I tagged along for a two legs of MINI Takes the States, an epic cross-country road rally that’s put on by the company. I participated in just two sections of this continent-spanning trip, but that was still enough for me to experience four Midwestern states and some 700 miles of America. But there’s much more to than this event than just the sliver I experienced.
The first time MINI organized one of these events was back in 2006. Since then they’ve hosted one every other year; if they ran them annually the staff would probably die of exhaustion. The 2014 installment will last for 14 days following its big start in San Francisco, California. It’s scheduled to terminate in Boston, Massachusetts on August 9.
According to Patrick F. McKenna, manager of product planning and motoring events at MINI, the route spans some 4,800 miles and runs through more than a dozen states.
Enthusiasm for this jamboree is quite surprising. “We’ve got 250 cars going the whole way, which is close to 500 people,” McKenna said. This demonstrates just how dedicated MINI enthusiasts are; some 500 people are carving at least two whole weeks out of their schedules to participate. Can you say devotion?
And word about MINI Takes the States is spreading because it continues to grow. “This is actually more than three times the size as the event we did in 2012 from the perspective of people going all the way,” noted McKenna. He also said, “In multiple cities we have over 1,000 people.” These are fans that can’t make it for the entire trip but still show up at one of the owner rallies that are hosted at every stop along the way.
HARD CORE OR HARDEST CORE?
Of those 500 or so people there are a few exceptionally dedicated participants. “We have two gentlemen from Germany,” said McKenna. “They went through Europe and Russia and Asia, flew their car from Tokyo to L.A. and they’re doing MINI Takes the States. And then they’re going to ship their car via boat from New York back to Germany.”
Beyond this circumnavigation McKenna also said a five-and-a-half-month-pregnant woman signed up for the full Monty. She drove from her home in New Jersey to San Francisco so she could be there from the very beginning. “And here’s the interesting thing, she’s camping the entire way,” he added.
Finally, a quartet of gentlemen from Brooklyn, New York is making a similar trek. They’re all crossing the continent in ONE CAR. Hopefully they’re good friends because that’s pretty tight quarters.
CAPTAIN PLAN IT
Not surprisingly the prep work for an event of this magnitude is pretty daunting. Not only do people at the company have to select cities to stop in and routes to drive on, they’ve also got to book hotel accommodations, find venues that can adequately accommodate participants and cooperate with media, to name but a few of their duties. “This takes about 18 months of planning,” McKenna said, adding that in just half a year they’ll be back at it again, preparing for the 2016 installment.
Of course the prep is hardly a cake walk; in fact they had to scrap their early plans for this year’s MINI Takes the States. McKenna said their initial idea was to blitz from Seattle, Washington to Florida, but they couldn’t make the timing work. Additionally, finding large enough venues is difficult; with 1,000 or more people showing up at certain spots they need lots of space.
And then there’s the grueling pace. McKenna noted that they average three to four hours of sleep each day during the trip; early mornings and late nights add up to exhaustion very quickly. Still, whether it’s 5:30 a.m. or well past midnight he and his staff are ALWAYS cheery, helpful and bubbling with energy. He said that despite the physical exhaustion it really recharges their batteries because they’re “doing righteous work” for their customers.
MINI drivers can participate in the entire rally from San Francisco to Boston or they can do any combination of the segments in between. The event is open to every current and future owner.
The entry fee is just $45 per person, though kiddies 12 and younger are free. That modest up-front cost gets you a goodie bag with cool swag, a nifty lanyard and “merit badges” at all the stops. Additionally breakfast is free at morning rally points. For the most part drivers just have to cover their own gas and lodging fees.
As for pets, they’re not just welcome, their participation is encouraged. Numerous owners brought their doggies along for some head-out-the-window, tongue-in-the-breeze road-trip action.
“It’s our way of giving back to the customers,” said McKenna, noting that there probably isn’t another car company in the world that’s quite like MINI, with the enthusiasm, camaraderie and pride its owners have. He mentioned that a brand like Harley-Davidson might be similar, but in the automotive space MINI is totally unique because of its vibrant patrons.
GALLERY: 2014 MINI Cooper S Hardtop
Discuss this story on our Mini Forum