Register Monday | December 5 | 2022

Grand Prix Weekend Nearly Took My Life

Fast cars and beautiful women

Until recently, I didn’t think car races were life-threatening, just annoying. I’ve always steered clear of events like Montreal’s Grand Prix and Toronto’s Indy. They seem to invite disaster—and I don’t mean just smash-ups and horrible outfits. There are also the hazardous levels of testosterone invoked by the combination of machines and speed and liquor and money.

Perhaps these are the very things that attract a certain kind of person to car races. It surprised me to find out just how many such people are out there. Of all the popular Montreal summer festivals, the Grand Prix rakes in the most cash for the city. Throngs of Americans and other car-obsessed individuals invade (yes, invade) the city on that mid-June weekend. I, for one, make an effort to get out of town during the Grand Prix—or at least to avoid Crescent Street (the festival’s social and commercial hub) at all costs. You won’t catch me at Jacques Villeneuve’s slyly named bar, New Town, or in the gargantuan lineups at the Go-Go bar. While I think it’s great that the city of Montreal attracts so many festive visitors in the summer, the Grand Prix tourist is a creature I can do without.

Grand Prix couples can be identified by their matching tracksuits, often shiny and usually in racing colours. Fanny pack is optional. What makes these tourists stand out from the West Island day trippers is their unbearably loud accents as they pass comment on the city. Especially the gangs of Grand Prix men: “French chicks are f-ing hot.” I just assume they’re on their way back from Super Sexe or Pussy Corps.

The tourists leave the city with the following impressions of Montreal: fast cars and beautiful women. The beautiful women are a standard in this city, but the fast cars are just in for the weekend. What’s interesting is when the twain meet. The fetish of a hot babe on a hot rod is so clichéd it’s become a joke, like rose tattoos or tapered jeans. Girls lounging on the hoods of Lamborghinis is a thing of the eighties, isn’t it?

Apparently not. My friend Phillipa had the misfortune of walking through the Grand Prix madness one Friday afternoon. Young teenage girls in ass-baring shorts and triangle bikini tops were leaning across the cars while tourists took pictures from behind, with their children smiling in the foreground. This is not Montreal, but the tourists leave with the idea (and, sadly, the proof) that it is.

While I don’t really get the appeal of such shots, I won’t deny that cars do have a sexy side. Mini International has cute commercials showing that their cars’ interiors are spacious enough for a threesome; that the drive-in has always been a great excuse for a love-in; and that carwashes are a venue for wet T-shirt contests. Plus, there are countless songs that compare a good-looking lady to a motor vehicle. “Beep beep, beep beep, yeah.”

It’s never really bothered me much. I figured that the appeal was in the juxtaposition: a hot car and a hot chick who has no idea how to drive it. This is offensive on many levels, of course, but I never took it seriously. I mean, no one really thinks like that, do they? It’s just a fantasy. Everyone knows women are better drivers than men.

Alas, no. This past Grand Prix weekend, I had a taste of macho madness that put a new spin on things. I was leaving for Toronto with three of my girlfriends. The weather was perfect for driving and we had our oversized sunglasses, our collection of CDs and our Tim Hortons coffees, snug in their cupholders. We were ready to go west. As our car hurdled out of Montreal on highway 40 at a safe but determined speed, Lola, who was driving, noticed a white Cherokee tailgating us. The car had Connecticut plates, so she assumed the two guys were in town for the Grand Prix and out for a morning joyride. She ignored the Cherokee and its dangerous proximity because she assumed it—and its human cargo—would go away soon enough. Twenty minutes later, though, the car was still on our tail. Lola admitted she was a bit scared. We all vowed to keep our eyes straight ahead and not look over at the two assholes sitting in the Cherokee’s front seats. Looking over would imply we were playing their game, whatever it was.

Our tactic did not work. They became even more reckless, swerving like drunkards from lane to lane, haphazardly cutting in front of us and almost clipping an innocent motorcyclist. After forty-five minutes of feeling like our lives were being threatened at 120 kilometres an hour, we concluded that they were not going away. One of my friends crouched in her seat, took out her cell phone and called the police. A patrol car zipped out of the thick weeds of an underpass and pulled over the offending vehicle. We were made to stop as well, to explain the situation.

We were certain that the guys were drunk from the night before—it was early in the morning—but the policeman assured us they were not. “Ils juste faisaient les yeux,” one of the cops explained. They let us go and kept the tailgaters behind for a formal investigation so we could put some distance between us and them. The whole thing was a scary experience. We had not once made eye contact with these men. Why were they compelled not only to try to pick us up (quite impossible at 120 km/hour), but then to scare the shit out of us when they failed to catch our attention? Who is that desperate for female attention?

"I waited until the 40-20 split to see which road the Corolla would take. He went 20, so I took 40 and gave him the finger as he went round the bend."

We chalked it up to a strange experience of random creepiness and had a great weekend in Toronto. On Sunday we found ourselves heading back to Montreal on the 401 eastbound and laughing at the Grand Prix traffic going westbound. Around Kingston, while I was driving, I noticed a black Corolla in the rearview mirror. The car had been following us for some time. I figured that it was just a driver staying in my shadow to avoid getting a ticket for speeding. But after our experience the previous Friday, I was reasonably concerned about the situation. I overtook the car ahead of me to see what would happen. The Corolla overtook it as well, slipping itself into the precariously tight spot behind our car. When I went 140, it went 140. When I settled into the right lane, it lingered like a bothersome fly in the passing lane. Again, it was two young men in the car. I got sick of this about half an hour later and wanted them off my tail, but when I slowed to 100, they did too.

This quickly got extremely annoying—not to mention dangerous. These guys were less reckless and off-the-wall than the original tailgaters, but still: why could four girls not drive down a highway in peace? We were not flirting, we were not making eyes. We just wanted to survive the 401. As Lola said, “We are either really hot, or there is something fucked up going on.” I waited until the 40-20 split to see which road the Corolla would take. He went 20, so I took 40 and gave him the finger as he went round the bend.

So tell me: is it a rarity to see women driving on the highway alone? Do we live in the dark ages? Though I’d like to conclude that this is all a big coincidence, it makes me sad that in one weekend (Grand Prix weekend, mind you), I had two highway-from-hell experiences. It should come as no shock to see a woman behind the wheel of a car instead of on the hood. I have tried to make some sense out it. Why would two guys actually think this is a good idea? I’m still baffled. If anyone has any insights, I want to hear them. Please use the comment box below to leave me your theories, ideas, arguments, tirades or similar anecdotes.

Emma Appleby is a fabulous force on the Montreal scene. Read more recent columns by Emma Appleby.