Racer Boy Takes on Gimmick Road Rallyes
December 14, 2020
You want to get involved in some sort of motorsports but you’re dead broke and the car you’re driving has 90 horsepower on a good day, and that’s downhill. You’re in luck! There is an event perfect for you. Enter a Coursemarker/Gimmick Rallye, where the challenge isn’t who has the best ride, but who has the best mind. Coursemarker/Gimmick rallyes are events where a driver and a navigator use a set of instructions to drive through a predetermined course on public roads. The instructions are littered with gimmicks to trick teams into driving on the “incorrect” course as opposed to the “correct” one where points are gained by finding coursemarkers. These coursemarkers may give you more instructions (and possibly more gimmicks) along the rallye. First one to the finish line is usually the loser. There is no speed component to gimmick rallyes. It’s like ole Wyatt Earp said, “Fast is fine, but accuracy is everything.”
To run coursemarker/gimmick rallyes you don’t need an expensive helmet, or a fully prepped racecar. There are no $1,000 entry fees to put up or a fresh set of tires to buy (and destroy in a single day). These events are run on public roads in everyday street cars. This is probably the least expensive motorsport in existence. The entry fees are between $15 and $25 and all you need to compete is a pencil, a clipboard, and any means of transportation (yes, your Mom’s Camry will suffice). You also don’t need to spend an entire week in the garage busting knuckles to prepare for the rallye. Clean your windshield, sharpen your pencil and drive to the event. It’s as simple as that. Just for entering the rallye you will get a dash plaque to prove to your friends back at school, you’re a rally driving bad ass (well, not exactly).
Your geographic location will determine the sanctioning body for your area. In Northern California The Rallye Club and the El Dorado Touring Club both put on monthly rallyes. The Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) runs rallys in some of their regions and doesn’t bother in others. A lot of the SCCA rallys are time and distance based rallys (which we will cover in a future Racer Boy). Regardless of where you live, chances are there is a club running rallys (or rallyes depending on who you ask) nearby. The hard part is finding these clubs. They don’t tend to advertise much and locating these events can be sometimes difficult. Start with Google and harass the next guy you see in the grocery store parking lot driving a Mini Cooper with a lot of lights hanging on the front.
Each club brings their own flair to every rallye. The guys at the El Dorado Touring Club pride themselves in really putting on an “event” that participants are excited to be a part of. Their trophies and dash plaques are second to none. Their website has a sample rallye to help you get the grasp of what it means to participate in one of these events.
Coursemarker/Gimmick rallyes are not the place to go to grab a burst of adrenaline. This is not stage rallying, where you drift a car at eighty miles an hour between two Redwood trees. This is driving 25 miles an hour (lost) looking for coursemarkers stapled to telephone poles. However, the competition portion of the event is still fun and if you like the idea of beating the guys you are running against, your adrenaline may start to pump while you’re waiting for your name to be called during the trophy presentation.
The biggest thing you have to worry about regarding car wear in a coursemarker/gimmick rallye is spilling your coffee. Or maybe worse, your navigator takes a highlighter and nicks the passenger door interior panel leaving a little pink stripe. This is a street legal, no-speed contest event. Your car has a better chance of getting damaged sitting in the Wal-Mart parking lot than it does running a coursemarker/gimmick rallye. The only wear and tear on your car will the be the tank of gas you use driving around endlessly in circles.
Rallyes are easy events to attend. Grab a navigator, fill up the car with petrol and head to the rallye. I suggest getting to registration as early as possible. Once you arrive, you will pay your entry fees and get a set of General Instructions, Route Instructions, Supplemental Instructions and a Score Sheet. It is a lot to read and you will want to sit in your car and read it all carefully at least five times. Highlight things of importance in the instructions to help you remember it later in the rallye. If you see something in the instructions that is confusing or doesn’t make sense you are allowed to ask the Rallye Master (the guy who wrote the event) questions. He will try to help you as much as possible, without giving away too many of the gimmicks at the same time. There will be a “First Timer/Beginner” class/driver’s meeting that you will definitely want to attend. At this meeting they will explain how the rallye is run and probably throw a few of the gimmicks your way for some easy points. They will show you what coursemarkers look like and explain how to fill in your score sheet. Once you’ve read the instructions and you and your navigator feel as if you guys are ready, use the Route Instructions and head out on course.
This is where the gimmicks really start to play havoc on your day. Here is an example of a gimmick you might run across. Your Route Instructions tell you to make an L at Parkar. Your General Instructions define L as “a turn to the left.” As you drive down the street your navigator says he sees the sign for Parkar. The only problem is the sign actually says “Parker” –the spelling is different. If you chose not to turn on Parker you will find a coursemarker up the road a bit, which will give you points and Supplemental Instructions to delete the incorrect Route Instruction, make a U-turn and then turn right at your first opportunity. This will put all of the rallyists on the same course, those who mistakenly turned on Parker when they shouldn’t have and those who got it right and scored the couresmarker. Sounds easy? That’s about as easy at is gets.
As you continue on course, eventually you will run across a checkpoint sign where you are required to come in. At the checkpoint you may get more instructions, sometimes these instructions are hidden inside candy wrappers or inconspicuously printed on the back of pages. Sometimes the rallye staff will have you do a wacky stunt at the checkpoint for a tie breaker; flip coins, bean bag toss, putt golf balls, it could be anything (and its usually related to the rallye). Once you’re finished, you leave the checkpoint and head back onto the rallye course.
Your new instructions that you got at the checkpoint might be something that seems obvious but it actually has a hidden meaning. For instance the instruction may say, “Just a reminder: During the rallye obey the Vehicle Code, all laws, and to keep our club running rallyes please don’t take any chances while out there on the roads.” It seems like a reasonable reminder to the drivers at face value -don’t mess around and screw things up for everyone else. Then a few minutes later you may be traveling down a road and your Route Intructions say “L first chance.” Some people will make a left at the first opportunity, but because the instruction said “don’t take any chances” you shouldn’t make the left turn. Going straight will take you to another coursemarker. Rallyes are filled with these sorts of gimmicks and tricks, some easy, some more advanced. The good news is regardless if you are on the “right” track or not, after approximately 3 hours the instructions will lead you to the finish.
The finish is usually at a pizza place where you turn in your Score Sheet (and cross your fingers). You will get the answers to the rallye, called a Critique, and see how many times you have been duped. After all of the scores have been tallied by the rallye personnel its trophy time!
Coursemarker/Gimmick rallyists are the Dungeons and Dragons set of the motorsports world. That’s not an insult, it just means these folks are smart. Rallyes are huge logic problems set across an entire city, requiring critical thinking skills and precise reading comprehension. If you think your vintage Datsun 240 Z with the Panasport wheels and the cool Hella rallye lights on the hood is going to give you an advantage, you’re wrong. Two old guys with beards driving a Volkswagen Vanagon are going to kick your ass. The nice part about rallyes is after the scores have been tallied, the old guys will tell you “how” they did it and you’ll get to learn from their years of experience.
You won’t be sprayed with champagne or kissed by Ms. North Carolina after winning a coursemarker/gimmick rallye but you will be rewarded with dash plaques and trophies. Some clubs have yearly points systems and championships. A lot of the fun of the rallye is hanging out at the pizza place afterward, reading the critique of the rallye (the answers) and bench racing with your competitors.
OH, YOU WANT TO WIN, DO YA?
The great part about coursemarker/gimmick rallyes is they have classes set up so that a large pool of people have a shot to win their own class at the event (and pick up a first place trophy). First Timers only compete against other First Timers, same for Beginners, Novices, etcetera all the way up to Master Experts. But even to win the First Timer class you need to do what Yoda said, “Unlearn what you have learned.” What that means is the “reality” of the rallye you are running is outlined in the General Instructions. Those instructions are to be followed precisely. If the General Instructions say “The rallye will not cross any bodies of water,” and you come to a bridge, you need to make a U-turn. And even sneakier, if you come to “Pacific Street” you’ll want to make another U-turn. Both of those U-turns will put you in a position to find a coursemarker and earn points. If you pay attention to detail, read everything as literally as possible you might stay on the right course, earning a respectable score and have a shot for a class win.
To prepare for a rallye, have a large clipboard, lots of highlighters and scotch tape for putting notes on the dashboard as reminders like “Don’t cross water!” If your rallye is run at night you’re going to want good interior lights in the car and nice spot light to search for coursemarkers. And last but not least, start with a full tank of gas and pee before you leave, the rallye route won’t always bring you to a gas station (we found this out the hard way).
RACER BOY GAUGE
Let’s review the Racer Boy gauge cluster here:
FUEL (Cost): The fuel gauge is full because this event will cost you less than taking your girlfriend to the movies. You won’t find a cheaper motorsport anywhere, even the Pinewood Derby is more expensive.
RPMs (Adrenaline): The tachometer is around idle because during most of the rallye that is what you’re doing, idling and re-reading the rallye General Instructions (again) trying to figure out why you’re lost (again). This isn’t a fast paced adrenaline type of motorsport.
MPH (Danger): The speedometer is around 25 miles per hour because your biggest concern during the rallye is getting lead poisoning from the navigator’s pencil. Most of the rallye is run at about 25 miles per hour. This is a very safe event to be a part of. Take the kids!
VOLTS (Time): The volts gauge is maxed out because this event won’t take much time. No real preparation is needed, just arrive, drive and eat pizza. The whole thing will probably take 6 hours. I’ve spent more time changing the oil on an MGB.
MILEAGE (Car Wear): The mileage is at 60 miles because that would be the longest distance you would possibly drive in a coursemarker/gimmick rallye. The only thing that might wear on your car will be the reverse synchro from making fifty U-turns.
A coursemarker/gimmick rallye is a really fun event to run. Show up prepared to be entertained by the rallye personnel and look forward to being “tricked” a few times. It’s easy on the car and the pocket book, and it’s something you can do with friends or your kids. If you’re looking to get involved in some sort of sanctioned event, but have never made the “jump” to participating in anything with your car, this is a great place to start. And don’t forget “R” means “Right” except when it doesn’t, and sometimes it won’t. Confused? I was too. See you at the Rallye!