"Course Closing adventure for Prescott Rally '10"
Prescott Rally 2010
This year, I did things a bit differently. Since I'm still recovering from my surgery this past summer, physically and financially, I decided to volunteer. I signed up to do pretty much whatever they wanted/needed. But, a month earlier I met up with the race organizer at the previous rally, Gorman Ridge. He instantly asked if I could run Course Closing Car (#999) in my Celica, with Paula Gibeault as my ham radio co-driver. Of course, I had to jump on this opportunity. I spent the time between races making the front of the car look more respectable and similar to the Group B rally car I have been taking inspiration from. I also did a full out rally type prep on the car to make it as reliable as possible; new tie rod ends, check, tighten every suspension bolt, new rear springs to keep it from bottoming out as often, etc..
My girlfriend and I made it up to Prescott around 10:30 Friday morning, giving us enough time to unload the Celica from the trailer, get checked into the hotel, wash the windows on the car, divide up the snacks and drinks between the car and Laura's backpack, for her volunteering supplies. What a trooper, working time controls, with a bunch of people she doesn't know, at her first rally. We then headed off for the Friday headquarters, at the local Subaru dealer. I met up with Paula there, got the radio equipment in the car, the green strobe light on the roof and our car number plates on the doors. As soon as we got settled in, it started raining, not unlike the previous few years, blue skies and one black cloud dropping water all over our fun. Luckily it didn't last that long.
Paula and I had a pre-race duty, to go set-up a ham radio repeater station at the highest point. At 1:30 we left with another volunteer car or two following behind us as we headed up to First View outside Jerome. The repeater set-up went easily enough, only had to drive one more re-bar stake into the ground, as three other were still there from years past. Then it was the usual race routine, sit around and wait. We got the car situated at the start of the first stage, tucked behind a fence to keep the flicking gravel from the race cars' launches from putting dents in the Celica. Then the first of our critter encounter began, 5ft long bull snake decided he wanted to come up on the road and see what all the noise was, tried to camp himself under one of the workers cars. Eventually, a little bit before 5pm the first of the cars started show up and the race would begin.
I've never done or even thought much about the job I was about to do, what does Course Closing Car do..? I had a brief description given to me a few weeks earlier, but still wasn't perfectly clear. Our first duties became clear, we were to pick up all the start and finish logs from the stages, then as we chased down the stages after all the cars and bikes, we were to look for any vehicle that hadn't made it through the stage. This is why there was a ham operator in the car, so she could communicate with all the hams along the stage and at the stage finish line. We knew where every vehicle was, if they were on stage we knew at least between which road blocks to find them.
The first two stages went pretty smoothly, everyone seemed to make it though without much trouble. The Neon had to be towed the last couple of miles off to a safe area, electrical issues. Coming down the fast section of First View, we saw the biggest jack rabbit I've ever seen, about 2-1/2 feet long, head about 18" off the ground then the usual long ears, incredible. At first it looked more like a coyote or similar animal. They grow things big on the side of the mountains I guess. It was a bit noisy in the car a lot of the time, but we needed to hear the ham radio, so no helmets or transit headsets. We occasionally had to stop so Paula could talk on the radio, as I have no control of how much gravel was on each section of road. Finally we made our way to the service are, Depot 89, refueled, grabbed some cold drinks and light snacks, then back out to the stages. On our way into Witty Tom, stage 3, just as we pulled onto the dirt road near the stone plant, we came across a skunk in the middle of the road. Unlike the last two animals, this one seemed smaller than usual, but feisty, he didn't even look up when I beeped the horn. He seemed really intent on eating something in the middle of the road and protecting it from us. He just lifted his fluffy tail up at us, so I quickly got back on our way, driving around him carefully. As we reached the end of the transit, our next critter, another bull snake, stretched out. It's not that common to see snakes moving around at night, since they are cold blooded. This one was crossing the road, about 3ft long, since I drove the car right over the top of him, without hitting him.
Before we even got to the start of Witty Tom, we had already gotten the call that one car was off the road and out of the race. By the time we started our run, another car had driven off the road at the far end, just by the finish line as well. As we come to the first car, about 3 miles in, it looks like it's been crane dropped on top of a bunch of boulders, but otherwise seemed fine from the road side. What we couldn't see was how much damage had been done to the driver's side, as he had slid off to the left of the road. (Back at the hotel, with the car on it's trailer, you could stick your hand through the driver's door and grab the seat.) When we made it to the second car off, he was so far down into a ravine, we couldn't even see it from the road side. No time to waste though, on to the last stage of the night. Our heavy sweep caught back up with us, not being able to help either car in a timely matter. At the bottom of the last stage we waited until 80 or 90% of the vehicles had completed the stage, told heavy sweep to go back and help the Neon get out to the highway, then headed up the 11-1/2 mile stage. We had time to chat about how well the car was doing and how it could use more lights for off-roading in the dark. Once at the top, we gathered up the last of the stage logs and off down the road, 45 miles back to the hotel, keeping an eye out for any break downs along the way. And our last critter of the night was on the side of the road this time, yet another skunk, just trotting along.
Saturday was a bit easier, all in the day light. We left the hotel at around 9am, pushing the motorcycle guys along, time to get out there and all... Stage 5 (1 for Saturday) started out fast, we needed to be right on the tail of the last motorcycle out, we took off up the stage just seconds after he left. Time was important as it was the turnaround stage and 21 miles long. About 4 miles in we found a competitor on the side of the road, the Neon again, but they were just getting belted back up from fixing the car. About 4 or 5 miles later we caught them again, also ready to go, they had stopped to make sure one of the motorcycle guys that had taken a spill was alright. Two more miles up the road we found another car off, electrical issues, so we had heavy sweep tug him back to the turn off, 1/4 mile back and wait there until the next stage ran back by. The turnaround went smoothly, everyone was in good spirits and I walked around handing out candy to all the competitors and workers that wanted some. No big surprises heading out on stage 6, the motorcycle rider had told us he was going to stop where he wrecked to look for his helmet camera, but we didn't find it. At the end of the stage we did find a surprise, one of the VW's had lost an entire rear spindle assembly; tire, wheel, brake rotor and caliper and the spindle itself had snapped off the axle. He still set 7th fastest time. A quick run to the service area again, for fuel, drinks and fresh cooked chicken from one of the service crews, then back out for the last two stages.
Stage 7 did have it's fun, we made our way in again, looking for a car that one of the road blocks heard go off, but didn't see. So we had no idea what to expect. We found the all girl Subaru team leaning against a small cedar tree, on the downhill side of a berm. As quickly as we could, we used two trucks, one on either end to pull the car back on the road. They jumped back in, smashed up fender and all and off they went to finish the stage 1 minute before being time barred. On the transit to the last stage, again we found the Neon parked, this time the car wasn't going to get fixed. We took their time card, had heavy sweep pull them up to the road leading out to the highway and wait there until Paula and I cleared the final stage. As far as we knew, everyone was making it through the stage, but car 8 was moving slowly.
Stage 8 is a long 12-ish mile climb up the mountain, no problems along the way until the last cattle guard jump. I hit the jump at about 50-55mph, like all the other times, but this time when we landed the steering wheel was turned left a bit, maybe 10 degrees. Things seemed fine otherwise, just slowed it down a bit to be safe. Once on top, I got out to see if maybe a tire was going flat, nope, but the driver's side was looking like I bent the strut, it was cambered in about 3 or 4 degrees. Oh well, it was driving decently and I have new struts on order anyways. The drive back into Prescott is about 45 miles long on twisty roads and long stretches of highway. Once back at the final time control people kept asking why the front wheel looked off. Finally someone stuck their head deep inside the wheel well, pokes their head out and says, "Jon, your strut isn't attached to anything." What? I look for myself and sure enough, the strut top mount is just torn apart, lying in the corner of the sheet metal tower. Good thing we didn't have to go over any more jumps, otherwise the strut may have tried to find its way through the fender.
Car# 999 (Course Closing in the Celica)
Some Race carnage