Easygoing “Easy Does It” Rally not easygoing

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents — constantly driven by violent gusts of wind which swept up the roads (for it is in Champaign County that our scene lies), rain drummed against the sheetmetal of cars, and fiercely obscuring the scanty flame of headlights that struggled against the darkness.

The idea behind the “Easy Does It” Rally was that it was a straightforward rally that took place at moderate speeds. I spent a lot of time cold-running the rally route and writing rally instructions using landmarks that would be easy to spot in the dark. However, there was one thing that didn’t enter my mind during the rally planning stage, and that was the weather.

As the very first TSD rally that I’ve put on, I immediately sought help from some of the other more experienced rallyists. Jon was able to cold run my rally the Sunday before the event and give me some pointers on writing route instructions and checkpoint roles. When Friday came around, he helped me work the checkpoints and made things a lot easier for me.

Five cars showed up for the event. After fumbling through the drivers meeting and learning how to set the rally clocks, Jon and I jumped into my Miata and we drove off to place the ODO sign. Once we had driven deep into the countryside north of Champaign, we noticed the signs of trouble off in the distance — there was a very large thunderstorm coming our way. The rain started to come down just as I had placed the ODO sign by the edge of the road.

By the time I had parked my Miata on the side of the road at the first checkpoint, it was pitch-black outside and water was pouring down from the skies. There was so much rain that our visibility was greatly reduced; Jon and I ran two timers and had to click off every single car that passed by because we simply could not identify which cars were rallyist’s cars and which ones weren’t quickly enough.

Amidst the confusion of recording times, clicking in non-rallyist cars’ times as well as rallyists’ times, Jon and I had a hard time getting the out slips in order. Instead of having the rallyists stand next to the Miata’s window waiting for an out slip, I told everyone to wait in their car, and I would honk my horn to signal that they could come pick up their out slip. After all of the rallyists pulled into the checkpoint, Jon and I finally got the out slips written up, and I honked my horn to signal that out slips could be picked up. Only three people showed up at the Miata’s window.

The Miata’s horn is very weak, and with the rain pounding on sheetmetal and the thunder echoing throughout the area, it was no surprise that some rallyists would not be able to hear it. That meant I had to get out of the car and dash through the pouring rain to deliver the out slips to some of the rallyists. After the out slips were passed out, I still had to pick up the checkpoint sign and stuff it into the Miata’s trunk. When I was back in the car, I was soaking wet from head to toe. Wonderful.

Driving to the second checkpoint was quite an adventure. The rain was coming down so hard that it was impossible to see more than 100 feet in front of the car. The air was so chock full of water that trying to use high beams would instantly blind you, as all of the light would bounce off the water droplets in the air and back directly into your eyes. I was getting really worried now. The average speeds that I was asking people to run was about 50 mph. How could people maintain such a speed when it was impossible to see where you were going?

I was cruising along a dark road at 50 mph, driving as fast as I felt comfortable in order to make it to the next checkpoint before the rallyists’. All of a sudden, the road simply vanished and I was in the grass. I looked to my left, and there was the road. The road had curved to the left, and I didn’t notice. So I’m running 50 mph off the road into a slick bed of wet grass. Oh shit.

To make matters worse, there was a ditch coming up really fast. Since there was no way I could stop well on wet grass, the best that I could do was yank the wheel to the side and hit the ditch at an angle. If I hit the ditch head-on, it would have not been fun — I had visions of having to call the other rallyists to inform them that the rallymaster had flipped his car in a ditch and could not man the other checkpoints. Fortunately for me, the car slid into the ditch at an angle, and the car bounced out the other side of the ditch right-side up. Once the car came to a halt, I took a quick look around. The Miata had slid 200 feet off the road, past a ditch, and stopped before entering the busy County Road 1. Whew.

Suffice to say, I was really worried about the other rallyists now. I was half expecting a phone call from a rallyist at any moment informing me that a car flew off into a cornfield or something. Fortunately, every car made it to the second checkpoint.

The weather cleared up for the third leg, which relaxed my worries somewhat. Every rallyist made it to the last checkpoint just fine, thankfully. After Jon and I checked in the times for the rallyists, we all headed back to Monical’s Pizza for the Alibi Dinner and the awards presentation.

The big surprise of the night was the overall finisher of the rally. It was Emanuel and Rob in the Audi 90, running in the Seat of Pants Novice (SOPN) class. They had scores of 56, 3, and 15. As the only entry in SOPN, they took first in that class as well. First place in Seat of Pants was Mike and Jim, with scores of 28, 43, and 13, and taking top honors in Navigational class was Russ and Joe with scores of 67, 75, and 30.

All in all, it was a fun rally, both to run and for the rallyists to participate in. If it hadn’t been raining, it would have been much better, but for a first rally, I did okay. It will be a while before I volunteer to run another rally, however. I need a break from all this rally planning and event running stress.