His third day in Miami, Zimmern and his 10-person production crew enter the gates of a backwoods racetrack a half hour outside Miami’s city center. The road is unpaved and lined with cars that are both beaten and beautiful.
A couple of tatted-up bikers smoking pipes smile and shout, “Zimmerman!” as he enters the grounds.
They may not know his name, but they know him.
“It’s one of the best parts,” he says. “Everyone butchers my name, from tiny villages in Asia to a drag strip in Miami.”
This racetrack, the Countyline Dragway, is a former Miami-Dade County airstrip that hosts weekly events on its runways. It’s filthy and loud and filled with thrills. The races start at dusk and go until well past midnight. While it’s not a place for everyone in Miami, it’s certainly a place to be entertained and to experience the culture.
Within minutes of arriving, Zimmern is riding shotgun in a tricked-out 1997 Nissan, drifting on an old, abandoned stretch of airstrip. The car starts going straight at about 70 mph and then suddenly skids on all fours as the driver applies the emergency brake. It’s a technique that was made famous in Asia and that’s been made popular by Hollywood.
“It’s equilibrium challenging,” Zimmern says. “I definitely had to fight from throwing up.”
He describes the rush as one of the most intense he’s ever had -- this coming from a man who has drunk fresh blood with bushmen of the Kalahari Desert and hunted for the puffin in Antarctica.
Moments later, he is racing an old Jeep Cherokee against a 1980 Chevy Camaro cop car down an eighth-of-a-mile drag strip surrounded by hundreds of race fans. It’s a strange scene, but Zimmern’s in the zone. He’s defeated, but he doesn’t give up. Immediately after the race, he’s ushered to a 40-foot RV and strapped into the passenger seat.
“Are we doing what I think we are?” he asks.
If he thinks he is about to race a recreational vehicle down a drag strip at about 50 mph, then, yes.
“When I’m working, I like each moment to be real and not planned,” he says. “I don’t like to see the people or places we are visiting ahead of time, because it just seems more authentic if the audience is watching for the first time.”
At midnight, after nearly eight hours at the drag strip, Zimmern closes his night as he does in most every place he visits, be it a foreign country or a typical Florida town. He thanks the fans and participants. He signs autographs for anyone and everyone and cheerily poses for anyone with a camera. This is because, for Zimmern, it’s about those people in the first place.
“I am in it to learn [about] peoples’ cultures, their passions. It’s their lives, and I enjoy seeing people simply living [them],” he says. “Not every place I go is for everyone. We could make an interesting show about beaches, restaurants, and trendy night spots, but we don’t. We wouldn’t be giving viewers an authentic look at the places we visit. I wouldn’t be showing the honest truth, and I wouldn’t be properly serving the people who live in the places that I visit.”