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Riding the Bull; 8 secs in a Saleen S7


Growing up, I spent quite a few Saturday afternoons watching PBR – Professional Bull Riding, not Pabst Blue Ribbon – on television with my grandfather.

Pa-pa, as we called him, grew up in a family of sharecroppers in the Deep South before shipping out with the Navy at the end of the second World War, then riding undercover with the Hell’s Angels as a San Francisco police officer in the ‘60s. When the US conducted its series of nuclear tests in the Marshall Islands from the late 1940s through the 1950s, he was stationed several miles out on one of the battleships and witnessed firsthand the Operation Castle detonations. Given his colorful career highlights, it is no wonder that the pursuit of a gold buckle pulled him in.

His days on the amateur rodeo circuit were few, but he was always one for a good metaphor.

“What could you do in eight seconds?” he would ask. In a rodeo, eight seconds is the amount of time that a rider must stay on a bull or a bronco without getting thrown off. That phrase has often been my metric for adventure.

When I was younger, I loved skateboarding and rock climbing, and since bull riding has long been the adrenaline-junkie extreme sport for the John Deere crowd, we had a mutual understanding. It is that brief wave of euphoria as your body and mind come together in singular focus, when all your fears, doubts, and inhibitions completely desynchronize like so much background noise. The crest of the rollercoaster, the leap over the edge, the pull of the trigger, the squeal of the tires, the moment when everything but the beast with you on its back becomes a blur – that is an eight-second moment.

As I got older and started a family of my own, those moments became harder to come by. I’d like to be around to love and support my family for as long as possible, and staring death in the face doesn’t really equate.

But I have a confession to make.

In a previous life, I worked at a collision center in the Washington, DC area and our focus was primarily luxury vehicles. We belonged to a family of dealerships that serviced quite a few political and business elites, and taking care of well-known or influential clients was fairly commonplace. Most of our customers drove luxury vehicles, and because of our familiarity with more rare and obscure cars, we occasionally ended up with a true exotic.

You don’t drop a name like “Steve Saleen” in a body shop without turning a few heads, but that’s just what one of our owners’ special clients did. I received the call that a VIP would be bringing in a rare car for some extensive repairs after a freak storm left most of the body with dents and scratches. The owner was a friend of Saleen and worked with executives at Ford.

And we were to take the best possible care of his $500,000 Saleen S7.

2003 Saleen S7

The insurance adjuster had already informed the client that the repairs would most likely take between one and three months, and like most owners of exotic cars, this was no issue. One of the owner’s valets had left the vehicle parked outside during a massive hail storm, and because of the rarity of the vehicle, many of the damaged parts that needed replacing had to be manufactured specially and shipped directly to our shop.

After any big body job that requires the removal and installation of so many parts of a vehicle - especially small, breakable seals and clips - a number of tests must be run to ensure that everything is repaired to specifications.

When it came time for quality control at the end of the repair, no one in the shop was willing to test-drive a half-a-million-dollar car on the roads around DC and Northern Virginia. Well, no one except for me.

By some divine providence, the car was set to be released only a few days before Christmas 2009. Most of the holiday traffic had died down and the roads were mostly empty. If you’ve ever lived around the DMV (DC, Maryland, Virginia), you’ll understand what a rare occurrence this was.

As if it were any surprise, the owner was a real speed freak. Management had warned me that he had several exotic cars that he raced on weekends around some of the amateur tracks up and down the East Coast, and he would surely notice, and be quite unhappy with, any wind noise at high speeds.

So it was up to me to ride the bull.

When I say that the car was fast, it’s like saying that sugar is sweet, or that fire is hot. Simply touching the accelerator threatened to send that beast into a fury. I didn’t shift gears so much as I nudged the transmission in the general direction that it was headed to begin with. That roller coaster feeling of hard G-force when the wind is slammed out of your chest, clenching your teeth to keep your guts from flying out – that was eight seconds behind the wheel of an S7.

At 130mph, the world is truly a blur.

-Trey Fennell

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