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The Metz Bug
Written June 28, 1967

 

Well, our Richwood Prep Rally last Sunday turned out to be a tremendous flop.

Exactly one team entered, and they weren't able to make it around the course in any respectable time.  It was supposed to take them one hour and 51 minutes, but they took five hours and 11 minutes, piling up the wonderful score of 11,760 points.

Terry Rockhold (who graduated from high school with me) and I produced the whole event ourselves.  We did the same last year for our "first annual" Richwood Road Rally, when we had nine cars.  But this year, I actually did the major portion of the work, since Terry is still looking for a summer job while taking a course called "Elementary Differential Equations and Their Applications" down at Ohio State five days a week.  And I wasn't able to do as much in the way of publicity as I would have liked.

That's how we can rationalize the fact that we didn't have any entries from Richwood:  the rally just wasn't publicized enough.  Surely it wasn't that the people knew about it but just weren't interested.  Everyone knows that rallying is a lot of fun.  (Even though Terry's father theorized that people don't like to have to think.)

We had no idea how many people were going to enter our rally, since we didn't require them to register in advance.  They could just come down to my father's Chevrolet dealership by 1:30 Sunday afternoon and pay us 50¢, and they'd be in.

We had a feeling that there wasn't too much interest in what we were doing, so we were imagining what it would be like if no one showed up.

But we were pleasantly surprised when a little black Volkswagen pulled up at one o'clock and two people got out.

 

They were Haskell E. Metz, about 50, 5'8" and 150 pounds, a machine operator at Marion Bronze up in Marion, and his son Wesley, about 20, 5'10" and 250 pounds, wearing a black-and-yellow Antioch jacket although he actually went to some engineering school for a year but dropped out.

Terry and I exchanged pleasantries with them for about 45 minutes, waiting for the other rallyists (the elder Metz kept saying, "It's still early"), but no other rallyists ever came.

Finally we decided we'd better go ahead with what we had, so we gave the Metzes our five-minute briefing on how to run the Richwood Prep Rally and got them set up at the starting line.  We had plenty of extra car numbers, so we put "RPR #1" on the driver's side of the beetle and "RPR #2" on the navigator's side; this way we could recognize the Metzes as our contestants from either side, for we'd decided to follow them around the course to see how they did.  After all, once we started them, we'd have nothing else to do for a couple of hours.

So the little black sedan left the starting line at exactly 18:01:00 Greenwich Mean Time on Sunday, June 25.  Terry and I grabbed some equipment, hopped in his car, hurried out to my house, switched to a Camaro, and took off in pursuit of the Metzes.

Within about six minutes, we'd spotted them half a mile ahead of us, still on course.  Another two minutes closed the gap to a couple hundred yards.  We found that our rallyists weren't doing a terribly good job of driving the right average speeds, but this could have been because they were about a minute behind schedule and needed to catch up.

They were following the right roads, except for one case:  When they came to one intersection west of Delaware, we told them to follow the path marked with letters in this diagram.

They got confused and took the path marked with question marks (state route 37, headed west toward Magnetic Springs).  But they realized immediately that they'd made a mistake, turned around, and went down the proper road (Delaware County route 5, headed south).  We weren't about to give them any hints, so we just pulled over to the side and watched them.

The next instruction was one of our trickiest, though.  It read, "Turn right at the beige block building with the solid-gray door."

Now this gray door was located near Rathbone at a T intersection about eight miles down this county road, which crossed half a dozen other highways on the way and just kept going.  The idea was that the rallyists should panic before they'd gone eight miles, with some of the less self-confident actually figuring that they'd missed the building and that they should turn around and go back.  We like for our rallyists to get lost occasionally; we figure that's more fun.

The Metzes didn't disappoint us.  They went about four miles, and then we saw them turn around and come back.  We followed them; at the first road, they turned left.  We wondered why they did that.  They must have seen something they thought was a . . . uh-oh.

Up on a hill, in such a position that it was hardly visible to a person driving down this county road the direction that we planned for them to go, but clearly visible to a person backtracking, was a house with a beige concrete-block garage behind it.  The garage door was not solid gray, but a little walk-in door on the side was.  We'd noticed this garage when we were "debugging" the rally course, but we'd never seen that little solid-gray door before; apparently, it had always been standing open when we went by.

We had obviously misled our rallyists, so we dashed after them to intercept them and straighten them out.  But before we could get close enough to them to signal them to pull over for consultation, they did pull over, and Wesley got out of the car.

"Having troubles?" Terry asked.

"Yeah, mechanical troubles," Wesley replied, opening the lid at the back of the car.

His father got out, too:  "I thought you said you fixed that before we left."

"Well, I thought I had."

Terry again:  "What's the problem?"

Answer:  "She just won't go."

However, a little bit of fiddling soon had the VW buzzing normally, and the Metzes decided it was ready to continue.

"That was sure a tricky instruction back there on that gray door," Wesley called as he got back into the car.

"Yeah, it fooled us, too," Terry admitted.  "That wasn't the one we meant.  It's further down that road you were on."

We told them to go back to where they turned around and continue south from there, still looking for the building we were talking about.  We also told them we were allowing them an extra four minutes to run the rally, since they'd been stalled for a while with their mechanical difficulties.

The Metzes started south again, but after about four more miles — when they were within a mile of the landmark we wanted them to see — they turned around again.

"Boy, we're lost," said Haskell as we came to a stop beside them.

"You're doing fine!"  Terry shouted.  "Just keep going the way you were; you'll come to it."

By this time, we were giving our rallyists quite a bit of help.  If we hadn't been along, they'd probably be hopelessly off course by now.  Maybe our course was too tricky for the average rallyist.

We followed the beetle for another few miles.  They finally came to the building, turned right, crossed the Scioto River, and continued on their way in good shape, though they were several minutes behind schedule.

When we had started following them, we had only a quarter of a tank of gas in our Camaro, so at this point we let the Metzes get out of sight and then took a shortcut to a gas station.  We went to the little town of White Sulphur and waited for our rallyists to come by.  In this town, they were supposed to turn left at the only street in town.  We waited, and waited, and waited some more.

 Finally, along came the Volkswagen, about ten minutes later than we'd expected it (even accounting for the fact that it was several minutes behind to start with).  Either the Metzes had had further engine troubles, or they'd missed an instruction and gotten lost temporarily.  That wasn't very likely, since the last few instructions had not been terribly hard.  But anyhow, they were still on course.

Except that they did not turn at that one street!  We stayed parked where we were (they apparently hadn't seen us), waiting for them to realize that there weren't any other streets in town and to come back.  But they didn't, and we finally took off after them three minutes later.  We guessed wrong as to which way they turned at a fork, and we never saw them again.

Back to Richwood we hurried, since by that time our rallyists were almost due to cross the finish line.  They had started at 2:01:00 PM; they were supposed to complete the rally in 1:51:15 plus an additional four minutes; so they were due in at 3:56:15 PM.  Needless to say, they didn't make it.


Waiting at the finish line, the showroom of Vernon M. Thomas Chevrolet.
Terry has the official clock; I'm wearing a homemade official's badge.

They still weren't there an hour later, so we decided that they must have gotten hopelessly lost and gone home.  We took down our finish-line sign and went home ourselves, rather discouraged.  We decided that with no more local interest in rallying than was shown by the turnout, there was no real reason to go ahead with plans for our second Richwood Road Rally in August.  In the Prep Rally, we hadn't even had a winner!

But meanwhile, the doughty Metzes were still out on the course.

Late that night, when my father went down to the garage, their rally sheet was found under the door.  The sheet indicated that they had completed the entire course, but that it had taken them three hours to get from White Sulphur (when we last saw them) to the next time check, which was supposed to come only some 40 minutes later.  The Metzes had added this notation:

 

Epilogue:  This letter of mine describing the rally received an answer from my college classmate Jack Heller.  He mailed it on the third of July and joked, “If the postmaster is any relation to the Metzes, you might even get this before Christmas.”  It was 1967 and a certain amazin' team had not yet achieved competence, so he asked, “The contestants weren’t any relation to the baseball team, the N.Y. Metz, were they?  (Sorry about that.)”

Jack continued, “I’ve thought a number of times about your rally.  These thoughts were emphasized when I saw a black Volkswagen with RPR #1 on its door go by the house.  You’re probably right about the publicity and its effects.  However, I think August is a better month.  Lots of people are on vacation and with plenty of time on their hands.  If the Metzes are any indication, they’ll need plenty of time.”

In the post-rally press release, I quoted Terry as saying, "We'll have to have a committee meeting.  But right now, it doesn't look as though there's much point in going ahead with our second annual Richwood Road Rally on August 13 if we don't have any more interest than this."

We did not go ahead with it.  The Richwood Prep Rally ended our career as independent rallymasters.  But we did enter events that were put on by other people, in particular the Scioto Sports Car Club.  Eventually we would be rallymasters once more.

For the complete story as told in my letters, starting with the first Richwood Road Rally in 1966, click here.

 

TBT

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