Former NFL defensive end Cliff Avril enjoyed 10 strong seasons with the Detroit Lions and the Seattle Seahawks, but after suffering a career-ending injury in 2017, the former Pro Bowler has more time for other interests.

Avril said he “finally pulled the trigger” about three years ago on participating in the goldRush Rally – America’s top luxury and exotic car rally, according to events manager Johnny Valencia – and has been involved ever since.

Avril is a “big car enthusiast,” as evidenced by his McLaren 720s Novitec N-Largo – one of only 15 such supercars in the world.

Avril loves driving, but he said there’s a “big difference” between how it felt to win Super Bowl XLVIII with the Seahawks and how it feels being behind the wheel of his car.

“One you have 70,000 people cheering for you, and the other one is just you and your co-pilot, so there’s a huge difference there,” Avril said with a laugh.

“Honestly, it’s not even about the speed. You know, sometimes you try to test out the car to see what you have, but again, I think it’s just the camaraderie, just being able to drive with a bunch of guys that love cars.”

Avril’s McLaren was on full display Tuesday at the National Corvette Museum and NCM Motorsports Park, where fans of the goldRush Rally got the chance to see numerous luxury cars and their owners.

The 11th annual goldRush Rally began in Miami on June 22 and will end in Austin, Texas, on June 30. This year’s nine-day event, titled GR ELEVEN, features stops in Atlanta, Cincinnati, Chicago and Minneapolis, among others.

Valencia said the event consists of many “very passionate” owners of high-end cars. Organizers create a “secret route” that takes teams across the country in “some way, shape or form.” The tour stops in several smaller cities along the way, and Valencia said the museum and motorsports park made Bowling Green a prime destination en route to Cincinnati.

“This is the mecca of an American iconic car,” Valencia said. “These people are driving all kind of makes and models of cars, but we appreciate every car, especially the Corvette. So, why not stop in Bowling Green and take a look at the museum and come have fun on the track?”

After a private lunch and tour at the museum, teams were invited to the motorsports park, where they were allowed to drive on the track – with certain limitations. Drivers were required to wear helmets, stay four car lengths apart and vow not to pass others or the track’s pace car.

Fred Courtot, chief executive officer and founder of ModFind LLC, has participated in 10 of the 11 goldRush rallies. He called the event “a bucket list item” and expressed happiness with how his 2018 Porsche GT2 RS handled on the track.

“Every year, we always try to incorporate a drag strip or a road course, but this is one of the nicer ones I’ve actually been to because it was pretty technical, and there’s elevation as well,” Courtot said. “It’s a long track, too, so it’s not a short track. With my car, I can enjoy the hills. ... It’s my first time (in Bowling Green), and this is a beautiful track.”

According to the event’s website, teams of two participants paid $19,000 for one room during the tour, or a pair could’ve chosen to attend only the first or second leg of the event with the same accommodations for $9,500. Both experiences featured “exclusive VIP parties, prime street closures, luxury hotel accommodations (and) breathtaking routes,” according to the site.

Prominent automative industry influencers and Instagrammers were on hand to participate in the proceedings alongside celebrities like Avril and DJ Skee, but people from more typical occupations also drove high-dollar cars in the event.

Avril said he will continue participating in the rally for years to come mostly because of the friendships and lasting bonds he’s created while driving.

“Man, just all the different people that you meet,” Avril said about his favorite part of the event. “You know, everybody doing different things, from athletes to doctors to lawyers to business owners or whatever, but all have a common like in cars. And you see all these exotic cars and people are actually driving them – I think that’s pretty unique in itself.”

Courtot said he would tell anyone that if they have time, they should participate in the rally once and “get to know” what it’s all about.

“The whole point of doing these rallies is because you get to meet some new people and also old friends and then you build the camaraderie and everything, so it’s fun,” Courtot said. “And it’s car guys – we all have the same passion, right? There’s always something involved every day, so it’s a good place to take a couple days off, hang out with your car friends and make new friends. So, I highly recommend it if you can.”

Valencia said each destination on the trek is one full day of driving, but daily distances vary. By the time drivers make it from Florida to Texas as a team, they have grown and formed a close bond.

“Well, goldRush Rally, at the end of the day, is really about the people,” Valencia said. “Our loyalty rate every year that we do this rally is very, very high. Although we all love cars and we love driving, it’s all about seeing each other and having a great time and catching up over what’s been going on for the past year and even looking forward to doing it again next year.”

– Daily News reporter Drake Kizer may be reached at dkizer@bgdailynews.com or by calling 270-783-3257.

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