2012 Western Virginia Tour Rally: A Novice Viewpoint

Last weekend, August 25/26, 2012, the Western Virginia Tour Rally was held.  The rally started and finished in the Pittsburgh, PA area with an overnight stop along the rally route.  I had wanted to compete in this rally but a business trip to Lincoln, NE meant that I had to miss this event.

At the suggestion of the rallymaster, Bruce Gezon, I contacted a novice team to get their viewpoint on the rally.  Fortunately John Provich was willing to prepare a story about competing in the rally with his navigator, Linda, and their Irish Wolf Hound, Smokey Joe.  John also provided some photographs that he took, along with Clarence Westberg.  What follows is a mostly uneditted report written by John:

Hey Steve,

Since I’m the writer in the family, Linda asked me to answer you. Certainly, we’d be honored to share our experiences competing in the Western Virginia Tour Rally.  It was an exciting course. I’m an Ex-International Formula One Powerboat race driver and still found the course Bruce Gezon designed to be extremely stimulating for both days of the rally. There was never a boring moment. Actually, there was never a boring second and I’m used to driving F-1 boats at 150 mph!

John Provich In a Formula 1 Power Boat

There were 14 teams in the event. We were the only team from Pennsylvania. All of the 13 other teams were made up of a driver and a navigator and were the “Elite of the Elite” in SCCA Road Rally Competition. Just the fame of these competitors kept other less renown entries away from the rally. That was a mistake because it was such a well run, exciting event. Except for our team there were no novice entries.

Accounting for two members of each team, the teams hailed from Hermosa Beach, CA; Tucson, AZ; Annapolis, MD; Defiance, MO; Indianapolis, IN; Wadsworth, OH; Cornville, AZ; Haslet; MI; Plainfield, IL; LaCrosse, WI; Rochester Hills, MI; Bloomington, MN; Galesville, WI; Detroit, MI; Oro Valley, AZ; Seattle, WA; Okemos, MI; Pinehurst, NC; Madison, WI; Brighton, MI; and Ambridge, PA.

Our car #8 team consisted of John/Driver; Linda/Navigator; Smokey Joe/K-9 Advisor and Molly, Linda’s daily driver 2004 Mini Cooper. We competed in the SCCA “S” Class for the first time. For the past two years we competed in the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix Road Rally. This gave us good entry-level experience to take on an Official SCCA Rally. Our equipment consisted of a clock (measured to .01 of a minute) which we neglected to set to Regulation Rally Time for the first day’s rally, 2 stop watches, a calculator and Molly. Of course we had Bruce Gezon’s course instructions for The 2012 Western Virginia Tour Rally.

John, Linda, and Smokey Joe in Their Mini

Not only did Smokey Joe ride in the road rally with us, he had an Official SCCA name tag with identification as; “Smokey Joe K-9 Advisor”. His ID got him into the great SCCA Reception after the first day’s Rally, in Morgantown. The down side of having Smokey on board is the amount of space he takes up. Although Smokey is a small Irish Wolf Hound, he’s still a big dog by any standards. Since the back side windows do not open on a Mini Cooper, Smokey spends a lot of his time panting in Linda’s right ear and drooling on her right arm and neck. This is more than a mere distraction for any navigator.

Smokey Joe’s ID

With us being a novice road rally team, we make mistakes from time to time (i.e. got lost). So, as driver, I had to make up for lost time with a lot of brisk driving over very tight back country lanes. In one such incident, we were zipping along in our #8 entry, at a good pace with the #9 bright yellow BMW of Jim Miner breathing down our necks. We missed the left turn by a couple of feet, requiring me to brake hard and do an instant 180 degree (brakes locked on) slide turn making the left turn into a right turn, to not lose our position. Smokey Joe came flying through the center console gap between the front seats. This maneuver wound up with most of Smokey in the front seats. But, we kept our position, not even slowing down.

We quickly learned that we had two very good teams running in front of us in the #7 Subaru of Bob and Marianne DeMeritt and behind us in Jim Miner’s #9 BMW with Scott Forehand navigating. If we could keep the #7 car in front of us and the #9 car behind us, we knew we could at least finish. This is not an easy plan to carry out because there must be a one minute distance at both ends. It’s easy to get lost in a minute. So, we still had to rely on our own skills of driving and navigating. By the second day, we figured out more of the rules (thanks to Chuck Hanson at breakfast at the Comfort Inn). We started to understand SCCA’s tulip language a lot better.


 Scene From the Mid-Rally Break in Morgantown

Fun ride? You bet!  The scenery was breathtaking.  At times, we were high up through the mountains of West Virginia, but we were also on very small one lane roads with two-way traffic, through the dark wilderness woods. It took a lot of concentration to stay on the roads, and not miss pre-written turns as in; “Drive 39 miles per hour for 2.9 miles then make a left turn (no road name designation given).” There are lots of side roads a tenth of a mile or less apart. Through the mountains, the drop off the side of the roads could be hundreds of feet straight down with a tiny berm or no berm. Driving a Mini Cooper is a great experience in itself. They are very fast and never get bent out of shape. We never had any tire squeal in turns until I locked on brakes a 180 degree turn.

Yes, it was a lot of fun, not considering the peril we were in from time to time. Linda trusts my driving from of all my International Formula One Powerboat Racing experience. Smokey Joe just doesn’t know any better. He likes all of the excitement. I just like to drive, in competition, on challenging road courses. Additionally, in my younger days, I raced in autocrosses in Triumph TR-4’s.

Our team has discussed it and arrived at the unanimous agreement that we will always compete in the “S” Class and not consider the computer classes. We work with computers in our billboard poster printing business, day-in-day-out and enjoyed the opportunity to get away from computers for a weekend and go long hand, by the seat of our pants.

More Eye Candy From the Morgantown Stop

We all had a lot of fun and felt relaxed come Monday morning, as though we had been on vacation. The concentration necessary to compete in this rally consumed all of our thoughts. We were able to forget about the rigors of our everyday business lives.

In real life Linda and I own Design Dynamics, Inc. We are Grand Format printers of outdoor billboard posters. We market as Pittsburgh Poster and are the only manufacturers of DayGlo® Polyethylene Outdoor Billboard Posters on this entire planet. Our Trademark is GloFlex PolyPosters. These are the brightest billboard posters available on this planet and are totally our niche technology. All of the inks we print with are manufactured in-house to our own formulations since 1992.

Our Rally photographs are courtesy of Clarence Westberg in Car #14. Clarence is so good at SCCA Road Rally, that he went ahead took photos and still maintained his position in the field.

If anyone missed this rally for any reason, then they missed the most fun I’ve had driving in a long time. Our #8 Team finished 3rd in the “S” Class and made the SCCA record book for our efforts. This was an experience we enjoyed and will always remember as our first SCCA Road Rally. I said first, but not our last. When Bruce Gezon sets another SCCA Tour Rally Course, we want to be there.

Well Steve, this may be more that a couple of paragraphs, but I think you get the gist of how much we enjoyed ourselves. This was the best weekend entertainment we’ve ever had for the amount of money spent. A truly exciting weekend and this comes from and Ex-International Formula One Powerboat racer. Among my credentials; I was the first F-1 driver out of Pittsburgh; the first and still only American to ever become the National Powerboat Champion of Canada. After I raced in Europe, I finished 3rd in season F-1 World Points. I’m also the first human to ever crash in an F-1 safety capsule, doing a complete 360 degree blow over (unintentionally) proving the safety capsule design theory worked.

I was into professional powerboat racing big time and still have arrived at a great passion for SCCA Road Rally.

Best regards,

John J. Provich

Clearly, John and Linda (and even Smokey Joe) enjoyed the 2012 Western Virginia Tour Rally and I look forward to meeting them in person in a future car rally.

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