Randy’s Tour De La Cobra
Pensacola, FL April 19-23, 2017
By Ricky Harper
Late April found several Deep South Cobra Club members cruising the western Florida Panhandle and Eastern Alabama. They were attending the Club’s 9th annual spring cruise, Randy’s Tour De La Cobra.
The first spring cruise was in 2009 and was called ’24 Heurs De La Floride.’ That tour featured caravans of Cobras and Cobra lovers coming from three primary directions and meeting for lunch in Melbourne, Florida. Later the entire group drove to Kissimmee’s Old Town Center for a car show. That cruise was essentially a one day tour with a day of travel at both ends.
The couple that planned that first spring tour moved out of Florida so at the next board meeting Club president, Randy Dender, volunteered to take over planning of the spring cruise
Randy made big changes to the spring cruise, extending the event to cover two full days of cruising plus a welcome dinner the first night. He also added some competition and an awards banquet to top off the trip. But the biggest change was to move the tour north so club members could enjoy roads with more character than those of Central Florida. In other words, roads with curves, hills, and far less traffic. The name of the event changed too, and for the next two years it was called the ‘Tour De La Cobra’ as the cruise now visited more states that just Florida. In fact, the first year’s cruise under Randy’s direction was based in Tallahassee and featured a wonderful trip across South West Georgia (known locally as SoWeGa) and into Eastern Alabama, known locally as Eastern Alabama. The changes were popular and the spring cruise became a big hit.
Two years later the cruise was again based in Tallahassee and was growing in popularity when, just one week before the cruise, Randy lost his life in a traffic accident. Although the spring cruise was canceled, many club members that were planning to attend, drove to Tallahassee anyway to attend Randy’s memorial service. That was a hard year. Randy and his wife Peggy were very popular with club members. The church where the service was held seated more than 500 people, yet there were dozens of people that had to stand at the back of the auditorium, a testament to Randy’s character and popularity.
The following year the spring cruise returned, reborn as ‘Randy’s Tour De La Cobra’. Now and forever a tribute to Randy, the cruise has stayed with the formula he created. It features two full days of touring around a specific area and is designed to showcase that area by visiting its ‘off the beaten path’ places and sights. The planner’s goal is to give participants a tour with a regional flair, allowing participants to enjoy diversity in style, taste, and scenery. Most importantly, every stop is designed to be relaxed and interesting. Eateries are picked that that are different or are known for exceptional taste or are unique and memorable. Each participant is given detailed trip notes at the beginning of each day’s cruise. These trip notes are filled with interesting or fun facts intended to make the trips as educational as they are enjoyable.
In the last eight years, the cruise has been based in Pensacola, Jacksonville, Tallahassee, St. Augustine, and Brunswick Georgia. Participants have visited the beautiful and quaint streets of Savannah as well as the amazingly pretty and hilly farm land of western Georgia. They have gotten up close and personal with famous race cars in Jacksonville, watched a lock empty 88 feet of water in minutes, seen high field magnetic experiments, and airplanes that are put together with clothes irons. Along the way there have been alligators, marshes, turtles, police escorts, rain, oceans, otters, rivers and ferry rides across rivers; and one very angry swan that attacked several Cobras.
Dining experiences have been no less adventuresome and each was picked for some special or unique aspect; from a beautiful live oak canopied setting on a marsh near Savannah, to a dumpy looking eatery in Southern Georgia featuring wonderful home cooking served family style alongside locals who quickly became new friends. Whether steaks, seafood, barbeque or soul food, variety has always been the common denominator. There was even a stop at a rustic country store near Tallahassee where everyone enjoyed an RC and a moon pie, cause that’s how we do it in the south, ya’ll.
Which brings us to 2017. This year Randy’s Tour De La Cobra was based in Pensacola Florida, on the Western edge of the state. The arrival dinner was held in an Irish eatery that literally had a million dollar bills stapled to the ceiling. The first day of cruising was overcast but dry and 21 Cobras toured scenic roads in and around Pensacola and Eastern Alabama. For lunch, the club rolled into Foley Alabama where they had rolls thrown at them. Really. And trust me, nobody walked away hungry. They toured the beautiful oak tree lined East side of Mobile bay, where magnificent Victorian homes and magnolias stood proud. The cruise took the group past a place where droves of people were competing to see who could throw a mullet the farthest into Alabama while standing in Florida. Really. I don’t make this stuff up. The day ended at Pensacola’s Naval Aviation Museum where vintage and modern military aircraft of all types are on display.
Saturday was again overcast but dry and the cruise headed west into Alabama, passing the place where rednecks tried to kill Jeremy Clarkson and stopping at the awesome USS Alabama Museum. The Alabama is a World War II era battleship complete with huge 16 inch guns. The submarine USS Drum is also on display along with numerous vintage aircraft and other military memorabilia. After lunch, the tour headed into Mobile, passing under the Mobile river in a tunnel, and the infantile among us, ok, me, gunned their engines and blipped their throttles so they could listen to the booming reverb and then laughed like hyena’s after a kill. People in cars around me, I mean us, looked like they wanted to kill someone. Maybe they thought I, uh, we, were Jeremy Clarkson.
That night the group celebrated the end of the cruise over dinner at a blues club in downtown Pensacola. Each car was given a test, called the dementia test, to see who remembered the most from the two days of cruising. Mike and Diane Cheek scored 10 of 11 questions correct, winning the award and beating out perennial winners Santiago and Debbie Fonseca.
The spring cruise is many things. It is a celebration of Carrol Shelby and his magical Cobra, the ownership of which every member of the DSCC dreamed about until they were blessed to make the dream come true. It is a celebration of horsepower and acceleration, of the wonderful sounds that these machines make, of the visceral reactions that men and women have when gazing at the car’s flowing lines, powerful curves and the mechanical artistry of their engines. And it is a tribute to Randy Dender and the bond we all enjoyed with him, his life, and the legacy he left the Deep South Cobra Club.
But most of all, it is a celebration of friendship and people. Some deep friendships have developed over the 9 years our club has sponsored its spring cruise. It may have started with the shared love of a machine, but it has developed into an appreciation for the blessing of a developed friendship over the years. See ya’ll on the road.
The Deep South Cobra Club started out in 2001 representing eight southern states and the first annual gathering was held in McDonough, Georgia at Southern Automotive.