As the 2016 Gumball 3000 continues its journey across Europe to its final destination in Bucharest, Romania, social media has been flooded with images of wild parties, excessive speeds, and supercars by the dozens. But that’s just a small sampling of what actually goes on during the Gumball Rally. Sure, there are the mounds of illicit drugs that happen to magically appear at your VIP table during a party, and—surely related—the requisite party girls tagging along for a chance at some glorious fun. (I found two naked in my bed one night; different story for a different time.) But there’s also a looming chance of things going very, very wrong. Over three days during last year’s race, I found this out the hard way.
The 2015 Gumball 3000 rally began in Stockholm, Sweden. That beautiful backdrop was quickly overrun by rich, crazy, sometimes famous one-percenters. Also, me and my team of journalists. We picked up our swag bags full of branded clothing and assorted tchotchkes with an eye towards the opening-night party. Unfortunately, having not listened particularly carefully at the driver briefing, we didn’t know exactly where to go.
Over dinner earlier in the evening, my co-driver and I had spent the time hatching plans about what to do should we break down or encounter speed traps, plus any number of other dicey situations in which we might find ourselves. With the rally going from Stockholm on to Oslo, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Reno, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and finishing in Las Vegas, it was foolish to think that we could fully account for the madness that would soon be our fate. Nevertheless, we tried our best to formulate a play book. Not even two hours later we were half-drunk and lost, stumbling around Stockholm trying to find the party. So we walked the city, found a nearby watering hole, and decided the best course of action was to have a few more drinks before setting out again.
By sheer luck, after having asked various random people for directions, we found the spot. Just as we were about to walk in there was a fracas. Immediately thinking of getting it on camera and posting the video to whatever site is Europe’s answer to WorldStarHipHop, we suddenly recognized the belligerent drunk being kicked out. It was one of our videographers. Two large security guards had our friend by the arms and quickly threw him in the street; in his stupor, he thought the proper response was a good ol’ American five-finger right hook delivered to one unlucky bouncer. It didn’t go over well: he was efficiently pummeled into a bloody mess, cuffed, and sent to jail. We wouldn’t hear from him for two days. Thanks to our blood-alcohol content, we decided the best answer was to get into the party and drink in his honor. The scene was nothing short of debauchery, and I happily made my way through the ever-growing party, drinking, joking, and smoking myself into the company of playboys, hookers, and Stockholm’s elite.
We were doing north of 150 mph as Ferraris and other exotics went flying past. Keeping a good lookout and slowing in time for the speed traps, we successfully passed five check points without being tailed by a cop even once. So we celebrated with some loud music and even faster speeds. Almost immediately, an unmarked Volvo lit up my rearview.
We pulled over to the side of the highway, the atmosphere inside the car deflating. Two police officers approached our car and asked me to step out. Scared I would soon be on the receiving end of a nightstick—I was born and raised in LA—I found myself shaking.
“Do you know how fast you were going?” asked the stern, older cop. “No,” I replied, sheepish. “You were going 247 kph,” he snapped back. I thought of what I could say to make this speed, about 154 mph, seem even remotely plausible. “I’m American and I don’t know what that means—we use miles per hour,” I said, a quiver in my voice. “It means you were going too fucking fast, that’s what it means,” the cop growled back. I was in for it.
The cop handed me a breathalyzer and told me to blow into it until it beeped. I did. He took the device from me, read it, and shared the readout with his partner, who shook his head and walked back to a police van that had just arrived on the scene. I was told I blew a 0.02, and I became ecstatic. Thinking Sweden, like America, allows you to legally blow up to a 0.08, I figured I’d get a simple speeding ticket and walk away with a good story to tell my friends. A speeding ticket isn’t exactly a badge of honor in Gumball 3000 terms, but I was just a journalist, not a one-percenter, and it was good enough for me. All would be well.
“You do realize that 0.02 is our legal limit here, don’t you?” the cop asked me.
“You’re coming with us,” he added, as my face turned a shade of white never before seen on a Mexican. I tried to plead with him that it must be wrong, that I had to finish the race, that I was just a simple journalist and not some asshole rich guy. But alas, I was an asshole, and my immediate destiny awaited not in Norway but some Swedish jail.
(Here’s something to know about Sweden and its amazing police force: Not once did they place me in handcuffs, or treat me with a club to the head. When I made my way over to the police van, they told me I could sit anywhere I liked. I chose the back of the van and took a photo of one of the accompanying officers.)
We headed to a hospital that had a more accurate table-top breathalyzer, to get a better reading for the courts. The hospital was like a ghost town. The officers and I trudged upstairs to an office on the second floor. I still hadn’t seen another person. The two older officers tried in vain to get the computer to work as I looked around and was silently amused by the surreality of the situation. I asked to use the restroom, hoping to vomit or shit out all the alcohol in my system—to somehow make myself not inebriated. They allowed me to go, and didn’t insist on accompanying me. Walking down the empty hall, I thought briefly of making a run for it before realizing I had no idea where on Earth I actually was.
After rinsing my mouth, shitting, and mentally trying to gather up the mess that was my life at the moment, I returned to the office. By now the cops at the computer were frustrated and called for help. An hour later, two beautiful female police officers walked in. I tried to be my most suave and debonair—at least as much as was possible while in the middle of being arrested. The women couldn’t get the computer to work, either. So the officers decided we should go to the nearest police department and get a reading there. Back in the van we went.
If you want to know what a Swedish jail looks like, I can honestly say it’s just like an IKEA—scant furnishings, minimalist design. There I found myself in another office, with the same two cops who had first pulled me over. Once again, no one could get the computer to work. “I want to unload my whole fucking clip into this stupid computer!” one of the cops yelled. Again, they called for backup. Killing time waiting for yet more reinforcements, I talked with the cops about the rally, where I lived, and life in general. Turns out, both cops had been to Los Angeles, and they liked it there. One officer asked if I lived in Beverly Hills. But, no, I was just some asshole journalist on the rally, too poor to live in Beverly Hills—and too morally corrupt to think that the exact situation in which I had found myself wouldn’t happen to me.
Five hours had passed since I was first pulled over. A tech arrived and got the machine running. It was my time to breathe. I closed my eyes and blew.
“Congratulations, Mr. Gomez, you blew a zero-point-zero. Now all you’re getting is a speeding ticket.”
I was brought back from the dead. The journey would continue.
When they first pulled me over, the Swedish police had asked for my passport, license, and registration; but since we were filming the rally, all of our equipment, including my personal effects, was in a chase car that had long since left. So the cops asked me to write my name and address on a Post-It note so they could mail me my fine. I handed them a piece of paper that read: “Jesus Gomez, 123 Main Street, Los Angeles, California, USA.” They didn’t even blink.
In their kindness, the Swedish police drove me back to the rally stop-over point. I jumped out of the van, shook the cops hands—”Nice to meet you, Jesus,” they said—and I was back on pace.
That night was without incident and I slept soundly in Oslo, Norway. The next day, as my teammates teased me about jail and sodomy, we headed for Copenhagen, Denmark. But I was a free man. That was all that mattered.
Still high of my Swedish swindle, my teammates and I drank hard at dinner in Copenhagen and soon found ourselves at the evening’s official rally party. I must have drank more than I realized because the party was a complete blur. I’m told I met two girls at the party and left with them against the urging of my teammates when the shindig stopped at 3:00 AM. I have some memory of going to another bar with the girls and having some fun, and also getting a hard time from some guys who recognized my Gumball jacket and gave me shit for being American. Even if I can’t quite recall it, knowing myself I’m sure I didn’t let those comments slide and went right back at them.
I remember walking back to the girls’ apartment. Then, it’s murky. The next thing I recall is walking back to my hotel around 6:00 AM. The sun was rising and the streets were quiet, the darkness being overpowered by a bluing sky. Suddenly, a guy jumped in front of me and started screaming in Danish. Still drunk, I tried to tell him I didn’t speak Danish, just English. The word “English” was almost past my lips when I felt a fist pummel the back of my head. It was a glancing blow but it knocked me to the ground. I jumped up and saw the guy who punched me, and the guy who had been screaming at me, and yet another dude.
I zeroed in on the guy who had punched me, faked a left and buried my right fist into his eye socket with a flat thud. His eyes rolled up into his skull and he dropped straight back, out cold, knocking his head hard on the concrete. I turned to face the other two, raising my fists. I tried my best to fight them off but I was no match. The last thing I remember is being on the ground, curled in a defensive position as a swinging kick made its way toward my head. Then: lights out.
I woke up in a pitch dark room. Coming back from unconsciousness is a curious feeling, foggy and unnerving. At first I thought I was back in my hotel room—but why was everything black? I thought perhaps my curtains were closed. Then my hearing returned, and I noticed a loud banging. Maybe it was the hotel air conditioner. I tried to stand up but my left hand was tied to something. Somehow, I still wasn’t scared at that point—maybe I had a wild night in bed? Still in complete darkness, I untied my hand. The feeling started coming back to my body. It was cold. The bed was rock-hard. I suddenly realized I wasn’t in my hotel room.
Where the hell am I? I find my burner iPhone in my left breast pocket and use the light from its screen to look around the room. There are boxes everywhere. The banging noise is coming from a big air compressor unit of some sort. I stumble around the room until I find the door. It opens into a parking garage.
What. The. Fuck.
I slowly make my way to street level, my body starting to ache so badly that each single step hurts more than the last. In the past two days I had made my way quickly through Stockholm and Oslo and assorted small towns, but I am bewildered trying to figure out where I am now. I walk a few blocks in a near-catatonic state before a kind woman sees my rust- and dirt-stained clothing and asks if I’m okay.
“I don’t know anything,” I tell her.
The cops are called. I’m rushed to a hospital, again. The doctors suspect bleeding in my lungs and I’m laid up in a hospital bed. Unbeknownst to me, my teammates and PR handlers have been searching for me since I failed to show at the starting grid. They scoured the town, had security open my hotel room, posted look-outs. But Gumball waits for no one. Everyone had left.
I have just enough juice in my phone to text everyone that I am alive. I take some pictures of my disheveled state. Everyone thinks it’s a joke. When they learn I’m in the hospital and see my bloody face, the laughing stops.
I’m treated for my many lacerations. On my way out of the hospital, a public relations person greets me in the lobby and asks if I want to fly home or if I’d prefer to continue with the rally. I turn and ask the doctor if there’s anything seriously or permanently wrong with me—anything that won’t heal. She says no.
“Let’s get this fucking rally going again,” I say. With five cities left to go, it can only get better from here, right?
I caught up with my teammates, finished the Gumball 3000. The rest of the stories I’ll save for another time.