Like Mecca to true car enthusiasts, the Woodward Dream Cruise calls to all who have gripped a wheel, stomped on a gas pedal and gotten goose bumps admiring the curves of a steel body.
So I wasn’t surprised when I saw Bill Caswell in the crowd at the curb.
They are probably going to make a movie about this man. And if you are a car guy, you will want to see it.
He’s a bright fellow with an MBA who collected a fat severance package after departing his imploded finance banker job in 2010, to go do something more real.
He bought a welder, a $500 BMW 318i, and a raft of spare parts off Craigslist to build a race car in his mother’s garage that he entered in the World Rally Championship event in Mexico. The surprise was that he finished third in class against half-million dollar factory entries.
Suddenly Caswell is on a first-name basis with Petter Solberg and Ken Block, and he’s telling about how in the middle of the rally he and his co-driver got caught in the crossfire of a drug cartel shootout. There are adoring female fans in Mexico for the man whose motto is “Build, Race, Party.” But Caswell’s true love, a hot young dermatologist (I’ve seen her picture) awaits his return back home in California. They will marry in November.
His story gets told by ESPN. His Facebook page blows up. The movie rights to his story are now the property of actor Jeremy Renner, who is gaining the kind of clout with roles in “The Hurt Locker,” “The Avengers,” and the latest Bourne action flick that will someday let him produce a movie where he gets to play Caswell. Time will tell.
I met Caswell in France last spring where we had both come to drive Ford’s new hot hatchback Focus ST. On new-car introduction drives, the motoring press pairs up to share a vehicle on roads that the manufacturer believes will best show off the car. One drives, the other navigates, and then you swap seats.
Caswell, who had taken the assignment for an Internet review site, and I were the new guys on this trip, so we were stuck with each other.
Sharing a fast, nimble new car on the twisting mountain roads above Cote d’ Azure is the kind of thing that bonds or breaks relationships. Caswell is very fast. The roads are very narrow. The cliffs present constant fatal possibilities.
We laughed our backsides off while thoroughly enjoying the nimble Focus.
When he found out I had never been to Monte Carlo, just 30 minutes up the Mediterranean coast from the hotel where Ford was hosting briefings with the engineers who built the Focus ST, he insisted he was going to take me there – and he did. We “borrowed” one of the test cars for a 30-minute “photo session.” Three hours later, we had missed dinner but were sharing photos and telling tales to our amazed and amused hosts.
We had walked and driven much of the famous Formula One Grand Prix circuit. We admired the incredibly huge yachts in the harbor, the magnificent scenery and the historic buildings.
I had just stepped out of the famous Monte Carlo Casino (yes, it looks like a James Bond movie set because it was) when I caught Caswell telling the concierge that I was the car critic from The Detroit News, and we were reviewing this very European car before its introduction to the U.S.
I said yes when the man asked in a thick French accent, “You are from Detroit where they make the cars? Then how can I refuse?”
We were granted rare permission to park the Focus on the steps of the casino for a photo session. We drew a crowd that ignored the Ferraris and a Bentley also parked out front to look at the little Ford.
Flash forward to today. Here is Bill Caswell, standing in the crowd alongside Woodward, watching the eclectic parade that is the Dream Cruise. He had been in West Michigan to test a race car for a Detroit-area owner. But, he’s like the rest of us. He’s just another car guy.
There was only one thing I could do.
“Get in,” I said. “You are going to cruise.”
And we did.