MINIs Great Lakes Crossing MC2 Magazine article
By Molly Bunton and Mark Scheuern

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The last time most American MINIs were on a boat was when they first sailed to the US from Southampton, England. But on Sept. 28- Oct.1, 2006, in a one-of-a-kind event, MINIs once again set sail en masse… this time for charity.

The Michigan MINI Motoring Club raised over $10,000 for the Make A Wish Foundation as MINI enthusiasts from Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, Wisconsin, Canada, and as far away as Tennessee and Afghanistan came together for “MINIs Great Lakes Crossing”.

The tour started on Thursday September 28th, departing from Motor City MINI in Shelby Township (a suburb of Metropolitan Detroit) and motored across the width of Michigan to Muskegon, on the shores of Lake Michigan. Here, more MINI owners joined the group and, together, 32 MINIs boarded the Lake Express Ferry, which then carried them on a two hour ride across the waters of Lake Michigan to Milwaukee, WI.

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After departing the boat, the first stop was a reception at International MINI for a lunch provided by the Milwaukee dealership. The MINIs then traveled north to Green Bay. The next day they continued up across Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, crossing the Mackinac Bridge at sunset, and then on the final day, completing their extraordinary motoring journey length-wise through the heart of Michigan.

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The conception for this singular event began as the idea of members of the Michigan MINI Motoring Club as a club outing around Lake Michigan and up to the UP to view the Fall colors. As the notion for the tour progressed, one of the event organizers, Dan Champney, contacted Lake Express, a high speed ferry. The ferry owners were willing to lease the passage on a Friday morning exclusively to the club, and so plans excitedly proceeded. Club member Chad Miller (of Detroit Tuned) suggested teaming up with Motor City MINI and turning the event into a fundraiser. Make A Wish was chosen because it so happened that MMMClub member Scott Dunsmore’s son, Bailey, was a MAW candidate. Having the MAW charity potentially touching one of their own helped energize the club in their efforts to raise as much as possible for this very worthy charity.

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In addition to the Michigan MINI message board, whose membership extends beyond state boundaries, the planning committee posted messages regarding the upcoming event on North American Motoring and on regional club boards. One Canadian Michigan MINI member, Jason Hurdle, who resides in Midland, Ontario, Canada, drove 463 miles to meet up with the MINI motoring crew in Muskegon. “I don’t think I am any crazier then any other Cannuck out there, eh”, Jason said, “They all just aren’t as crazy about their MINIs as I am. Just as the back of my cars says, “’Sit down, Buckle Up, Shut up and Let’s Motor!’ Words to live by.
But, for this event, traveling some distances just to participate was not out of the ordinary. Two Classic Mini Coopers drove from Chicago to join in on the crossing, and one MINI enthusiast drove 700 miles up from Eastern Tennessee to participate in this possibly once in a life time event. Molly Bunton, of Mooresburg, TN, was told of the MINIs Great Lakes Crossing by a MMMClub member whom she met while participating in the MINI Takes the States Event. “MTTS was my first MINI driving event and the first time I ever drove in the company of other MINIs, it was fantastic and I just had to join in on another driving adventure. It seemed a bit crazy to drive all the way from TN, but the MMMClub are such great people, and it was for a good cause, so there never was a doubt in my mind about doing it. It was an absolute blast and I would do it again in a Detroit minute.”

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But the greatest distance traveled by a participant was considerably more than that. Mark LaRocco came all the way from Kandahar, Afghanistan. A resident of Indiana, Mark is the Assistant Fire Chief of Kandahar and, after learning of the Great Lakes Crossing, decided to spend his vacation on the tour with his wife Ginger, three children, and their two MINIs.

One MINI owner used the event as an opportunity to break in his brand-new car. John Sadowski took delivery of his car in late August. “One of the biggest reasons I decided to purchase a MINI over other brands I considered was the vitality of the Michigan MINI Owners group. In fact, I accelerated my purchase plan to take advantage of the Great Lakes Crossing tour. I thought it was the most imaginative and exciting group event I’ve ever heard of.”

The MINI caravan varied in participants along the planned 1400 mile route, with some of the drivers doing the entire event and some along for just portions of the trip. The Tour also picked up new, unexpected members along the way. Erik Bruner of Green Bay, WI, heard about the event and headed down to Milwaukee to meet up with the group that came across on the ferry. “I hadn’t had any communication with the group other then an email or two. After two hours with the Michigan MINI crew, I wondered how I could ever truly enjoy a Sunday afternoon motoring without these people.”, Erik said, “I’m not sure I’ve ever had that much fun burning gas and tires on a Sunday afternoon. The icing on the cake is that it was all going to a good cause. I’ll definitely be there for next year’s event.”

The group even picked up another MINI after a short break at a rest area in WI. This lone yellow MINI, containing a mother and her two children, were traveling down the Interstate and as the motoring MINIs merged back on the road, this single MINI was surrounded on all sides by a new MINI posse. Flabbergasted by the sudden appearance of so many other welcoming MINIs, this newcomer MINI happily joined in on the motoring adventure for many miles and generously donated $100 to Make A Wish as well. It will be a story this family will recount for some time to come.

Great fun was had in the collective joy of driving together with so many other MINIs, and in the camaraderie of being amongst other MINI enthusiasts. As if that weren’t enough, thanks to the hard work of many club members, especially Tori Lucier, and donations from sponsors, all participants in the event received a wonderful goodie bag full of MINI swag and a beautiful one-of-a-kind event T-Shirt.

The original goal of the club was to raise $100 per car, so $3,000 or so was the expected total for the Make a Wish Foundation. But thanks to the overwhelming response by club members gathering pledges for miles driven and generous donations of items from sponsors that were then raffled off to participants throughout the trip, an incredible $10,680.60 was raised and presented to Make A Wish.

The event was a true success thanks to the hard work and planning by members of the club. And plans are already being bantered about for another Crossing next year. Should you go? Mark LaRacco summed up the experience: “It is great to be able to get together with a group of people you’ve never met and immediately feel like they are old friends. I mean really…What other car brings such a diverse group of people together?” He adds “I am always struck by the way it makes people smile and wave seeing a group of MINIs together. I love our MINIs and I love what happens when a group of us get together. Taking a road trip as part of a MINI event should be mandatory after buying a MINI. We had a great time and enjoyed the camaraderie.”
The organizers of MINIs Great Lakes Crossing wish to thank the generous sponsors, who were: Detroit Tuned, Motor City MINI, International MINI, Out Motoring,
Whalen Shift Machine , MC2 Magazine, M7, Cooper Flags, and MINI USA. Also, special thanks to all the participants and contributors for helping make this event such a success.