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Car Rallies

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Looking for a way to enjoy the driving experience without getting tickets or violating traffic laws? Driving enthusiasts all over the world have fun and test their abilities at road rallies.

Rallies are amateur events where groups of drivers compete for points as they travel a set route. If you have a car, a friend to navigate, and an afternoon to watch the scenery pass by, fasten your seat-belt and get ready to roll. Road rallies may be the recreation of your dreams.

There are three types of rally events. Only one, Pro Rally, involves a flat-out race over closed sections of rural roads using specially built or purchased cars. In these competitions, drivers race one car at a time against the clock. These events are usually several hundred miles long and can last several days. Pro Rally racers must be trained and licensed.

The more common rallies, the tour rally and course rally, aren't about racing. They are amateur events known as time-speed-distance rallies. Drivers work in teams to complete a course according to specific directions and speeds of travel.

In a tour rally, drivers follow a route using straightforward directions that never attempt to lead contestants off course. A course rally, on the other hand, involves a logic component. Drivers have to determine where the course goes as well as follow the route at an assigned speed.

"T-S-D rallies would be great for a math class," says Steven Schlossman. He has been participating in rallies for a few years now. "There are lots of calculations to be done in these events."

Tour and course rallies are usually held on rural or quiet back roads. Participants drive their own regular automobiles. Since drivers observe speed limits and try to beat scores rather than other cars, these rallies are among the safest auto sports. "In our rallies, just getting there is a thing to be proud of," says Terry Muir. He is a member of a car club.

A typical rally happens in six phases. In the starting phase, contestants first meet in a designated location. This is usually a restaurant or public parking lot. Each car carries a driver and navigator.

Teams are given a set of course directions that were designed in advance by a "rally master." Depending on the type of rally, the rally master may or may not include "traps" -- driving instructions that are easily misinterpreted.

After the starting phase, drivers complete an odometer calibration. This allows each team to correlate their car's odometer with that of the rally master. That's the device that keeps track of the distance the car has traveled.

After making sure the odometers are in synch, the cars begin the course at one-minute intervals. Using the instructions of the rally master, teams attempt to travel the correct route at the correct speeds and arrive at "checkpoints" or "controls" precisely on time. Participants are scored by how closely to the correct time they arrive at each checkpoint.

Most rallyists use equipment to help them keep the proper speed. They can use a calculator and tables showing the time it takes to travel distances at different speeds. They also use a rally wheel (a circular slide rule designed for rally racing), odometers that measure to an accuracy of 0.01 miles, or rally computers.

Some contestants don't use any equipment. They simply rely on intuition and common sense to judge their speed.

While navigating the course, drivers stop at designated checkpoints. The checkpoint crew writes the arrival and assigned departure time of each car on a score sheet. A car's score is the difference between when it should have arrived at the checkpoint and when it actually did arrive. Contestants are penalized one point for every minute they arrive at a checkpoint early or late.

At each checkpoint, the crew also gives drivers leg slips -- instructions for the next leg of the rally. Cars wait until a specified amount of time has elapsed. Then they hit the road again, following the directions they were given and traveling at specific speeds.

Rallying is a contest of precision. Drivers can't make up for a late arrival on one leg by coming in early at the next checkpoint. The score for each leg of the rally is separate and is totaled at the end. The rally winners will be the drivers who finish the course with the lowest point score.

A rally usually finishes at a restaurant in the vicinity of the starting point. Participants meet to calculate scores, determine winners, and discuss the day's course over a meal.

Winners in road rallies may receive trophies or other prizes. Because Pro Rally races involve risk and a high level of skill, professional racers may win cash prizes. They may also receive awards from car companies for placing in a race while displaying that company's decals. Pro Rally racers who win often can supplement their regular incomes with their winnings. However, very few teams make a living racing.

Most rallies are just for fun, or to benefit a good cause. "My club has held 'gimmick rallies,' which are like scavenger hunts," says Schlossman. "We've had Civil War gimmick rallies where participants had to drive and pick up clues relating to the Civil War.

"There is also something called a 'poker run,' which motorcycle clubs seem to do frequently. In these events, contestants ride from point to point and pick up a playing card at each stop. The rider with the best hand wins. Generally, this sort of event is held for charity."

Getting Started

Rallying doesn't require any special equipment. Anyone of legal driving age with a properly insured and inspected vehicle can participate.

There aren't any hard statistics about how many people are rallying enthusiasts, but there are hundreds of rally clubs around the world. The Sports Car Club of America alone has 55,000 members. It holds over 2,000 amateur and professional events every year.

It's safe to say anyone can find a fellow rally fan in his or her local area. International, national and regional clubs can all provide good information to novices and tell you about upcoming events.

"I got started when my boss asked if I would help at a timing checkpoint at a rally he was involved in," says Terry Arvidson. He is a veteran rallyist and president of the Washington Rally Club.

"After that, my boss and I started a rally club where I work. I found a partner there and we ran a series of beginner rallies. Then I helped pre-check a rally with a very experienced rallyist. I enjoyed that and learned a lot. Then I was hooked! For the past 24 years, I've competed in rallies, worked them, designed them and administered them."

Unlike some hobbies, it's easy for beginners to get involved in rallies. Experienced contestants are more than willing to help novices get rolling.

"Experienced rallyists are very happy to talk to new folks and help them develop a love for the sport. The best way to get started is to run a beginners' rally -- one that doesn't have any traps in it," says Arvidson.

"When you get to the start, ask as many questions as you need to until you feel comfortable as to what you're going to be doing in the car. After the rally, ask more questions until you understand everything you did on the course -- and maybe what you should have done instead! After you've run your first rally, don't get discouraged if you have a high score. The point is to have fun, enjoy the roads and meet new friends."


Northwest Rally Council


The Road Rally Handbook,
by  Clint Goss

An online magazine


Sports Car Club of America
Lots of information on both road rally and Pro Rally racing

Rally Central
Advice on getting started, links to schools and associations and an extensive list of publications

Washington, D.C., Sport Car Club of America
A regional club site with pictures and information

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