EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

July 9, 2007

Andover professor joins Volkswagen race across Africa

Dave Lewis is a Volkswagen guy. He also likes a good adventure.

So the University of Massachusetts Lowell professor hopped in a 1960s-era VW Beetle with a teammate Saturday and began a 3,728-mile race across southern Africa.

“Hopefully I won’t hog the wheel,” Lewis said. “I expect to have a lot of fun with people from all over the world.”

As a participant in the 18-day Africa Beetle Marathon, Lewis will venture through South Africa, Namibia and Botswana — complete with camping supplies and a team of mechanics traveling close behind him.

“It’s not as adventurous as it might seem,” said Lewis, who during the summer months can be seen driving around town in a VW bus. “I definitely have faith in the old Beetles.

“I just like their simplicity. I’ve owned Volkswagens all my life.”

Inspired by the famous intercontinental London to Sydney Marathon of 1968, the Africa Beetle Marathon was first run in 1999. This year’s trek will be the first since 2003.

The 12-team drive isn’t meant to be a competition, though some of the African teams will be intent on finishing first, Lewis said. At the marathon’s completion trophies are awarded, though camaraderie and adventure are the main objectives of the event, he said.

As the only American tandem driving in the marathon, Lewis and a fellow UMass professor will be spending plenty of time together — both in their Beetle and in Africa’s wilds.

“I think it’s going to be close quarters for two and a half weeks,” said Lewis. “If we’re friends after the end of this, we’ll probably be friends forever.”

Traveling through mountains, deserts, canyons and national parks, Beetle Marathon participants must complete the journey in 18 days to be considered finishers.

Lewis anticipates he and his teammate will be camping out for most of the trip.

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