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Again Gurney's miraculous eyes identified another pair of taillights. This time it was a Pennsylvania Highway Patrol Plymouth and we slowed accordingly, falling obediently into his wake at 65 mph. It felt like we were walking. We reached Columbus in 6� hours and 15 seconds, one hour ahead of the time set by Moon Trash. We presumed ourselves to be far ahead of the rest of the entrants. The sun was bringing a bright, warm morning to the Midwest and we felt great. Purring along Interstate 70 in western Ohio, Dan began honking the powerful air horn at the herds of cows and porkers that lined the fences. Not one animal even raised its nose at the sight and sound of the blue Ferrari Daytona whistling past at 100 mph.
Dan had been at the wheel nearly 12 hours when we reached St. Louis. He claimed he felt fine and I believed him. After years of being around automobiles, one can sense a change in the reactions and movements of a driver; his very cadence with the car alters when he becomes fatigued. Gurney was in excellent shape. As the traffic got slightly heavier west of St. Louis, we backed off our speed to about 85 mph, keeping a steady eye for the law. We passed three pimply youths in a GTO and they tried to race us. Gurney, racer to the end, responded. The Ferrari shot ahead, and, witnessing that awesome burst of acceleration, the boys gave up.
Slouching back in his seat, driving with his left hand and nibbling a hunk of Swiss cheese held in his right, Dan began to chat. It was our first really steady communication since leaving. The deep concentration necessary to drive quickly on the highway required the full attention of us both—Gurney driving and me navigating, computing fuel stops and average speed. But now the big cat was merely loafing and we began to talk.
"You told me you were going to explain why you changed your mind and came on this nut-ball trip," I said.
Gurney paused for a second, gathering his thoughts. He is inclined to do that, to fall silent, his square jaw set, his eyes glazed in a faraway look, while he carefully composes a reply. He is a complicated man—infinitely deeper than his public image as an affable all-American nice guy. While he is engaging and easy to reach in public, he is essentially a private person, subject to dark moods and a mercurial temper. Most experts believe him to be among the very best race drivers who ever lived.
"This race, it was kind of a turning point for me," he said. "When you first called, it sounded like a great idea, a real lark. Then I began to think about my sponsors, about their reaction to my doing such a thing. I was letting concern for myself get in the way of my real feelings. What in the bleeding hell is that worth? Anyway, somebody had given me an essay by Ayn Rand. It's called a 'Moratorium on Brains,' and it deals with the rising power of the Federal Government and the loss of individual freedoms. Now I'm no great Ayn Rand nut, but this particular thing hit home. There I was, sitting around worrying about my image, when I thought the Cannonball could be an act of protest, a kind of personal adventure that could prove that we still know how to handle ourselves without a cop stationed every 50 feet on the highway. So I said, to hell with it, and I decided to come." When was the last time Ayn Rand sent somebody on a cross-country motor race? I wondered if Miss Rand would consider driving down a highway at 100 mph as a healthy objectivist outlet.
I took the wheel for the first time in mid- Missouri. Dan had driven 14 hours and 35 minutes. A long time, to be sure, but the near-mystical ease with which the Ferrari gobbled distance made the time less amazing.
Racing drivers make notoriously bad passengers. They generally trust no one but themselves, and some refuse to ride with anyone at all. Therefore I tried my very best to put Gurney at ease. After an hour of his watching me like a mother hen, I saw his body relax and slide back in the formfitting leather passenger's seat. "I think I'll catch some rest." He slouched in the corner of the car, resting his head against the window. I drove on, as proud as if I'd just taken the checkered flag at Indianapolis.
The sun dropped behind a thick bank of clouds in the west, luring us into our first full night on the road. I drove for eight hours before Dan took over. We were maintaining our average at 83.5 mph. As we reached the New Mexico border, a nasty thunderstorm lit the sky with ominous orange fireballs and sent sheets of rain pelting against the windshield. It turned to sleet, and thickets of fog lurked in the dips of the highway. But I slept. With a man like Dan Gurney at the wheel, I think I could have rested if we'd been traversing the South Col of Mount Everest.
We reached Albuquerque in the 24th hour of our trip, convinced that not one of our competitors was within three states of us. As we stopped at Gallup, N. Mex., we spotted several approaching cars with their grillwork smudged with snow. We had just crested the Continental Divide and were heading for the high country of eastern Arizona. If we were to encounter ice, it would be in this dark and desolate stretch. I called the Highway Patrol from a gas station while the attendant leisurely filled the tank and Gurney sipped a can of hot soup from a coin-operated vending machine. We were getting cocky and the urgency of our earlier gas stops had given way to a kind of relaxed elegance reserved for big winners. The phone operator at the Highway Patrol was vague: some snow squalls, some fog, perhaps a little ice, but nothing alarming. With the temperature sitting somewhere in the low 30s, I took the wheel and headed for the mountains.