Here it is eight days after getting back from the depths of Maine, and I'm still grinning ear to ear. PRO Rally is without a doubt the most exciting and fun motorsport in the country. Roundy rounders, road coursies, autocrosses and even drag races certainly can be fun, but I haven't been as pumped up after a weekend at the races as after Maine Winter.
My friend Brett and I blew into the Madison (Rally HQ) at about 10 am Friday and spent over an hour cruising around checking out the cars, no forty buck admissions, no dodging rent a cops to get into the pits, just drivers, navvies and crew getting ready. Carl Merrill shot a smile and a wave as we checked out his Escort Cozzie, my personal favorite (being the Merkur maniac I am).
We checked in for corner worker duty and get our assignments. Our instructions: Follow John Buffum and do what he says. "Oh, gee...do I have to?"
After a brief meeting, John tells us to meet at the Oquossoc general store. I don't know where this is, so he says, "Follow me. I've got the 4000 quattro without plates." Nice touch.
Buffum is a helluva nice guy. You want to get somebody addicted to rallying in five minutes, then just have them follow him around for the rally. Perhaps the motto can be modified: Real People, Real Cars, Real Roads, Real Fast.
The road up to Oquossoc was snowy and slick. Buffum was cruising at about 50 mph on the pavement, surely an easy feat in his quattro, but not exactly easy for me in a rear wheel drive turbocharged car. Any moments on boost would set the car sideways, even though I had four Hockeypucks keeping the car planted. Limited Slip sure would be nice.
Finally, onto the rally stage. Sixteen miles of driving on six plus inches of snow, with Buffum in the lead, a Celica All Trac Turbo next, and then me. The pace moved between 30 and 40 mph, no problem as long as nobody stopped on an uphill and I kept it in the ruts made by the cars in front. Brett got a good workout pushing my car to get it rolling and then jumping in as I kept it rolling. Once the hockeypucks caught, no problem, but if they lost their bite...
Our first assignment. Block a road on stage 1 (or was it two?) somewhere in the sticks with the Celica. Only problem was I got hung up on the way and after getting the car rolling had to do 45 to catch up. Thank goodness for the Hella Rallye 3000's I put on the car two nights before. Watching the cars was interesting, I had my camera out and a large portable flash mounted on a stand in an attempt to light up the woods, which met with a little success. Note to competitors, if any of you got scared by a huge flash on stage one, please let me know so I don't do it again. Best quote of rally. John Buffum yelling to me after first stage as he leads a parade of cars up the road, including the ambulance, which was 2WD and getting stuck at almost every turn. I've been told this is not unusual. "I'll be back in five minutes! I don't want to stop the ambulance!" He shouted as he kept his Audi pointed up the hill, followed by several other corner workers and the scrambling ambulance. Rates right up there with my other Buffum experience, which was when I saw him run a 5000TQ up Mt. Washington with several passengers and a camcorder hanging out the window...
He finally made it back in about 20 minutes, and wanted to take us on a "shortcut." Then he looked at my car. Rear wheel drive. Let's just say he picked an alternate place for me to watch the next stage. Had a great vantage point for the next stage... I watched the lights come winding through the forest for about 30 seconds, then the cars would pop out around a corner and claw their way around a right hander up a short chute to a tight right, which several cars overshot. It provided a great show of reverse gear, wheel spinning yeehaw driving spectacles.
Then there was the drive out. The sweep cars came out and told me I should go backward sixteen miles to the road. I asked the question, "Is anybody else going that way?" The answer was no. I followed the sweep cars, some twenty plus miles.
I think nine or so cars got pulled out, one Land Rover tow vehicle stuffed (OK, he got out by himself, so I guess it doesn't quite count), I had to get a bunch of pushes and blast up hills as fast as I could without inducing wheelspin. In short it was one of the most intense driving experiences I've ever had. Only one real panic point, after the stage road, I was hauling it out on the transit stage and hit a rut in a downhill left hander which sent my car sideways toward the ditch at about 25 mph. The car sailed airborne sideways for several feet then set down and I was able to get it to go straight again. Phew.
The next day Diane Houseal (hopefully that's spelled right) put me well out in the stage 6 and 7 combination road after asking who had problems the night before. I guess I didn't qualify, although I did put a wheel off on the way out trying to set a Merkur snow speed record and made some interesting roostertails and tire marks getting back onto the road.
Had another day that couldn't be beat watching rally cars fly by and then it happened. On the transport out, I came up a hill into a left hander and found ICE. My rear wheels gripped, but the fronts wouldn't. I gassed it. The rear stayed planted. I tapped the brakes, the front slid. FWOOMP. Into the ditch. Fortunately, two good guys in a 325IX pulled me out. Second best quote of rally: woman who saw me stuff my car: "It was a very pretty stuff. Lots of snow poofed up all around the car and made lots of pretty clouds."
The bimmer guys congratulated me on my moves, commenting on how they always carried a tow strap to pull out "Exratties." I bought them each a beer. They've convinced me to run the Snow and Ice TSD in February. That's my rally adventure. My only criticism is that I wasn't quite sure what I was supposed to be doing. Even though I explained I was a first time rally attendee, I just had to play lemming and follow people around and hope I wasn't in the way. Fortunately I had my scanner so I could keep up with everything on the radio net. I know things are ridiculously understaffed and crazy, but a little guidance would've helped. Other than that ...see you all on July 31, if not sooner. Thanks for a great weekend-