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August 12, 2007

Monte Shelton Northwest Classic Rally, Day One.

Filed under: 07 Monte Shelton,Cars — chuck goolsbee @ 9:08 pm

We arrive at Monte Shelton Motors for the start of the rally, and are lined up and park according to car number. They are serving breakfast and people are milling about socializing. As I am not really that gregarious a guy, at least not early in the morning, I wander off and photograph cars…

Above: A British Racing Green Jaguar E-type reflected in the deep black paint of a Porsche 356.

Above: Wow… a drop-dead gorgeous black E-type Fixed Head Coupe.

Above: A 1954 Lancia Aurelia GT

Above: I’ve loved those Porsche “flower power” wheels since I was a kid.

Above: Two detail views of a very nice silver 300sl Coupe.

Above: There were two white cars at this rally which will be stars of a future “guess this car” feature here on this website. This is one of them. 😉

I’ve shot all the pics I’ve wanted, and munched my bagel… must be time to go!

The mythical “Car Zero” leaves at 08:00 PDT with Car One thirty seconds later.

We’re Car #51, so we’re parked on the left side of the start line. The low-number cars are parked in a straight line down the middle of the street, with the higher number cars parked back to front… we’ll have an orderly start! The big plus for me is that I’ll get to watch virtually every car leave before I have to drive. Dad is sitting in the car, calculator and route book in hand, performing the calculations for the upcoming TSD sections. We have a Transit stage to get us out of town, but he wants every available second to prepare as far ahead as he can. I just shoot cars as they start the event. We’re leaving at 30 second intervals JUST for this transit to get us out of the urban core of Portland; after this we’ll leave at full minute intervals.

The charity for this event is the March of Dimes, and two little girls who were the recipient of that charity are on hand to wave the cars off with a green flag.

Above: The big green Series 3 E-type starts.

Everyone roars off, and I’m in a prime position to hear all the wonderful road music. Two V12s, a smattering of American and one Italian V8, many big-bore straight sixes, and many many sub-two-liter inline 4s.

The mass of the pack has left and our turn to start arrives… I think. The cars have a single sticker, on the passenger side, indicating their car number. After I climbed in to the driver’s seat I haven’t really been paying attention to car numbers, and of course now I can’t see any of them! Thankfully my navigator tells me when it is our turn to go. 😉

We roar off as the little girls wave their flag and … immediately get lost! My navigator, though aware enough of our order of start, is so wrapped up in his calculations for upcoming sections that he forgets that he has to navigate RIGHT NOW. Of course, every rallymaster has their quirks and Dad is just trying to figure out this one. They use odd shorthand in their directions, so dad has to refer to a glossary in the route book. We narrowly miss making a wrong turn but somehow manage to find our way out of town and to the big Fred Meyer parking lot somewhere south of Portland that serves as the actual starting point. The next segment is a “Monte Carlo” style segment, but without ANY traps… supposedly. We have a long wait, so I decide to amble into the Fred Meyer and buy some Castrol as I’m out and the car is a quart low. (yes Paul, I know all about the “fill to the bottom of the cross-hatch marks trick on an XK engine!)

After the oil is topped up I shoot some photos, eat grapes (provided in the rally goody bag, which I’ve compressed behind the driver’s seat!), and generally stay away from my stressed navigator doing all the hard work. Looking around the parking lot it was easy to see who are drivers and who are the navigators… at least the serious navigators. The drivers are the smiling, relaxed people… the navigators are the ones stressed out and looking hopeless. Soon enough everyone will share the stress and hopelessness, but for now the divide was pretty obvious.

Rather than paste a zillion photos, I made a single montage.

Our start time arrives and we fall into our excellent father/son rally groove. The Odo is zeroed and we flawlessly navigate and drive the first section. We even manage to avoid the Off Course penalty about one-third of the way in on a particularly tricky bit of navigation. We finish the segment and start the next, the first real TSD. We feel very confident in our execution, and looking now at the score sheet several days later our confidence was justified. We accumulated 5 seconds of penalty at the first checkpoint, 5 on the next and 19 on the last of that segment. We didn’t know that at the time though. The next two segments go well too. But in hindsight our speedometer & odometer are off as our penalties climb sharply as the segments go longer. Virtually every segment starts with low single-digit times and finishes with double-digit ones. Our route follows little Forest Service roads through the hills and some segments are VERY long, but at slow speeds (27mph or 30 mph) even when the posted limits are much higher. It makes it tough going for me, with my naturally heavy right foot, but Dad keeps me in check by providing mileage checks every 30 seconds to 2 minutes depending upon the speed. It is hard to describe but he figures out how far we SHOULD be at a particular time and provides me with verbal warning via a count-down. I manage the car’s speed close to the average and time it so that I arrive at a particular odometer reading when he gives me my mark. Unlike the
east coast Vintage Rallies we’ve attended where all the segments are done ‘Monte Carlo’ style; that is where you run as quick as you can through the course directions to a ‘stand off area’ then calculate the remaining time speed distance problem, here you have to match the pace car throughout the entire segment. Checkpoints can appear at any point along the course and are hidden. You don’t know where they are until you see them and in many cases, you never do see them!

You never really know how well you are doing. All you can do is calculate, drive and hope you are close. I really enjoy having my dad along, as he tackles the navigation duties with aplomb. When we’ve done long distance tours or Monte Carlo TSD’s in the past we have swapped driver/navigator duties on a per-segment basis, but this sort of rally really requires a dedicated navigator as it is a multi-piece puzzle requiring a LOT of problem solving. If we switched we’d probably do very poorly as we’d just compound our mistakes and not benefit from the experiences as swiftly as sticking to defined roles throughout the event.

We enjoy a great lunch at a park, followed by two transit stages. In the morning I noted the brake warning light flickering when the car was pointed down steep inclines so I suspect that I was a tad low on brake fluid. I dash into Tillamook at lunch and grab a small bottle of brake fluid and top up the reservoir … which was not really that low, but better safe than sorry. Lunch finished we carry on with the transits. Transit stages are usually just mindless wanderings through urban areas where TSD stages would be wildly impractical due to traffic lights, congestion, etc. Monte Carlos work in such areas, but TSD’s do not. I have never been on a rally that has traps of ANY sort of transit stages.. in fact I have frequently used them in the past to run errands like getting parts, filling up on gas, etc. We were just finding our way along on the first of these two transits when out from behind a pickup truck jumps a course worker with an “Off Course” sign and assess us a 60 second penalty! I’m really pissed off as this is a TRANSIT STAGE, not a TSD one. As Dad would say, this is a real chickenshit thing to do. Dad re-reads the rules and sure enough, this rally insists you stay on course even during transits.

I’ve run rallies before where the top ten finishers are separated by a few penalty points, and everything I’ve read about this event says it is intensely competitive. Whatever hope we had of winning is now gone. I’m outraged, but really not enough to lodge a formal protest as the Rallymaster need only point to their rules.

But still… a trap on a TRANSIT?? Chickenshit.

We complete the next transit without drama and face a very very long, low speed TSD. It follows a lonely road up in the mountains, barely a lane and a half wide, with a posted speed of 35 MPG, but the route instructions say to maintain an average speed of 27 MPH for 40-some miles. I put the Jaguar in second gear and plod along, with dad marking out time and distance for me every few minutes. I figure it would be hard to convey exactly how that works, so at one point during the segment (I think near the beginning of the segment as I see a telephone wire and a house in-frame, and I recall most of it being out in the woods) I set my camera to movie-mode and let it run as it hung around my neck. Here you go:

If you listen, you can even catch me pointing out a checkpoint as we pass by.

I hope that helps illustrate some of the flavor of TSD rallying.

At the very end of this long segment we pull into a state park parking lot and are told by a course worker that they’ve added a pause of X minutes (IIRC it is 10 or 12 minutes) so we pull off into the shade of a tree while dad recalculates all of his work from the morning for this segment. As I’m sitting there I hear the navigator of the car next to us exclaim… “There are flames underneath that car… I wonder if the guy even knows that he is on fire.” I look over my shoulder and see a Mercury Cougar, one of two or three American cars on the rally, and sure enough he is on fire. I reach over to the passenger side and undo my fire extinguisher… my father is of course oblivious to this… I say “excuse me” while I nudge his leg out of the way. He could have been on fire and probably not noticed, being so engrossed in recalculation! I sprint across the parking lot, ripping the safety straps and pins off my extinguisher, and lie down at the front of the Mercury and start blasting the flames out. A couple other rallyists arrive, extinguishers in hand, but it looks like mine has done the job. I could not really tell what was burning but the driver of the Merc said it was power steering fluid. It was smelly stuff, that is for sure. He eventually pushes the car away from the pool of previously burning fluid, after I wandered back to my car. I always carry a fire extinguisher in my car and other than one, rather amusing close call where I didn’t really use it I’ve never had to use the extinguisher on my own car… I’ve always used them on somebody else’s car! I’m OK with that though… no complaints here.

All fires extinguished, I sit an await our turn on the course. My father has been so engrossed in the navigational calculations that he had no idea that I was just in the middle of a literal conflagration. Gotta love a guy who can stay focussed!

I shoot a photo of the couple next to us in an Alfa before they head out on-course. I’m not positive but I think she’s the one who alerted us all to the fire.

We head out and the course is another really long, low-speed dragger along deeply wooded back roads. Dad gives me the timing and distance and I hold my lead foot off the deck as best I can (my legs are still tired two days later!) We’re pretty confident of our run. The only thing that bothers me is the car’s Ammeter… which wobbles around a LOT, and frequently just gets stuck on the “charge” side of the meter. I end up tapping it a lot to get it unstuck, to the point of distracting my navigator… the last thing I want to do! It bothers me though as it seems like my electrical system is going bonkers and overcharging my battery. We slowly make our way through the TSD segment, and it finishes very near the coast. A long transit leg down US 101 brings us to the Inn at Otter Crest where we park our cars out on the grass on the cliff side overlooking the ocean.

I get directed to my parking spot, and Dad wanders off to register into our room. I decide to figure out why my ammeter is going bonkers… at least beyond my internal monologue about Lucas, the Prince of Darkness. Of course Mr. Lucas has been mostly removed from this car (“gasp” say the purists!) as my distributor is a Mallory and my alternator is a Hitachi. This car seems to eat alternators and to be honest, I want to be able to replace it anywhere in America. This Hitachi was OEM for Nissan pickups for years and years and is available at any NAPA store with a 2-year warranty for about $40. I have replaced it once, on the side of the road, in a matter of minutes… when the Lucas would have had be stranded. Anyway, I suspect that I am over-charging and wire up my voltmeter to the battery and check. The car off it reads 14.5V… a bit on the high side! I fire up the car and rev the engine and my voltmeter reads even higher! I suspect that my internally regulated Hitachi is no longer regulating itself, at least with regards to voltage. I still have my Lucas external voltage regulator, which is installed but bypassed, and try wiring it up again. It seems to help. The ammeter is still bouncy, but seems more stable. The battery still reads above 14V but at least it doesn’t climb off the scale with the engine running. Then I LOOK at the alternator and sure enough, one of the three wires is loose! I reattach it, wire around the regulator again, fire up the engine and EVERYTHING goes back to normal. I slap my forehead and go about packing my stuff to go inside.

I drop off my bags, grab my camera, and head back outside to get some pictures. It is a spectacular location for car photography, with only the attorney-mandated chain link fence destroying the backdrop. Unfortunately I’m shooting directly into the sun – but I get some great shots.

This E-type FHC has an LED reader board plate frame. At various points in the rally it read amusing bits such as: “If you can read this you are off course” and “Where’s Lunch?” =)

I could not resist making a 360-degree panorama of the location.

The oldest car on the run is this 1938 Bentley. It is a very cool old car.

I always like Opalescent Maroon E-types too.

I head to the room and catch a short nap, then off to dinner. I leave dinner at one point to go out and grab some “just after sunset” photos before the light disappears for the evening. The red and blue cars which look so good in daylight surrender their depth and become flat. The black cars however come alive and invite you to dive into their deep, reflective finishes…

I’m still shooting when the light gives up and I can’t find enough to enter my lens and make magic anymore. I go back into dinner in time to get the results from the Rallymaster. Apparently there was an off-course at the parking lot where I put out the fire, which caught out the majority of the rally. We didn’t get caught by it so we have no opinion, but many people are hopping mad. The Rallymaster does not give into the complaints and just smiles an evil smile. The results are passed out and our confidence is eroded pretty far when we see how poorly we did compared to our perception. It is obvious we have odometer drift, as we rack up penalties at the later checkpoints of long TSD segments. We are two minutes, ten seconds late to the final checkpoint of the longest segment. Dad ponders that as we head off to bed.

11 Comments

  1. like the black E-type – different looking bumper around the grill than yours – is that a later model then?

    Jerome

    Comment by gondwana — August 13, 2007 @ 3:09 am

  2. Those are “Amco Bars”… a popular aftermarket accessory back in the day. You see a LOT of E-types with them.

    Comment by cg — August 13, 2007 @ 6:59 am

  3. so they try to protect the paint from the very low urban assault 4WD’s then?

    Jerome

    Comment by gondwana — August 13, 2007 @ 10:05 am

  4. you don’t ALWAYS have spare fluids in the boot!!!?? 😉

    I’ve told my lad to get an extinguisher… while not prince of darkness wiring in his 35 year old Aussie tank… it is still 35 years old and just waiting for the right moment to fail I’m sure….

    Jerome

    Comment by gondwana — August 13, 2007 @ 4:12 pm

  5. Great photos, and a fun read.

    Comment by dan@rand — August 13, 2007 @ 5:31 pm

  6. I think that red FHC is my old car! Was a gentleman named Bob driving it? I can’t quite tell from the photo if that’s him. Do you have a shot of the front or rear of the car? I can tell from that.

    Comment by Roger — August 13, 2007 @ 7:42 pm

  7. Actually, doesn’t look like it is, if it’s the open headlight car in the post below. Drat.

    Comment by Roger — August 13, 2007 @ 7:49 pm

  8. “… a trap on a TRANSIT?? Chickenshit.”
    As an old TSd’er, I could not agree more! That’s completely antithetical to the spirit of a transit zone…I’d let them know about it ‘toot sweet!

    Comment by vrooomie — August 14, 2007 @ 9:57 am

  9. What great photos and story. We seemed to of missed alot being check point this year.

    Comment by chet — August 22, 2007 @ 2:56 pm

  10. The first day couple of our check point people had quite a day themselves. Seems while setting there waiting for the first car to drive by they had a couple of visitors stop by. A Brown bear and her cub wanted to see what was going on. The two of them were standing behind our checkpoint people who were sitting in their lawn chairs ready to score the cars as they went passed. It wasn’t until later that night at dinner did they find out about the bears. One of the cars in the rally drove pass spotting the bears only to do a u turn to tell the check point people about the bears. The couple in the rally car tried to tell the check point couple about the bears.
    Lucky no one was hurt by the bears. Our hats go off to the rally car that day. To give up your first day score for the day to help our check point people. Now that is sportsmanship.

    Comment by chet — August 26, 2007 @ 5:42 pm

  11. Thanks for checking in Chet! (ar ar… bad pun!) and thanks for your excellent on-course work. Were you driving an Alfa? If so, which one?

    wow… a bear with cubs can be quite a hazard!

    Comment by cg — August 26, 2007 @ 7:25 pm

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