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Challenge accomplished

Becky Vargo • Apr 9, 2018 at 10:00 AM

Dylan Lavine said they didn’t win any awards, but the friends and experiences along the way were worth the cold, snowy and wet (at least part of the way) ride from Chicago to New Orleans recently in a top-chopped-off two-door sedan.

Lavine — along with friends Owen Sanborn, Kollen Erickson and Jordan Wilson — participated in the third annual Chop Top Challenge, held during high school spring break week.

The event started in Chicago on March 24 and ended three days later with a parade on Bourbon Street in New Orleans.

Brothers Luke and Joe Wilcox of West Michigan started the challenge three years ago and plan to keep the event going.

Lavine said he hopes to make the trip to Austin, Texas next year — but in a better car.

“We learned it’s got to be at least a four-door,” he said, “and fuel efficient.”

The foursome also learned that most of the teams didn’t make reservations ahead for motels. They just stayed where they ended, depending on where the opportunities to score more challenge points took them.

“We finished third from last,” Lavine said of the point totals. “I think they gave us pity points.” 

The 1999 Saturn could be seen around Grand Haven for a couple of weeks before the competition, and Lavine said he was surprised he didn’t get pulled over by his hometown police.

“We got pulled over six times along the way,” he said.

Still, he said the car, with the top chopped off and no windshield, was legal.

“Technically, you don’t have to have a windshield as long as you have wipers and a rear-view mirror,” he said for an earlier story.

One of the reasons they were pulled over was because police were interested in getting pictures taken with the car, Lavine said. 

The second night on the road, they found out there was a statewide BOLO (be on the lookout) for their vehicle. It turns out they were dragging the car’s exhaust. 

After spending an extended time posing for pictures with police coming in and out, the men spent the night at a motel in Cahokia, Illinois. The next day, they pulled the car across the street and partway up on a curb at Walmart and removed part of the exhaust.

“It was loud and annoying after that,” Lavine said.

That wasn’t the first time they had trouble with the car. 

The vehicle overheated near Michigan City, Indiana, and the men discovered they lost a serpentine belt. It was after 4 p.m., but they still managed to get a tow to an auto store in Michigan City.

They had to hammer a bend in a tool to replace the serpentine belt, plus duct-tape a new boot around the CV axle. That got them back on the road again, although “fashionably late” for the Friday night kickoff party for the event in Chicago.

Lavine said some of the entrants drove their cars intact to Chicago, and then chopped off the tops at the kickoff event. 

The next day, the 20 entrants lined up for a group photo, were handed their list of 400 possible challenges and were sent on their way. 

Everyone was dressed for the cold, winter weather, and wore helmets with face shields for safety. Lavine said they had electronic communication set up between two of the helmets.

Still, they weren’t entirely prepared, and had to stop once to buy rain gear. When they got to the middle of Illinois, they were blinded by snow.

“Snow was sticking to our face shields because they were warmed up from breathing,” Lavine said.

They struggled to keep the helmets clean so they could see enough to get off at the next exit. There they used a tarp and bungee cords to cover the exposed car and waited out the storm, before deciding to take the back roads so they could continue.

On the third day of the trip, the team stopped at Cement Land in the St. Louis area to take pictures for one of the challenges. There they were stopped by police coming from a nearby homicide investigation, who told them that gangs used the abandoned facility for target practice and they needed to get out of the area as quickly as possible.

The team — their entry was “Tops off for Harambe” — made it to the mid-rally meet-up in Memphis, Tennessee.

“It was hilarious seeing the parking lot of the Best Western almost all Chop Top Challenge cars,” Lavine said.

At the party, his team had to sing “Shaggy” for points. Lavine said someone also got points for getting engaged that night.

The next day, they pointed straight for New Orleans.

“We were sick of breakdowns and getting caught in the pouring rain,” Lavine said.

By then, they already decided to scrap or sell the car and fly home, so they put a listing online.

In New Orleans, they had their car valet-parked to get more points, and then toured the garden district and French Quarter.

Lavine said weather conditions were dry and warm once they got south of Memphis, so the trip became more enjoyable.

But the car broke down again during the parade, so they had to ride in other vehicles. Somehow, they managed to get it running again and, despite the issues, were able to sell it to a hotel clerk for $150.

“She wanted to drive it on the beach,” Lavine shrugged.

He said he took off the Maruska and D. Baker Lumber sponsor signs, just in case she got in trouble with the car.

“That was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” he said of his time in New Orleans.

Lavine said he hopes next year’s challenge goes to New Orleans at some point so he can go into the bars with his friends. As the youngest team on the tour, Lavine was the only one in his car who was at least 21.

“I’m excited to do it again,” Lavine said. “Hopefully, we’ll budget a little better.”

Lavine bought the car for around $300.

“We only spent $60 fixing the car and $110 on gas,” he said.

The $90 leftover from the gas budget was spent on entertainment in New Orleans.  Lavine said they had to borrow money from their parents to make the flight home.

See more photos on the local team’s instagram page, #ghchoptopchallenge, and more information on the challenge website at www.choptopchallenge.com.

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