Part of the rental agreement included a 500 mile limit “free of charge” specification. If we went over the limit, an expensive rental would become a very expensive rental, to the tune of an extra 39 cents per mile traveled. Using my best grade school mileage calculations, I was ever vigilant of driving distances. The trip from Orlando to Daytona and daily drives to and from the track from our beach side Hotel and the after race trip to Punta Gorda to visit family would have us right at the limit. But nothing specified, (at least what I paid attention to) how fast we could use up those 500 miles of fun. Right out of the airport the obligatory run to triple digit speeds was something that had to be done. Just because.
That accomplished we settled into the standard passing lane gait, blending in with the other law breakers. It just wouldn’t be right to obey the speed limit and cruise in the travel lane. Not in this black bad boy. Light throttle application is all it took to stay ahead of the flow of traffic. But with the joyous sound of this Shelby’s song, stabs to the floorboards were more than occasional.
Memorable moments during the all too brief love encounter came upon check in at the Hotel and the low burble exhaust note echoing through the parking garage. But it was at the track where we felt like we were the King and Queen of the Prom. From the ticket taker at the gate, to the thumbs up and turning heads of our fellow fans, it was a gas to be in such a cool car. The ultimate had to be heading into the infield and through the famous Daytona tunnel. Pedestrians in the walkway were treated to the V8 symphony of 325 Horsepower.
We actually did retreat to the Hotel after 10 PM, when it started to rain. Not my original intent, but I was the first to say let’s go; another chance to hang with our steed. Armed with coffee and a roll of paper towels we were among the few early morning fans in the stands. All the late night revelers had pulled stakes during the deluge, early attrition in the bid to party all 24. Our chicken cordon bleu sandwiches and frequent trips for cold beverages had the trunk liner reminding us that this was after all a product of Michigan manufacturing. We would just fix it before the return.
After the race Sharon took the wheel for a horse ride along Daytona Beach. Cool enough on the throttle that the traction control never engaged, even when we were in the deeper sand of the entrance and exit from street to beach. We shared driving duties on the run southwest to Punta Gorda. I think J.P. liked seeing the Shelby in his driveway and it certainly looked good there. We all wished we didn’t have to bring it back!
We decided to blast some back roads on the return trip to Orlando. Not only would it be a more adventurous drive than the highway miles, the more direct route was an idea hatched to shave some miles off the return trip. It was all working great until we saw the sign that said "Sebring 11 miles". There was no way that I was going to not drive by the site of America’s oldest Sports car race; the Mobil One 12 Hours of Sebring.
We circled in on the track and stumbled upon a street of destiny. Carroll Shelby Way appeared to us just before Sebring International Raceway. Like a wayward horse finding its barn, the GT-H had driven us to pay homage to its creator. Now the side trip not only threatened to drive us over our allotted mileage, there was a time issue with the car return and flight back to Boston; another excuse to use all the ponies one more time. As long as there were no wrong turns on our “short cut” and the splash and dash for fuel was exercised with efficiency, we would be good to go.
With sadness, the Shelby was returned to its stable and our brief fling with the steed from the Hertz Fun Collection was over. The odometer read 492 miles and I briefly considered a few high speed loops of the Airport road, but decided those would probably be the 8 miles of trouble we didn’t need. The thousands of miles covered in basic pedestrian airport rentals could never compare to the thrill of briefly having the pleasure of driving a muscle car with pure American pedigree. Even Sharon, ever practical, thought it was money well spent.