Friday, July 19, 2019     Volume: 20, Issue: 20

Santa Maria Sun / Humor

The following article was posted on October 13th, 2009, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 10, Issue 31 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 10, Issue 31

Have Volkswagen, will travel

Krider gets some Fahrvergnügen in the Beetleball Rally


I’ll never forget the first time I drove a car: a beat-up Volkswagen Beetle. It was the stereotypical 16-year-old boy’s VW, with primer for paint and a stiff lowered suspension that would knock the fillings out of your teeth when you rode in it. The car was probably worth about $700, but it had a $900 stereo system installed in it (Feel the BASS!). It wasn’t my car; I didn’t even have a license at the time. An older friend of mine was the proud owner of the Bug (and my personal chauffer freshman year in high school). We cruised all over town in his Volkswagen looking for girls who wanted a ride (only finding girls who wanted rides in anything but a Volkswagen). One night, when my friend fell asleep on my couch, I faced my teenage homophobia and reached into the front pocket his 501 Levis and snagged the keys.

I pushed the lightweight little car down the street and fired it up. I remember the smell of gasoline in the interior, the specific noise of the Beetle’s exhaust, the jerking motion as I inadequately let out the clutch, and the cool wind rushing into the open driver’s window when I finally got the car to roll down the street. I was in motion, and it was fantastic! I probably only drove the thing about a half mile before turning around and bringing the car back. I was sure the police were right around the corner, waiting to take me to jail. Even though the trip was quite short, it was an epic adventure to me. Because of that glorious moment, I’ve always had a special place in my heart for Volkswagens.

Cut to some years later, and another friend of mine gave me a call and asked if I wanted to compete in the 2009 Beetleball Long Beach to Las Vegas Endurance Rally. My answer, of course, was, “Hell yeah!” My wife, whom I love, had a different answer: “Oh, hell no!”

“You’re not gallivanting off to Las Vegas, driving some deathtrap Volkswagen Bug.”

“How can you call it a deathtrap? The car can only go 60 miles an hour, and the speed limit is 70. If anything, I may get a ticket for impeding traffic.”

After finally promising an all-access, fully paid-for girls’ trip to Vegas for my wife and her friends, only then was I allowed to make plans for the Beetleball.

We only had one week to fix up my friend’s vintage Baja VW Bug to ensure it would survive the 450-mile rally. The route was to take us from the parking lot at the Queen Mary in Long Beach, through Joshua Tree National Park, along historic Route 66 into Arizona, across the Hoover Dam into Nevada, and finish on the famed Las Vegas Strip. It sounded like the ultimate road trip in an old Beetle.

The VW we were to race had seen better days. It would start, would drive down the road somewhat in a straight line, and, when the brake pedal was pressed to the floor, would stop … eventually. The motor leaked so much oil it needed a new quart added about every 50 miles. For my poor driveway’s sake, we took the car to Goodguys Tires and Auto Repair and thrashed on the car there. We worked on the car until we ran out of money to work on the car anymore and decided that should do it. The little VW would either finish the race or blow up in a fiery ball, making for a great story either way.

In order to have a chance to win the rally, we designed a fuel strategy that we thought would hand us an unfair advantage. This involved giving my friend Steve a lot of beer one night and convincing him he should drive out into the desert with an 11-gallon fuel can and wait for us to come into Checkpoint 1, in Amboy, Calif. It took seven beers and me telling him over and over again that it would be just like a NASCAR pit stop and that he would be the crew chief. He was sold. He would do it.

The weekend of the race, we headed down to Long Beach and ole Steve headed into the darkness that is the Southern California desert. He slept in his truck, cuddling with 11 gallons of 91 octane fuel and using quarts of oil as pillows, patiently waiting for us to arrive. The only problem was that he parked next to the cactus near the rock in front of the stop sign, but the checkpoint was actually located at the rock next to cactus behind the stop sign, one block over. Did I mention there was no cell service there?

At 3 a.m., the Beetleball Long Beach to Las Vegas was underway, with Volkswagens blasting down the empty Los Angeles freeways at a blinding 60 miles per hour. We were passed by a minivan carrying a family to Disneyland. Using the route instructions, we managed to stay on course and arrived at Checkpoint 1 only to find that our impromptu NASCAR crew chief gas man was nowhere 
to be found.

We decided to press on without the gas, convincing ourselves of the impossible.

“Hey, maybe we can make it?”

“When the car stops, I guess we’ll find out then.”

Did I mention the gas gauge didn’t work? We had no idea what our situation was.

Near Checkpoint 2, at the Hoover Dam, a fellow Beetleballer, who was in front of us, ran out of gas and was stopped on the shoulder.

We came up with a new fuel strategy, “Let’s stop for gas.”

We whipped into a service station, threw some dollar bills at the cashier, grabbed a few quarts of oil, and pumped in about four gallons. We sped out of the station, leaving the gasoline hose on the ground next to two empty quarts of oil. Half an hour later, we miraculously hit four green lights in a row on Las Vegas Boulevard and saw a mad man standing in the middle of the Vegas strip waving a checkered flag. We survived! We not only completed the rally, we won the Baja Bug class and finished second overall, giving Volkswagen an even bigger place in my heart and memories.

Rumor has it Steve is still waiting in the desert next to that cactus by the rock and the stop sign. “They should be here any minute.”

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What do you think of the changes Santa Barbara County made to its cannabis ordinances?

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