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Excerpt: 'The Driver'

Cover of 'The Driver'

Every Friday and Saturday remaining in March had to be spent testing the [BMW] M5, the new night-vision system, and the power gyrostabilizers for the binoculars and camcorders. I had to test traffic levels, tollbooth wait times, and police-patrol frequencies and locations, from the CCC [Classic Car Club] as far as the New Jersey-Pennsylvania border. I had to determine whether — since the M5 wore different size wheels/tires front and rear — we could or should carry two spares. I had to measure the range and refueling time of the M5's new 35-gallon double fuel tanks, which meant driving the car round-trip to Washington or Boston every week until departure, during which I had to test the fuel transfer speeds of the different pumps used by the major gas-station chains. I had to call every suitable station within our target refueling windows (+/- 50 miles, in case we missed our projected fuel consumption), confirm their pump types and hours of operation (since two-thirds of the run was at night), and only then could I waypoint them in both Garmins [GPS equipment]. ...

I had to test our Travel John emergency urination bags — under race conditions. I had to rewrite my will, brief Alfred and Genia as to what might happen, and what to do if it did. I had to see my mother and brother, in private, separately, to do the same, then apologize at length for having to do so.

I had to test the air-to-ground radios, which required driving to upstate New York when The Weis [a team member and friend] could find time away from Astrid and their newborn son. I feared stepping inside their house and seeing her cradle six-month-old Owen, my godson whom I'd barely seen — for obvious reasons. That any young, successful father would leave, even for 72 hours, to fly a single-engined, Cessna rental cross-country on a dangerous and potentially criminal enterprise, out of loyalty, for free, merely because a childhood friend requested it, made no sense even to me. I wasn't sure I'd do the same, but I had the benefit of being last among my friends on the life-marriage-baby time line, nor did I have any friends crazy enough to make such a request, which saved me from wasting time pondering the hypocrisy of it all.

I had to find a backup pilot The Weis would both approve of and get along with, since I couldn't fathom why his slated copilot — Keith "The Captain" Baskett, part of our inner circle since becoming The Weis's flight instructor fifteen years earlier, who now piloted 747s weekly from New York to Shanghai — would possibly go through with it.

I was the worst among us, and running out of time, so I lied with increasing virtuosity to everyone I knew and met as I networked, trying to find friends — or friends of friends — who worked for major news organizations, would shoot our departure and/or arrival, then sit on the story until some undetermined later date, or, if I failed, a major law or accounting firm that would validate our time as if it were an Olympic event. I had to find out why Rawlings had been in New York at least twice since the prior September, and if he had paid a telltale visit to the Classic Car Club. If Rawlings and the CCC's helpful but unwitting manager, Zac Moseley, had spoken, or if I couldn't convince Moseley to stay open later than in December, I had to find a backup departure location. I had to find somewhere to hide the M5 once in L.A., a location close to the pier yet totally concealed, from which a shipper could retrieve it out of sight from passing traffic, just in case the authorities came looking. I had to rent another car, locate an airport with a regional carrier the police were unlikely to contact during a manhunt, book a flight with the fewest possible stops in states we'd driven through, then arrange for the car's return to L.A. by the fastest method, all at the lowest cost.

And I had to sleep, but what few hours I could were those of the undead.

I had to see my doctor again, so scared was I about my physical state that Dr. Shapiro, a family friend whom I'd known since childhood, to whom I confessed the reason for my visit, didn't believe me, then — based on my longtime hypochondria — rejected a request for my third visit in as many weeks. I sought out Dr. Manevitz — a fellow Moth board member and the only psychiatrist I knew — who specialized in celebrity, government, corporate, and high-stress cases, for my first-ever such visit. He suggested I reconsider my plans, and ordered me to eat better and get more sleep.

And then there was the big one. Nine and I could make it even if Drive-plan .91Beta (Assault -14) was toilet paper, except for a strategic hinge of such magnitude our entire run would fail were it not properly oiled. The drive-plan dictated that PolizeiGround and the all-new PolizeiAir [Polizei is the name of Roy's racing team] intersect for the first time in St. Louis just after dawn, no later than 10 and a half hours into the run, split up only for their respective refuels — to occur simultaneously, if possible — and stay in communication so as to shorten any gap to reinterception. But, outside of the Coast Guard and military, the only organizations with experience managing the cooperation of low-speed aircraft and ground traffic were the very enemies we desperately wanted to avoid: highway-patrol aviation units.

Calling them for advice was inconceivable, so I decided to call them for advice. I called those most feared along our planned route — the Ohio State Police — and inquired (as a writer) about the various distances, speeds, and altitudes at which patrol cars and spotter aircraft communicated. They told me little of use.

I had a lot of work to do.

Excerpt from The Driver: My Dangerous Pursuit of Speed and Truth in the Outlaw Racing World by Alexander Roy. Copyright (c) 2007 by Alexander Roy. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins.

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Alexander Roy