DADE CITY — The 23 chosen ones, strangers, hovered over a young woman scribbling their game plan on a scrap of paper. They had met just minutes before. Seven others signed up for this and were turned away. Too tall. For this feat, short people ruled.
"I once fit 15 horses in a 10-horse trailer," said Michelle Chandler, 20, analyzing her diagram on Sunday. "I can do this."
The organizers of this year's Bug Jam, an event for Volkswagen die-hards, thought it would be fun to try to break the Guinness world record for most people crammed into an old-fashioned Volkswagen Beetle. Brazil won the title last year with 15. Those inside had to be at least 5 feet tall and 18 years old. Seats in place, doors closed, windows rolled up for at least five seconds.
Outside the pavilion Sunday at the Pasco County Fairgrounds, hundreds swarmed, waiting for them, cameras ready.
"Some of the bigger ones can sit on the front seat," said Chandler, 5-foot-4, 114 pounds.
"I can squeeze in that far back window," said Jenifer Lowther, 35, from Dunnellon. She was taller but slim, 108 pounds and a yoga enthusiast. "I can bend."
"We might be able to get two people in the passenger well," said Bob Chew, 52, a 5-foot-9, 180-pound welder from Clermont.
Event volunteer Tracy Thompson called everyone together at 1:30 p.m.
It was time.
"Take off your shoes," Chew shouted as he did, a hole in his sock. Hats and jewelry were piled on a table. Chandler, who works at a Spring Hill feed store, removed her belt, leather with a metal buckle with a horse as big as a sand dollar on it. Chew put down his pocketknife.
"If you get in and feel like you're suffocating or you're going to throw up, let us know so we can get you out," Thompson said.
He led the team out, carving a path through the thick crowd, the emcee announcing like they were headed to a boxing ring.
"And heeeere they come..."
They reached their challenge: a white 1971 Beetle with nubby black and white cloth interior, one functioning seat belt, a chipped steering wheel, retailing for $2,500. It could comfortably fit four, maybe five.
"Let's go, people," Chew hollered. "Let's do this!"
They piled in. Clyde Freitas, a 44-year-old father (5-2, 130) from Wesley Chapel, curled into a ball by the gas pedal. Eric Wise, a 38-year-old construction worker (5-7, 150) from Jacksonville, smushed his face against the windshield. Courtney Zuccaro, 20, from Windermere (5-3, 115), was in the back. There were two men on top of her and a woman underneath.
"We're okay," she gasped.
Flesh and feet pressed against the windows. It was hot. There was odor.
"Pasco Fire Rescue, you're ready out there, right?" the emcee said.
Somehow, 17 people were inside the car.
The doors were closed. Outside, people chanted:
"One, two, three, four, FIVE."
An air horn. Cheers.
"Open the doors!" Thompson said. "Get them out!"
The doors opened, and they spilled out, faces flush and slick. They stretched, backs and necks sore, but not as bad as they thought it would be.
"I can't believe we did it," said Greg Schrager, 31, an attorney from Tampa (5-8, 125).
Organizers are sending their documentation to Guinness to make it official.
Erin Sullivan can be reached at (727) 869-6229 or [email protected]