Rolling Deep in a Denali
The call came in at 11:30 p.m. on a Friday night. A rich southern tycoon, who I’ll refer to as Mr. Moneybags to avoid a lawsuit, was on the other end of the line.
He heard about my fondness for navigational charity road rallies and wanted to hire me to chauffeur him around the countryside on an upcoming event.
OK, maybe that isn’t exactly what happened, but that was the theme/story my team thought up to use for our entry in the Rally North America 2014 OV700. The OV in OV700 stands for Ohio Valley and the 700 designates the amount of miles we were to drive over two days. Although it is not mandatory, many teams show up with a specific theme for the weekend in full costumes.
SEE ALSO: Rally North America 2014 Rally US 50
We planned to run with a Monopoly theme and as strange as a woman in a full jailbird outfit and a man dressed similar to Rich Uncle Penny Bags may sound, we fit right in. Car people are not normal; especially ones who get together to drive 700 miles over two days with no real sense of where they are going. Costumes and themes littered the starting line, including Bonnie and Clyde, two blind priests and two guys that came one day dressed as Wayne and Garth and the next as Bandit and the most frightening transgendered rendition of Carrie from Smokey and the Bandit fame.
A Luxurious Passenger Barge
Since I was chauffeuring a high class dignitary, I needed the right vehicle; something with style, comfort, power and enough space for a full entourage. That led me to GMC’s luxury barge: the Yukon Denali XL.
Measuring 224.3 inches long, the Yukon XL is one of only a few massive body-on-frame SUVs left on the market. With three rows of adult-sized seats, space is not an issue in the big GMC. But a regular Yukon XL wouldn’t do. With a dignitary that owns both the electric company and waterworks, only the upscale Denali would do.
Big Truck, Big Power
And as the driver, I can’t complain. By upgrading to the Denali, the regular Yukon’s 5.3-liter V8 is dumped in favor of the larger 6.2-liter V8 that makes a hearty 420 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque. For the larger XL model, the new eight-speed automatic found in the regular Yukon Denali was not yet available at that time and instead my SUV made do with the six-speed automatic.
But not even 6,009 lbs of truck with the weight of four passengers and luggage had me missing the two extra gears in the eight-speed. As we left the starting line on the first day of the event I pinned the throttle to see just how much get up and go is available in the Denali. The big brute powered away from a stop as one of my passengers said, “Wow, I wasn’t expecting that from this truck.”
It’s All about Navigation
In case you aren’t familiar with Rally North America events, the idea is to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible while finding a list of checkpoints that are unknown to the teams until they leave the starting line each day. Since these events are meant to raise money for charity and conducted on public roads, speeding and reckless driving are not tolerated so any team receiving a moving violation or spotted speeding in excess remotely on the GPS tracking software is disqualified.
Most teams are made up of two people, but we are a super team of four. With three heads looking up checkpoints and feeding me destinations instead of one, I could concentrate on driving. The Denali’s GPS, a hand held Garmin unit and two phones were fed various destinations as the Yukon erupted into a melee of computerized voices shouting directions at me as we planned our routes.
The secret to winning an event like this isn’t how fast you drive or how sporty your car is. Instead, it’s all about navigation and finding the right checkpoints. As day one progressed and we leave checkpoint two, we noticed we are one of the only teams on a twisting small road in eastern Ohio that is a lane and a half wide at best. If I’m able to keep the Yukon XL around the speed limit on this road, it will shave a lot of distance off our day and put us near the front. It was time to see what this big monster can do.