Dansville is set to play host to the start and finish of the fourth road rally in the 2018-2019 Winter Series, a series of events consisting of approximately 150-200 competitive miles using mostly unpaved roads in New York’s Southern Tier. Four classes of participants are accepted for this rally: Equipped, Limited, Stock and Novice. The rally is held by the Finger Lakes Region Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) which has over 50,000 members nationwide, competing is road racing, auto cross, rally cross and road rallies like the upcoming Dansville rally.
The fourth event in its Winter Series, the Hollows, Gulches and Hills Rally, will begin and end at Scovill’s Grill in Dansville on Saturday, February 2nd, followed by two more events in February to complete the six-part Winter Series The first of the 2018-2019 Winter Series, the Winter Solstice Rally, took place in Canandaigua on December 8th, 2018. The second Winter Series rally took place in Wadsworth on January 5th, and third Winter Series will take place in Ithaca on January 19th. Since there is a participation limit of 35 cars, pre-registration is recommended.
Unlike other motorsports competitions, a road rally is about precision timing. Well-defined rules and safety regulations are very important. This rally is a TSD (Time, Speed, Distance) competition road rally containing driver/navigator teams or two. It is held on public roads with competitors following notes, directions and average speeds. The goal is to be on time all the time, and at various checkpoints along the route, each car’s time accuracy is measured.
To participate in a road rally, one’s car must fire be “teched,” which means verifying that the cars are safe and have insurance, registration, state inspection, snow tires and safety equipment like a tow strap and triangle or flares. At this point, the team receives its packet, consisting of 15-20 pages with multiple instructions such as when to start each half of the rally, an average speed to maintain and precise mileages, correct to hundredths of a mile or less. The novice meeting is held for first time rally teams, and each team is assigned a car number.
The rally is set up in intervals or legs, random checkpoints with A-frame boards which are labeled with a checkmark followed by a period. Arrival times are checked by an official in a vehicle facing rally drivers at each of these checkpoints, noting the time each driver passes them. Being early or late in completing any leg of the competition negatively impacts a participant’s score, so being precisely on time is preferred. Since each participant is given directions to follow and a speed at which to travel, the Rally Master is easily able to determine how exactly each participant complied. Points are given based on how late or how early each participant arrives at each checkpoint. At the end of the rally, each team’s points are tallied, and the team with the lowest score, and therefore the greatest accuracy, wins.
Winners are also determined by their class. There are four different classes: Stock, Limited, Equipped and Novice. Stock class is for teams using a stock odometer and printed materials and a 4-function calculator. Limited class teams may use any odometer they wish and whatever tech desired so long as it does not communicate to make calculations, reconciling where you are with where you should be, and Equipped class teams which use more advanced tech like computes which are tied to an odometer and determines if that team is early or late, showing the driver a constant display of how far ahead or behind the team is. Novice teams, consisting of first-time participants, may use whatever they like. Vehicles are also assigned different speeds based on their class: A for 45 mph, B for 40mph and C for 36mph. Finally, every team must be approved by a safety standards official. Area sheriffs also are sent a letter with rally information beforehand so that they are aware of what participants are doing.
The Hollows, Gulches & Hills Rally begins at 3:01pm, and participants should arrive at 1pm when registration opens. Cars depart at the start time plus their car number in minutes. Pauses, like stop signs, are built into rally expectations. Unexpected delays are sometimes inevitable, and the goal of road rallies is to keep a low profile and not disturb area residents. So rather than being tempted to speed through situations to make up time, rally teams take a time allowance (TA) by filling out a slip of paper where they write down to the nearest half minute exactly how far off from their scheduled time they are. If the rally route must go through a town, that route section is considered a Transit Zone, and teams are given a certain amount of time to travel it. At the next checkpoint, teams with TAs give their card to the rally official and let that official know they are taking a TA.
When competitors have their scorecards filled out at these checkpoints, they are also given a checkpoint slip. This contains information to help them know how to get back on time again. This information includes the overall mileage at the checkpoint, what the perfect time for the leg is for each speed group and whether there is a free zone (a portion of the route where there won’t be any checkpoint) after the checkpoint. Finally, a sweep vehicle follows along behind all participants to make sure that everyone is safe and that roads are clear.
As much as road rally is a test of precision, a director with the Finger Lakes Region SCCA and Winter Series #4 Rally Master Shaun Hallam explains that, for participants, it’s all about the stories. “It is not super competitive,” says Hallam. “It’s winter driving, a lot of it at night, and it can be slippery and icy. Participants finish the rally with so many stories of slipping, and wrong turns and deer jumping out and all the various challenges of navigating rural roads.” The rally ends with the last team due back around 10:43pm, although halfway through, there is a rest stop scheduled at a local place where participants can use the restroom and get something to eat if they’d like. Hallam adds that while the rally group is getting older, they still have new people come out, including college students from places like Ithaca and Alfred. Hallam encourages people to give it a try, saying, “Since road rally is an amateur sport, anyone can join these events, even as nonmembers, if they purchase a weekend membership at a minimal cost. Try it out; you may enjoy it!”
Is there a great local event that you enjoy?