Pay no attention to the Lamborghinis, Ferraris, Porsches, Bugattis and Bentleys. Ignore the coterie of playboys, sheikhs, jet-setters and celebrities making the seven-day, 3,000-mile trek from Miami's Ocean Drive to Ibiza's Carrer Andenes. Disregard the late-night debauchery at each checkpoint, the obscenely wealthy scofflaws and the not-exactly-pocket-change entry fee of £40,000 (about $67,000 US).
Forget all of that. Bun B has a much better way to sum up the Gumball 3000.
"The Gumball is not a bunch of rich people just showing off cars," says Bun, rap icon and confirmed habitué of the rally. "I understand why people would think that because the people that do it are wealthy. But once we get on that highway, money can't help you in certain situations. You're gonna laugh, you're gonna cry, you're gonna be happy and angry. And it takes your brothers to help you get through it all. The Gumball is a brotherhood."
That brotherhood began in 1999, when former skater Maximillion Cooper invited 50 of his friends to take part in a 3,000-mile drive around Europe. Winning wasn't nearly as important as the parties that followed each leg of the race, and not surprisingly, within a few years, word of the rally began to spread. Today, the Gumball is not only one of the world's largest motor rallies, it's also considered the ultimate road trip for car aficionados worldwide, a rite of passage for both automotive kidults and well-heeled members of the party elite.
Bun B considers himself more of the former, and as he prepares to buckle up for the 2014 Gumball – the starting flag dropped on Ocean Drive Thursday morning – he can't contain the excitment he feels about the continent-hopping road race that will pit him against a "couple hundred Liam Neesons," including Xzibit, Tony Hawk and Deadmau5.
"Everybody has different resources and different sets of skills. Everybody can do something," he says. "If a driver is having car trouble, another Gumballer stops to help out. I had a flat tire last year within the first five minutes. In the rain. In a country where most people don't speak English. And it was a holiday weekend. But we were never alone throughout the situation and we got back on the road."
While Cooper's oft-repeated refrain, "Gumball is a rally, not a race," lingers on every winding road like exhaust smoke, some Gumballers get their route cards and defiantly push their supercars to the limit without giving so much as a flying (or driving) fuck about their own safety, not to mention the preservation of the roadside gawkers who look on as they floor it to the next checkpoint.
"A Gumballer is a driver with a Marine mentality. We're very serious and we're very focused," Bun explains. "We never leave people in jail, and people go to jail quite often for speeding or reckless driving. We tend to be doing more than five miles over the limit. We're not racing against each other, but a lot of these guys own these incredible cars and have never really been able to test the limits, so to speak. But we leave no man behind."
No man wants to be left behind, either. Back in 2010, during his inaugural run on the Gumball, Bun fell off a riser while onstage at a concert in Stockholm, Sweden, and fractured his elbow in two places. The sheer pain of his injury notwithstanding, the biggest side effect of his wounded arm was a wicked case of FOMO — Fear of Missing Out. Fueled by anesthetized adrenaline, the rapper wrapped his right limb in gauze and kept on Gumballing.
"I didn't want to go to the hospital because I would have missed my flight," he says. "I had two fractures in my elbow, which is not comfortable at all. But I didn't want to miss the rally and I was caught up in the adrenaline of the situation. I performed a concert the next day and I still put my arm up in the air, strategically, and waved it from side to side with the crowd."
Incapacitated extremities are one thing, and the threat of injury is a near constant, but the Gumball is also a social event, which means sleeping in five-star hotels, partying in chic nightclubs and rubbing elbows with billionaires like Matt and Brett Landes (dubbed the Bugatti Brothers). It's quite the come up for a kid from Port Arthur, Texas, but Bun says that what keeps him coming back year-after-year is the camaraderie. The Gumball is a brotherhood, after all.
"You'd be surprised how much you have in common with these people," he says. "The Gumball culture is an eclectic mix of people: musicians, businessmen, sheikhs, nefarious individuals here and there. We drive all day and we party all night. And we try to let people see the Gumball lifestyle front and center. And when everything is done, we all celebrate together like family."