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Wind was kicking up litter on 31st Street as the midnight starting time approached. While the first four cars departed, Gurney and I went off to gather some provisions at an all-night delicatessen. We bought a few large blocks of Swiss cheese, a batch of gum, some chocolate bars, peanuts and some cans of soft drinks and Gatorade. We added a large Thermos of hot coffee and ajar of chew-able Vitamin C tablets—a most useful remedy for the dryness in the mouth and nasal passages that seems to trouble long-distance travelers.
We rolled the Ferrari out of the Red Ball and into the dark street. As a cluster of friends stood by, Gurney and I fitted our gear around the seats and wound ourselves into the elaborate seat belts and shoulder harnesses. We were ready. Already the PRDA, the Cadillac, the MG and the Little Rock van were on the road.
Dan would drive the first leg. He cranked over the engine, and a potent, whirring rumble rose out of the Ferrari's long hood. He flipped on the headlights and the black leather cockpit glowed with the soft green luster of the large instrument panel. A friend stamped our ticket on the Red Ball time clock—our official record of departure—and amid a tiny chorus of windswept cheers, we accelerated away, roaring down 31st Street toward the Lincoln Tunnel and California. We went about 200 feet. The stoplight at the corner of 31st and Lexington winked red as we approached, and we sat there through its full cycle. Every crosstown light then conspired to stop us, and we were immobilized at seven intersections before reaching the tunnel.
Our route was to be different from the others. While most planned to head directly westward to the Pennsylvania Turnpike, I'd decided that a more northern route across Interstate 80, with a subsequent cut south to Columbus, Ohio, was fastest. It was a trifle longer, but IS 80 had less traffic and patrols than the Turnpike and appeared to permit higher cruising speeds. It had to be reached via a series of inconvenient two-lane roads in New Jersey which were thick with slow-moving tractor-trailers in the daytime. However, in the deep of night, and with Dan driving with relish, we traversed the slow section with an average speed that approached 60 mph.
In the process of trying to reach various road maps, lights and other paraphernalia, I found my movements restricted by the safety harness. I un-snapped the latch and let the belts fall free. "That's better. At least I can move around," I said.
Gurney began to hit his stride as we reached the broad expanses of Interstate 80. He was cruising the Ferrari at 95 mph—a virtual canter. At that speed it was so positively in contact with the road that Gurney complained it was boring to drive. To understand the excellence of a machine like the Ferrari, one has to have driven a thoroughbred sports car. There is no other way. The fact remains that cars such as the Ferrari, Maserati, Porsche, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Jaguar have a poise and �lan at high speeds that is virtually beyond the realm of comprehension for the average American driver.
Lights appeared behind us. Thinking it might be the Highway Patrol, we backed off slightly and let the car overtake us. It was a Camaro, cruising at about 100 mph. Gurney watched it sail past, then accelerated to keep pace. I knew he wouldn't let the Camaro stay ahead. He opened the throttle plates on the Ferrari's 12 carburetor throats, and the big car clawed ahead, gobbling up the distance to the Camaro. We rocketed past, the Ferrari seeming to make quantum leaps in speed, much like a jet plane on takeoff. The engine noise increased slightly, but hardly to objectionable levels. The Camaro's headlights dwindled in the distance. "That's 150, as steady as you please," said Gurney.
Dan eased back to an indicated 120 mph and we cruised down the deserted road, cutting over the humpbacked Allegheny Mountains of central Pennsylvania without effort. Gurney was driving with one hand and drinking coffee with the other when we sighted a dim pair of taillights far ahead. Again, it could be the police, so he slowed down to about 100 and approached cautiously. I have 20-20 vision. I see well at night. Yet I was still trying to get some rough identification of the vehicle ahead when Gurney answered, "It's O.K., it's only a Volkswagen," and got back on the throttle. Sure enough, it was a Volkswagen lumping along there in the dark, and I silently pondered the power of Gurney's eyesight. It is said that most great drivers possess uncanny eyes, but I had never taken that seriously. Now I was a believer.
I napped sporadically while Dan sailed onward, running for an hour in excess of 100 mph and increasing our trip average to 81 mph. That was exceptional time, but neither of us expected it to hold up across the country. Three hundred miles from Manhattan we stopped for gas. I had leaped out and stuffed the pump nozzle into the tank before the sleepy attendant had gotten out of his chair. Dan in the meantime had lifted the hood and was making a routine check of the oil. This pit-stop procedure would be repeated for the entire trip, with me concluding the stop by stuffing a wad of dollar bills (brought specifically for that) into the startled attendant's hand, leaping into the Ferrari and spurting back onto the highway. In this manner we were able to keep most of our stops under five minutes.