Every other year, MINI USA hosts a road trip across most of the United States, stopping at race tracks, museums and local sights, with hundreds, if not thousands, of MINI owners. It’s called MINI Takes The States and it’s one of the most unique events that any automaker hosts because it interacts directly with the fans and owners. For MINI owners to participate, they pay for either a single-city or multi-city ticket which pays for their food and drink at all MINI event stops along the way. Also, a portion of the proceeds from the tickets goes to the Feeding America charity.
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“MINI TAKES THE STATES is the most anticipated event in the MINI community and we couldn’t be happier to have Feeding America on board as our charity partner,“ said David Duncan, Vice President MINI of the Americas. “The rally will give the MINI community a chance to motor with purpose through our #DefyHunger campaign while raising the visibility of the charity and helping to defy the labels that are placed on people facing hunger in America.”
So on top of it being an incredibly fun and adventurous road trip that brings both owners and company together, it supports a great cause as well and you really don’t get a better combination than that. Graciously, MINI allowed us to come along for the ride for a few days and experience what it’s like to take part in a multi-state road trip with some of the most interesting and eclectic MINI owners we’ve ever seen.
MTTS started in Atlanta, Georgia this year and the morning event was held at Atlanta Motor Speedway. There, the big spectacle was two parachuters jumping out of a plane and landing in the back of two MINI Cooper Convertibles with excellent precision. But we weren’t there for that, as we came the following day.
MINI flew us out to Charlotte, North Carolina to begin our trip. From there, we visited the NASCAR museum in the heart of the beautiful city that is Charlotte. Coming from the east coast, with Manhattan being the city I’m most used to, Charlotte was a nice, small and clean change of pace. The NASCAR museum was a very cool place to hang out, filled with rich history, really cool cars and was just a great place for car people to hang out. We learned a lot about the history of NASCAR, saw some old race cars and ate some good food.
Seeing literally thousands of MINI owners converge in the NASCAR museum was a really cool sight, because it showed how a bunch of strangers could get together and just talk cars and appreciate motorsport, even though NASCAR and MINI are so very different.
The following morning, it was time to actually drive. MINI put us in a MINI Clubman Cooper S for our first leg of the trip, which went from Charlotte to Richmond, Virginia with an optional stop for lunch. But before we hit the open road, we stopped at Charlotte Motor Speedway, an official NASCAR track. There, MINI owners gathered in herds and were able to hang out, eat some breakfast and finally take a parade lap around the famous track. After the owners did their laps, we were able to cut the MINIs lose, where we hit over 100 mph in the Clubman and I was able to drive on a NASCAR embankment for the first time ever. Cool stuff.
After Charlotte Motor Speedway, we hit the road and headed toward Richmond. The Clubman Cooper S proved to be an outstanding road trip companion, as it was able to pack a bunch of luggage in the back seat and provided a smooth and comfortable ride to travel nearly 400 miles in. While 400 miles isn’t such a long drive, it took us around six hours of continuous driving because there’s no chance that MINI owners, or us, were going to take highways. Oh no, it was only twisty back country roads and it was spectacular. Most of these back country roads are unpatrolled and completely empty from other drivers, so it left us MINI drivers plenty of space to safely open the cars up and have some fun on the sort of roads MINIs were made for.
Although, we had to slow our speeds down in Virginia because the local police there do not take kindly to people breaking the speed limit, even a little bit. But that’s the best part about driving a MINI, they’re fun even at slow speeds. In fact, slow speeds and incredibly narrow, twisty roads are exactly what MINIs are made for. If MINIs were meant for super high speeds, they would have more than 189 hp.
When we got to Richmond, there was no night event held by MINI, so MINI owners were free to tour the city. Like Charlotte, Richmond is a smaller and clean city that I’m not typically used to, so it was a cool place to see. But the real fun happened the next morning, when we took our MINIs to Richmond International Raceway, another NASCAR track for another day of hanging out, eating good food and driving on the track. The track in Richmond is a lot smaller than Charlotte’s, so we couldn’t hit the same sort of speeds, but it was still fun. Especially because for this leg of the trip, MINI put us in a John Cooper Works.
Our black and red MINI JCW was an interesting companion for this leg of the trip. We took the MINI JCW from Richmond to Baltimore, Maryland and this route was more of a mix of twisty back roads and highway blasts. For the former, the JCW was an absolute blast. Our car was fitted with the optional adjustable dampers and standard six-speed manual, making it simply hilarious good fun to drive. I kept uttering that it felt like a baby rally car to drive, because every input took more effort than on most cars, the suspension was so firm and the exhaust so loud. The clutch pedal was meaty, the shifter took some muscle to get through gears and the steering was heavy, all in the best possible way. The JCW makes you work for your speed and it’s fantastic, rewarding you with a wonderful exhaust note, filled with pops and bangs.
For the highway runs, we actually started wanting for our Clubman back. Its eight-speed automatic and far more compliant and composed suspension made it a far better highway cruiser than the JCW, whose rock hard suspension and manual gearbox made traffic much less enjoyable. But that’s kind of the charm of driving a JCW, it isn’t perfect for every situation but when you get it into its comfort zone, there aren’t many cars like it.
Along the way, there was an optional lunch spot at a local Virginia distillery, which was on a patch of land so vast that my city-based mind had a hard time comprehending it. This was a great spot for the MINI owners though, because most of them aren’t alone but bring their families and even dogs. So it was a great place for dogs to run free, kids to play and adults to hang out and sample some whiskey (responsibly, of course). But what was more impressive than the vastness of the gorgeous land the distillery sat on was just how much of it was filled with MINIs. It was genuinely a sight to behold.
When we finally arrived in Baltimore, MINI took us all to the B&O Railroad Museum, which was a lot cooler than it sounds. Seeing all of the hundred year old trains and the mechanics behind these massive machines from a century ago was nothing short of amazing and made us appreciate the mechanics behind our little modern MINIs. Also, the juxtaposition of the tiny MINIs filling the parking lot next to these steel behemoths was a fantastic sight. There was also a great outside space, filled with local Baltimore food, drinks and music and was a great spot for all of us to relax and unwind.
Unfortunately, Baltimore was the last stop on our trip and we flew home the next day. But we can certainly see why there were about 900 MINI owners who were doing the entire two-week long trip from Atlanta, Georgia and ending in Palm Springs, California. This is the fourth MINI Takes The States event and some of the owners participating have done all four and we can see why they keep coming back. The sense of community, everyone waving and beeping at each other to show MINI camaraderie, and adventure is intoxicating and makes for an experience that won’t soon be forgotten.
Admittedly, I was exhausted after just the two days, as they were two very long days. However, for the veterans who’ve done it for years, the love of the trip far outweighs the exhaustion. Plus, it all goes toward a good cause, giving the road trip a bigger sense of purpose and gives a good reason to keep on going. We aren’t even MINI owners, we were just invited along for a couple of days, but we had a blast. A tiring blast, but a blast nonetheless. If you’re a MINI owner and love your car but haven’t done a MTTS even yet, we’d highly recommend it for the next time around. It’s an experience you won’t soon forget.