The May 1999 Synaptic Flatulence
"Could I Put My Clothes On First?"
|by M. E. "Mad Mike" Halley
It was Saturday afternoon in Park Rapids, Minnesota and I had yet to meet my eleventh career codriver. Registration had entrusted me with the holy route book and I wanted to get it out of my hands as soon as possible lest I learn something a driver should never know. "Emily (Burton-Weinman) is in the ugliest motorhome behind the C'Mon Inn," I was told. I surveyed the parking lot and returned to Registration.
"The old, ugly motorhome or the newer, uglier-nosed motorhome?" I asked. It turned out to be the former.
New friend and soon-to-be service crewman Heath Vogt and I made our way to the back lot. Having no clue whether she would sound like Fran Drescher, Madeline Kahn or Jaba the Hut, I knocked on the door and said, "Emily, come out here and meet your driver."
A perfectly acceptable voice responded with words that will live with me forever, "Could I put my clothes on first?"
The time between the reception of that question and the movement of air over my vocal chords was a flurry of millisecond flashbacks, rational thoughts, juvenile thoughts, a reconsideration of my commitment to the dirty old man apprenticeship I embarked on at age 16 and what Emily, Bruce (Weinman), Beryl Ann (Burton) and/or my wife (Mary Jane) would think or say should I screw this up. Decorum precluded any answer but the one offered, "Sure, we'll be by the pool."
Poof! Stage Fright Rallye Team boasted a couple of new members and was soon ready to tackle the 1999 Headwaters SCCA ClubRally. I was excited since the SFRT Dodge RAM 50 pickup promised a lot better performance thanks to a carburetor swap, some differential welding and the removal of 35 pounds of air conditioning compressor, all accomplished since Rally de Paris. There were even Production cars in Minnesota to play with!
The lady young enough to be my daughter and I were 25th on the road, found our way to the first stage without flurry and awaited our turn to tackle what turned out to be the most amazing stage roads I've ever run. Before we embarked on that first one I was convinced that every stage has a rhythm. This one had at least three and there was precious little warning when the metronome changed its cadence. Just about the time the roads lulled you into believing that the turns would continue to be fast and sweeping they would suddenly become tight, declining radius pucker creators. On the flip side, the tight stuff would still be firmly in mind as the turns started opening up, causing at least one driver I know to curse each occasion of slowing down too much. Emily just giggled at me each time.
The second stage was more of the same wonderfulness. Unfortunately, there was this big, deep mud hole on the inside of a right-hander. The rallytruck carried great speed through the preceding left and was aimed directly at the submerged apex and since the truck had weathered some pretty deep water at Ark Valley Rallye II I could imagine no good reason to alter the trajectory so I didnt. Big mistake! The Mitsubishi engine ingested a big gulp of water, slowing the truck to a third its previous speed for almost a mile. But it soon cleared and seemed to be running the same as before albeit with a little more valve lifter noise than before.
A tire swap, some fuel, the usual window cleaning and fluid checks were accomplished at the first service with a minimum of concern thanks to the teamwork of Heath, Mary Jane, Hannah and Heather. There was a moment, however, unlike anything I've experienced at a stage rally. Heath had elevated the rear axle so we could change styles of Michelin tires. I completed the task, made sure everyone was clear of the truck and twisted the handle on the floor jack before pulling it from underneath. As I rounded the left side of the truck, however, I noticed that the tire wasn't touching the ground! "What the ...." I said to myself. "Heath, this ain't good," I said pointing to the tire in utter disbelief.
Heath responded with, "Did you take the jack stands out? It said to put jack stands under the car if more than two wheels are elevated." And so it was that I learned the fallacy of arming a rookie crewman with the rulebook when he actually has time to read it!
On the ensuing transit I was purposely playing the radio loud enough to drown out the lifter noise with Ozzy Ozbourne, but the good folks at the start of Stage 3 were kind enough to mention the malady anyway. We started the stage with me calmed down more than I had been on the first two. I was quickly settling into a pace that would have served us well for the rest of the night. The engine was strong, the tires were a great improvement, the lights were aimed perfectly and Emily continued with her duties professionally.
Then an awful rattle came from the top half of the engine. Accompanied as it was by an immediate loss of power I correctly surmised that things had just gone terminally wrong under the hood. We placed triangles, showed the OK sign and waved at the cars that came by. I tried a couple of times to restart the engine but it was no use, our rally had been run the moment that engine swallowed one of its valves.
But there was more excitement ahead. Getting sideways being towed by a sweep truck is always a fun thing to do - in the dark - on roads you've never seen before - behind someone you just met - shared with a person you've only known a few hours. But that reverie was soon interrupted by a lot of flashing yellow lights. Is someone else in trouble? Oh yeah. Norm Johnson had so successfully avoided the tree on the right side of the road (mentioned as it was in the route book) that he wound up off the other side impaling his Audi on a large tree stump. By the time we arrived, two sweep trucks were attempting to end the marriage of tree and car by pulling it in different directions - without much luck. I chatted with Norm while the exercise continued, "They've got to name this corner after you, ya know?" My suggestion? "NORM'S! RIGHTeous STUFF"
Soon after the Audis tree stump enema was removed, it was clear that the right front tire was pinned against the wheel well. Drug behind a 4X4 and looking suspiciously like our Black Labrador puppy, Angus, the first time we attached a leash to his collar and pulled, the sweep crew drug Norms Audi to a wide spot in the road and deposited it there for the duration. Speaking of sweep and medical support, I cannot put into words how impressed I am with the number and sophistication of the vehicles assembled for Headwaters. Midwest Division should have so many fine rally cars!
I said it early that Sunday morning and I'll say it again: I had more fun on the two-point-five stages we ran on those phenomenal roads than I have had in all my years of road racing - wet track or not. If roads exist that are better suited to my style of driving, I'm not sure I could endure the pleasure of racing over them!
A two-day trip home to Oklahoma gives one a chance to reflect on a rally weekend and, indeed, ones rally career. The question Im still left pondering after all those miles and hours is why the hell it took me 22 years to solicit a female codriver. I dont know if it was the female, youth, lack of bad habits part, some combination of the three or just Emily Louise Burton-Weinman that made it happen, but I never gelled with a codriver quicker than I did with her. We started that third stage with me feeling like wed been teammates for a very long time. Thank you, again, Emily for being such a solid codriver right from the git-go. I promise to end our next event together at the final Main Time Control.
The Stage Fright Rallye Team would like to thank everyone we met at Headwaters and everyone who helped make the event a success. I never came away from a DNF feeling so good.