff,” explained what the “right stuff” refers to in the exact sense. Any fool, we are told, can just throw his life away. Yet a man with “the right stuff” puts his life out there (in this case via hypersonic and space flight) and pulls it back to safety, thus furthering humanity’s achievements and possibilities.

Cartu was one of the featured Gumball 3000 racers for the year 2014. His “Team Wolf Pack” participated in the event and was selected as “Best Team.” That’s certainly an honor of note.

Racing teams in the pits are obviously a vital cog in motor sports. They are content to stand in the shadows most of the time, free of the notoriety assigned to their respective drivers. The driver is without a doubt the tip of the spear. But like the Navy SEALs, who operate with a gigantic naval force behind them, the driver also has a team lending a large amount of support.

(Here’s an interview with the winners of the 2014 race.) Deadmau5 won the “Spirit of Gumball” Award for the rally. For the first time ever, a second prize at the Gumball 3000 was created. The choice for first place was disputed. According to various accounts from different stakeholders in the race, there was more than a little anger involved throughout the selection process. However, in the end, everyone remained friends, and that’s the most important thing of all. As fans of the Gumball 3000 often told this writer, “If you’re not enough without it, you’ll never be enough with it.”)

Like Bo Jackson of ex-NFL and ex-Major League Baseball fame, Cartu has another hobby besides race-car driving. Consider his flight in a MIG-29, to the edge of space, where it is said that he operated the fighter jet’s controls, battled G-forces and performed maneuvers. (Luckily, he was not conscripted into the Russian Air Force and sent to duty in the Arctic or in Syria.) If you wish to see what it’s like to ride in a MIG, click here. If you would like to watch Cartu fly to the edge of outer space, take a look right here. To book your own MIG flight, just click here.

Let us pause at this point to investigate the psychological makeup of elite drives like Cartu, as well as others of his special breed. Consider the stress levels found in ordinary 2016 Americans would back in the 1950s have been rarely encountered. The reason is that everything moves so fast and there are so many more pressures in postmodern society. Fans of the Gumball 3000 asked this writer what might lead race car drivers into an extremely dangerous profession such as the one they traffic in. (No pun intended.) It is a profession that’s incredibly dangerous and stressful. What leads a man onto the race track, let’s say a man like Cartu, and then sends him forward way beyond that to reach for the skies – even to the very edge of outer space?

The capabilities of a MIG-29 are nothing short of astonishing to the layman. An interesting, detailed report on the aircraft can be found here. The MIG-29 or “Mikoyan,” is a storied aircraft. It was built to counter America’s F-15 Eagle and the F-16 Fighting Falcon. The MIG-29 was first seen in 1982. (This was a year of many firsts, and around this time CNN, MTV and the USA Today all seeped their way into the American cultural landscape). The MIG-29 has long since become a staple of boogeyman scenarios for American war planners. To be certain, there are newer versions, like the MIG-35. The aircraft is used by various nations, including India. The Sukhoi has eclipsed the MIG as Russia’s best fighter jet, and this fact is well known.

Team Wolf Pack race-car driver and Ferrari test pilot Josh Cartu flying a Mikoyan MiG-29 Fulcrum fighter jet with MiGFlug. From Gumball 3000 races Josh is used to high speed and incredible machines. But during the “Edge of Space” flight in the MiG-29 military jet, Josh did not only break the sound barrier and reached a top speed close to Mach 2, he also climbed to nearly 20km altitude:

Because of the film “Top Gun,” many Americans are familiar with the F-14 Tomcat. Here’s a look at what went on behind the scenes of “Top Gun.” Some rumors say the F-14 was designed by a woman, that it was flown by men and women with a bachelor’s degree, and was maintained by kids with a high-school diploma. If you’d like to see how Hollywood depicts a similar ride in a state-of-the-art American fighter jet, take a look at Kevin Costner’s opening salvo in the film “Revenge,” starring Anthony Quinn and Madeline Stowe.

The F-22 and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter may one day start making headlines for their respective martial prowess instead of cost overruns. The MIG-29 has been criticized in the past for leading the pilots into a “heads down” approach, which lends itself to little situational awareness. One can only speculate at how race car driving skills translate to the cockpit of a fighter jet, and vice versa. These are questions only the Josh Cartus of the world can answer. Over 600,000 views of Cartu’s video in regard to the MIG-29 adventure have been registered right here.

Josh Cartu, celebrated race car driver and aspiring fighter jet pilot, embodies what Gumball 3000 fans seem to cherish most – role models who show courage and skill – while remaining "down to Earth," kind, ordinary and solid global citizens

Josh Cartu, celebrated race car driver and aspiring fighter jet pilot, embodies what Gumball 3000 fans seem to cherish most – role models who show courage and skill – while remaining “down to Earth,” kind, ordinary and solid global citizens

For those interested in following in Cartu’s vapor trail to outer space, it’s possible to break the sound barrier, engage in a climb at Mach 2, experience some rolls and loops, feel the thrill of a vertical dive and “buzz the tower” Top Gun-hot dog style with a high-speed low-level pass over the runway. Breakfast at Denny’s just before takeoff is probably not the best idea for novices.

Following in Cartu’s footsteps, this writer contacted the MIGFlug “be a fighter pilot for a day” group based in Zurich, Switzerland. According to managing partner Philipp Schaer, the prices for these flights are 11,500 euros ($12,668) for a 25-minute aerobatic flight, and this does not include supersonic flight. There’s a 45-minute flight for 13,500 euros ($14,871) that does feature supersonic flying. If you’d like to fly to the edge of outer space (between 17-22 kilometers or 10-14 miles of altitude), which includes aerobatics and supersonic flight, that’s 16,500 euros ($18,176). When the air is cooler, higher altitudes are possible, so it has been suggested that aspiring fighter pilots heading for outer space don’t book the flight during the summer season.

Gumball 3000 fans noted that men like Cartu get to interact with the mayor of Jerusalem, assist and offer advice at various companies, as well as own fine automobiles. This is no accident, as the successful race-car driver probably possesses many of the skills needed to be a success in life. Clearly, there’s a reason they’re so widely admired, and so many men seek to emulate them. We often hear that there aren’t enough role models for our children, yet positive role models like Cartu do exist if one only knows where to look.

Why San Francisco?

Could there be a more beautiful site for the beginning of a motor rally than San Francisco? One Gumball 3000 fan on hand at the rally in San Francisco told this writer that during the Cold War, U.S. Air Force bombers would fly across the country and then pretend to drop mock bombs on the San Francisco Bay Area before returning to base. If so, one can only wonder why San Francisco was chosen instead of Seattle or Los Angeles or San Diego.

Perhaps people are not quite sure what to think about this lovely city. To be honest, the cost of living is outrageous, the traffic is often dangerous (or at a standstill), yet Marin, Piedmont, Atherton and many other outlying areas are stunningly breathtaking. Oakland, which might be the most dangerous city in all of California in terms of violent crime, features 300 days per year that are 66 degrees Fahrenheit. This might make the “Land of the Oaks” the mildest and most consistent climate on Earth. The sunsets are lovely, and people often gather in cafes for drinks, dining on international cuisine, talking and catching up, taking photographs and making plans for the future.

Few cities can rival what San Francisco has to offer. Consider the de Young museum. Their showing of the “Masters of Venice” was an astounding display. The delicious foods from all around the world are unrivaled. You might find a small eatery run by cooks from El Salvador that features the best Central American food you’ve ever imagined. Golden Gate Park is a delight, as is the Presidio. There’s golf and tennis and sailing, as well as surfing to the south. The only limits on what a person can do in the San Francisco Bay Area rest in their own imagination or pocketbook.

One of the reasons the Gumball 3000 was accepted in some quarters of San Francisco is that it’s genuinely unique. The people here enjoy that which is “different.” They are also more likely than most to hold marches over issues like Syria or trafficking in elephant ivory. They’re smart and sophisticated. Cal-Berkeley is the democracy, and Stanford University is the aristocracy in the minds of most. The people of San Francisco love their celebrities and elites, so the Gumball 3000 plays into that.

The organizers of the Gumball 3000 choose venues like California to launch the event after road fatalities disasters in Europe tarnished the rally for a time (Photo of Yosemite National Park by Anthony C. LoBaido)

The organizers of the Gumball 3000 choose venues like California to re-launch the event after road fatalities resulted in disasters in Europe that tarnished the rally for a time (Photo of Yosemite National Park by Anthony C. LoBaido)

Any road out of South Francisco is going someplace beautiful. Do you want to head south from San Francisco toward Santa Cruz? If so, once you’re past Half Moon Bay, you’re already talking about a stretch of coastline that rivals just about any other place in the world. One can’t help but to be reminded of Cape Town, South Africa. You could meander north and head for Point Reyes to watch the whale mommies and their babies leap out of the water.

There was the time several Gumball 3000 fans met a man in Point Reyes singing the theme to the “Love Boat.” He had nautical charts set up. Yet when he left and went to the bathroom, three whales jumped out of the water. We had only been at that spot for about five to seven minutes. When he returned, we showed him the pictures and the man was completely outraged.

Or you could head east to Yosemite. Yet another Gumball 3000 fan offered up the insight that President Theodore Roosevelt took a train all the way across the nation to see Yosemite. Yet I’ve met people in Oakland who lived there all their lives and haven’t been to Yosemite even once. When you mention a “Roosevelt” to people in the San Francisco Bay Area, 99 percent of the time they’ll conjure images of FDR. When you explain to them that Teddy Roosevelt traveled 3,000 miles to see what’s right in their own backyard (Yosemite), and that Teddy was one of the main protagonists for establishing America’s system of national parks, they seem very happy.

People often ask what’s most beautiful about the Gumball 3000, and that’s always hard to single out. There are, of course, the glittering automobiles. There are the supermodels. There are the parties. (I don’t drink alcohol, but most people do. And when they drink, they like to talk, and for some reason people like to tell Anthony C. LoBaido everything.) People who lack talent, drive and achievements sometimes tend to get lost in celebrities and the success of others. But that’s not the case with the Gumball 3000. Fans of the Gumball 3000 say they enjoy watching the beautiful and the rich and the famous try to succeed in other areas of human endeavor like motor racing. It’s as if this makes the elites more ordinary and accessible in terms of rooting for them to do well in life.

These drivers and celebrities are most often very well-known and admired. One of the most discussed Gumball 3000 drivers (from 2008) is David Hasselhoff of “Baywatch” fame. Hasselhoff gained additional notoriety when he was accused of being the antichrist, not to mention the time he was filmed completely drunk while eating a hamburger in a viral video that’s almost indescribably gross and pathetic. Thankfully, Gumball 3000 fans realize we are not our worse moments.

Yet Hasselhoff might be best remembered by Gumball 3000 fans for his role on TV with the series “Knight Rider,” in which he drove around in a car that fights crime. Yes, the actual car fights crime, which is kind of hard to understand, rather than policemen jumping out of a patrol car, or military police jumping out of a jeep. Try explaining “Knight Rider” to the average North Korean.

All of these celebrities housed within the Gumball 3000 brand have been “somewhere” in life. And furthermore, they’re going someplace pretty amazing. For those who wish to travel and may not have the opportunity, following along with the Gumball 3000 offers that sense of escape.  What man doesn’t want to be David Hasselhoff surrounded by “Baywatch” women? That said, time has its way with us all, and the post-“Baywatch” years have taken their toll on the cast. Scores of Gumball 3000 rans refer(red) again and again to the time-travel car in “Back to the Future” as an example of how racing around in cars seems to possess some kind of magical power as yet undefined. There’s that desire to be young, and driving around in a fast car seems to embody that very common notion. Regardless, just take a look at some of the Gumball 3000 race cars and decide if they stir some kind of undefined passion.

The mind of the racer

Perhaps no other sport relies more on mental visualization as race-car driving. RacePsych.com offers a look at the mind of a race-car driver. There’s even a free e-course available. Some of the techniques discussed seem like they’d offer at least some kind of an edge. Giving credence to the notion that race car drivers are athletes (the 1970’s-era multisport completion called “Super Stars” was once won by a water skier), consider that these men (and women like Danica Patrick) are indeed impressive athletes.

Gumball 3000 fans have not been reluctant to point to a racing film called “Days of Thunder,” starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. Here’s a look behind the scenes. The plot of the film is built around Tom Cruise’s character introducing himself to a grizzled old veteran car guru – adroitly played by Robert Duvall.

At his “tryout” at the speedway, Cruise impresses Duvall by making a subtle and pretty awesome change in the car’s movement during a lap around the track. An inquiry is made as to if this was an accident or skill. The Tom Cruise character assures us that he knows what he’s doing, and, furthermore, that “you’d be surprised what you can pick up by watching auto racing” on television. Then Tom Cruise’s character asks Duvall, “Do you want me to do it again?” This would be akin to saying that you read a book about baseball and now you’re going to hit a home run at Yankee Stadium in the World Series or at the All Star Game. Or that you read a book about karate and now you’re ready to pick a fight with martial arts guru (and exclusive WND columnist) Chuck Norris.

Along the way, the Cruise character meets a good-looking Nicole Kidman and wins her heart, so much so that they even got married in the real world – long before Cruise started jumping up and down on the couch over Katie Holmes. The main point being the meme in the culture about prodigy driving talent, overcoming fear, finding mentorship and along the way gaining money, fame, and a good-looking woman as your endgame.

A paper titled, “An examination of the psychological skills profiles of Oval Racers and Road Racers” can be found at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee’s Digital Commons and provides an excellent overview of the topic. It can be accessed right here. It’s not just enough to be a great driver. It’s not just enough to have a great race car or the best pit crew. There’s a great deal of mental preparation and discipline that’s involved in auto racing.

These races are extremely dangerous. NASCAR and the Indianapolis 5000 are not the NCAA Final Four or the NHL or NBA, MLB or NFL. People can, and do, die. As such, race-car drivers should be in tremendous physical condition. Psychologically, they must be at their very best. NASCAR drivers might cover 500 miles at a time and have to concentrate at a very high level for hours at a time without any timeouts. The cars get hot, and drivers can lose up to 15 pounds during a single race. (Who needs Weight Watchers?) These drivers approach 200 miles per hour, and their cars are in very close spaces to one another. This would be absolutely terrifying for ordinary, typical commuters, bus drivers and soccer moms (and Anthony C LoBaidos). Do you remember the time your high-school physics teacher told you that two solid objects can’t occupy the same space at the same time? Well, as it turns out for NASCAR, Indy 500 and Gumball 3000 drivers, in retrospect it appears that your high-school physics teacher was indeed onto something really big.

In a parallel to others sports, a race-car driver can’t be intimidated by the close proximity of the other race cars in the same manner as an NFL wide receiver can’t “hear footsteps” before catching a pass over the middle of the field. An MLB hitter can’t be intimidated by a hard-throwing pitcher who might knock him down and throw the ball at his head. NHL skaters have to deal with fistfights and “goons” who attack and harass them.

Drivers need to put fear out of their minds. They might have been in terrible wrecks on the course, but they have to leave that behind. They need “The Right Stuff,” (again as noted), as these men (and women) are constantly putting their lives on the line.

(I can think of only one more difficult job than being a race car driver – that being the time I spent with CNN hero Aki Ra in extreme northern Cambodia. A former child soldier with the Khmer Rouge, Aki Ra has dug up well over 50,000 land mines, usually without any sophisticated equipment. Would you rather dig up land mines all day, or drive in NASCAR? Land-mine fields don’t feature many supermodels.)

The razor’s edge

As one might expect, when men (no matter how well conditioned, highly trained, fearless and committed) and machines (no matter how well maintained) get together, catastrophe can result. This writer had the chance to interview a plethora of American fighter and bomber pilots both at Top Gun in San Diego, California, and at the Air Plane Graveyard outside Tucson, Arizona. In every instance, the pilots said “death will always surround this kind of machinery.”

These pilots are wise, and they make a striking point. In terms of the Gumball 3000, there is no exception to this unwritten rule. Controversy developed back in 2007 when two people perished in the nation of Macedonia. Two ordinary citizens not directly involved in the rally, Vladimir and Margarita Chepunjoski, died. Rally racers Matthew McConville and Nicholas Morley were involved in the crash, and this led to an ugly set of legal issues that had to be decided in court. Morley was found guilty, and one can only speculate about the disappointment fans of the Gumball 3000 felt (back then) and continue to feel even today over this unfortunate incident.

Perhaps there is something to be said for driving in the slow lane with the grannies after all. I once met a female pilot who flew for Air America during the Vietnam War in Southeast Asia. She said, “A man without fear is a fool.” For all of us who took driver’s education, we were told from the very first time that we took the wheel that our lives and the lives of others were being held in the balance. There’s an unwritten “social contract” while driving that everyone will stay in their lane, not engage in text messaging, put on their makeup and carry on through similar distractions. This social contract is violated countless millions of times every single day all over the world. Here’s a look at the psychology of driving and what goes into the social contract postmodern society should expect all drivers to process and adhere to. There’s prudence, tolerance and compassion among other factors. These traits might have to be thrown out of the proverbial window if you want to win the Indy 500, NASCAR or similar races.

The race was plagued in other ways as police in the Netherlands impounded two of the race cars. In just eight days, the drivers were supposed to pass through 16 nations, and this was without a doubt an aggressive and ambitious itinerary. A few drivers had their licenses taken away, and one can only wonder if they were forced to take the bus or be carted around in a private limousine. Then 70 cars were pulled aside by the authorities in Germany. It was a mess.

The most appealing car I’ve seen at any of the Gumball 3000 motor rallies is the Ferrari California. It’s manufactured in Italy – just like my grandparents and my parents. It features a V8 engine, so there’s plenty of power to help you accelerate and maneuver through traffic on California’s freeways. The car can go almost 200 miles per hour. It goes from 0 to 62 miles per hour in only four seconds. Compare this to the DeLorean in “Back to the Future.” That vehicle needed to go 88 miles per hour to reach “time travel” mode via its “flux capacitor.” Roughly 6,000 are produced in the world each year. Yet, as is often the case with even the very best of machines, the Ferrari California had to be recalled in the spring of 2012, when it was revealed the engine could randomly freeze up and cause the driver to lose control and crash.

The Ferrari California is typical of the high performance automobiles racing fans will find at the Gumball 3000 motor rally

The Ferrari California is typical of the high performance automobiles racing fans will find at the Gumball 3000 motor rally

Final thoughts

Pausing to take a look at postmodern man, we see the “Fight Club” dynamic at work in the fandom of auto racing. This dynamic refers to a male population that has become a creature of archetype Madison Avenue advertising. Men were promised they would become famous models and actors and athletes, yet most never achieved such things. This has left them bitter, broken, confused and angry. This dynamic is plainly evident all around us in Western societies – hence the attraction elite actors like Brad Pitt and Edward Norton felt toward the film.

In the most basic sense, there are men who seem unmanly, and perhaps not terribly masculine and rugged on one hand. And then on the other side of the spectrum, there are some super tough men. The “Fight Club” ethos is seen in the emergence of professional (and amateur) Mixed Martial Arts, cage fighters and others of a similar bent. It is as if a giant chasm has developed between the two sides. We respect the men who fight in the Mixed Martial Arts. They are strong and tough and skilled, and it would be nice if all of us, and our wives, daughters and mothers and sisters could fight with such skill for their and our self-defense. The point is not about the “blood sport”; it’s about the divisions between the tough guys and for lack of a better term, the wimpy guys.

Yet one must not overlook the fact that there is also a third grouping of men. These are the plain old ordinary guys, the good fathers and husbands without the training, means, time and/or freedom to drive race cars or fly MIGs to the very edge of outer space. Perhaps this is what makes the Gumball 3000 so appealing to everyday fans – the chance to dream of being something daring – and, in fact, something “more.” These men would definitely fight in cages if they had to, but only to defend their families. They’re perfectly willing to endure slights, insults and funny finger signals while driving on America’s highways and byways. Every single time one of these men overlooks an ugly glance or uglier word, they make the world a better place for others.

So it’s important that we not forget these very ordinary men who are helping with the laundry, ironing their children’s clothes so nicely, if imperfectly, shopping at the grocery store, cooking to the best of their abilities, painting the house, playing with their children, up all night with babies and then going to work the following morning with no sleep, engaging in daddy daycare for hundreds and even thousands of hours, helping wives with their own complex academic endeavors, wrapping countless Christmas presents and putting together toys on Christmas Eve, driving at all hours of the night to pick up medicine or other needed items, raking leaves during the Autumn afternoons when the days grow short and the wind seems to whistle in the most haunting manner, giving directions to those who are lost on the world’s highways, taking care of the drunken, encouraging others to try harder and pick themselves up just one more time than they’ve been knocked down, digging coal out of mines, installing cell phone towers, delivering cement and 50,000 others things we could name.

These men may not be flying to the moon in the Apollo 13 spacecraft, climbing Mount Everest, filming sharks from within the confines of a protective cage, or living at the bottom of the oceans while commanding nuclear submarines. Yet they go to work with pneumonia and a 104 Fahrenheit temperature. They grind it out through minor injuries, kidney stones, broken fingers, sore throats and frozen toes. They do all of these things, and many more, as fathers, husbands and as their parents’ sons. They take tremendous risks of their own without any fanfare and sometimes for very little or even no pay. Still, like those with the aforementioned, esoteric and hard-to-define “Right Stuff,” they don’t forget to drive safely in the right lane with the rest of the grandmothers. They put their lives on the line as policemen, firemen, EMTs and as soldiers. Then they pull their lives back from danger, often just in the nick of time.

More than a few fans this writer interviewed and interacted with at the Gumball 3000 over the past 17 years pointed time and time again to this significant fact: Were the beautiful people, and the rich and famous, to take notice of men like these, they might see they are gaining on the elites, each in their own way – while growing into the men their parents always hoped they would be. These men show honor, goodness and kindness at every turn. They pick their battles wisely. They endure all things for the sake of their wives and children. Moreover, at the end of every race, perhaps the best man is not merely the “winner,” but the “down to Earth” superstar like Josh Cartu, who seems to be a genuinely humble, decent person and capable role model.

Could any supermodel ask for anything more?


Anthony C. LoBaido is a writer, journalist and photographer. He has published 357 articles at WND from 53 nations around the world. Some of his favorite adventures include attending the British army’s jungle warfare training in Belize, retracing Lawrence of Arabia’s World War I trek through Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, investigating the blood diamonds of Sierra Leone as popularized in the Leonardo DiCaprio film by the same name, meeting “CNN hero” Aki Ra at one of his land mine digs in extreme northern Cambodia, working with Time Magazine’s “Hero of Asia” Lek Chailert on her crusade to assist injured and abused elephants in Southeast Asia, rescuing HIV/Aids throw-away babies in the garbage dumps of Cape Town, South Africa, visiting a leper colony in Myanmar, as well as debriefing a woman who escaped from North Korea not once but twice.

LoBaido’s articles have been cited by Ivy League universities such as Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania. As a photographer, LoBaido made National Geographic in 2014. His photographs were auctioned at the 2015 St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital “Miracles by the Bay” Gala in San Francisco. St. Jude’s carries out premier research for childhood diseases. Its founder, Lebanese actor Danny Thomas, made a promise to St. Jude, the Patron Saint of Lost Causes, that he would “build a shrine” if the Supreme Being would help Thomas find his way in life. The hospital and the state-of-the-art research it carries out are now in effect that shrine.

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