My apologies for not returning your letter sooner, but lately I've been pretty busy with road rallying. Did I ever tell you about that?
The idea is that two people get in a car and start driving down the road following a set of printed instructions, like "Turn left onto Route 17," "Change average speed to 31 mph," or "Turn north after red barn on right." At certain points along the course, they have checkpoints at which the car is timed. If it wasn't averaging 31 mph as it was supposed to, the car arrives at the checkpoint either early or late and is penalized one point per hundredth of a minute of error. There are many other cars trying to do the same thing; low score wins.
Sunday, July 18, 1971
On Sunday, my high-school classmate Terry Rockhold and I participated in another road rally south of Columbus. We finished second in our class, and for our efforts we won a trophy. It's the most ridiculous-looking trophy I've received since the PaFaTaM Award: a six-inch-tall candlestick. It was actually a used candlestick; the two little orange candles in it had been burned. (The rally was kind of a weird one, too, due to the fact that the people who laid it out were comparatively inexperienced.)
Terry and I ran another rally just night before last, this one a Project VI evening rally which took place north of Columbus. We came up with a nearly perfect effort, scoring 5, 5, and 2 on the three checkpoints for a total score of 12. Each point represents one hundredth of a minute early or late in arriving at a checkpoint, and of course the lower your score, the better you're doing. Our score of 12 means that we were, on the average, less than 2½ seconds off schedule at each checkpoint, which corresponds to a distance of only seventy feet at the speeds we were traveling (about 20 miles per hour). We easily won the first-place trophy in this rally, that trophy being a silver plate.
By now, we have between us a total of eight of these six-inch-diameter silver plates, collected from our success in various rallies since 1967. We're beginning to think we're pretty good.
Wednesday, August 4, 1971
This coming weekend may be busy, and the following one certainly will be. On that weekend (August 13 ff.), Mr. Rockhold and I will be participating in the Andiamo National Rally. The Andiamo is one of 22 national rallies being held in 1971 across the nation; it's run out of Findlay, Ohio, which is only about an hour's drive northwest of here. (The name Andiamo, I'm told, means "Let's go.")
We'll head up to Findlay on Friday night, spend Saturday and Sunday running 400 miles at about 35 miles per hour, and then return Sunday evening. Of course, we'll be competing against much better rallyists than we, so we probably won't win any trophies. But we figure it ought to be fun.
September 6, 1971
The Andiamo National Rally turned out very much as we had expected. We rally fairly regularly, but this was the biggest one we'd been on. We didn't do very well on the points; we were competing against people from Chicago, New Jersey, Texas, and the like. We did, however, finish in the top three-quarters.
And, amazingly, we did win a trophy. It's a stainless steel vegetable au gratin dish, donated by a Toledo Chevrolet dealer to the best Class B teams driving a Chevy. He donated a similar trophy to the best Class A team driving a Chevy. The difference between the classes is that in Class A, you're allowed to have a computer on board, so obviously the Class A cars should do better at staying on time. In Class B, there were only three Chevrolets: Mr. Rockhold and I in a 1971 Nova, a couple from Indiana in a 1971 Vega, and two fellows from Indiana in a beat-up 1965 Corvair. We figured before the rally even started that this was about the only trophy we had a good shot at winning, mainly because we had only two competitors for it.
After the Saturday morning and Saturday afternoon runs, we found that the Vega was leading us by several hundred points (out of a couple thousand), but the Corvair was out of it completely. So we said to ourselves, okay, on Sunday morning we're just going to have to go out there and beat that Vega. And we did it. When the final results were posted, we were several hundred points ahead of the Vega, so we got to take home the au gratin dish.
Our next rally is next Sunday, the day you're driving back to Rochester. It's being held near Columbus, but if we get sufficiently lost, we may meet you somewhere around Binghamton.
Sunday, March 12, 1972
The Rockhold-Thomas rally team picked up two more trophies in two weeks. In both rallies, the trophy was an English pewter tankard, exactly alike with glass bottoms and all. So we now have a matched set.
Mr. Rockhold has a new project dreamed up now. He discovered by reading the Guinness Book of World Records that the record for pushing a perambulator is 261 miles in a 24-hour period, accomplished by a group of 45 young people in England. He figures it would be good for school spirit at the high school where he teaches if he organized an attempt to break this world record.
He could lay out a 220-yard oval on the school parking lot and recruit 45 students, dividing them into five teams of eight plus five alternates. Each team would take a two-hour shift, then rest eight hours. During their shift, they'd take turns pushing the baby buggy around the oval. Each would make one lap, trying to get around the course in about 37 seconds (which is a fast jog). By the time all eight had gone, a mile would have been completed in about five minutes. With the proper organization and planning, it might just work.
Tuesday, September 12, 1972
Over this last weekend, Terry Rockhold and I went to Louisville, Kentucky, for our second national rally. A national rally is an extended version of the kind we've been participating in around here; there are perhaps a dozen of them put on every season by the Sports Car Club of America. This one was the Bluegrass National Rally.
We registered Friday night. On Saturday, we spent all morning driving over back roads to Frankfort; in the afternoon, we came back to Louisville. Then on Sunday morning, we drove over back roads down to Bardstown, returning to Louisville by early Sunday afternoon.
These roads were mostly over hilly areas. They had to keep curving, first one way and then the other, unpredictably; mostly blind corners. That made it interesting for the driver and a little hard on me, the navigator, because I had to keep leaning one way or the other and the G forces were making it difficult for me to do my calculations and keep my pencil on the paper. But we survived it.
On Sunday there was a delay. The sheriff of Bullitt County had not been told that the rally was coming through his county. Suddenly there were all these sports cars driving down the road. They weren't speeding, but they did have numbers on the side. Something was going on, and he wanted to find out what, so he stopped the rally. He just blocked the road that we were supposed to be using. It took about 20 minutes to get him convinced that we were on the up and up.
By the time we got back to Louisville, it was 2:30 in the afternoon. The awards ceremony was scheduled for 3:00 to 5:00 p.m.
But there were some protests. When the rally committee laid out the event, they left a few loopholes, and anyone who got a bad score on a particular part could put up ten dollars and say, "Hey, something was wrong here; this leg should be discarded."
The rallymaster had decided you were supposed to go to the right. Five people filed protests, each with a ten-dollar deposit, saying you should have gone to the left. All protests were turned down, so the rally committee kept the fifty bucks.
Due to all these protests, and due also to some terrible slowness in adding up the scores, it got to be 7:00 at night. Finally, Terry and I gave up and came home, and we still don't even know who won. We'll find out in a couple of weeks when they mail us the official results.
The reason it's so important to these people is that many of them go around to most of these national rallies, participating every weekend or so, accumulating points toward a national championship for 1972. The best rallyists get financial rewards, too. About half the rallyists seem to drive Datsuns, because the manufacturer [Nissan] gives cash awards for placing well. So some of these guys are pros. In fact, practically all the leaders of the nation in this sport of rallying were at Louisville for this event.
As a result, the Rockhold and Thomas team did not win the rally. We think we did fairly well; it was comparatively easy, and we made only two mistakes which cost us major penalties. We were perhaps in the upper 40 or 50 per cent.
Wednesday, June 13, 1973
My road-rally partner, Terry Rockhold, is now a staff accountant with the public accounting firm of Price Waterhouse and Company, at their Columbus office. We're still rallying; as a matter of fact, at the halfway point we were leading in the 1973 standings of the Scioto Sports Car Club, having won three of the club's events outright (which means we beat even the computer-equipped cars).
Terry is the chairman for the club's Project VI rally series, which is designed to introduce beginners to the sport. These simple rallies are staged on the third Friday nights of June, July, August, and September, which means the first one is coming up 48 hours from now. I'm scoring chairman, so I'll be out there with my Bowmar pocket calculator totaling up the scores.
Saturday, October 20, 1973
This afternoon, I'm going down to Terry's apartment in Columbus to work on the rally that we're putting on this November 11. I think I told you about rallies; two people in a car are given written instructions as to where to turn and what speeds to average, and then the contest is to see whether they can follow the instructions correctly. It's more fun than it may sound.
Tomorrow we're going to run in a 285-mile rally being put on by another club, the Fall Phobia 8.
Tuesday, November 13, 1973
I joined my partner Terry Rockhold in the Fall Phobia rally, an all-day event put on by the Ohio State University Sports Car Club. We won it, which we thought was a pretty good accomplishment, considering we beat even the computer-equipped cars.
Then the day before yesterday, Terry and I staged our own rally, under the sponsorship of the Scioto Sports Car Club, of which we're members. Again we were successful; 39 teams showed up to run in our event, twice what we expected, and all of them found their way around the course, which is the mark of a "clean" rally.
All of our nasty little tricks worked as we'd hoped, too. Consider this one.
A free zone is a portion of the rally in which there are no checkpoints. A consequence of that is that once you've been told to begin a free zone, you can't go into any checkpoints until you're told to end the free zone.
One of our instructions read, "Begin free zone at railroad crossing." Sure enough, not long after the railroad crossing our contestants saw a checkpoint dead ahead, complete with flagman, timing station, and all the other paraphernalia.
There was a little road going off to the side just before the place where the flagman was standing. So, to avoid the checkpoint, our contestants turned down the little road. But they were wrong in so doing.
They'd failed to notice that less than a tenth of a mile before the railroad was a barn with the farmer's name on it, Tunis Streng. An hour earlier, they'd been given a special instruction to pause 12 seconds whenever they saw a sign with "Streng" on it, so they should have stopped briefly at the barn.
Then, after they'd reached the railroad a few feet farther on, they should have remembered our special rule that no two instructions can be executed within .38 mile of each other. So they should not have executed the instruction to "Begin free zone at railroad crossing." Not being in a free zone, there was no reason for them not to come into the checkpoint.
Sneaky, right? Two cars out of 39 figured it out correctly.
This might possibly have been the Scioto club's last rally for a while, if gasoline rationing comes in. We'll have to wait and see.
Friday, July 25, 1975
I'm driving back to Ohio later tonight for the weekend and two rallies, one tomorrow night and the other Sunday afternoon, with my old rally partner Terry Rockhold.
The club that he and I belong to is based in Columbus, but it seems that hardly anyone in the club still lives there. I'm here in the Pittsburgh area, as are another couple who (until they moved to Pennsylvania) were among the most active in the club. Meanwhile, the president of the club lives in Dayton, and Terry himself has just moved to Dayton to take a new job. Once a month, some of us return home for the monthly rally.
Terry and I haven't rallied together in something like eight months, so we'll have to get ourselves reorganized. One change is that he has a new car. Another is that my wristwatch has become erratic.
Timing, as you know, is very important in this sport. My watch was never very accurate in an absolute sense, but it was at least consistent: it used to gain one second every 40 minutes, day in and day out. So it used to be possible for me to make up a correction table for converting watch time to standard time. But now, in preparation for this weekend, I've been checking the watch for several days, and I've discovered it's no longer consistent. It's losing time now, and the amount of time it takes to lose a second varies from as little as 9 minutes to as much as several hundred minutes.
If I assume the watch loses a second in 90 minutes, but then it crosses me up by losing ten seconds in 90 minutes, we'll be nine seconds off in only an hour and a half. That kind of inaccuracy cannot be tolerated!
So you see the kind of problems that I'm concerning myself with these days.
Monday, August 16, 1976
Although I haven't made it back to Ohio for a rally in 1976, I have been following events through the Scioto newsletter. Sounds like things are still basically the same.
The Sproats plan a simple rally for June, get carried away with tricky definitions, and end up confusing everyone to such a degree that the average leg score is 484.
Then Scioto rallyists, having encountered the Sproats' more-than-two-roads-meeting-at-a-crossroad trap both in December and in June, apply the principle they've learned at the July Decathlon rally and lose again when NSC doesn't interpret it the same way.
Terry Rockhold wins rallies driving a Cutlass.
And, short of experienced members who live in Columbus, the club looks around for rallymasters and finds good old Don Harsh for August.