|FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE|
October 25, 1999
|For more information, contact: John Dillon|
Creativity in Action
P.O. Box 1231
Thousand Oaks, CA 91358-0231
Houghton, Michigan -- Paul Dubinsky of FLX Racing and Widget co-driver (navigator) John Dillon successfully completed the Lake Superior ProRally despite all the treacherous conditions Mother Nature had to offer. They survived biting cold, snow, sleet and slimy muddy roads, including a slide into a ditch and a mud splattering spin on the last stage. Their car, a turbo-charged 4WD Eagle Talon, went airborn at least a half dozen times on the famous Brockway stage. Fortunately, the Talon uses brakes from Porterfield Enterprises to help Dubinsky maintain control of his car.
At the year-end awards banquet that evening, the co-driver was named the 1999 Production GT Co-driver National champion. Recognizing that a clerical error had occurred, he announced at the lectern that he should have been scored as second in the championship, then presented his trophy to Claire Chizma.
Dillon, who led the championship hunt by a scant 0.2 points going into the final event at LSPR, needed to start the Lake Superior ProRally to have any mathematical chance of maintaining his lead. At this point Paul Dubinsky of FLX Racing stepped forward and offered the Widget co-driver a ride in the right seat of the FLX Eagle Talon. The car had been racing in the PGT class all season, but twenty minutes before the start of the rally a protest was filed against the vehicle. It turns out that the suspension didn't meet specifications. While they could have attempted to challenge the findings, the FLX team chose instead to change to the Open class. "We came to LSPR to have fun," said Dubinsky. "I absolutely agree--it was our first priority in the game plan," added Dillon. "Naturally I'm disappointed to lose the title before the start [of this rally], but Paul will still drive as fast, and the ride will be just as exciting, regardless of the class designation on the car."
The rally began under murky skies, with a cold wind blowing and snow lurking nearby. On the first stage the two determined that a careful steady pace would be needed to get safely across the soupy, muddy roads. Starting 36th, they moved up to 25th after only five stages. At this point snow was falling heavily. Several other teams had already fallen victim to the treacherous conditions and even the transit stages were difficult to traverse.
After the Kenton "snow service break," the two discovered how even the slightest of miscues could put you into a ditch--their car entered a corner just slightly off line and slid gently into a small tree. With the back end high in the air, the team had no choice but to hope for help, and help arrived--twice! Ted Grzelak and Chris Plante attempted to pull the Talon clear, but the road was too slippery for their Mazda to get traction so they had to leave the Eagle behind. A few minutes later the Don Rathgeber/Dan Bodnar Mustang stopped and gave a couple of good yanks on the tow rope, getting all four wheels of the Talon firmly back on the ground. "Those guys exemplify the nature of rally and is one reason I love this sport," noted Dubinsky. "Competitors help each other even when it might cost them time and position." Once under way, the pair practiced even more caution, determined to finish the "toughest rally in ProRally." The next morning conditions worsened. At Parc Exposť in Calumet, the snow and sleet left ice on the roads, with the flakes getting larger as the cars struck out towards Gratiot Lake for the first stages of the day. Though the weather went quiet intermittently, the clay-based roads proved even more slippery.
The exception was the famous Brockway Mountain stage, almost four miles of undulating asphalt. Mother Nature turned a kind eye to the racers, leaving the pavement dry for competition. Dubinsky, an experienced road racer, proved the value of his experience by storming up Brockway mountain. During their first pass (Brockway was run twice), the car left the pavement at least a half dozen times. "Man, who needs Disneyland?!" laughed Dillon. On one particular jump, they had so much "hang time" that the engine management system thought the car had stalled (the wheels had stopped) and shut off the motor! Fortunately the driver, who also holds an IFR-rated pilot's license, noticed all the dash lights come on and engaged the clutch before the car returned to earth.
After the paved stage runs were complete, the two returned to more traditional roads, concluding with a reversed run of Gratiot Lake. Once again the muck proved challenging, but this time crew fatigue set in. The Eagle explored the woods beyond the road at least a couple of times, fortunately without serious consequence, and the car even thrilled the pair with a spin that coated both side windows in mud. "We joined the 'Michigan Brush Abatement Program' today," joked the navigator. "We were just doing our part out there in the weeds!"
The rally concluded at the D&N Bank in Houghton. Because of Friday night's "off," the team finished in mid-pack, having lost ten minutes or more while stranded. Still, their goals were met--they had fun, and they finished. As predicted before the start, the FLX and Widget racing team left Michigan's upper peninsula with big smiles on their faces.
Though the National championship season has ended, Dillon plans to race at least once more in 1999. He and Anton Musev, who won the Gorman Ridge ClubRally together last August, will team up again in December for the Ramada Express International Rally in Laughlin, Nevada. Meanwhile, negotiations are under way to firm up plans for the R2K (Rally 2000) season. The end of the first millenium promises to be another exciting rally season for Widget International--stay tuned!