ROAD TRIP: BOOTLEGGING IN A CHALLENGER
The Challenger we were provided is finished in a colour called Destroyer Grey. From a photographer's perspective, it's flat and dull and blends in to the colour of pavement far too much. But we've come realize it's a brilliant choice for this journey, meaning the fast V8-powered coupe goes largely unnoticed by the State Troopers should our speeds edge a little above the posted 70 mph limits.
It's easily done, too, since the 5.7L HEMI turns so few revs in sixth gear, that even at highway speeds it quickly endeared itself as a formidable highway cruiser. Adding in the Challenger's comfortable heated (and cooled) seats, plus a fantastic harman/kardon sound system integrated with Dodge's fantastic Uconnect infotainment system, and racking up hours on the road proves to be far less of an effort than we anticipated.
More importantly, the anonymous shade of paint on the Challenger makes it seem an even more appropriate choice for the next leg of our trip, venturing along Kentucky's Bourboun Trail toward Lexington.
NASCAR fans are well-versed in the sport's origins with the region's bootleggers who chose cars as unremarkable as possible, and turned them into sensationally fast and capable hauling machines. Early on, run-of-the-mill Fords were popular with whiskey runners who would stiffen springs to handle heavy loads of moonshine and swap out the flathead mills for the largest Cadillac ambulance engines they could get their hands on.
Even after prohibition officially ended in 1933, illegal production of moonshine in the Appalachian foothills throughout Kentucky and neighbouring states continued for would-be farmers looking for a more profitable (if dangerous) way of life. And while six of Kentucky's distilleries were granted permits during prohibition to continue producing whiskey for “medical” reasons, much of the state's increasingly popular spirit producers like Jim Beam, Woodford Reserve, Maker's Mark and Buffalo Trace have risen to become household names over the past 50-60 years.
Today, Kentucky's bourbon producers are flourishing, a fact evident in visits to a few of the distilleries that now have comprehensive tours, beautifully restored buildings and extensive gift shops, with people lining up for all of them. More telling is the 40% increase in Bourbon sales around the world in the past five years, and the more than 5 million barrels of whiskey currently resting in Bourbon County alone. 2.5 Million visitors have toured the Bourbon Trail in the past five years and more than 9,000 jobs are directly attributed to the production of that fine old spirit in Kentucky. To suggest Bourbon is important here would be an understatement.
But it's the mystique surrounding the aged distilleries, still nearly hidden amongst lush forests up in the hills outside places like Frankfort and Loretto that have our imaginations running a bit wild. The secondary roads leading up to and out of the distilleries twist and turn, rise and fall with the landscape, and can be truly exciting to drive.
We relished listening to the Challenger's V8 rev up near redline time and again as we occasionally fantasized ourselves as whiskey runners. The crisp action of the Dodge's Tremec six-speed transmission and pleasingly light clutch meant we never got tired of exercising the big coupe, and when, on occasion we came upon a corner a little quicker than we should've, the optional High Performance Brake option fitted to our car (a bargain at only $295), was greatly appreciated.
Driving northbound along a more easterly route, the rolling terrain provides sensational views, even from the highway, but the secondary roads, in great condition and lightly travelled, proved to be the driver's delight all the way to Pittsburgh, our final night's stop and yet another fantastically revived city.
Tennessee and Kentucky make for a road trip paradise, offering an incredible wealth of choice for entertainment, sports, cuisine, history and scenery. That friendly Southern Hospitality will have visitors planning return trips before they've even gotten home, because believe me, that passion is contagious.