As a fan of motorsport, you’ve likely noticed that in recent years the fastest car does not always win the race. In fact, in many professional races, it is not the fastest car, but the one that makes the most effective use of fuel economy, that makes it to the finish line first. Fortunately, for those of us in the historic racing world, this is not usually the problem, except…
Recently, a very good racing friend and I were on our way back from the CART race at Mazda Raceway, Laguna Seca. We decided to make the trip as a quick overnight “banzai run” with the weapon of choice being my friend John’s BMW M5.
Now, speaking purely theoretically, if someone were able to cover the 350 door-to-door miles in four hours, would that be considered speeding? Never mind. Let’s just say that on the way back, I made a critical mistake – I fell asleep while John drove.
Before you jump to conclusions, let me state that John is one of the best drivers I know, both on and off the track. However John suffers from a little known disorder known as “Volumetric Agnotia.” While the medical nature of this disability is too complicated to go into here, in layman’s terms, it means he can’t read a gas gauge if his f’ing life depended on it!
Imagine my surprise when I woke up somewhere in the middle of California’s rural Central Valley and looked over at the gauges only to see a little red light that I didn’t notice when I was driving. Yep, we be on empty.
“Ah, John… don’t you think you’re a little low on gas?” I ask.
Like a long haul trucker coming down off a night of driving on amphetamines, John snaped out of his high-speed trance, looked at the gauge and laughed, “Shit, I haven’t even looked at the gauges in over an hour. I never even noticed.”
After a few minutes, we came to a road sign that stated that the next major town is 75 miles away. Hmmm. I turned on the BMW’s trip computer to see how much range we have left and it reports we have 40 miles. Ah, Houston we have a problem…
With no real options, we press on. But, like coal miners trapped in a cave-in, with each passing minute our hope begins to dwindle as we watch the desolate scenery roll by and the trip computer count down our impending automotive doom. Ironically, it wasn’t until the computer told us we had 10 miles of fuel left that we really realized that we were in deep dukey.
Clutching at straws, we take the ultra serious step of turning off the air conditioning and rolling down the windows, to let in the 100-degree heat. Oh yeh, much better!
The trip computer, which is now starting to remind me of Hal from “2001: A Space Odyssey,” informs us that we have 3 miles left. “I’m sorry, Casey, I can’t allow you to do that….”
At this point I’m trying to figure out how to best entice passing truckers into stopping with my hairy legs, and yet John seems to be relishing the challenge before him. Refusing to be beat, he backs out of the gas, brings our speed down to 55, and tucks up into the draft of a semi-truck passing by. Hal grants John an additional mile for his efforts.
Minutes later, Hal laughs and informs us the game is over – the display reads “0.” Yet the Bimmer eerily continues on. As we approach a short grade, John is faced with the crucial decision of whether to let the car slow down and lose the truck’s draft or give it more of the gas that we seemingly don’t have to make it over the hill. Like a true racer, he places his faith in the draft and we motor up the hill expecting the coughs of death to come any moment; however, as we crest the summit, we can see a filling station sign off on the horizon. With no time for indecision, John pulls out of the draft and speeds up, hoping to use the descent and our last milliliters of fuel to build up enough momentum to carry us to within walking distance of the gas station.
At this point, Hal actually turns himself off, apparently not able to reconcile the incongruity of John’s burst of acceleration with the total and utter absence of fuel. As we disprove several key tenets of modern physics, John tosses us down the exit ramp at about 70, we four-wheel drift through the stop at the bottom and come to a screeching halt next to the gas pump. After a moment of disbelief, we look at each other and start laughing uncontrollably. All the while, the Bimmer inexplicably idles along.
Before we left the station, we put 17.5 gallons of gas into a car that is supposed to hold only 17. Guess we could teach those CART boys a thing or two about fuel economy.