Good Times for a Good Cause
Larry Jewett - October 13, 2011 10:00 AM
1 That’s a 1966 Corvair registered in Rhode Island that might have been the oldest car on the rally. This is one of the teams that didn’t use a navigator, an option for those who chose to go it alone.
2 It was a club activity for members of the Capital City GTO Club of Maryland.
3 One of the first arrivals at the Hooters in Greenville, South Carolina, was this Corvette, containing two occupants who live in the state. They picked up a third place on one leg of the competition.
4 Late model Mopars provided comfortable yet powerful rides for the trip through the rally course. Having a good air conditioner became a bonus as the nearby church thermometer read 103 degrees as this car arrived.
5 Over a period of three hours, the Hooters parking lot reached capacity as the final stop on day two. This gave the local residents an impromptu car show, and many took advantage of it after devouring a plate of wings.
6 It’s the start of day three, and Team Rubicon (another Pennsylvania-based operation) gets the green flag and the route sheet for the day.
7 Teams were given an opportunity to meet racing legend Cale Yarborough (right) at his Honda dealership in Florence, South Carolina. Next stop: Darlington.
8 Levi and Tina Elza take their hot laps around the Darlington Raceway. Each contestant was given a pair of laps in a group. From there, it became a true scavenger hunt as the brochure offered a picture and “find this landmark.” It did provide the city, but that’s all.
9 Vindication! Nick and Shelby arrive at the final checkpoint at the Marriott in Charleston, South Carolina. The team weathered transmission issues and faced a long haul back home to Wisconsin.
10 As you can see by the door decal, CJ Pony Parts provided the main sponsorship for Rally Appalachia. They will sponsor the Dixie 2012 rally next summer. The company made a substantial donation to the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund. Word on the street in August had Bill Tumas of CJ Pony Parts selling his car, a proven rally winner.
11 Tony Intrieri (left) and Scott Spielman handle the Rally North America chores. Even though they don’t seek the spotlight, they’re getting it because they deserve the recognition for the hard work. It is appreciated.
12 John Bowen (right) accepts his long distance award, coming from Houston, Texas. He made a return appearance at the microphone when he won the 50-50 drawing and donated it back.
The hood graphics on the ’96 Mustang Cobra that was driven by Bill Tumas of CJ Pony Parts to a stage victory. Most of the competitors saw the back.
13 Best costume went to New Jersey-based Team Cream. It helped to have the ice cream truck music playing from the speakers. When the temperature is above 100, who wouldn’t want ice cream?
14 While it wasn’t the best costume, you just have to give a shout-out to the couple who dressed up as Speed Racer and Trixie. Best costume will be a highly sought award in 2012.
If the participants in the 2011 Rally Appalachia would have to write the typical “What I Did on My Summer vacation” paper, I guarantee it would be interesting reading. The guarantee comes in knowing that it was a good event for a good cause with good people having good fun.
To recap those days in July, our space isn’t going to do it justice. Three days of driving, sandwiched around the days getting to the starting line and getting home from the finish line, saw competitors racking up thousands of miles. In just the three days of the rally, contestants drove 1,500 miles.
For those who are just getting on board with what Rally Appalachia is all about, let’s delve into some background. The event, organized by Rally North America, had a starting line in Winchester, Virginia, stopping in the Natural Bridge area of the state at the end of day one. From there, day two brought plenty of challenge as the teams headed to Greenville, South Carolina. The final day took them across the Palmetto State to the finish line in Charleston, South Carolina. There were checkpoints and points of interest that required photos. You couldn’t run the course at unlawful speeds or you were done – no questions asked. Despite the negative image that rally can get when there are “winner take all, no holds barred” competitions, this group earned the respect of local law enforcement officials as a behaved bunch.
There also was the risk of mechanical failure and it happened. When you take 80 cars and multiply that by 1,500 miles, you’re looking at 120,000 road miles … you know something had to give. When there was a mechanical issue, there was always a willing hand to get the competitor back on the road, even if it meant less than two hours of sleep before the next starting line.
While this was done for fun, it was also done with the thought of benefitting others. The Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund received a portion of the rally entry fee. From there, other fundraising activities, including the end of the rally raffle, boosted the contribution. At the end of the rally, the total stood at $8,000, but the organizers weren’t done collecting, so there is no final total to announce at this time. A substantial donation was made by series sponsor CJ Pony Parts, who has signed on for the 2012 rally (More details elsewhere).
The rally route was designed to offer scenic views and give some an opportunity to see a part of the country they may not have seen before. Competitors came from Texas (long haul winner), Wisconsin and even the province of Ontario in Canada. Highlights of the trip varied, but one of the final day highlights included a pair of laps around the famed Darlington Speedway.
The best way to get a feel for what the event is all about is to ask someone who participated. Levi Elza had planned to attack the rally with his 1998 Pontiac Trans Am, but two weeks before the event, that car was giving him fits. Rather than skip the rally, he jumped into his truck. If you say “that’s not a rally vehicle,” think again. It went the distance (as did a few trucks), among the Challengers, Mustangs, Corvettes and others. You may not consider a Corvair to be a rally vehicle, but it was very much a part of it. A lot of attention was directed at the Bentley that went the distance.
For Levi, the involvement started as something to check off that bucket list. “I first heard about the rally from one of my friends who had entered. It was something I always wanted to do and had to get in on it as well. One of my other friends was interested also, so we decided we would team up. After discussing what the rally was all about, my wife Tina surprisingly said that she would love for us to do something like it. I never imagined she would be interested, since she isn’t usually as into the car scene as I am. I was really excited that she was all for doing the event together, so I spoke with my friend, and he was alright with taking another person so Tina and I could go together as a team.”
Most of the teams were two-person entries, splitting the driving and navigating chores. There were some lone wolves, but after doing it a day, I really wanted someone to talk to. Some of the teams were intent on winning. Since there was no overall title (just daily winners), teams could get serious about it one day and then make their way the next. For many like Levi, it was a new experience.
“I wouldn’t say we necessarily had a strategy going into the event.We didn’t really know what to expect. We spent the first day feeling things out. The second day, we grouped up with the other teams from our area and enjoyed the scenery. By the final day, Tina and I decided we would like to see how we would fare if we tried to compete. We split off from our local group and took our driving and navigational skills more seriously. This was the most fun we had and will definitely use this strategy in our future rallies.”
Vince Lombardi, the legendary Green Bay Packers football coach, would not have made a good rally participant. Winning wasn’t everything. “Winning wasn’t something that we really thought much about through the first couple days,” Levi said. “We were more interested in spending time together and enjoying the experience. We decided by the third day that it would only add to the enjoyment of the experience if we attempted to finish at the top of the group, so we tried our best. We didn’t get a trophy, like we would have liked to, but were the seventh team to arrive in Charleston. We were pretty satisfied with that.”
It was a friend that put Levi on the path to this experience. Because he was there in July, Levi will have more of them who share the same interests. “From this experience, we’ve made many new friends. Some obviously during the rally itself, but I met several of the participants before even making it to Winchester,” he said. “One of the guys, who lives close to me, I didn’t know prior to the event. When I had problems with my Trans Am at the last possible minute, he gave me his time and detail shop so I could clean up my truck and do a quick brake change before leaving the following day. Likewise, another one of the guys, who only lived about an hour away, ended up not being able to attend the event for outside reasons. He graciously donated his decals to me to be sure I wouldn’t end up having to buy a second set for the truck. Some others showed up at our local car shows, some hooked up with us during routes, etc. They’re all a great group of people.”
On my day of shadowing the rally, I was only able to catch up with Levi once, and it was during his hot laps at Darlington. Some cited that experience at the top of the list while others had difficulty singling out anything. You can put Levi and Tina in the latter group. “Obviously, the event as a whole was everything that we could have hoped for. We met a lot of great people, saw some nice vehicles, and visited several places that we may have never gotten a chance to visit otherwise. One highlight for me, personally, was finding something within the automotive hobby that my wife enjoys as much as I do. Usually, when it comes to things like racing or going to car shows, I’m on my own. She seemed to have just as much fun this time as I did, and I look forward to doing it again.
“I think the rally was a great experience for my wife and me to share. It was really the first time that we had done something for ‘just us’ since we had our baby on Feb. 17, 2010 (That is where we got our number 217). It was a great way for the two of us to become closer as a couple. We felt that our daughter Johnnie, only being 16 months old at the time, was a little too young for a trip of that size just yet. We are looking forward to taking her with us when she is a little bigger though. She loves to ride too, so I think it will be a great way for the family to spend time together in the future.”
Speaking of the future, plans are underway for the 2012 event. The Rally North America group, headed by Scott Spielman and Tony Intrieri, plan meticulously for their events (They held a Route 66 rally in 2010). The “before” work involves, but is not limited to, arranging a route and activities along the route, finding food and lodging, working with a charity, finding sponsors and more. They might get to have a little fun when rally days arrive, but there’s usually a lot of maintenance and organization involved. For those guys, it seems like the work never stops. I just hope they know that they are appreciated.
Take a look at the accompanying story about next year’s event. If the spirit drives you, you can get in on the action to help out a great cause. Ask anyone who was part of it. A rally like this can be a lot of fun.