Skip to main content

Big money, fast cars, and a Nyan Cat: this is the Gumball 3000

A notorious road rally drops by NYC on the way to Ibiza

Share this story

“Rev it!” screams a man in the crowd.

He gets his wish: a McLaren MP4-12C, covered from nose to tail in fluorescent livery, blips its throttle to the delight of a few hundred people gathered in New York City’s historic South Street Seaport.

I came here to get a glimpse of the Gumball 3000, an annual celebration of wealth, exotic machinery, and a casual disrespect for traffic laws whose ragtag list of sponsors includes Uber, YouTube, MTV, Krispy Kreme, and Grenco Science, makers of the G Pen marijuana vaporizer. It’s a rally on public roads — think Cannonball Run, but real — and this year, participants are driving from Miami to the Mediterranean island of Ibiza, stopping briefly in New York to hop a plane across the Atlantic (yes, cars too).

The Gumball, which raises money for charitable youth organizations, has a reputation for attracting celebrities. Hip hop artist Xzibit lost his license driving it in 2007. This year, Eve is involved. So is David Hasselhoff.

Every few minutes, a participating car would arrive, each more ridiculous than the one before it: I saw a completely chromed Aston Martin, Porsches of all shapes, sizes, and colors, and a Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupé covered in what appeared to be velvet. Each arrival was met with cheers and jeers (onlookers were quick to punish workaday sedans and SUVs). Occasionally, Water Street would fill with the billowing smoke of a satisfying burnout. Sanitation workers in a garbage truck stopped to signal their approval; a fire engine swung by and gave us some siren. Shirtless teenagers in a late-model Honda Accord, champagne in color, managed to get their tires to chirp as they tore by. I was hoping to catch a glimpse of an ultra-rare McLaren P1 or Batman’s Tumbler — yes, some rich guy entered the Tumbler in a rally race — but both were no-shows. Rumors spread in the crowd that the movie prop had broken down before reaching the city. (Shocker.)

The highlight of the evening was the arrival of acclaimed DJ and producer Joel Zimmerman — better known by his stage name, Deadmau5 — who is driving the Gumball this year in his Ferrari 458 Italia alongside Tory Belleci of MythBusters fame. But this isn’t just any 458: it’s the "Purrari," so named because Deadmau5 has wrapped it in a life-size vinyl print of Nyan Cat. As they parked, Nyan Cat’s insufferable theme song blared from the car’s speakers; Zimmerman and Belleci say they listened to it on loop along the entire drive. That would break a normal human’s spirit, but I’d be hard pressed to call these gentlemen normal humans.

I asked Zimmerman how he was balancing the rally — a major time commitment — with the release of his new album, while(1 Less_tha2), which comes out in just a matter of days. "I’m not," he admits, noting that work on album production finished quite some time ago. For the moment, he’s focused entirely on beating a pack of six-figure cars to Ibiza.

Drivers pay £40,000 (about $67,000) for the privilege of entering the Gumball 3000, which means you and I won’t be doing it. But considering that it’s one of the precious few events where you can see two celebrities step out of a Ferrari that's literally covered in an internet meme, it was well worth looking on from afar.

Photography by Sean O'Kane and Evan Rodgers; video by John Lagomarsino and Ryan Manning

Gumball 3000 in New York City


A variety of competitors await transport to JFK, where they'll be loaded on an aircraft and taken to Scotland.