I might as well
have talked to the Highway Patrol in Honolulu. The lights of Gallup still
winked in the valley below when the highway became sheathed in a thick layer of
slush, punctuated by long stretches of hard ice. First came the fog, then fat
lumps of wet snow flung into our headlights, cutting visibility to zero. The
Ferrari was slewing all over the road. It was nearly uncontrollable and we
couldn't understand why our wonderful machine had become so inept in the face
of this nasty, but hardly unusual, squall. Dan figured it out. He recalled that
the crew had increased the tire pressure to 40 pounds for added safety and
efficiency in the high-speed dry stretches. Surely they hadn't anticipated
snow. The tires, of course! As we were debating whether or not to stop and cut
the pressures to perhaps 26 pounds—which would mean a double penalty with more
time lost when we hit the desert to reinflate—a quartet of headlights blazed in
my mirrors. A car was overtaking us at high speed, seemingly navigating the ice
without difficulty. It disappeared in a patch of fog, then surged alongside and
swept past. It was a cream-colored Cadillac. Gurney and I paid it little
attention, still engrossed in strategy talk about what to do with our slipping
minute!" I yelled as Dan was in midsentence. "That Cadillac. That thing
had New York plates! That couldn't be those three guys from Boston!" Or
could it? Stunned, horrified that any other competitor could be that close, we
pressed on, trying to narrow the distance between us and the fleeing Coupe
deVille. "If those guys are with us, where are the PRDA and some of the
others that left earlier?" Gurney wondered. "In the lead, hell. We may
be dead last!" I said bitterly.
The lights of the
agricultural inspection station on the New Mexico-Arizona border loomed out of
the fog and snow. A car was stopped under the canopy. Its trunk was up. A
smiling man with a heavy shock of black hair was standing beside the machine—a
cream-colored Cadillac with New York plates—'while a uniformed official probed
through the luggage.
that's Larry Opert," I moaned. "Those are the guys, and they're blowing
our doors off!" They squirted away into the night as we stopped for our
inspection. Realizing there was precious little room for any dangerous
quantities of wormy peaches or infected chickens to be stowed on board the
Ferrari, the officer let us pass after a few routine questions. Our cockiness
of a few miles back had given way to shocked despair. Our only comfort lay in
the knowledge that the Caddy had started about 20 minutes earlier, and was
therefore still behind us on elapsed time. But what about the others? Surely
somebody was in front of the Caddy. We rushed through the night. Fortunately
the roads were improving and, while they remained wet, the ice was
disappearing. The fog lifted for a minute and we saw their taillights, perhaps
a mile in front. As the road and visibility cleared, we began to gnaw at their
advantage, although the Cadillac seemed to be running in the neighborhood of
100 mph on the straight stretches. Mile after mile we traveled, losing them for
long periods in the gloom, then catching tantalizing glints of red up ahead. We
had them in sight by the outskirts of Winslow, Ariz.
They pulled into
a gas station. As the team leaped out under the brightly lit canopy, I gave
them a blast of the Ferrari's air horns. They waved wildly as we accelerated
past, no doubt figuring we would have to stop soon ourselves. We had chased
them for more than 100 miles in a frantic period that had seemed to have been
condensed into minutes. Most of the road between Winslow and Flagstaff, 58
miles away, was deserted, dry Interstate, and I kept the Ferrari humming along
at a steady 125 mph—a speed that could not be exceeded without overrunning the
range of our headlights.
We were fully
awake now, vibrating with the idea of the newfound competition. We had not
sought it out; in fact we would have been perfectly content lo putter on toward
California at a leisurely pace. But now that the Cadillac was surely thundering
down the road behind us, its gas tank lopped off and set to run for hours, we
readied ourselves to play our trump cards. That meant Dan would lake over at
Flagstaff in preparation for a run down our secret shortcut—a pair of moves
that might put us back into the lead. My earlier run with Moon Trash had
revealed that by taking Arizona Route 89 south to Prescott, then cutting toward
the desert and Interstate 10 we could trim at least half an hour off the trip.
To our knowledge, everyone else would take the conventional old Route
66-Interstate 40 network that was slightly shorter but more congested.
Admittedly, our route was more dangerous. It involved negotiating the endless
switchbacks on the 15-mile stretch of Route 89 through the Prescott National
Forest and the murderous plunge down a mountainside south of Yarnell, where the
road featured minimal guardrails and thousand-foot drop-offs.
Our stop for gas
in Flagstaff was slow, and, when we got under way again, with Dan driving, the
Cadillac had caught up. We immediately passed it alter returning to the
Interstate. Opert and Co. were running the big crock at its maximum, perhaps
115 mph, and it was easy to see how they had not lost any time with their stop.
Their tank was smaller, and therefore more quickly filled, and their top speed
at night was only a few miles per hour less than ours.
opening gobs of distance on the Caddy as we rushed down the winding,
pine-bordered, four-lane. It was a lovely stretch of road, made even more
beautiful by the thick layer of snow that had fallen on the trees earlier in
the night. But the highway surface seemed clear, and Dan was running 125 mph
when we sailed onto a bridge that was part of a long, downhill bend to the
left. Then, suddenly, Gurney was jabbering and his hands began a series of
blinding twists of the wheel. "This is glare ice! Glare Ice! This is
BLEEDING GLARE ICE!" he repealed with increasing volume as he slashed at
the steering wheel. I had been in the middle of a statement about something (I
cannot recall the exact subject) and I remember that I kept on blathering
throughout the trip across the bridge, as if my brain had decided that if I did
not acknowledge Gurney's alarms, perhaps the ice would go away. Thanks only to
the talents of Gurney, we traversed the bridge with just a slight twitch of the
Ferrari's tail. Because he so skillfully maintained control of the car, only he
will ever know how far beyond the ragged edge we had traveled.
enough of that," said Gurney as he slowed down. "Race or no race, we
aren't going to wipe ourselves out on ice like that. Man, that was scary, and I
don't mind telling you I didn't like it one bit!"
onward, our speed reduced to a modest 70 mph, and I was relieved to see the
Caddy's lights pop up behind us. They had slowed, indicating they also had
encountered a few thrills on the bridge.