Hey all, my name’s Ted, and I’m an… Err, Ok, scratch that, wrong article. I have a long and storied history of whacking myself in the head, hard. I’ve lost track of the number of concussions I’ve had, and I appear to be incapable of avoiding new ones. Sure, I’ve read all the articles written by, for, and about hockey, football, and soccer greats who have been sidelined by such things and I have experienced many of the ‘normal’ side effects that have been reported in the press: shortness of breath, erections lasting more than four hours, all as one might expect.
I have, unfortunately, also exhibited an alarming tendency to start building impractical rally cars in my mind. This has manifested itself in many ways, including: prolonged bouts of absurd daydreaming, comparing and contrasting rulebooks and chassis prep manuals from three separate North American Rally sanctioning bodies, endlessly dissecting the FIA rules for rollcage construction and bench racing with likeminded friends over the relative merits of two wheel drive versus four wheel drive, normally aspirated versus turbocharged, short versus long wheelbase, tastes great versus less filling, the whole nine yards. All this has resulted in the fateful decision to build a 1968 Mini to run as a group two car. Yes, a 46 year-old British car with comically small 10” tyres (please excuse the affectation, it’s another side effect), an overall length of 10 feet one quarter-inch, roughly the same power to weight ratio as a garden tractor normally driven about, badly, by a mute physical comedian who wears a raw turkey as a hat.
I started this adventure roughly a decade ago, there are currently five Minis in various states of decrepitude in my garage, along with a roll cage tubing bender, TIG, MIG, arc and gas welding equipment, enough spare parts to fill a couple of garden sheds. For a time I was spared the lunacy of actually following through with this absurd plan when the storied British rally tyre (sorry) supplier Colway, the only supplier of 10” gravel tyres in the world fell on hard times and closed its doors. This really slammed the door on the rally Mini as specialized rally
tyres are imperative for competition.
Rallys are generally held on winding gravel roads through the forest and other rural areas. Competitors take off singly, separated by 30 seconds to a minute or so and race against the clock through a series of ‘special stages’ at race speed and ‘transits’ at a more leisurely, but strictly timed to the second, pace. The mad dash through the forest can reach speeds of 100 mph or so on winding gravel roads lined with angry car eating trees where sane folks would generally proceed at roughly 1/3 of this pace. They occasionally throw in rocky precipices, jumps, creek crossings and wildlife to spice things up. Attempting any of this on normal street tyres would be both insanely dangerous and ploddingly slow and uncompetitive.
Luckily for me, some of my fellow Vikings (Finns to be more precise, the moody quiet guys who win all the F1 races when there aren’t any Germans about) at Black Rocket have begun building 10” rally tyres again, much to the chagrin of my wife. And it just so happens that my pal, Ryan Thompson is tight with the guys at Rocky Mountain Autosports who import Black Rocket Tyres (yep, still at it). In order to get my rally fix without actually competing, I volunteer as a service guy whenever the opportunity presents itself. This past September, Ryan invited me along to crew with him at Black River Stages in upstate New York. Ryan has been building and preparing rally cars for a few years through his shop, Thompson Racing Fabrication; additionally he rents out his fully prepared Mitsubishi Lancer and provides rally service to other competitors.
BRS has been held since 1998 on the rural Black River Valley roads and the towns of Croghan, Edwards, Harrisville, and Pitcairn New York and is the final event in NASA’s Atlantic Rally Cup. Driver Dmitriy Martynov and co-driver Daniel Salive were in the hunt for the Atlantic Rally Cup and were renting Ryan’s Lancer after testing the integrity of Ryan’s cage construction at a prior event (passed with flying colours, the boys walked away unscathed). A rally is a highly structured affair, the basic rules were laid down by the French, who seem to govern all forms of wheeled and aero sport through the cunning use of acronyms, much like the British used to exercise global domination using flags, but I digress.
Anyhow, competitors have very strictly regulated windows in which to service their vehicles, generally limited to 15 or 20 minutes every 75 odd rally miles. Competitors traditionally stay in touch with their service crews via HAM radio, though Dmitriy and Dan had opted for the more modern, text message, approach. On day 1 of the rally, the service park was setup in Croghan and we had to prep the car in the morning, service twice during the day and get the car ready for day 2 in the evening. Services were scheduled for 20 minutes but shortened to 15, cars are penalized for not getting out on time. At first service, Dmitriy and Dan came in with no rear brakes, we had about ten minutes advance warning and had laid out all the necessary tools and spare parts to repair the brakes. Once we had the car in the air and all four wheels off it was obvious that a rock had sheared off a rear brakeline. Ryan had that repaired and bled within about five minutes while Dan Finn, crew chief for our neighbors, Azzurri Rally Sport, jumped in to help me out with the basics, fluids underhood, visual inspection and torque checks on all the suspension components, tire pressures, etc.
There is usually just enough time for top ups and inspections and attaboys during a normal service; adding in a repair during a foreshortened service was challenging, but exhilarating to pull off. Second service was uneventful, but evening prep took a while as we had to groove the tyres in anticipation of Sunday’s rain and we had another go at bleeding the brakes and replaced the front rotors for good measure. Sunday service was in Harrisville, and the rains came in a big way. We managed to get our E-Z up canopy put away before the heavens opened, but just in the nick of time. The boys finished up the rally 15th overall, fourth in class.
We all headed over to the banquet, I grabbed a bottle of excellent local stout and popped out to the trailer for two minutes to load up the car for the last time of the weekend. While jogging onto the trailer to setup the axle straps I managed to catch the corner of the tyre rack with the top of my head, knocking myself unconscious, painting a large section of the trailer floor red and leaving a grisly chunk of scalp on the rack (this is where the weird first paragraph begins to make sense).
Small town New York is cool, the guy driving the ambulance turned out to be a rally volunteer, I got a big hug from my friendly EMT. The hospital let Ryan, Dmitriy, and Dan in to chill out at the foot of my bed in emergency to mock me while I bled all over my cell phone, chatting with a lovely French Canadian insurance administrator and three or four amazing nurses and one very patient doctor patched me up. One ambulance ride, two CT scans, and a dozen staples later I was sent off with a fancy souvenir bracelet, a pocket full of prescriptions, and a newfound lust to build my ridiculous dream rally Mini. PS, I’ve ordered myself a helmet, and if the Mini doesn’t work out, I may prep a shortbus to rally…