Women in Syracuse were walking around in bikinis the day before John Buffum’s Winter Challenge (meaning that there is too much water on the Finger Lakes for ice racing) but by Saturday our trip to Vermont involved a long detour around the Thruway which had been closed between Utica and St Johnsville because of snow drifts and assorted piles of vehicles blocking the traffic flow. Perfect rally conditions.
John had been the first organizer to buy into the WINTR SERIES when Steve McKelvie proposed it to him, willing to move the date around, anything to help. A reputation built on years of stage rallies overshadowed his ability as a top Time-Speed-Distance competitor (he won the first big-time rally that Pete Deierlein and I ran in 1976, the 27-hour TRI-STATE), and he relishes the opportunity to put on an annual get-together for those of us who toil in the shadows of TSD.
Dean Campbell’s Subaru Before the Start of the Rally
The first section of the Challenge involves standard route instructions with some twists to add to the fun: gain times, instructions without mileages, average “28 mph for 2.0 minutes” and a personal favorite, average “2 mph less than the posted speed limits”, which I managed to mess up even though it is an instruction I have wanted to use on a rally for over 10 years (although we did not fall for the “25 MPH when flashing” sign in front of the school – it wasn’t, so we didn’t).
The second section involves using a map with the course drawn on it: how hard can it be for experienced rally crews to follow a map? Well, the twenty-eight crews on this rally all seemed to be perplexed, wandering around in the snow drifts of Vermont. You see, there are written instructions to follow as well, giving speed changes and some mileages to help (?); juggling all that information on a bouncy road in the dark adds to the degree of difficulty. “Stickies” on the map to assist you with location all seem to wind up stuck over the road names and the line drawn on the map seems to make the curvy roads look straight. Coincidence? Nah!
Finally, you get to the special Section Three with straightforward instructions and brisk speeds. A blast for my driver, Mike Mazoway, as we tried to keep out of the snow banks. We imagined that we had been invited to share a ride up and down the roads Buffum used to learn to drive (“I remember sitting on daddy’s lap, steering the car as we went airborne over that crest”). We took one left over a bridge and through some frost heaves on this fantastic, narrow road uphill between trees (I thought we were in Sweden), cresting the hill as the road took a 90 right, only to find a Subaru stuck on the outside of the turn.
Mike and I jumped (well, would you believe “crawled”?) out of the Forester, did a little pushing and pulling, and set the Subie free; that’s when we realized our “road” was a driveway (“Harriet, why would a perfectly-good Subaru be sitting high-centered in the front yard at 4 AM?”), and the owner had come out with his pickup and dog to join the rescue party. Typical Vermonter! By the way, it was a half-mile long and it was a nice road/driveway. Really!!
Those of us who tend toward the ancient side of the rally crowd (we did not run this section with our left turn signal on) have been rescued by time allowances. We ran the start of each leg, trying to manage the average speeds on the twisty, slick roads long enough to realize that Buffum didn’t win all those stage rallies by driving in first gear, like we were doing; so, as we found ourselves falling behind, we grabbed a time allowance, then motored on to the end. Fast enough to see what the big boys were doing, yet safe enough to keep out of the snow banks.
We managed to keep our noses clean the rest of the way back, and wearily checked in at the finish, around 5:30 AM or so. A quick snooze while John and Fred Maplebeck toiled over the scorecards, then we got the news that our efforts had brought us fourth place and whole new collection of Winter Challenge stories to tell.
The Subaru of WINTR Series Champions Ron Johnstonbaugh/Jack van Kaenel
I have to add that second place went to Ron Johnstonbaugh and Jack von Kaenel, winners of the first WINTR SERIES. Ron and Jack had three first-place finishes to go with this second in the four SERIES’ events they ran and went home with $385 each for their efforts.
I am happy to report that Steve McKelvie and I have already started plans for the next SERIES, applying some of the lessons learned, we hope, to improve our organization and get the word our earlier so that more can join us in the future.