The day before the 2013 Rallye Monticello was to take place, the forecast warned of thunderstorms, strong straight-line winds, and the possibility of hail, flash floods, and tornadoes. As the Rallymaster, I was nervous. Very nervous. On the one hand, I considered postponing the event. On the other, I knew some people were already traveling from distant locations to compete. I decided to forge ahead, ready to delay the start or to end the event early if necessary. Pre-rally enthusiasm had been strong and I didn’t know if I would be able to recapture that level of interest at a later date. I only hoped the enthusiasm was strong enough to compel people take a chance on the weather. And so on Sunday morning, November 17, I headed to the start point, Subaru of Champaign County, unsure of how many people to expect.
Three cars waiting at the dealership, a half hour before the “TSD Rally 101” class started and a full two hours before registration opened, was the first indication that I wasn’t the only one willing to take a gamble. At 10:35, we were bringing additional chairs into the instruction area to accommodate all the class attendees. 12 rookies, and a couple of veterans, took in 75 minutes of tutelage. By 12:15, the showroom was buzzing. Despite the dire weather forest, a total of 30 brave people in 14 teams had shown up to compete. Contestants from Chicago, Milwaukee, Indianapolis, St. Louis, and even Virginia complimented the local crowd. I was pleased and proud. But still nervous. In the midst of all the last-minute tasks, like setting clocks, assigning car numbers, and giving checkpoint crews their final instructions, I kept ducking into my office to look at live radar. A line of thunderstorms was making its way across the state towards us, moving due east at a very high rate of speed. There was a very large, extremely intense cell to our northwest and another to our southwest. Directly west, however, was a small gap of green on the screen indicating only moderate rain. Around 12:30 weather alerts starting coming in. There was a tornado warning in the county, then another for the county just south. I checked the radar again. The line was closing on us rapidly, but the offending cells were still tracking to pass north and south of us. Behind the line the radar was clear. I updated the crowd and let them know we were monitoring the situation. The squall line hit us at about 12:45. A stiff wind blew a modest rain sideways, but the overall intensity was not particularly threatening. At the 12:50 safety briefing I reassured the contestants that we were threading the needle, so to speak, and would be starting on time. At 1:01 the teams started rolling out in a dissipating rain. When they made the first turn to the west, they could see clear skies on the horizon. Well before they got to the end of odometer leg, they had all broken out of the weather. The rest of the day would be windy but dry for the participants, with puffy white clouds racing across an azure blue sky.
After the last of the contestants had left the building, I departed. In an attempt to get ahead of the competitors to be able to take some pictures, I took the interstate instead of the rally route. My first stop was the at the odometer marker which I intended to retrieve. The first two cars were already underway but one car had yet to arrive. Intent on getting some pictures, I left the marker behind and dashed down a shortcut to an intersection where the cars would be soon be turning. So as to not confuse the competitors into thinking I was a checkpoint, I parked my car well off the road and attempted to hide in the bushes. Scott Lindstrom, piloting a Honda Civic with sons Eric and Kevin collaborating on navigating duties, gave me a moment of concern when he zipped past the turn. The team quickly recognized their mistake, however, reversed course, and resumed in the correct direction.
When the final car had passed, I went back to my car and waited for a report from Checkpoint 1. It was a tricky control location, just beyond a gentle, but blind, curve. In the Navigational Class, the team of Jay Nemeth-Johannes and Dave Head, in an Acaru RSX, seemed to be having odometer issues with their computer and came in with an unexpectedly high score of 6. Barry Rowe and Jerry White, in a Chevy Corvette, were also having issues with their Limited navigation and timing system and took an uncharacteristically high 39. Surprisingly, the only zero on Leg 1 came not from the Nav class but from the SOP team of Russ Bedford and Mike Blackwelder in a Subaru WRX. The Novices all did surprisingly well, given the length of the leg, coming in with scores ranging from the mid-20s to the low 50’s.
Once the report came in that all cars had cleared checkpoint 1, I glanced at my watch and, after some quick figuring, decided I had enough time to retrieve the odo marker before opening checkpoint 3. I didn’t get a quarter mile down the road before I was greeted by the very unpleasant sight of a large tree lying across the road. “What the heck?” I thought. “I just drove down this road 30 minutes ago.” The tree was too large to driver around or over, and too large to move by hand. There was no way to proceed. I almost panicked; not because I couldn’t get to the odo marker, but because the rally route would be taking the competitors down this very same road in short order. Checkpoint 3 was about half mile back and cars were due to start arriving in less than 15 minutes. I drove there slowly, gears turning in my head about how to salvage the event.
About that time, cars were coming into checkpoint 2. All the Nav class cars were in the single digits, most scoring 3 or less. Rookie Matt Ellermets bagged his first ever “zero” on that leg navigating for veteran Bob Townsend in a Ford Probe. Meanwhile, Scott Edwards and Larry Patrick, in a Subaru Legacy, posted a 6, the first single digit score in the Novice class and enough to move them into first place. In SOP, Bedford and Blackwelder took their highest score of the rally, a 45, allowing the team of Emanuel Martin and Robert Umland, also in a Subaru WRX,to assume the class lead.
At checkpoint 3, I was struggling to get the checkpoint sign to stand upright. A persistent 35 mph wind, with gusts exceeding 50, was blowing directly perpendicular to the sign. I tried to adjust the ballast to better secure the sign but without success. I had about 10 minutes to come up with a solution to the blocked route issue and had no time to be fiddling with signs. Flustered, I leaned it up against the left front tire of my car. I got back in the car and grabbed my copy of the route instructions to considered how I could get the rally back on track. I eventually settled on having the teams execute a U-Turn and heading back down the road they had come to the checkpoint on. I would have rather not routed them against the rally traffic coming into the checkpoint, but it was the way to get them back onto the route with the least amount of supplemental instructions. I gave a call ahead to checkpoint 4 to let them know they would not be timing the cars in. We would lose that leg, but save the rest of the rally. I started writing the special instructions on the checkpoint slips, I finished about four before the first car came into the checkpoint.
After scoring a 2 and a 1 on the first two legs, the Nav Class team of Jonathan Flora and Bill Wagner, in a Subaru Outback, posted their first zero of the rally at Checkpoint 3, consolidating the class lead. Nav class contenders Bob and Marianne DeMeritt, who had been in second place by a single point after two legs in their Ford Focus, withdrew from the rally at checkpoint 3 for a carsick navigator. The novice team of Dan Marx, Tim Tavernor, and Cooper Marx, in a MINI Cooper, set a new low leg score for the Novice class with a 5. A minute later, Lindstrom and sons lowered that mark to a 3. Edwards and Patrick retained the lead in the Novice class, but the team of Antonio Varela and Jeff Suckow, competing in a Subaru BRZ, were posting consistent scores and had closed the gap to a single point. After all the cars were through the checkpoint and re-routed, I picked up the checkpoint sign, which had blown over sideways but was still visible to the traffic coming into the control, and headed for the break point in Monticello. I was relieved to find that all the competitors, save the DeMeritts, had made it that far and seemed to be in good spirits. Crisis averted, I headed off to Checkpoint 6.
After the break, just before resuming the rally at the end of the Transit Zone, Martin and Umland were experiencing some coolant issues. At registration, each team member had been issued a”rally survival kit” consisting of a granola bar, a couple pieces of gum, a bag of pretzels, and a bottle of water. Thinking on their feet, Martin and Umland went to their kits and used the bottled water to top off their radiator. Good thing they hadn’t been thirsty earlier in the rally!
The action resumed at Checkpoint 5. Novices Gail and Gary Neilsen, competing in a Lincoln Zephyr, showed good concentration by posting their best leg score right out of the break. Marx, Tavernor, and Marx retook low Novice Class leg score with a 2 while Edwards and Patrick held on to a slim class lead. In SOP Martin and Umland extended their lead to 22 points. In Nav class, Rowe and White showed leg 1 was an anomaly by posting their 3rd single digit score in a row while at the front of the pack Flora and Wagner hung another zero on the board.
Checkpoint 6 was snuggled into a small hollow, out of the wind. As I comfortably waited for the competitors at the end of the leg, two of the contending Novice teams were suffering their undoings further up the course. The team of Marx, Tavernor, and Marx and the team of Edwards and Patrick both struggled to interpret the main road rule at an intersection with a dead end. They both recovered fairly quickly from their mistakes and made the checkpoint, but not without taking their respective highest leg scores of the rally. That allowed the team of Varela and Suckow to move into the class lead. In Nav class, the team of Wendy Harrison and Craig Beidelman, in a VW New Beetle, matched the class leader’s leg score of 1 despite having only a GPS and a 4-function calculator for equipment.
All cars through the checkpoint, I took a shortcut to the finish while the action continued at Checkpoint 7. Flora and Wagner scored their 3rd zero in four legs to maintain a stranglehold on first in Nav. The Lindstrom clan moved ahead of Edwards and Patrick for 2nd place in Novice while Gale and Susan Miner, who had been showing consistent improvement through the rally in their Mercedes E350, posted a Novice-Class-Best score of 13 on the leg. In SOP, the team of Bedford and Blackwelder recaptured the class lead they had lost back on leg 2.
I arrived at the Rally End Point, El Toro Restaurant in Monticello, as the teams were completing a Do-It-Yourself final leg. I was tabulating scores with rally assistant Chuck Hanson when the first team came in. They immediately brought a discrepancy to my attention. The Checkpoint Slip for Leg 7 had conflicting information about where the final DIYC checkpoint was supposed to be. I had added a Route Instruction late in the rally planning stage. That increased the Route Instruction Number for all subsequent instructions by one. I had updated a referenced Route Instruction Number in the “Special Instructions” section of the Checkpoint slip but not the “Special Information” section. One section told rally competitors to record their in-time at RI #90, the other at RI #89. I got a knot in my stomach. I had told the contestants this would be a straight-forward, trap-free rally and then accidentally dropped this dilemma on them at the very end. I decided to resolve the issue by allowing the competitors to declare which way they interpreted the instruction and scoring them based on that declaration. The competitors all seemed to agree that it was a fair and reasonable resolution.
Jonathan Flora and Bill Wagner finished leg 8 with their fourth zero of the Rally and a final score of just 4 points, good for First in Class and First Overall. Second place went to Bod Townsend and Matt Ellermets, who did a great job navigating in his first rally. Jay Nemeth-Johannes and David Head chased odometer factor issues all rally and ended up third in Navigational Class.
Things were incredibly tight in SOP. After 103 miles and 7 timed legs, the teams of Russ Bedford/Mike Blackwelder and Emanuel Martin/Robert Umland stood tied at 96 points a piece. I originally announced Bedford and Blackwelder the winners, but a later review of the CCSCC Rally Code made me aware that I had used the wrong tiebreaker criteria. Martin and Umland were subsequently awarded First In Class based on most legs won, 4 to 3.
Marx, Tavernor, and Marx showed they hadn’t given up after their trouble on leg 6 by scoring a zero on the final leg. They were matched in Novice class by Antiono Varela and Jeffrey Suckow who capped a great rally with a zero of their own, taking First in Novice Class with a score of 135. Scott, Eric, and Kevin Lindstrom finished second while Scott Edwards and Larry Patrick held on to the final “podium position.” The entire Novice class performed impressively; all competitors successfully completed the course and 39 of the 42 Novice Class leg scores were under 100.
Smiles and laughter seemed plentiful at the finish, something the rallymaster always likes to see. Despite the weather threat, the downed tree, and small glitch with the final leg, the rally seemed to be well received. Thanks go to Subaru of Champaign County for hosting the registration and sponsoring the trophies, to Macy Brandon for helping with set up and Registration, and to Kim Johnson for helping with registration and working checkpoints. Special thanks go to Chuck Hanson for pre-checking the route and working checkpoints and to Angela Patrick, my wife, for working checkpoints and offering general support during the planning stage.
If you participated in the 2013 Rallye Monticello, I hope you had a good time. If you missed it, I hope to see you out next year.