Sports Car Club of America

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Nathan and Aaron Usher pilot their Mazda Miata on the Michigan backroads. (David Head) Nathan and Aaron Usher pilot their Mazda Miata on the Michigan backroads. (David Head) View Full Size

Contributed by David Head

National rally regulars arrived knowing what to expect from the competition, just not necessarily the roads and terrain. The roads and terrain were fun, and quick. Quick was the entertainment for “Cast in Stone.’ Not so quick was the ‘Letters of Intent,’ where the entertainment was the traps.

Not that ‘Cast in Stone’ was fast, it was only 35 mph for the entire rally. The variations in terrain that might require a bit less aggressive pace were handled with free zones and pauses.

The course was superb, disregarding the bottomless potholes. Conversation between Bob Morseburg, my driver and I: “Something’s wrong!” “What?” “We haven’t hit a big pothole for a while.” “I think we must be off course…”! With so many switchback followed immediately by controls, the challenge was there, without having to play Roger Racer.

And for me, nostalgia flowed over the events. I started out rallying here. I belonged to the Northwestern Ohio Region of the Sports Car Club of America, and that meant two things in 1976. One was that I belonged to a very rally-intensive region, and the other was that I belonged to a Region with its premiere event, the Irish Hills Rally, running in another state from the one in its name. That other state was Michigan, and specifically this area of Michigan.

I saw many familiar roads. Unobservable at this time is the fact that Ely Road, which we drove down at least once over the weekend, has some particular breed of trees that, in the fall, have all their leaves turn bright yellow and ‘canopy’ the road for a visually impactful scene that made rallying there something special.

But even without the help of fall color, the courses were beautiful. You may remember riding in the country with your parents when you were young, and if you were like me, I always wondered where that mysterious road that dove down into the wooded area went, and where it came out. Dad, who knew Ohio and was ‘street smart’ about the ways of the world, said, “No, we are not going down there and maybe end up in some farmer’s front yard and maybe get shot.” Yes, he actually said this to my urging to explore! But these courses were mysterious like that. And, you got to drive some of those mysterious, wondrous roads.

Everyone knew that mileage measurement on gravel was going to be a challenge. ‘Cast in Stone’ was measured from a transmission pickup on a 2-wheel drive car. It’s fine, because hardly anyone else had such a system of picking up mileage from the transmission, either. We were equally disadvantaged. Equal is the operative word that makes it OK.

And the mileages were as expected. We struggled. We did poorly and we did great. Before lunch, we did not really poorly, just not outstanding. It was going to take outstanding in order to win. We had 12 points before lunch, and with 12 controls before lunch, that used to be a good score on pavement. But, 12 points this weekend was good for a gong-show clang, since General Jack von Kaenel and Ron Johnstonbaugh, did a phenomenal 4 points all morning. We won the afternoon with 6 points to their 10 points, but the damage was already done and the General won. We were second.

As already mentioned, ‘Letters of Intent,’ the course rally, was wet. We spent the day chasing the odometer factor to try to get somewhere close to the right mileages. No joy. The greasy roads were too much for us to post anything close to impressive scores from a simple timing aspect. Other timing issues also stretched out our scores.

But ultra-precise timing is not the big issue in a trap, or course, rally. It is the traps.

We were well on the way to a decent day until Leg Six. It had already had a few traps in the form of pausing at signs, so when we got to an instruction that was to be completed over a one-mile distance, we knew we had to run out the mile before we could do the next instruction. The next instruction popped up at about ¾ mile. Uh-oh. No problem, the course will come back together and we’ll find the control then.

But the courses were not appearing to do any such thing as come back together. Driving for a couple miles, and not seeing the typical looping starting to happen, we pulled over and consulted the GPS and its map. We looked extensively, and could not see a way to get the on and off course cars back together with the subsequent instructions.

This is known as bringing your own trap with you. We were dead-on correct that we could not take the right we found at about ¾ mile and should have continued following main roads until we could take that same instruction sometime later. Fearing getting more than 20 minutes down and being unable to claim a delay to fix things, we turned around and went into the control early. Claiming a delay made things worse. Max score. A max in a rally as otherwise uncomplicated as this one means you kiss winning goodbye.

Our other big error was simply missing a dead-end sign straight ahead that made a crossroad into a T. That meant we should have followed the course via the main road ‘Left at T’ rather than the ‘Right at Crossroad’ instruction that we executed. Big score, bad juju, and we finished this rally in third.

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