MMR Blog

Sandy on Assignment: Northwest Classic Rally… The Perfect First

Posted on August 8, 2013 Comments (0)

by Sandy Cotterman, Motorsports Enthusiast

There could not have been a more perfect rally to be my first… the Monte Shelton Northwest Classic Rally. All I can say to every classic car enthusiast is, “Get out and rally!”

Flagged on by the March of Dimes family, the rally started in downtown Portland. Photo courtesy of Joe Cantrell

Flagged on by the March of Dimes family, the rally started in downtown Portland.
Photo courtesy of Joe Cantrell

Organized by the Alfa Romeo Owners Club of Oregon with the Monte Shelton Motor Company as its long standing presenting sponsor, this is the oldest, still running, classic rally in America. Celebrating its 25th year, this true time, speed, distance rally (TSD) drew a record 102 entries for the four day event, starting out of Portland, Oregon the last weekend in July.

Never far behind, the Healey joins the Benz for a pit stop.

Never far behind, the Healey joins the Benz for a pit stop. 
Photo courtesy of Bring-A-Trailer

I was to be the navigator for veteran ralliest, Ralf Berthiez, so I knew I would be in good hands. Having done the NW Classic twice before with his Dad, Ralf graciously agreed to drive his beautiful light blue metallic 1975 Mercedes 450 SL down from Anacortes, Washington to Portland, before shipping it back home to Virginia.

Entered as vintage we were one of three classes; touring, vintage, and standard. The distinction—special interest cars manufactured before 1981 were within the vintage and standard classes with vintage restricted to the use of original equipment—speedometer and odometer. Touring vehicles, without any age restrictions, simply ran the route without time restraints in a follow-the-leader scenic tour, leaving before the other two classes.

Thursday evening street gathering the night before take off.

Thursday evening street gathering the night before take off.

The weekend started Thursday evening in downtown Portland, with a mix of classic cars lining the streets in front of the Monte Shelton Jaguar dealership. We picked up our registration packets then gathered around Rally Chairman Reid Trummel, and Rally Master Simon Levear for instructions. A show of hands for number of years in attendance was impressive—many 5, 10, 15 year veterans with two having rallied the Classic for 25 years!

This year, participants were given their spiral bound general instructions and rally route books, the night before. Rally book in hand, I headed off to rally school—yes, there is such a thing! The first priority for participants, we were told, is to always remain on course. Sounds simple enough, yet I discovered there is an art to reading the instructions, which are in a sort of rally code. Just one slip-up throws everything off.

I shot my hand up during the Q & A, asking, “How does the navigator communicate all the instructions to the driver, at once?” A fair question, since there were often five pieces of information per route instruction—keeping in mind the TSD format—along with an average of 12 instructions per timed section, or regularity, as it’s called. I knew if I were driving, I would probably forget what was said in a nanosecond. “It’s up to the driver and navigator to get in sync”, was the short answer. After school, I asked Ralf how he would call out the instructions, if he was the navigator—he rattled off the pieces of information he needed to drive the rally… not everything at once… almost like repeating verses in a song… bingo, I knew we would be in sync!

Under the watchful eye of the BOSS, the Benz is ready for an early morning start. Photo courtesy of Bring- A- Trailer

Under the watchful eye of the BOSS, the Benz is ready for an early morning start.
Photo courtesy of Bring-A-Trailer

We tucked the Benz into the Westin Hotel garage for the night. The next morning we discovered a sharp looking orange 1970 Mustang BOSS 302 with a front window sticker, Bring-A-Trailer, behind the Benz almost watching over it. How cool was that, I thought!

Ready and poised for my first rally!

Ready and poised for my first rally!

We all headed off to the Monte Shelton dealership, the start line of the rally. I had my post-its on the dash for quick rally lingo translation! Being car #52, we left at 8:26am the first day, using the rally time formula, although our rally start time was 8:00am in the rally book. Needless to say, we had two watches to keep everything straight! Cars left in 30-second increments at the start, then one minute apart for the rest of the rally… enough space so we didn’t pile up on each other, if we got ourselves into a timing jam!

The Drive Away Cancer Car #51 was our beacon, stealing the hearts of everyone.

The Drive Away Cancer Car #51 was our beacon, stealing the hearts of everyone.

I was so excited! We were off… sandwiched in between a strange looking 1965 Triumph TR4A in front, with names written all over the car in Sharpie and a coordinating sleek blue 1965 Austin-Healey 3000 MKIII behind us. It wasn’t until the final dinner on Saturday evening that I learned the touching story behind John Nikas and his Drive Away Cancer cars… teary eyed, I took the Sharpie and added my parents’ names to the car.

Day 2, the touring group sets off from the Oregon Garden Resort.

Day 2, the touring group sets off from the Oregon Garden Resort.

Sandy joins friends Cindy Banzer and Sue Halton of Portland, for a photo next to their 1978 Alfa Romeo Spider 2000.

Sandy joins friends Cindy Banzer and Sue Halton of Portland, for a photo next to their 1978 Alfa Romeo Spider 2000.

Much of both rally days was spent driving, with a stop for lunch, which gave us a chance to begin meeting the enthusiasts and their cars. The eclectic mix of cars included a 1935 Bentley, 1953 Allard J2X, 1958 Peerless GT and a plethora of Jaguar E-Types, 356 Porsches and of course many Alfas from the 60s and 70s.

Ralf and Sandy join rally chairman Reid Trummel and guest speakers John Nikas and Denise McCluggage.

Ralf and Sandy join rally chairman Reid Trummel and guest speakers John Nikas and Denise McCluggage.

Friday evening, we heard from Tom Kreger about setting land-speed records in his Saab on the Bonneville Salt Flats… quite a venue, to say the least! Ever entertaining, Denise McCluggage shared her competitive rally stories with us Saturday evening, making me think we were on track when it came to getting ourselves out of our own rally jams!

What a beautiful setting to run out of gas.

What a beautiful setting to run out of gas.

This was my first trip to Oregon, another reason why rallies are the perfect vacation for classic car enthusiasts. If it hadn’t been for the rally, I doubt I would have ventured into this beautiful state. The rally, culminating at our final destination only 45 miles out of Portland at the Oregon Garden Resort, took us over a contrast of farmlands and vineyards onto the fringes of the breathtaking Cascade mountain range.

Even though we passed the B-A-T team at this point, they managed to make up time with a fantastic 23rd place finish in the vintage class. Photo courtesy of Bring-A-Trailer.

Even though we passed the B-A-T team at this point, they managed to make up time with a fantastic 23rd place finish in the vintage class. Photo courtesy of Bring-A-Trailer.

The rally book gave the exact time (to the second) and mileage that we should be at every designated turn, sign or landmark. Every timed stage had a mystery check point where two volunteers would record the exact time we passed a certain location. The idea is not to be early or late, to the second. Early on, we missed the SOL (sign on left) for a turn. We circled and circled, looking for it. Finally finding it, we floored the Benz, Denise style, and got back on track. We stumped ourselves again, this time trying to figure out what, “Observe Stop OR Right @ 105th” meant. What it did not mean was to make a right at the stop sign! Thank goodness for the Benz, again. As we were flooring it, we noticed other cars doubling back, with a feeling of relief we weren’t the only ones off course! Day 2 found us in a slight dilemma. After a quick right then left turn from the instructions, we high tailed it down a street that looked like the next instruction, except for an additional word inserted onto the street sign… again, we put the Benz to the test to get us back on course! Fun? You bet!

Teams and cars celebrated with a beer wash at the end of the rally. Photo courtesy of Jim Cantrell

Teams and cars celebrated with a beer wash at the end of the rally.
Photo courtesy of Jim Cantrell

With 80 registrants already signed up for 2014, it’s easy to see why participants look forward to returning year after year. Registration is reasonable, $650 per car which includes the Thursday Welcome Reception, two days of rallying and meals, Saturday Afternoon Beer Wash, along with a Sunday Awards Brunch… all for two! Lodging, gas and travel to the event are additional. I would say there were a handful of participants, from other parts of the country, mostly there because they had a reason to be in the area. All others were from Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. Not to say that this should deter anyone from attending. Supporting the March of Dimes, this rally is another motorsports gem I highly recommend.

The Duster! NW Classics first American car rally winner.

The Duster! NW Classics first American car rally winner. 
Photo courtesy of Jim Cantrell

Both in sync after two days of fun and rallying!

Both in sync after two days of fun and rallying!

The overall winning rally car was a 1974 Plymouth Duster, with a score of only 42 penalty seconds… compared to over 40 penalty minutes for the last car! It goes to show it takes three to win a rally—driver, navigator and car… all in sync! Just how I felt after two full days on the road… all in sync, having had a blast on my first rally!