in order to reacquaint himself with the car he'll be driving the next day in the mpg Challenge, Wayne borrows an Insight for the 120-mile drive to Hybridfest. While Wayne drives, he reminisces about one of his sweetest—meaning most fuel efficient—drives of all time, in his Honda Accord last summer. "I was going about 70 miles per hour catching up with a truck, in the late evening, and I had a tail wind. I went into a d-fas, down the bowl over the top of a hill, and I coasted almost three and a half miles. It ended at 40 miles per hour.... It was a once-in-a-lifetime. I'll probably never experience it again. The hypermiling gods were with me."
I ask him what the equivalent feat would be for a baseball player. "Three grand slams in a game," he says. A great home run hitter needs sharp eyes, strong wrists, and exquisite timing. And a great hypermiler? "Foot control, hand-eye coordination, and anticipation," he says. "It's like a moving chess game, where the pieces aren't stationary." Like all transcendent athletes, Wayne anticipates the action on the field—in his case, the road—before it unfolds. "I'm making micro-adjustments on a continual basis," he says.
Fearlessness might be another trait that Wayne neglects to mention. At one point in our drive, Wayne approaches a truck to ride its draft. The wind whipping around the semi buffets the Insight, which weighs just 1,800 pounds. I offer Wayne some cashews, and as he takes a handful, his foot comes off the pedal slightly and the Insight drifts a few car lengths back. A black Infiniti suv squeezes between us and the truck. Wayne rides its butt. The Infiniti moves back into the left lane and zips away. "We pressured him so we could get our target back." I offer him more cashews, but he declines. "I have to pay attention," he says. He creeps back toward the truck. We're at two car lengths.... Wayne takes a call from some friends in another car.... One car length.... I thump an imaginary brake pedal with my foot, just like my mother used to do while riding with me. Wayne, not a touchy-feely guy, puts his hand on my leg to reassure me.
A few minutes later, he slaps the wheel. "Damn. I forgot my ice vest." The vest, which he uses at the nuclear plant when he has to work in really hot rooms, "is kind of my secret weapon," he says. "You can drive at 95 degrees with an ice vest, and it doesn't feel like 95." Wayne expects his car will be extremely toasty during the mpg Challenge. "No electricity, no air, no fans," he says. "No nothin'."
the three dozen men—no women sign up to compete—begin driving the 20-mile course of the Hybridfest mpg Challenge at about 9 a.m. Wayne is the favorite—"I have a target on my back," he says—and the star of the show. "It's like he's a member of Kiss," says Tony Schaefer, a Hybridfest fan. Wayne expects that his most serious contender in the mpg Challenge will be Randall Burkhalter, the only driver to ever break one of Wayne's mpg records. This summer he passed Wayne's 92.8 mpg lifetime average for the Honda Insight, and his mark is now up to 95.4 mpg. Like many hypermilers, the two met online at websites such as cleanmpg.com, greenhybrid.com, and priuschat.com. Wayne finds Burkhalter in the hot midday sun after Burkhalter has just finished his run, the best of the day: a 108.5 mpg average in his Insight. Wayne slaps him on the back to congratulate him, calling him "the top dog." Burkhalter thanks Wayne for all he's taught him, adding, "We're the head-butters. We're the rams butting horns in the mountains."
A few minutes later, a shout comes from the finish line that there's a new front-runner. His name is Justin Fons, and he's just 17 years old. He clocks 117.2 mpg in an Insight. Afterward, Justin explains that his father taught him how to drive, but that "the person I learned to drive efficiently from is Wayne Gerdes." By mid-afternoon, Mike Dabrowski, an inventor, tops Justin's mark, finishing the course at 121.9 mpg. But Dabrowski has the advantage of an extra battery in his Insight that connects to a fifth wheel he lowers to the ground hydraulically from the rear axle—which is why the other hypermilers call him "Mr. Fifth Wheel." Wayne doubts that it's possible to beat 121.9 mpg with four wheels. As he's about to take the course for the last run of the day, he tells the woman who signs him in that she should write "Mike Dabrowski" in the winner's slot.
by the time Wayne enters the lot from his run, it's past 5 p.m., and the other hypermilers have retreated from the storm and are off to Hybridfest's happy hour. Wayne's cap is off and his head, soaking wet, is sticking out the window because his breath has fogged up the windshield, and he refuses to turn on the defroster. Wayne honks to get a judge to run through the rain to record his fcd. It reads as high as the Insight can record: 150 mpg. Afterward, the Insight's owner hits a switch that shows Wayne's mark in kilometers per liter, which has a higher limit. It reads 1.3 L/100 km. That's 180.91 mpg. Later, at the awards dinner, Wayne is presented with a one-year subscription to Green Car Journal and a $25 gas card. For all we know, Wayne's still using it.
ridge-ride vb to drive an automobile with one's right wheels touching the right white line. Used to avoid puddles and excess friction and to alert approaching vehicles that one is moving slowly.
d-fas: draft-as·sis·ted forced au·to stop
n a fuel-saving driving technique in which one turns off the engine and tailgates a large truck in order to lower one's wind resistance.