Santa Barbara Sports Car Club presented its 30th annual and final Starlite
rallye on December 8-9. TRC had a record twelve entries:
Unfortunately, the Bejars had car trouble on the way to the rallye and weren't able to run. Apologies to the remaining folks that we couldn't find when we took the team picture above.
As is the TRC tradition, we met at the Sizzler near the rallye start for the annual carbo load, to catch up, and to welcome the newcomers. Bill made up some great Survivor theme team shirts. After some food and a couple iced teas to kick off the 18 hour caffeine infusion, we headed over to the start. At 6:00 PM sharp, we're all in line to sign the release form and get our routes and maps. We had a little over two hours to plan the night. At 8:34 PM, we're off!
We're running the expert route which has a few extra challenges. For one thing, in addition to the nine inmarkers for regulars and novices, there are seven more for experts. The expert-only inmarkers are passage controls meaning that there may or may not be a timing car there. If not, there will be something on a sign to write down to prove we've been there.
The first two inmarkers had identical descriptions, being under US 101, and there was just a few minutes of time between them. We found the two underpasses about the right distance from the start on the map, but which was #1 and which was #2? A careful look at the on and off ramp markings made it clear which was which if we wanted to be able to leave #2 heading in the right direction on the freeway. Then on to standoff #3, the first standoff of the night. It was on Corbet Canyon, letting us know the wine in those annoying radio commercials is from a real place. A flashing light pinpointed the inmarker location on a parallel road. Then on to a quick gas break in San Luis Obispo and to Standoff #4 off of Hwy. 58. The route instructions told us the inmarker would be 0.9 miles north of a flashing light, then surprise, the light was right at Standoff. There was only one road to the north, so no problem.
And then came the fog. It was a long drive to inmarker 5, mostly on Hwy. 58. Thick fog came and went and we were a bit worried about making it on time. We were also warned at the start about possible black ice in this area, and I wanted to take it easy with some new rear tires that weren't sticking quite as well as the old ones. We did make it with a few minutes to spare.
Legs 6, 7, and 8 made up an interesting puzzle, and used one of Starlite's treasures, Honolulu Road. This road, southwest of Bakersfield, has been used on several Starlites. It is one of the hardest to find, hardest to follow once you're on it, and worst paved roads I've ever seen, but also one of the most fun and has some of the best views anywhere. The puzzle was that inmarker 8 could be almost anywhere, but was only seven minutes after inmarker 7. Inmarker 7 was on Airport Road, which was the only road that led to Honolulu Road where inmarker 6 was located. So depending on where 8 was, we could figure which part of Airport Road had inmarker 7 on it, and would then use a different piece of Airport to get to Honolulu. We expected this to work out so that inmarker 7 would be on the piece of Airport that was along the shortest way to Honolulu, and that we'd have to loop around to approach inmarker 6. But the information at standoff 6 and 8 put inmarker 8 elsewhere, and the route was pretty easy. Unless of course you got lost or stuck on Honolulu Road. We did fly past the jog in the road that connected back to the main highway, but recovered quickly. A while after inmarker 8, the cell phone rang with teammates reporting being stuck in the gravel on Honolulu. We gave some pretty useless advise, then tried without success to call back, but did at least promise to tell the next crew.
Continuing eastwards, south of Bakersfield, we approached another Starlite favorite, Caliente-Bodfish Road. We wouldn't be traveling the full length (from Caliente to Bodfish), but had another little puzzle with two inmarkers with identical descriptions around a few miles radius of highways 223 and 58. We were pretty sure how this would play out, and the sighting at standoff 9 confirmed it. The experts might have had it easier here as inmarker 10 was for us only, and some non-experts found it and thought it was inmarker 9.
From here, we headed up Hwy. 58 towards Tehachapi. Our big mistake of the rallye was doing this highway stretch too slow. We told the rallye computer the speed limit was 55, but later figured it must have been 65. We arrived at standoff 11 with little time left, took a quick compass reading, and hesitated for half a minute at the decision point of which of two roads would have the inmarker. With a better compass reading, we probably wouldn't have needed to pause here. We did pick the right road, but arrived 0.14 late, plenty to put us out of the running. Being a little flustered, we also forgot to restart the computer at the inmarker which was important for finding the next expert-only course control. It was a flashing light tens of miles from the sighting at the last standoff, but it had a true time. This meant we should have been able to calculate its location relative to the previous inmarker given speed limits and time allotted for gas in Mohave. Luckily, there were only a couple reasonable candidates on the map, and a guess at the true time in Mohave led us to the right place.
Next it was a long drive, again along Hwy. 58, past Barstow. This was the stretch that the organizers mentioned at Start, where navigators should keep checking that drivers were still awake. Leg 12 had a trick that caught quite a few cars. We'd seen this setup before. Those taking the shortest route to standoff 12 would hit the inmarker first for a maximum penalty on the leg. Since the inmarker could be on the same road as the standoff and since there was an intersection just before the standoff, the correct approach was to come in on the perpendicular road which did require traveling an extra seven miles. Inmarker 13, for experts only, was on a frontage to Hwy. 15. A close look at the map showed no off ramp at the beginning of the frontage. So the correct approach here was to exit the freeway several miles before the frontage, travel on a frontage on the other side of the freeway, then cross over the freeway onto the inmarker road.
It's now breakfast time. The Starlite breakfast break has often been the worst experience of a Starlite rallye. Imagine pairs of tired impatient people pouring into a restaurant at four or five AM every minute for a couple of hours, and waiters and cooks hopelessly trying to keep up. We've packed cereal bars and other snacks for many years, for the times that breakfast didn't come. A nice surprise for the Starlite finale was the inclusion of breakfast buffet coupons in the rallye packet. An open buffet was waiting for us at the Bun Boy in Baker. We had food on our plates within a couple minutes of arriving, and actually had time for a leisurely meal.
There was a timed restart after breakfast, then up route 127 to standoff 14. After the inmarker, we crossed into Nevada and worked on narrowing down where inmarker 15 could be. This was the final expert-only inmarker and had just a vague description and a true time. After inmarker 14, the time available narrowed it down to just one road. We gained a bunch of time relative to speed limits which wasn't terribly smart. As soon as we turned onto the inmarker road, we could see the timing car and had to creep off about eleven minutes, a strain on driver, navigator, and clutch.
The final standoff was on the outskirts of Las Vegas. We thought this could be challenging as the inmarker description left a lot of possibilities open. But something wasn't quite right with the road labels on the map, so the inmarker was put just straight down the same road, and we were told we could go backwards through inmarker and standoff after going through the right way. This is usually not allowed and has tempted and caught many in previous years.
We usually try to get a team photo after the last inmarker, but I neglected to tell most of the team, so most waved and drove off. Here's a few of us at least.
Well, we finished with a 0.15, all but 0.01 on leg 11. Not great, but we really enjoyed the course and are happy we did pretty much everything correctly. And I'm always grateful to finish a big rallye with a working car, no new moving violations, and enough energy left to drive across town to the hotel.
The awards banquet lasted a full five hours, all with an open bar, another nice touch for the finale. There were plenty of speeches and stories, but they really just scratched the surface of the 30 year history.
TRC did great! We missed the club participation award by just one car. We took the Best Club award as we did in 1999. This was TRC's first back-to-back Best Club and I'm sure would have been the beginning of a long reign if the rallye was continuing. Glenn and I took Best in Club though we're waiting for a final word from SBSCC about a questionable penalty given to Tim and Donna. If removed, they earned Best in Club. Norm and Henry took third place regular. Stu and Bill got their five year pins and took third place expert. And Sue and Alan got their ten year pins and took top honors - first place expert and first overall! The Starlite booklet that was handed out at the beginning of the banquet had a history of the major awards throughout the 30 Starlites. There were only two blanks: first overall and best club in 2000, and TRC earned them both.
I thoroughly enjoyed Starlite 2000. The course, the workers, the logistics - everything was top-notch. While I'm sad to see Starlite come to an end, it was good to see it close with an event that was among the very best. I can't end this with the usual "again next year", but I am happy to hear that SBSCC will do their once per decade rallye from Santa Barbara to San Francisco in 2003. They'll even take reservations now. I'll be there.