An early spring drive southbound to Florida is becoming a bit of a tradition around the Fourtitude offices. The annual running of the 12 Hours of Sebring marks the perfect opportunity to drive off to a warmer climate and spend some time with other Audi enthusiasts who’ve also made the trek to witness Audi Sport round the storied Florida racetrack for 12 hours straight. We were keen to see how the S5 fared on such a long drive – 14 hours if you go non-stop from the Washington, DC area. That’s longer than a whole team of Audi drivers would be driving over the weekend, and it’s also only half of the trip.
There is one downside. We’d grown quite busy in the weeks leading up to Sebring and had forgotten to pull the winter tires from the car. The Dunlop Winter Sport 3Ds had been so composed on dry roads that we’d really forgotten they were there until we were about to make our departure. Alas, we decided not to let that delay or stop us. A 1000-mile drive to a location where temps would be in the ‘80s would be a good test to see just how well the Dunlops would do in conditions for which they were not primarily designed.
Southbound through Virginia and into North Carolina, we make good time. Having left from Virginia where radar and laser detectors are most illegal, we decide to travel in the buff from a mechanized detection perspective. We make like Alex Roy without the gadgetry. Having read ‘A Speeder’s Guide to Avoiding Tickets’ back-to-back several times over, we remember the old adage that a radar detector will not get you out of a ticket if you’ve been pulled over and the police spot the device. This holds extra water in Virginia where you’ll get an additional citation by an angry constable.
Running blind and trying to make time, our tactics change. Our eyes stay watchful and we lift the throttle at underpasses and blind median crossings. Even better, we try to find a “rabbit” – someone going the same pace as us, giving them enough room to make them comfortable and provide the impression that we’re not locked on. Then it’s time to sit back and just watch for brake lights.
So-called ‘rabbits’ aren’t hard to come by on I-95 southbound. Actually, if you’re of the opinion that you should go a conservative five mph over the speed limit when you don’t know the area and visibility is low (say night time), it can be truly depressing how often you’ll be passed. By minivans.
We’d gotten a late start out of DC and subsequently are considerably slowed in Northern Virginia traffic exiting the Capital area as well as into and out of Richmond. It is past midnight by the time we pull in to the El Dorado of Kitsch – ‘South of the Border’, just over the line in South Carolina.
This is the first late night run we’d ever made to South of the Border and the place becomes a neon-lit, yet lonely place in the hours after midnight. It’s eerie – so much so you’ll not want to linger to read the colorful writings on the bathroom wall for fear of an encounter with one of the authors that you’ll regret for the rest of your life. We do linger though for a quick photo shoot, while the SOTB security were fast to roll on over in their Bronco II to inquire just what it was we were doing.
Go figure though. At night, all the neon of the place really makes an interesting backdrop for photos. Pedro and his glowing Sombrero pierce through the night in a bit of a Vegas-meets-Tijauna air, though the proportions aren’t quite as grand. As a pickup truck with a confederate flat in the window pulls in for gas, it’s also apparent that this is a land where, no matter how big Pedro’s iridescent Sombrero may be, “usted” will never replace “y’all”.
Back on I-95S, the lanes were emptying out to a thin mix of 18-wheelers and our lonely Audi. A Charger-like shadow here, a glint of Crown Vic-shaped headlights in the rearview there and we were spooked. With nary a rabbit and little practical knowledge of the local stretches of blacktop (and thus speed traps), we decide it’s time to stop for the night. The next exit is for a little South Carolina town where the price on the Microtel’s sign doesn’t match the actual cost, even with the AAA discount. That’s tough to accept when you’re staying for all of six hours.
A half-dozen hours later, we were back on the road with the advantage of daylight and Disney-bound dads in their Odysseys trying to make up time. Traffic through Georgia is non-existent. Jacksonville and Orlando are trafficked but fast-moving, so we continue to make time.
By the time we roll in to Sebring, we rate our trip a major success. We’ve arrived with nary a speed ticket and better yet, a contant 80 mph-ish speed hadn’t melted or ruined our still-mounted winter tires. Yet.
Once in Sebring for the race, the S5 spends its time split either on display at Audi’s new car tent or in the Audi Corral with all of the enthusiasts. Snow tires and all, we also decided to join the Audi owners for the gratuitous parade lap with harder driving hear-or-there as we can fit it in.
The rest of the trip is a silver and red blur. Audi’s new R15 TDI won its maiden race and, just like that, we are back on the road and headed north. Our record of no tickets or ruined winter tires in extreme heat continues, closing one very tiring and successful extended weekend.
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