By Nick Caruso
I had risen at 3:30am to catch my flight from Austin to Orlando. This trip was definitely not something I wanted to miss, given all the amazing opportunities before me, so I sprang into action at the first hint of my alarm going off. The flights were uneventful; all the same, it was a full morning of travel and when I got to Orlando the last thing I wanted to do was go through the same old unpleasant routine at the car rental counter. So imagine my pleasure when I not only had a stress-free time at the Hertz counter, but a fun one. The woman who took care of me, Joyce, was beside herself when she found out I wasn’t picking up any old econobox, but rather a Porsche Boxter. My ride was Florida white and had only a few hundred miles on the odometer. Now, I’ve driven some great cars – cars people notice – but there was a certain excitement over this particular set of wheels that stayed constant throughout my brief trip. The attendant who brought my car around gave it an extra little throttle blip just before shutting the engine down, as I was wont to do time and again for the next 48 hours.
I was in town not just to try out the Hertz/Porsche rental program, but to experience the 12 Hours of Sebring endurance race event, in which Hertz sponsors a Porsche car via JDX racing. The Sebring race is part of the American Le Mans Series, which means there are events scattered across the nation throughout the year. I drove directly from the airport to Sebring, and hadn’t been parked for longer than 10 seconds (in a lot full of sports cars of various ilk) when a man stopped in his tracks and hollered over at me “that’s a beautiful car!” I thanked him and zoomed off into the race grounds before I felt compelled to explain it wasn’t mine. Inside I was invited to park in the Porscheplatz – a lot designated especially for Porsches – where I was literally surrounded by 911s, Cayennes, Caymans, and other Boxters of every vintage. But what grabbed my attention most was the noise of engines roaring around the Sebring track – the GT3 race was well underway, so I was hurried down to the track to see the commotion. I stayed to watch the end of the race and the winner’s podium ceremony, which involved many pictures and a lot of sprayed champagne. Because I was tired, and had a long day ahead of me, I decided to get back to the Marriott World Center early so I could grab some dinner and get some shuteye.
The hype about my Boxter didn’t wane. After surveying “my” Porsche outside the hotel entrance the valet, admiring every gleaming inch of the car, said, “there doesn’t appear to be any damage,” to which I replied, “better not be – it’s brand new.” I tossed him my keys and scurried inside, again before anyone else found out it wasn’t actually mine. Which is what makes the Hertz/Porsche program so special – the feeling you get when a tried and true sports car is at your beck and call. You feel like you own a slice of Heaven on Earth, which brings me to my night’s accommodations. The World Center is the biggest Marriott on Earth, and it is truly massive. My room overlooked the hotel lobby, which was so big I wouldn’t be surprised if a few White Houses could be crammed inside. There are several restaurants to visit, and a fun sports bar as well. I wasn’t at the hotel long enough to take in much more, but I imagine one could make an entire trip out of simply staying at the World Center, and I fully recommend it.
The next day, up again before dawn, I headed back to Sebring for the big race. I wouldn’t be able to see the entire race, but I was eager to take in the first third. Before the green flag all the competing cars are lined up on the track for spectators to ogle and photograph. There were people everywhere – all happy and commiserating over their love for motorsport. There were also beautiful women in bikinis hovering around each car, making it beyond clear that I’m in the wrong business. I was lucky enough to have access to areas many fans won’t be able to get to – I stood just inside turn one, where the race cars hurtled by like demented rockets, and explored the pit area (in a racing fire suit!), where all the teams set up their racing headquarters.
Once the race was underway there were still 12 hours of fun to be had. Unfortunately, I had to scoot by early afternoon, so I didn’t see the end of the festivities. I know for a fact that good times lasted well into the evening hours, and I’m envious of those who could see the checkered flag fly. My drive back to the Orlando airport was a blast – as was any time I spent on the road. Top down, the Boxter’s sonorous engine whirring behind me…I couldn’t even remember what my life was like before the Porsche key fob found its way into my pocket. I was already sad to see it go, but so very glad to know that whenever I might want to revisit the sports car lifestyle, one will be waiting for me at Hertz.
Hertz rents Porsches and other high performance cars only in specific locations – check their website for availability: https://www.hertz.com/rentacar/reservation/home
And if you’re looking for a terrific way to spend a weekend, picking up a hot car and taking in an endurance race isn’t a bad way to go. Rent a Porsche and follow the JDX team around: http://www.alms.com/teams/jdx-racing
And if you ever make it to Orlando, the Marriott World Center is where you should stay: http://www.marriottworldcenter.com/