Thursday, August 16, 2012

One Lap of Alabama

Ruben Greenwood at Denny Chimes - Tuscaloosa

“Because it needed to be done,” is the universal answer to the question, “why are you doing this?” Birmingham, Alabama resident Ruben Greenwood just finished an epic drive in a small car that saw him bear the oppressive summer heat and torrential rains of the deep south while being guided by nothing more than a paper road map and supporters along his way.

Inspired by John Nikas’ nationwide drive in a 60 year old Austin Healey 100 to raise awareness and funding for the American Cancer Society, Ruben designed a route that would take him around the state of Alabama in a rough outline of the state’s borders to accomplish a similar goal for the Alabama Chapter of the ACS. Ruben set up his overnight stays in Alabama cities with active British car clubs to help get the word out and enjoy the company of like-minded people.
At the Sendoff in Birmingham

Ruben met John and saw his Healey in Birmingham during one of John’s trips across the state. Ruben shared his idea of a “One Lap of Alabama” tour and John enthusiastically supported it. Unlike John however, Ruben decided against allowing people to jot messages of encouragement on his 1983 Mini. Instead, he designed an event logo and had it applied to a banner that supporters and donors could sign.

Ruben set out from Birmingham with a sendoff by the ACS and accompanied by his friend and fellow classic Mini owner Manuel Barje. Manuel offered to drive the southern portion of the tour with Ruben which covered about half the trip.

Ruben & Manuel at Toomer's Corner - Auburn, Alabama
The duo kept to the “blue” highways as much as possible to avoid Interstate highway travel. The first day’s leg took them from Birmingham to Auburn, Alabama and then to the state capitol of Montgomery. The Minis were the focus of attention at every stop for food or fuel with strangers asking about the One Lap signage and then sharing their own stories of loss and victory with cancer. Donations were accepted and the banner began to fill up with notes and signatures. One elderly lady told Ruben that she was being treated for cancer and then handed him $8.00 in rumpled dollar bills to help the cause.

Ruben and Manuel spent the night in Montgomery, hosted by the Montgomery British Motoring Club.
State Capitol- Montgomery

The next day’s route required some last minute alteration due to rains of biblical proportions predicted for the southeast corner of the state. The plan called for the tour to visit Dothan, Alabama but with 6 inches of rain on the way, the team let discretion actually be the better part of valor and chose to stay well away to the west.

After press interviews in Montgomery, the team headed on a new route that included a stretch of wet Interstate highway and Ruben’s Mini did not play well with the spray kicked up by passing trucks. At the next stop, LilBrit (they are all named, don’t you know) refused to start. Some quick diagnosing and the problem was traced back to moisture in the distributor. The trip to Mobile began again in earnest, but as the sun came out, vapor lock reared its head. After a cool down the fuel line was re-routed and the trip continued without further drama.

ACS Office - Mobile
The One Lap drivers spent the night on the Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay and were hosted at dinner by the South Alabama British Car Club and the Mardi Gras MGs.

The next leg of the tour got underway after a visit to the Mobile, Alabama ACS office and more TV and press interviews with the day’s goal being Tuscaloosa. The drive was pleasant and the back roads scenic in west Alabama with daytime temperatures dropping from melt to swelter. As the duo passed by a truck service depot, a truck tire exploded literally yards away from the open windows of the Minis. The guys got a cardio workout without ever leaving the drivers seat.

Your Faithful Blogger Drove with the Gang in Mobile
The tour pressed on to Tuscaloosa without further incident where they were welcomed by the West Alabama British Car Club.

Tuscaloosa was where Manuel planned to turn east towards his home near Birmingham, leaving Ruben to run solo for the northern half of the journey. Ruben met with One Lap supporters in Tuscaloosa prior to leaving the city. The journey out of town was sobering as he passed through areas hit by the devastating tornado of April 2011. The wounds are starting to heal, but the scars are still visible.

The Road to Florence, Alabama
The route to the day’s destination of Florence, Alabama includes some of the state’s most beautiful scenery with rolling hills and lush valleys. Ruben’s progress was hampered by a missing road sign which caused him to get well and truly lost. A friendly driver in a Jeep led Ruben back to his intended destination.

On arrival in Florence, Ruben was met by members of the Northwest Alabama British Car Club for a bit of noggin and natter.

Spot the Mini - Huntsville, Alabama
The drive east across the “top” of the state to Huntsville allowed Ruben to be a bit of a tourist as the day’s journey was short. Being an architect, Ruben couldn’t pass up a chance to visit the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Rosenbaum home. As in the rest of the state, each stop brought people to the car to tell their stories, sign the rapidly-filling banner or make a donation.

In Huntsville, Ruben met up with members of the North Alabama British Motoring Society who accompanied him to meetings at the local ACS office and to several press interviews prior to retiring to a quiet dinner before his departure for Birmingham – home - the next day.

At breakfast, Ruben discovered that he was minor local celebrity with a number of Huntsville residents telling him that they saw the news story about the One Lap tour. A number of messages were gathered on the banner and donations accepted on behalf of the Alabama ACS. A fuel stop on the way found the little car the focus of attention of a group of motorcyclists traveling as the No-Name Motorcycle Club. Again, more stories, more messages and more donations for the cause.
No-Name Motorcycle Club Members Sign the Banner

Ruben allowed himself to relax and enjoy the final leg of his journey. Lost in his thoughts of the last week, he noticed a rising needle on the temperature gauge followed by wisps of steam from under the bonnet. This was a malady that wasn’t going away on its own. A quick call to Manuel Barje resulted in his friend Luis Canizales  being dispatched to see what he could do to help. With visions of blown head gaskets dancing in his head, Ruben was delighted to hear that the culprit was the short length of hose that runs from the cylinder head to the water pump on some A-series engines. A short two block drive to Luis’ garage (where he builds world-class racing engines) and the difficult to reach hose was replaced.     

Disaster averted once more, Ruben cruised into his home city, with Manuel escorting him,  where family and friends awaited his arrival.
Not What You Want to See

Ruben will tell anyone within earshot that he was stunned by the level of support this effort received. He believes that had the trip taken place in an SUV or anonymous econobox sedan, it would not have gathered as much attention as it did. Anyone seeing the small cars setting out on a 1,000 mile journey in the midst of summer knew that they were indeed facing a challenge. But it was exactly this challenge that Ruben knew would get those around him to consider the challenges that cancer fighters face every day.

If you would like to donate to the Alabama Chapter of the American Cancer Society in the name of One of Alabama, please visit this site. One Lap of Alabama also has an active Facebook page - simply search for One Lap on Facebook. 

                Photos courtesy One Lap of Alabama's Facebook page.


  1. Great article Rodney! I know Ruben is happy to see it, will probably direct a lot of people to it.

  2. Rodney, I have sent this around to just about everyone on my email list, I will probably be reported to the Email Police. Thanks so much for a wonderfuly written account of the One Lap effort. So maybe NEXT year you will crank up that little car of yours and make the trip with us. Great fun and as I have said, it has changed me. Thanks again.


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