Story By: Jonathan Millstein
A street in Stockholm is filled with some of the most unique and colorful cars in the world. Walking amongst them is their drivers who share the same attributes; this is the starting grid to the Gumball 3000. It’s a sight thousands turn up to witness and hundreds of thousands are exposed to simply through #Gumball3000 before the green flag even drops on the annual rally. And while the rally has grown into an event known worldwide in its 17-year existence, and more recently through social media, it continues to cultivate intrigue as a brotherhood most will never have the means to join.
As a journalist I’ve positioned myself squarely in the category of, “never having the means to join,” but was fortunate enough to receive a call to take part in the rally with the AsianDate and AnastasiaDate team. After retrieving this voicemail for the very first time I debated not returning the call. What could two dating sites I’ve never heard of have to do with the Gumball and were they really inviting me out of the blue? It all seemed too good to be true. Thankfully, I did return the call and while I was still unsure at the time as to why these sites were interested in the rally they were legitimately interested in having me join them, which I wasn’t going to pass up.
I met up with the AsianDate and AnastasiaDate teams and their pair of ’69 Z/28 Chevrolet Camaros in Oslo, Norway, the first stop on the European leg. It was that evening at dinner that I learned our crew was running around 15 journalists and 30 support staff, our own little rally within the rally. While I was just joining the rest of the team already had a night or two, depending, and a day of driving together and the camaraderie was already clear. This sense of family is one that would engulf everyone on the rally; we were no longer spectators, but “Gumballers.”
The next morning we would be traveling from Oslo to Copenhangen, Denmark and mark my first real chance to witness the whole rally. Riding four deep, primarily in Volvo SUV support cars, we met up with the pair of Camaros at the starting grid. Surrounded by spectators the Gumball entries would slowly roll out one by one giving the hoards of fans an extra rev here and there. We joined in a caravan with our Camaros and with Oslo in our rear view mirrors we were off, as quick as you enter a city on the Gumball you’re gone.
Along the Norwegian countryside every overpass was filled with spectators waiting to see the cars, take photos and wave their home nation’s flag. It was this first portion of the drive I truly began to understand how much more depth there was to the rally than just “cool cars.” These people were fans, but of what? Sure a few celebs were taking part, but for the most part these were just people with nice cars or in our case journalists in rented Volvos. Yet at every bridge through an entire country people stood and waited and every time it gave me chills because in that moment we were a bit of a celebrity, a feeling that can’t be replicated on a whim.
This driving day brought us into Sweden en route to Denmark where we stopped at the Koenigsegg factory for lunch and a factory tour. However, it was immediately off the highway exiting for the factory I saw my first sign of police, for lack of a better word, harassment. A checkpoint on a slow curving exit in the middle of the afternoon provided no apparent cause for existence other than a show of force. As we made our way toward the factory which sits at the edge of a working private airport we were guided to the parking lot by fans walking that direction to get a look at the parking lot or, rather, makeshift car show that sprung up under a light drizzle. It was truly amazing how the fans always knew where we would be when I as a participant didn’t even know half the time.
With only a half day under my belt my world was already all Gumball. My social media feeds were being flooded with images from the friends I’d already made along the way and my recommendations continued to suggest new friends on the rally. The appeal of the rally to online dating came into focus; Gumball participants and fans are incredibly Internet savvy. Additionally, the rally routinely spans numerous countries and continents so the idea of dating sites that connect people across those same borders makes perfect sense.
That afternoon we crossed a border of our own and rolled into beautiful Copenhagen and it was immediately off to AnastasiaDate and AsianDate
team family dinner; the Gumball doesn’t allow for time to rest. Seated at a long table of an Italian restaurant we swapped tales of the rally: casual encounters, car problems, arrests and tickets. The Gumball rally is like nothing I’ve experienced in that it is measured by its failures as much as it by its successes; it is at the end of the day an extreme sport that pushes the limits of cars and man. With a 12 hour driving day ahead of us we left dinner and headed to the official Gumball party that night, #GumballLife.
“Gumballers” filled the Copenhagen club that could have been any club anywhere if not for the mass amounts of Gumball gear. Gumball attire was worn proudly at all times, a sort of varsity letter jacket that one earned. Additionally, the attire meant you made it. To your left or right at any given time could be a prince or multi-millionaire or Tony Hawk, but you were there so you were one of them. In an attempt to be semi-responsible it was a fairly short night, but one not short on laughs, champagne showers and Matthew Pritchard dancing on the bar.
On very little sleep it was off to Amsterdam a drive which would include a 45 minute ferry ride to Germany just an hour in which was a welcome break from sitting in the car. In Germany the Gumball cars were forced into caravans of eight cars plus one German pace car to keep them in line since Germany doesn’t allow car rallies, a reasonable compromise it would seem. That is until about an hour down the road German authorities would shutdown the entire highway forcing all cars to exit through a rest stop. To be clear, a German police car was parked perpendicular across the two-lane highway creating bumper-to-bumper traffic and forcing Gumballers and civilians alike to exit. It was here they were checking all of the rally participant’s documents, a move I still can’t figure out why they didn’t do when they split off the cars into their groups at the border an hour earlier.
Burnt out from the longest driving day of my life it was straight to the hotel for a quick rest, shower and back out to meet up with the team at the hotel restaurant before the final party. The venue was the entire covered courtyard of the Conservatorium hotel in an upscale neighborhood of Amsterdam. More spread out than the previous evenings event this had more of a cocktail party feel until Afrojack took to the stage and was joined by Martin Garrix. However, as quick as it felt like it got going it was over, but this is the Gumball, if people want to party they will party. With that the remaining revelers moved to one of the hotel bars and kept going for more drinks and more Pritchard dancing on tables. The following day most would board Gumball Air to finish the rally in the U.S., but for me that would be where I’d regrettably have to part ways with my Gumball family. As I returned to my room and drew the curtains closed I looked out and saw the sun rising on my first Gumball, #GumballLife.