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Wrapped for the rally: 100 cars at 3M

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Nicolas Echeverri met Adam Smith and Justin Brouwer at the track in Brainerd, Minn. Smith and Brouwer's Viper and Porsche bore the vinyls from the Crown Rally, and they invited Echeverri on the next road trip.

"Do you guys use 3M vinyl?" asked Echeverri, a Woodbury resident and design manager at 3M Center in Maplewood. "It's better."

Three car enthusiasts connected, and that's how the first 3M Crown Rally was born. Last week, more than 100 sports cars parked along the roads among raised planters in the middle of the 3M Quad, awaiting departure on a 750-mile route to Chicago. They spent three days getting across three states.

As they prepared to leave, suits and ties mingled with enthusiasts in racing hats, perusing a lineup including makes from Rolls Royce, Mercedes Benz, Corvette, Lamborghini, Trans Am, and DeLorean Motor Co. as if in a museum, but with no red tape and way more selfies. A DJ played, and one employee mocked his voicemail: "We are currently practicing a fire drill, and we'll all be outside and unavailable."

It's not every day that 3M employees get a brief diversion from hard work in a plaza full of names like Automobiles Martini, Mustang, Ferrari, Mini Cooper, or even Range Rover.

Echeverri, 27, put his 2008 Porsche Cayman S on display and took it on the 3M Crown Rally with girlfriend Katlyn Myrvold.

"It's kind of a dream come true for a car enthusiast," Echeverri said of buying his first Porsche, which he described as well-made, full of history, and an object of beauty. "Everywhere you go you always look back at it. Everywhere you go."

While he wasn't shy to drive his new Porsche home from Louisiana upon purchase, many owners of exorbitantly priced luxury sports cars don't want to risk their vehicles getting a nick from a stray pebble.

That's where the key sponsor's Wrap Film Series 1080 comes in, protecting $2 million McLarens from the elements. Every car lover wants his vehicle to stand out, Echeverri said, and a wrap can temporarily and inexpensively personalize a car while avoiding a permanent paint job.

Another Woodbury resident and 3M employee, Cordell Hardy, said that wraps protect paint, preventing scratches and stains, self healing, and rejecting radiation from the sun. The cars drove through heavy rain on the first day, but the wrap suffered no peeling, Echeverri said.

Graphics can also be purchased in various textures and finishes, like matte.

"So much of our lives are full of gravity and seriousness. There's part of this that's just for fun," Hardy said. "It's 3M science applied to life—recreation, art, beauty—the totality of who we are."

3M and the Crown Rally were an obvious match, Echeverri said, and 3M donated the wraps to the Crown Rally in support of the event's fundraising cause—the Epilepsy Foundation.

This was the first year of 3M's sponsorship but the third year of the Crown Rally, which Smith and Brouwer started as a road trip with friends. Participants must get to the first stop before their next checkpoint is announced—and then getting there is part of the adventure, with only a restaurant name, a small town, or some coordinates to aid in navigation.

"It's all going to be kind of back roads," Echeverri said. "It's not a race."

In fact, a Porsche served as a pace car the weekend before the rally, driving the route to Chicago at exactly the speed limit. The winner of the 3M Crown Rally is the car that arrives at the perfect time compared to the pace car.

The free-flowing ride, with only open road and an ultimate end in mind, requires patience to pay attention and navigate, as well as the ability to use a map and find gas stations to refill the sports cars' smallish gas tanks.

"Getting lost is my biggest fear," Echeverri said before the rally. "You can get lost for hours in Wisconsin."

Echeverri and Myrbold were armed with Coke, water, apples, other snacks, helmets for a drag strip promised on the route, a global positioning system (GPS), a two-way radio, two cellphones, and five phone chargers. In the Porsche's two front-end and rear trunks was plenty of room for changes of clothes before each evening's party.

While they ended up operating without cellphone or GPS reception for 70 percent of the time on the road, other drivers and their teams were far more helpful than Echeverri expected. They rarely kept their routes secret and always offered assistance to get others back on track.

From a few stops in Hudson, Wis., to northern Wisconsin and then a farm in the middle of the state, where the 3M Crown Rally teams passed Amish buggies, "the drive was amazing," Echeverri said.

Cars crossed the Wisconsin River nine or 10 at a time via the Merrimac Ferry—an epic moment, Echeverri said.

They raced at Great Lakes Dragway in Union Grove, Wis. Unlike Brainerd, which is a road-course-style track, at Great Lakes, two cars at a time would go on green to see how fast they could drive 1/4 mile.

"I think the fastest time was 10 seconds, which is pretty fast," Echeverri said.

The traffic was slow as they drove into Chicago, but once at the London House Chicago and Rockit Bar & Grill, the drivers and their teams were able to relive their experience. A big takeaway from the trip was the friendships created, Echeverri said. "This group is just a big group of friends. We all know each other."

Visits by the 3M Crown Rally must be a sight to see, Hardy imagined out loud. "You don't see Porsche 918s going through small towns every day."

Brouwer, a Park High graduate and St. Paul resident, said in the Crown Rally's first two years he led his friends on the trip and said he wouldn't tell them where they were going.

"And it was really fun," said Brouwer, 31, who drives a Jeep Cherokee, taking a year off from driving in the Crown Rally.

This year, he focused on fundraising, which is not his background.

He, not a fundraiser by trade but a software engineer, and Smith decided to take their grassroots effort to another level, growing the event with Echeverri's help. The five-year 3M employee connected with a couple of decisionmakers and pointed out that the 3M Crown Rally is an event that targets essentially the same market as 3M targets for its wrap.

"We knew we needed a vinyl we could trust," Brouwer said.

A sponsorship by 3M encouraged a record number of cars to register, and the event deserved a charity to support, Brouwer's wish. On the morning of the 3M Crown Rally, the event had raised more than $40,000 for the Epilepsy Foundation, greatly surpassing its $25,000 goal. Anyone can donate to the cause at crowdrise.com/CrownRally2016.

Hardy, said the event highlighted the 3M Wrap Film Series 1080 but also many other aspects of automotive engineering prowess, said Hardy, technical director for 3M Commercial Solutions Division.

"3M products are ingrained in all of the cars that are here," Hardy said. "We're celebrating the exterior, but working at 3M and knowing what goes underneath is satisfying, as well."

And it all started literally right outside Echeverri's ground-floor office window.

"It's wonderful," he said, "when you can mix your business with your hobby."

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