Bet My Bentley Can Smoke Your Rolls

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, September 1997

Bet My Bentley Can Smoke Your Rolls

From the Great Wall to the Eiffel Tower, would-be Andrettis put their classics to the test
By Carl Hoffman

Why Is This Woman...Still Standing?

Ultradistance legend Ann Trason banks on her wiry body's resilience like no one else in her sport. And while she's had a litany of injuries to show for it, the pain usually seems to pay off. Such was the case last June, when the 36-year-old Trason swept the women's division of ultramarathoning's two most prestigious events — the 56-mile Comrades Marathon in South Africa and northern California's Western States 100 — with just 11 days' rest in between. Recovering from recent hamstring surgery and contemplating retirement at season's end, Trason finished the Comrades in less than six hours, a feat previously accomplished by just one other woman. "My quads were screaming and the balls of my feet were black and blue," says Trason, who overtook Germany's Maria Bak with just five miles to go. "It basically came down to who was the bigger masochist." And while her margin of victory at the Western States was a far more comfortable two hours, it was still no day in the park, thanks to Mike Morton, a 25-year-old interloper who pushed the entire field en route to a new course record of 15:40:41. Morton became the first East Coaster ever to win the Western States, thus shattering the myth that the race is biased in favor of those who train on the hellish course. "All the pre-race hype about where I was from made me the underdog," says Morton, a Navy diver from Maryland. "I loved that."

Reinventing the S'More

It was on a camping trip in 1988 that Dan Lenhart — tired of whittling the perfect roasting stick only to be foiled by charred marshmallows — had the epiphany he hopes will soon make him rich. "It came to me like a flash, so to speak, and I just had to go with it," says the 34-year-old inventor, who spent nine years experimenting in his Elkhart, Indiana, kitchen before perfecting Mallow Mate, a "pre-toasting, non-burning" food spray that turns the squishy blobs into crispy, golden-brown campfire treats. The secret recipe? Canola oil, grain alcohol, and your choice of artificial flavoring: vanilla, which tastes the way marshmallows taste already, or coconut, which tastes the way suntan lotion smells. For Lenhart, however, palatability is a mere footnote. "It's not just a taste thing. It's about safety," says Lenhart, whose product is now available at midwestern grocery stores for a mere $3.29 per bottle. "Now you won't have so many kids bringing molten fireballs up to their mouths."

'In Nepal there are 13 rivers to cross in one day — without bridges," Bristles Rally director Philip Young at the suggestion that his Peking to Paris Motor Challenge is anything but an audacious test of endurance and fortitude. "The cars are old, and yet they have to cross deserts without satellite navigation or electronic equipment."

Still, the world's longest classic-car rally may be stacking up to be as much Barnum and Bailey as it is Baja 1000. Beginning on the sixth of this month and ending (hopefully) 45 days and 12,000 miles later, nearly 100 pre-1968 cars, ranging from a 1928 Rolls-Royce Phantom I to a 1960 Volkswagen Beetle, will race across 12 countries, including China, Tibet, Nepal, India, Pakistan, Iran, and Turkey. Among the characters who have ponied up the $35,000 entry fee are a British duke, a Malaysian prince, a Greek cement magnate, and the curator of Sweden's Volvo Truck Museum. Enthuses John Jung, a 56-year-old retired electronics retailer from Dallas driving a 1950 Ford Club Coupe, and one of 13 American entries, "We're going to bring trading cards with pictures of ourselves to hand out along the way."

The event commemorates the 90th anniversary of the world's first intercontinental motor rally, a 1907 winner-take-all race from Beijing to Paris. During that five-car duel, a reporter for the London Daily Telegraph rode shotgun atop the toolbox on an Itala driven by Prince Borghese, and in the Gobi Desert one car sparked a massive grass fire that took 200 miles to outrun. Without maps or even roads for much of the journey, three out of five finished, the winner taking home a magnum of Mumm champagne.

This time first prize is a gold medal — and conditions, despite Young's prickly assertions, won't be so tough. All the cars have beefed-up suspensions, oversize fuel tanks and cooling systems, and four-wheel disc brakes. Fuel and press trucks will follow along much of the route, competitors will sleep in hotels all but five of the nights, and seven days will be scheduled for rest. Still, says Ned Thompson, a 42-year-old canvas company owner from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, who will be driving an open-design 1928 Bentley, "the temperature will range from 110 to minus ten, and we'll be driving at elevations up to 17,600 feet. That's hard on man and machine. I've been running and lifting weights every day to get ready." And though detailed route directions will be given to each competitor and two to three checkpoints will be set up each day, "there are still thousands of opportunities to miss something," says Thompson. Adds Young, his voice dropping a half-octave to convey the situation's gravity, "In China and Tibet, all the signs are in Chinese."

Of course, such obstacles may well prove troublesome for the less, um, professional drivers — such as Charles and Arlene Kleptz, elderly Ohio retirees who'll be competing in a 1919 Marmon. "They're a lovely couple," says Jung, "but when the American teams had a meeting not long ago, the Kleptzes got lost looking for the Holiday Inn at O'Hare. Call me a pessimist,
but I think we'll see lost cars strung out all over China."

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