‘My First Car’ Contest Winner Q&A

In March 2011, Dara Roberts of Maine was crowned the winner of BBC America’s “My First Car” contest. With her win, she was bestowed with a trip for two to London and tickets to the fantastic “Top Gear Live” show and in November she and her dad headed overseas for the grand event. Here, she discusses her visit, gushes a bit about her favorite car and more.

It’s been quite some time since the “My First Car” contest closed. Can you recount your prize-winning “My First Car” story?
So, my first car was a little Ford Contour that I loved. It just smelled of freedom and the endless idea of the open road. Then I crashed it in 2005.

I lost control on a road slick with ice, hit a snow bank and flipped. While most of the onlookers just called the police to report an upside down teenager, this one person came up and gathered up my textbooks for me. So, dangling upside down and being quizzed about the finer aspects of Culinary Arts classes, the man offered me a job. He was a baker and had divined that I would be in need of cash for a new car.

With your “My First Car” win, you earned a trip to London to see “Top Gear Live.” Can you describe the spectacle of it all?
“Top Gear Live” was brilliant. First, the exhibit hall that had a bunch of the old challenge cars (including a Skoda Yeti which the helicopter was landed on top of) and lots of cars including a Porsche 911, a few three-wheeled Morgans, the fantastic Bugatti Veyron—very much a car geeks heaven! Then there was the main event with the guys hosting it. Richard, James and Jeremy drove out on a motorized version of the “Top Gear” stage to host the “Petrolhead Olympics.”

The Olympics consisted of a bunch of mini-challenges, like on the show; there was Vespa chariot racing, car curling and splat-a-rat. The car curling was hilarious. James was a sweeper on the ATV and Jeremy and Richard were the bricks. Of course in the grand spirit of sportsmanship, neither Richard nor Jeremy actually tried for the target; they just crashed into each other.

Then we went to the indoor test track where we saw older versions of cars race against their younger siblings and The Stig racing around the track. Along with some great stunts as one driver drove a car around the entire track on two wheels.

Was this your first trip to London? What were some of your favorite moments of your trip, aside from seeing “Top Gear Live,” that is?
No, I’ve been very lucky and have been to London several times before. It’s a lovely city and the people there are amazing!

Aside from being car enthusiasts, we’re also history geeks. My dad and I went to Winchester Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral and tons of other famous historical landmarks but my favorite part had to have been going to The National Maritime Museum out in Greenwich. That place is just brilliant. It’s in the shadow of the Royal Observatory, also very cool, but the way the maritime museum is set up and all the history contained in it, I think I could have walked around for three days and never gotten bored.

For my favorite non-museum part it would have been Covent Gardens which is this lovely fresh air market where all these artists and photographers come to sell their wares. It’s just a very neat collection of vendors and street performers that you don’t get in a normal shop.

How long have you been a fan of “Top Gear?” Why do you love the show?
It wasn’t really that long but once we got into it, we really got into it. I really like the show because of all the effort put into it to make it not just interesting but visually stunning. I mean, the producers could make it with just cars and silliness and people will watch it, but they take the time and effort to make a genuinely beautiful bit of cinematography. Everything is well put together, the shots are thoroughly thought out. You can see the time they put into it, but more than that, you can see the love that they put into it and it makes the show something special.

Do you have a “Top Gear” dream car?
A 1966 Shelby Mustang! I love the Shelby because to me it’s freedom in automobile form. To some degree I agree with [Greek writer and philosopher] Nikos Kazantzakis when he wrote “I hope for nothing, I fear nothing, I am free,” which means freedom is neither achievable nor desirable. However, seeing the Shelby makes my mind come clean from the chains of over-thinking and over-analyzing that binds it. It can see the idea of the open road and that horizon as reachable. I guess I love it because it gives me hope that I will one day find my perfect road.

If you could take any challenge from the show, which one would it be and why?
I think it would be one of the cross-country ones they went on. Probably trying to find the best driving road in Europe would be just fantastic.

Which host, in your opinion, is the best driver and why?
Well, The Stig of course. Of the three guys I suppose I’d say Richard Hammond when he’s not hypnotized. Maybe that’s just a bias because out of all the big, expensive, shiny cars they drive on the show the Porsche 911′s are some of my favorites and he seems to pick them fairly often. Although I have to say I still like him when he’s driving the Zonda which looks like a car that ran over Mickey Mouse and some bits of him stuck to it.

What’s your biggest driving pet peeve?
I hate mini-vans and how one will inevitably be directly in front of you on a highway on ramp trying to merge at minus three miles an hour. That and people talking on their cell phones. Really folks? How can a call be so much more important than the one ton piece of machinery you are currently operating? Argh.

What do you drive now? And how has your car changed your life?
I’m currently in between cars. I work in Boston and fortunately we have a good public transit system. But I’m hoping to get a Subaru this spring so I can go on more road trips.

‘My First Car’ Contest Winner Q&A