October 16, 2018


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From the February 2018 issue

Under normal circumstances, a road trip with young kids is an undertaking to be endured rather than enjoyed. My kids are five and seven, ages when a two-hour drive represents a disproportionate percentage of their lives. I believe it was Albert Einstein who said, “Time is relative, so if you’re going anywhere farther than two hours away, definitely try to get your hands on a Chrysler Pacifica, especially one with the rear-seat entertainment system that you always tell other people isn’t worth buying.” Man, that guy was smart.

But I am dumb, so I nominate my older son, Rhys, to accompany me on a trip that’s the opposite of minivan automotive anesthesia: entering a Nissan GT-R in a road rally in the mountains of North Carolina. If you’ve never participated in one of these events, it’s like a cross between a road trip and the chalkboard from Good Will Hunting. You’re given a booklet scrawled with mysterious runes and glyphs that could be either a drive route or a coded message about troop movements north of the Rhine. There’s an excellent chance that one of my kid’s earliest memories is going to be of me screaming: “Is it a left on Cranberry Lane or Cranberry Drive? Get your head in the game!”

The rally, the Drive Toward a Cure Great Southern Adventure, is a benefit for Parkinson’s disease research. There are two events per year—the California drive is coming up at the beginning of May—and this one is based out of Asheville, near some of the tastiest roads east of the Mississippi. Nissan is a sponsor, and it asked if I wanted to drive an older model that you don’t hear about much these days, something safe, with all-wheel drive and an automatic. Perhaps the GT-R is no longer king of the ’Ring, but launch control will still give you a wedgie.

I live about four hours from Asheville, so the first challenge is getting there. I’ve never driven that far with Rhys without him being asleep or watching Wreck-It Ralph, and I’m not sure how he’ll handle the crushing boredom of the highway slog. It turns out that four hours is about enough time for him to ask 40 percent of the things he’s been wondering. The drive to Asheville is like taking the witness stand for a lawyer who’s not real sure where he’s going with any of this. “Does Santa ever die? What about Mrs. Claus? Does Tom Brady get haircuts? Are dogs born with their eyes open? How does the bus driver close the door after he gets out of the bus?” “He, uhh . . . Look, son, the inside of the microwave is made of metal but you can’t put metal in the microwave, so just ponder that for a while.”

The next morning, we muster the cars outside the hotel. It’s an impressive fleet: There’s an Iso Grifo, a Ferrari 360 Spyder, and factory entries from Acura, Maserati, and Porsche. Jeff Lane, proprietor of the superb Lane Motor Museum in Nashville, shows up in a Renault Megane, which is probably the 117th-weirdest car in his collection but likely one of the most reliable.

We head off into the hills, trailing a black Porsche 911 GT3. I try to keep it in sight, because following the route book seems impossible—over the course of the day, the route covers 252 miles and includes 101 directions. Somehow, we stay on track well enough that when the GT3 makes a wrong turn ahead of the morning mountaintop autocross, we don’t follow. As the drivers gather in a ski-area parking lot for a timed run around the cones, Rhys talks about the GT3’s directional blunder to anyone who’ll listen—including the owner of the GT3. I counsel Rhys on the importance of humility. “What’s that?” he asks, just like most adults.

I tell him humility means you don’t make a big deal out of it when you totally crush everyone at the autocross with your awesome GT-R, like we’re about to do. The teachable moment gets even more teachable when we don’t actually do that, on account of my forgetting to use launch control and then clipping a cone. Later, we find ourselves beside an Acura-entered NSX at a red light and I decide to redeem myself, cuing up launch control and executing a violent clutch dump off the line. We bask in glory for almost an entire second, until I forget to upshift and stutter into the rev limiter at about 35 mph while the NSX glides past. I hope Rhys appreciates all this humility I’m teaching him.

The next day, the drive continues to the Tail of the Dragon and then down to Atlanta, but we trade the GT-R for a 370Z and head for home. See, when I made these plans, I wasn’t sure how the kid would deal with all this car time, all this navigating. Bringing him was kind of a risk, so I hedged my bets and signed on for only the first day. Which turns out to have been a mistake. Yesterday we hit all 101 steps and today he wants to keep going.

I tell him we’ll do something like this again, and I mean it. But for now, it’s back on the highway. And back to the questions. About 20 minutes in, I’m hit with, “How was God born?”

You know, this was fun. I strongly recommend taking a road trip with your kids and making them active participants. But there’s something to be said for a Pacifica.


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