Lap 16

 

In addition to racing, I had learned there is another form of automotive related competition, the rally. There are three basic types of rallies: road rallies, time-speed-distance rallies and gimmick rallies.

A road rally is an all-out speed event, usually contested by professionals, in which cars drive over a course in stages, one car at a time as fast as they can. The car with quickest total time over all the stages wins. These events are run over back roads, both paved and unpaved. The cars are essentially fully prepared racecars with some extras, like skid plates, to protect the oil pan, etc.

The World Rally Championship (WRC) is to road rallies what F1 is to road racing. The pinnacle of the sport, the WRC is contested all over the world with factory-backed teams and top drivers. A WRC driver is every bit as skilled as an F1 driver. It is just a different discipline. In a road rally, each car has a driver and a navigator. Since there can be hundreds of corners - all different - it is impossible for the driver to memorize the course like a race driver does. The team is given a chance to "recky," or reconnoiter each stage in advance and prepare course notes. The navigator reads the notes to tell the driver what direction and type of corner is next.

A time speed distance (TSD) rally is a more sedate form of rally in which the cars drive over a course and try to maintain a set average speed. The cars are timed in each stage and that time is compared to the pre-determined time for the speed and distance. The car with the time closest to the pre-determined time wins. The speeds you are asked to average are well below the speed limits for the roads that you are on. You are given a set of route instructions to follow, and in the instructions you will be told to "CAST 41" which means "change average speed to 41 mph."

This sounds simple enough until you come to the stop sign. Now you have to drive faster than 41 mph to get back to averaging 41 mph for the distance. In addition, the average speed changes frequently, so the navigator is kept very busy with stopwatch and calculator, checking the average speed you are maintaining. TSD rallies are very popular weekend activities for sports car clubs. I was just never any good at them and so I do not care much for this type of rally.

Another high school buddy, Jack, and his wife, Margie, introduced me to the third type of rally - the gimmick rally. At that time, there were several rally clubs in the Chicagoland area such as SUDDS, SCREE, Brand X and Chicago Auto Rallyists or CAR. One club or another would put on a gimmick rally nearly every Saturday night. They were very popular and would often draw over 150 cars.

A gimmick rally is essentially a puzzle you solve by finding clues along the course. In its simplest form, you drive along the course set out by the rally master and answer questions included in the route instructions based on what you see along the course. What Jack and Margie introduced me to was a bit more sinister.

Jack and Margie at Road America

At the start point, usually a shopping mall parking lot, you are given a set of general instructions. These are the rules under which that particular rally is to be run. At the start time, you are given a set of route instructions. The goal of the rally master is to trick you into following the wrong course by the use of gimmicks. For example, the general instructions tell you "spelling must be exact" and a route instruction tells you to go "left on Peterson Road". Then you come to a side road to the left and the street sign tells you it is "Petersen Road". If you do not realize the two are spelled differently, you would turn left there and would be off course. You fill out a score sheet as you go along, which you hand in at the end of the rally. This sheet tells the organizers whether you were on course or off course based on the answers you provided.

If the rally master is really good, a team can drive the whole course, never getting lost and thinking they got everything right. In fact, they may have had everything wrong but never know it until the synopsis of the course is read at the end point. The end point was invariably a restaurant and bar with room enough to hold everyone. When you arrived at the end point, you would turn in your score sheet, find a table and order a pitcher or two of beer and something to eat.

The rally has a time limit within which you must reach the end point, but it always allowed plenty of time for even the lost cars to find their way there. Once the time had expired, the rally master would read a synopsis of the course. If you disagreed with a gimmick, you could protest it. All protests were reviewed and usually rejected. Then they would read the results, starting with the last place cars.

While you could complete the rally by yourself, acting as both driver and navigator, it was best done with two people. Jack would drive and Margie would navigate. They introduced me to friends of theirs named Charlie and Cora, who were also into gimmick rallies. Charlie would drive and Cora would navigate.

The navigators, Margie and Cora

I, however, was not married and did not even have a steady girlfriend most of the time, so I was always on the hunt for a navigator. On top of that, I did not even own a car. I had sold my Firebird when Eric and I moved out to Denver, and now, working as a law clerk, I could not afford to buy one. I had to borrow my parentís car to go rallying.

Many times, I would ask a girl out and take her on a gimmick rally for our date. I even tried out a couple of Bunkyís ex-girlfriends. While this was fine, I was always breaking in a new navigator, which made it difficult to be competitive. Still, I did well in these events because it seemed I had a knack for this type of rally. I usually did as well as Jack and Margie and Charlie and Cora and I would often win a trophy, even with a rookie navigator. I managed to talk Eric and Bunky into going on a few rallies with me but since we went in their car, they would always want to drive and I had to navigate. These rallies were still fun, but I was looking for a navigator, not a driver.

By this time, I had become very active in Midwestern Council, working corners. I had even been promoted to corner captain and had made several friends. One of my new friends, named Don, raced a Formula Vee. He showed up at the Holiday Inn in South Beloit the Friday before a race with a girl he had gone to high school with named Pat. Pat was dating one of the guys who often crewed for Don. She had expressed some interest in watching Don race, so they brought her along.

Don introduced Pat to me, and I was quick to convince her that the best place to watch Don race would be from a corner rather than hanging around getting bored in the paddock. She agreed to try it, and the next morning I asked Ray, the head of race staff, to assign Pat to my corner, which he did. Of course, I had an ulterior motive. Pat was a very attractive young lady and I was still looking for a navigator/girlfriend.

Out at corner one, I quickly taught Pat what she needed to know to be my "phone girl." It would be her job to communicate with Central Control and let them know what was happening on the corner. If a car spun out in the corner, she would call it in to Central Control, give them car number and color, and the cornerís flag condition. She would also be the one to call for any emergency vehicles we may need, such as an ambulance or fire truck. She picked it up quickly and seemed to thoroughly enjoy the day. That evening, at the beer bash, I told her about gimmick rallies and asked her if she would like to go on one with me. To my delight, she agreed.

Late the next Saturday afternoon, I picked Pat up at her place in Downers Grove and we headed for Harlem Irving Plaza in Chicago, which was the usual starting point for gimmick rallies in those days. I do not recall much from that rally but I do remember the first time I kissed Pat.

Most rallies used checkpoints. There would be both off-course and on-course checkpoints. Usually they were used to get the off-course and on-course cars back together. To do this, they would sign your score sheet and give you an addendum, which took precedence over route instructions. The general instructions told you to always execute an addendum at the first opportunity.

Pat and I pulled into a checkpoint on our rally and she took the score sheet to the checkpoint car to have it signed and get any addendums. She got back in the car and handed me the addendum she had received. I read it and then looked at her and asked her if she had read it. She said no, she had not, so I reminded her that the general instructions required that all addenda be executed at the first opportunity. Then I read the addendum to her. It said, "Kiss your navigator and turn right on Smith Road."

Pat smiled and said, "Well, we better do what it says." So I leaned over and kissed her. Then we headed out in search of Smith Road. I got another kiss when I brought her home after the rally and said good night, but that was about it for Pat and me. I think we went out a couple of more times that summer but that was all.

Pat had liked working corners so much she began to come to all the Council races. Soon she was dating Ray, the head of race staff, and I was out another navigator. I had apparently done a good job of training her on the phones since a couple of years later she was asked to run Central Control. We remained good friends and I will always remember that rally with the very pleasant addendum. I was sure thankful I had not done that one with Eric or Bunky!!

Eric and I actually did go on a few rallies together, but he would drive and I would navigate. Eric was into fast cars and at that time had a blue 427 Corvette convertible. I remember one afternoon rally we ran using Ericís Vette. It was a nice, sunny summer day and we had the top down. I was pretty familiar with the roads in the area and looking at the route instructions, I could tell that our next instruction would not apply for several miles, so I told Eric to make up some of the time we had lost earlier.

Eric complied and stomped on the gas. The Vette leaped forward and I was slammed back in my seat. The general instructions and most of the route instructions were sucked up out of the car and scattered along the road. So much for making up time!

One Saturday afternoon on a Motherís Day, Jack and I went on a rally together. I am not sure where Margie was, but she was not around that weekend. Saturday afternoon rallies were somewhat rare. This one was named "A Tough Nut to Crack" but turned out to be not that tough a nut after all. The rally was being put on by a club we had not heard of before, or since for that matter, but it was a good way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

Naturally, Jack drove and I was the navigator. About halfway through the route instructions, we became hopelessly lost. This is a sign of a poor rally master. A good one would never get anyone but the most incompetent rallyist totally lost. Jack and I were not at all incompetent, but I just could not pick up the route since we had apparently made one or more wrong turns. I finally gave up and told Jack to stop at a bar we were passing. I took the generals, route instructions and my Chicago Tribune Chicagoland area map into the bar. All regular rallyists used this map because it was extremely detailed and included all the back roads rally masters were so fond of using.

We ordered a pitcher of beer and I spread the map out on a table. Jack poured a couple glasses of beer as I began tracing our route from the start point, using the route instructions and the map, plus what we could remember of the roads we had driven. Before long, I had figured out where we had gone wrong. We could have retraced our route and picked up the rally at that point, but it was getting late and we still had more than half a pitcher of beer left. We just continued to work with the map from that point on and filled out the rest of the score sheet. We could figure out many of the gimmicks right from the map, like misspelled road names, and simply guessed at the rest. That done, we sat back and relaxed for a while and enjoyed our beer. Once we had disposed of the rest of the beer, we got back into the car and drove directly to the endpoint.

The endpoint for this rally was in a forest preserve rather than a bar/restaurant that was usually used for an endpoint. As we listened to the synopsis, I was amazed at how close we had come to deducing the route and gimmicks while sitting in the bar. I was even more amazed when we finished in third place! Since there was no beer at the end point, Jack and I headed for Mr. Dukeís, laughing about how well we had done without even driving the whole route. We decided this was potentially a good way to save gasoline!

Jack and Margie came up to Road America with us a couple of times. Even Charlie and Cora came up to a few races. I remember Charlie pitching this huge tent that actually had rooms in it. It was an old and ugly tent, with grease spots on the side. We quickly dubbed it the "Tenement". The rest of us contended that it brought our property values down.

Ernie, Karen, Margie, Mike, the author with Mikeís girlfriend sitting on the fender of my Pontiac Firebird, and Bunky

Copyright © 2006 by Terry Aasen

 

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