Monday, June 20, 2011

Three Days After the Great Race: A Review of a 1966 Chevrolet Corvette From a Rally Driver's Perspective

As Dad and I found out rather quickly, the Corvette was definitly not the perfect car for the rally.  It struggled at slow speeds and it was wide and very awkward to park.  The car isn't exactly light on its feet (it has no power steering to boot) and when we had to make a few quick u-turns, they were never quite "quick" enough.  However, we did excel in some areas where other rally cars did not.  We never had any issue with power.  We could get up every hill thrown in our direction, speed changes were handled very quickly, and we always had enough power to get back in position whenever we made a wrong turn.  In conclusion, the Corvette was the perfect car for the trip to Chattanooga and back home from Bennington.  We had no problems cruising at 70-75 miles per hour on the highway, the car is comfortable and has plenty of luggage space (with the roof up).  If I were to do the Great Race again, I would not take the Corvette.  Even though it was the perfect car for a 2,500 mile American road trip, it was by no means the perfect car for the Great Race. 

During much of the rally, Dad and I would debate back and forth as to what would be the perfect rally car.  The Great Race had a variety of differnt classic cars that all seemed to work somewhat well.  We discussed many different options and could never come to a definite answer, so we started to ask some of the veterans of the Great Race.  According to them, what seemed to be the most sucessfull were Ford Model A's with flathead V8 engines.  There were a number of teams in attendance this year with Model A's and coupled with their low age factor and use of a seemingly bulletproof Ford V8, they seem to consistently win most rallies.

But for our simple and non-competitive (as of now) purposes, it wouldn't be the best option.  Since chances are that we're never going to win or be high up in the class rankings, we don't have to sacrifice comfort for age handicap and get a 1920-1940 model year car.  We'll never be competitive enough to need a support crew so we'll need a decent amount of luggage room.  We don't want a roof that leaks so we'd prefer a coupe.  The car would need a manual transmission and enough power and torque to get us up hill in a timely fashion, but also not too much as to make driving at 10-15mph for extended periods of time painful.  We want a car in decent condition, not a concours ready trailer queen, but a car enough miles on it to show that everything works.  The car must be reliable and easy for any mechanic to fix in a hotel parking lot if need be.  The car would be for future rallies, but not only for that purpose.  We decided on two viable cars that would suit our specific needs if we ever wanted a dedicate rally car to be used without a support crew that could also be driven regularly during good weather. 

1. A Porsche 912 Coupe (non-targa).  Dad wanted a Volkswagen Beetle but I manage to convince him that we need more power.  With the same engine as the fabled 356 and the body of the 911, the 912 combined the best of both worlds.  Sure, it wasn't as fast as a 911 from the same year, but it weighed a few hundred pounds less and could definitely out-handle a 911.

2. A early Ford Mustang Fastback with a V6.  Early six cylinder Mustangs are cheap when compared to their V8 powered siblings, and since the V8 in the Corvette was too much, I bet a Ford V8 would deliver similar results.  The trick would be finding one with a manual transmission.

However, before I start throwing all my money into a "new" car, we have one other viable option in currently in our garage:  my mother's 1967 MG B.

Yes, I know.  It's a British car, and most people believe is not reliable by definition.  However, our MG B is the best example of the model that I have ever seen (I'm not trying to brag, I don't think I've ever seen one in better condition).  It's only issue in my mind was its occasionally troublesome engine and gearbox, but since we had the engine and transmission rebuilt over the winter, it is now perfectly sorted out.  It's got all that the Corvette had in terms of luggage space, but it's got much less power (around 300 less horsepower), it's much lighter, and has a much smaller footprint.  That means that it travels a comfortably at 60 miles per hour as it does at 10 miles per hour, and can still fit two weeks works of two peoples luggage in the trunk and behind the seats.  The age factor is not great, however, I can live with that for now.

I drove the MG today (to deposit our winnings) and yesterday and it provides a vastly different driving experience from the Corvette.  Everything is much lighter on the car.  The clutch, the gearbox, the steering, the car itself, everything.  This makes it much easier to drive overall.  I drove on some roads near me that had big hills, and it did just fine there.  The car had no problem getting up the hills and easily accelerated while climbing as well.  I'm sure it will perform fine on the rally next year if I can take it. 

P.S. The Corvette died on us once more.  Dad and I were driving home from dinner and the engine just cut out on it.  Dad (who was driving) noticed that the lights on the instrument panel went out shortly before the car died.  It was running fine previously and would not even turn over after.  I suspect it's an electrical issue.  Thankfully, this happened three miles from our house and not on our way home on Saturday.  We called AAA and a rollback showed up to take us and the car back home.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

One Day After the Great Race: A Short Drive Back to Normal Life

Well, after over two thousand miles, Dad, the Corvette, and I are finally home.
We left Bennington around 9:00am and headed straight for home.  It was an easy drive which was done mostly on highways.  We made three quick stops, one stop for lunch, one stop for gas, and another stop at a BMW motorcycles dealership.

Dad has a BMW motorcycle that we both ride so we decided to stop and look around for a little bit.  It was a very nice dealership and they had a huge selection of bikes, and even more were in the back for service.  I talked to some of the bikers at the dealership and they said they passed three or four other rally cars while they were on the way to their dealership.

Dad drove for the majority of the trip home, which was different since I spent the last 1,750 miles in the drivers seat.  Dad asked me how it felt to be in the passenger seat, I said "relaxing".  I asked him the same question about the driver's seat and he had the same answer.  I think we both enjoyed driving down the highway at speed of over 50mph, listening to the radio, and letting the GPS tell us where to go.

While I was sitting in the passenger seat, I finally had some time to reflect on the events of the past week and analyze everything that went on.

I truly had a fantastic time at the Great Race.  Yes, some stages and portions were difficult, but all in all, I had a blast.  If I had the opportunity to do it next year, I'd love to.  Corky Coker said last night at dinner that the tentative route would be Dollywood to Hollywood for next year (but that is subject to change) and it will be held during the last week of June and will roll into the first week of July if it is a second week.  I made some great friends on the rally and I'd to see each and every one of them again in the future.  Driving across the country has always been a dream of mine, and what better way to do this than with the Great Race!

See you in 2012 (fingers crossed)!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Day Seven of the Great Race: The Grand Finale

The final day of the Great Race started for me at 5:45am, as late as I could possibly wake up.  Our starting position was 44, which meant that we were to leave at 6:44am at the latest for our speedometer calibration run.  It was raining when we got outside, but not so hard as to make driving difficult.  I simply put on a sweatshirt and the wipers and I was cocooned within the warm (and dry) interior of the car while I watched all of the cars sans tops drive down the road.

We started off the morning of rallying with a maze right off the bat.  Dad and I were able to get through part of it without a wrong turn and before we knew it, we were already way behind.  When we figured out where we were in terms of everybody else and finally got a chance to make up some time, we pulled out to pass a car and ran right into a checkpoint.  So, all we could do was suck up the bad leg, and keep on driving in the position that we were in.  We didn't make any wrong turns for quite some time and we ended up with some great scores for the middle chunk of legs.  We made on last wrong turn on the final leg and tried to make up as much time as we could, but it wasn't enough.

Dissapointed on how our last day of rallying went, we drove into Stratton for lunch.  We had lunch in an empty ski lodge at the base of the mountain.  I never get to see many in the middle of June so it was cool to be there.  I wish that there would have been a little bit of snow left over for me to snowboard on but of course there was not, so I just had to look longingly at the bare slopes.  Stratton looks like a stunning mountian and resort (the town reminds me a lot of Whistler) and I'd like to get back there sometime in the winter.

Anyways, after a leisurely lunch, we left for a scenic drive through Vermont, to the small, yet adorable, town of Bennington, VT.  Bennington is home to the headquarters of Hemmings Motor News so we stopped there for some hors d'oeuvres.  Hemmings has a great facility.  They've got a nice little museum full of green cars and they've even got their own gas station on site!  All of the employees of Hemmings were there to cheer all of the racers into the parking lot, it was truely a special experience.  The town of Bennington itself was packed with people looking at all the cars. 

Soon after we arrived, we filed back into our cars to head into downtown Bennington to cross the finish line and show off the cars for one last time.  I met Miss Vermont (She noticed our front license plate and said that she is acutally Canadian.  If you didn't already know, Ontario has a lot of good looking girls) and the Lieutenant Govenor of Vermont at the finish line and Dad and I got our medals from Wes Kliner (Assistant Director of the Great Race) and Corky Coker.  We literally had to force the car through the crowd.  One woman insisted upon getting a photo of our front license plate and ran along side the car with her Blackberry, trying to get the perfect shot.  I was tired and my clutch-leg was too sore for my liking so I laid on the horn pretty hard and after about 5 seconds she got out of my way.  She continued to walk along the right side of the car while apologizing profusely and I said "Mam', you can take all the pictures you want when I'm done parking.  The car will be here until five".  I didn't see her again after that.  The hardest part of Dad's days on the Great Race was always when we were out rallying, trying to keep on track of directions and speed changes.  The hardest part for me was always navigating through dozens of people with cameras while trying to park.  We got out of the car and Dad made a b-line for the closest pizzeria in town (he had been craving pizza all week long) and I looked around at all the little stands that the businesses in town had set up.  It was by far my favorite town of the rally.  We actually got a taste of the feel and personality of the town where I felt as if we did not for some othe the other towns.

After that we checked into our hotel and then went to our final banquet at a local country club.  The food was great and I enjoyed getting a chance to talk more with the other racers.  Towards the end of dinner, Corky talked for a while and thanked all the sponsors and voulenteers for the Great Race and gave out the awards.  To our surprise, we ended up getting 5th place for rookies, which included a nice plaque and a check!  He also played a quick video that the media crew put togeather of the race to show what it might look like on TV.  It was a fantastic video.  There wasn't much footage of the Corvette on the small video, but they took some video of our us and our car rather often so perhaps we'll show up on TV sometime in the future.  Dinner was over by about 9:30 and we quickly made it out the door and back to the hotel as soon as possible.  We didn't want to get caught up in any sort of traffic or other issues getting out since we only had one functioning pop up headlight.

Dad and I will wake up tomorrow and drive home.  We'll probably be back before dinner.  Whenever, I keep telling Dad that we're done, he keeps reminding me that we have to make it home.  So, I won't post my complete thoughts on my experience until we're done and sitting at home tomorrow night.  As for now, I'd like to thank all the people associated with the Great Race such a fantastic event.  It wouldn't of been nearly as much fun without all of you.  I hope you all had as much fun as I did.

Our Corvette and 1961 Corvette that joined the rally to replace a Hudson that had broken down during the first few days.  There were several instances where racers' cars broke down and they drove home to pick up replacements if they were close enough.

(Almost) All of the cars parked in the parking lot of Stratton Mountain in Vermont, it was a foggy day and you couldn't really see much of the mountain.

The Corvette parked on the streets of Bennington, VT after the official finish of the rally.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Day Six of the Great Race: When The Going Gets Tough...

While driving through rural upstate New York, battered and beaten from the awful roads and sore from trying to manage driving a 45 year old muscle car with power nothing at 10 miles an hour, I suddenly thought of the video above.

Before I forget, Dad wanted me to post something that he thought that y'all (the southern accents that so many people have on the rally are infectious) might find amusing.  As we were about to leave Chambersburg yesterday, Dad started to freak out because he couldn't find our directions.  He looked frantically around the car and could not figure out what happened to them.  "Someone must have taken them as a souvenir!!!" he screamed as he got out of the car, ready to search the crowd for our missing directions.  As he emerged from the car, I noticed that the directions were still sitting on the seat, right where he left them.  I told him what he had done and he climbed back into the car.  This story gets funnier every time I think of it.  My navigator lost our directions, the one thing that is most important to us in the rally.  Not only did he lose them, but he lost them under his own rear end.  I, for one, am truly amazed that we made it this far along and haven't ended up somewhere in Mexico.  Kudos to you Fred, for keeping us on track when the Great Race throws us the most complicated directions they can possibly create.  And kudos to myself, for getting us back on track when you:

-Miss the first turn of the rally instructions for the day, resulting in us chasing another lost car and then having to pass 22 additional rally cars in order to get back into position.
-Miss the first several signs on our speedometer calibration run, resulting in a totally scrapped calibration run, and then miss the sign to get off the highway because you are looking for the first several signs.
-Tell me that we will be accelerating to 10 miles per hour for 36 minutes when you actually mean 36 seconds.
-Miss hitting the stopwatch by five or ten seconds on a timed portion because you are too busy looking at tractors on the side of the road to look for our next instruction.
-Try to unlock the door to hotel room 324 when our room is 325.
-Can't find the elevator to get to our hotel room in the first place.
-Refer to stop lights as stop signs, and vise versa.
-Say that our next direction will be to turn left, when our turn is actually to the right, and vise versa. 

In all honesty, you've done a good job seeing that this is our first rally, Dad.  Navigating is much harder than driving and I would be lost, confused, misguided, and awfully late if you weren't on track when I was confused.
Today was by far the hardest and most tiring day of the Great Race.  The first leg of the championship run really beat us up.  We had to stop for three minutes and wait for a train to finish crossing our road at the second direction into the first leg of the morning.  Even though we filed a time delay form, that set the tone for the day and it just dragged on and on.  The cars around us got out of order after the train incident but we started to pull things together after the second checkpoint and ended up with a score of 11 seconds late for that leg. 
Lunch today was in Cooperstown, NY, home of the Baseball Hall of Fame.  We got some extra time to walk around Coopersburg and look at the museum.  Even though I don't follow baseball, I was really impressed with the museum.  It was very up to date and also had some interesting stuff from the early days of baseball. 

The afternoon portion of the rally went ok.  Our times decreased a little bit, but the roads did not get much better at all.  We did have a maze in the afternoon, which I think Dad and I handled rather well.  We made a point not to get messed up by other cars and to stick to our gut instinct.  Sadly, we couldn't drop any of the times from today, but I think our worst times came from the previous five days anyways.

The real treat of the day came in the form of our dinner stop at the Saratoga Auto Museum in Saratoga Springs, NY.  There was an incredible Mercedes 300SL Gullwing parked on the lawn the lawn when I got in.  It was truely a work of art.  Inside the museum, they had an amazing display of old and new Italian cars with some old racing Ferraris (the centerpiece of which was a 1953 Ferrari 166MM Spider Scagletti, a quick google search returned that this car didn't sell back in 2009 at RM Auctions for $1,100,000.  The estimate was $1.4-1.8 million so I guess the seller figured he'd keep it).  The newest car was a 2010 Alfa Romeo 8C Spider, and there was an 1934 8C 2300 right next to it to boot.

Tomorrow will be the final day of the race.  It's hard to believe that it's already here, it seems like it's gone so fast.  I'll give it my all tomorrow as a driver and hope that somehow, we bump up a few positions from 43rd.

We passed this Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing on the way into the museum.  Truly an amazing piece of machinery and art.

A 1934 Alfa Romeo 8C 2300.  Apparently the current owner drives it on European rallies.

The main display room in the museum.  The 1953 Ferrari 166MM Scagletti Spider I mentioned above is in the foreground.

The Corvette parked on the lawn at the Saratoga Automobile Museum.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Day Five of the Great Race: Penndot

As a citizen of Pennsylvania, I believe that it is my god given right to complain about the roads in our state.  Today, the Great Race witnessed Penndot's asphalt concoctions in all their glory when we drove straight up the middle of the state from Hershey to Binghampton, NY.

We had a rough morning to say the least.  Dad and I didn't do a good job on our speedometer calibration to start things off.  But, when we ran a few of the sections later on in the calibration dead-on, that helped boost my morale.  We were later in the pack today, we started in position 52, just a few spots away from the last car in the pack.

When we finally got to the rally portion of the day, at around 11am, things didn't go as planned right from the start.  The car directly in front of us, the 1955 Buick Station Wagon of Robert Coker, and J.R. Keylon had a faulty speedometer and proceeded to pass the Morgan which was in front of them.  That put the Morgan directly in front of us.  When I saw the Morgan driving rather slowly in front of me with no huge Buick separating us, I freaked out a little and sped up to catch the Buick, assuming that the Morgan was driving slow or about to break down.  However, the Morgan was actually driving on pace and it was the Buick who was incorrect, and we ended up 2:08 early on the first leg.  However, I got my bearings back on the second leg of the day and ended up 0:16 seconds late.  Luckily, each teams worst five legs are dropped and since that is by far our worst, we can forget about it in terms of official scoring. 

This is when Penndot started to make me crazy again.  Shortly after our second checkpoint, we ran into a Great Race staff member standing in the road, and informing us that the bridge in front of us was closed and that Penndot would not open it for the race so we had to stop our clocks for the morning and just head to lunch.  After taking wrong turn, we ended up driving on what is possibly the most pothole infested road in the state.  Everyone state we've been to on the Great Race has fantastic roads, with the exception of Pennsylvania.  I just don't understand how Penndot can't take the time to build roads right.

Anyways, we ate a quick lunch in Hazleton, PA after having to backtrack for a little while and stop to get gas.  By the time we showed up the first several cars in the pack had left and we were the last car in.  When we pulled in, a bunch of people in matching shirts on the sidelines let out a scream similar to that of a group of pre-teen girls seeing Justin Bieber for the first time in person.  They ran up to the car and explained that they were in the local Corvette club, and they were really happy to see us because they assumed we might have broken down since we were the last car in.  I also met a few people from Stroudsburg that knew a few of my friends from home.  Small world.

We left about thirty minutes later to make the long transit to the staring line and ran into even more road work.  The two legs we had in the afternoon went really well.  Dad and I were really on the ball and we didn't miss any turns.  We had times of 24 seconds late and 4 seconds early (our best time of the rally thus far).  We were both very relaxed in the car the and all aspects of the rallying seemed to come naturally.  I was happy that we were finally getting the hang of things.

Binghampton closed down a huge section of their Main street so they could put the rally cars on display along with some other local collector cars.  There was a huge turnout, dinner was great, and the weather was beautiful.  We couldn't have asked for a better night.  I hung around in the parking lot for a little bit to relax with some of the other Great Racers for a little while after to enjoy the weather.  I have to admit, the people on this rally are a fantastic group.  I can't say enough good things about them.  The camaraderie is truly amazing

Tomorrow we'll leave Binghamton, stop in Cooperstown for lunch at the Baseball Hall of Fame, and finally end in Saratoga Springs, NY.  Tomorrow is also the start of the Championship Run portion of the rally.  The directions will become much more technical and the checkpoints will become more frequent.  Apparently, the rally staff have built up a "maze" somewhere during the next two days of rallying.  This is where all the rally cars enter a subdivision of houses or a grid type city layout somewhere and are sent literally in all directions.  After a while, rally cars will end up at every intersections heading in all directions, apparently it is very confusing.  It should be interesting and I'm very much looking forward to the next two days.

The car parked at the Laurel Mall in Hazleton, PA

At our dinner stop in Binghampton, NY.  Some people gave us the sign in front of the car when we got into town.  We told them that we had nowhere to put it and they told us to hold it out the window until we parked, so we did.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Day Four of the Great Race: It's Lonely at the Front

For most of today, we were back in Pennsylvania.  Even though today was our worst day point wise, we were much better off than most.  It seemed like cars were dropping like flies.  In the end, we were just happy that we finished.

We started off the day in Cumberland, Maryland.  It was the first time the whole rally that I could honestly say I had butterflies in my stomach.  We led off, and for us rookies, that was particularly daunting.  For the first time, we didn't have anyone in front of us to help us keep on track with time.  For the whole rally, we had been running late at almost every checkpoint, and my goal for today was to drive a little faster here and there to hopefully compensate for my natural tendency to be late.  However, we did have someone behind us, Steven and Edward Tourje in a 1946 Ford Coupe.  They were 11th overall as of last night, so we knew if we could see them in our rear view mirror, we were running late.

I thought the morning went well.  Our first stage didn't feel that good, but I felt like I did reasonably well on our second and third leg.  At our various rest stops, we talked to the people driving behind us and we all felt comfortable about our position.  It was a little strange knowing that I was at the front of the pack.  However, we got our directions correct (most of the time) and ended up in the right place for lunch and dinner.  At lunch, we noticed that the Tourjes were nowhere to be found.  When the #3 car for the day, Mary and Michael Bitterman in a 1966 Dodge Charger showed up, I really started to wonder what was up.  Apparently they broke down on the last leg and the problem was bad enough that they had to call it quits for the whole rally.

That would leave us in a stressful position for the afternoon.  No one in front of us and the closest car would be at least 2 minutes behind us.  However, we tried our best to do things on our own and I felt somewhat confident going into the afternoon portion of the rally.

Dinner tonight was in Hershey, PA.  We got to see Joan and introduce her to some of the friends we've made on the rally.  I think she enjoyed getting a taste of what we've been doing for the past few days and she wants to do one in the future.  My girlfriend and college roommate also surprised me by showing up so it was cool to see them as well.

Here are some pictures from the day.  I've only got two for now.  Mom took some pictures at dinner so I'll upload those sometime tomorrow if I can.
All lined up for the start of the rally in Maryland this morning.

The cars at our lunch stop in Chambersburg, PA.

We'll leave Hershey tomorrow morning and head to Binghampton, NY.  Tomorrow will also be the last day of the regular rally.  After tomorrow, we will drop our 5 worst legs and then we'll have to take everything we get for the championship run.  Hopefully we'll have figured things out by that point and we'll get some ground back on the competition.  But, as always, I'll just be happy to finish in one piece.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Day Three of the Great Race: Playing Catch-up

Dad and I both felt confident going into today's portion of the rally.  I felt like I was really getting into the swing of things at the end of the day yesterday and I was ready to get back in the car.  We lined up for the start and jumped right into it.

We were running perfectly on pace until Dad missed the first turn and we had to turn around.  We went back to where we through we should be and we passed Gary and Jean-Ann Martin going the opposite direction, who were positioned behind us yet again in their 1938 Ford.  We knew we had ground to make up, we made the turn and started moving.  The first car we caught was the 1960 Morgan +4 of David and Edward Goldman.  We knew they were three cars back so we kept moving in order to catch up.  A few miles went past and we caught no one when we knew we should have been back in our place.  We kept going a little bit longer and once we were confident that both we and the Morgan we're lost.  We turned around to head back to the point where the directions last left us and hoped to see other cars, which we did.  We quickly pulled out our sheet listing the start order for the day and found that we had just been passed by the 58th car in line, the second to last car.

We were in trouble.

We had fallen 22 spots behind where we should have been, meaning we were at least 22 minutes late.  We had effectively dug our own grave for the rally, jumped in our casket, and nailed it shut.  We simply would not be able to re-cooperate from a score that low to get any position but last for the entire rally.  Our only solution was to try our very best to get as close as possible to where we were supposed to be.  I told Dad to only give me directions that included turns and stop signs, then I gunned it.  We started to absolutely fly by cars at an incredible rate.  I was expecting to hit a checkpoint sooner or later but we didn't.  Before we knew it, we were only 15 cars behind, then 10, then 5, then we were staring at the back of the Martin's Ford and I could finally relax a little.  We eventually reached an open stretch of 2 lane highway, the Martin's moved into the right lane and frantically waved me on to pass.  I put the pedal to the metal and we flew by them, knowing that our score would be back under one minute, which was extraordinary for where we had been earlier in the day.  I saw the approaching checkpoint, gunned it, and hope that we'd come in as close to even as possible.

We tried to even ourselves out for the next two legs and we came into lunch feeling optimistic.  Lunch was in Harrisonburg, VA.  It was a cute little college town.  There were a decent number of people there to look at the cars and I was happy to sit down, cool off, and get something to eat.  I somehow forgot to take a photo of the car at the lunch stop.  I'll be sure to take one at lunch tomorrow.

We were back out on the road before we knew it and I was feeling even better than I did in the morning.  We had three really good legs.  We got our scores and ended up coming in at 2:01 for five legs, which I think was alright.  All of our scores were under a minute, which is an improvement from yesterday.  We hit as new all time best of 5 seconds (we had 10 second taken away for a time delay due to a tractor blocking our way right before a checkpoint).  Our worst for the day was 45 seconds late on the first leg, which is much better than a potential 22 minutes.  We moved down a little in the standings to 41st and 5th rookie team overall.

Gassing up before we started the first morning stage of the rally.  I'd never seen so many classic cars at one gas station before.

The cars lined up for dinner in Chambersburg, MD.

Tomorrow we lead the rally into Chambersburg and Hershey.  Hopefully that doesn't mess us up too much having no one in front of us.  It should be a lot of fun, as it has been for the past three days.  I'm honestly loving every second of the rally, even when we're lost!