Starlite '96 - review by Dave Graubart

Starlite '96 took place December 13-14, 1996.  It was the 26th annual Santa Barbara to Las Vegas monte-carlo rallye sponsored by the Santa Barbara Sports Car Club (SBSCC). The TRC team contributed 10 of the 75 or so cars running the event:

TRC had an outstanding showing, with the following honors:

The rallye, as always, was made possible by a tremendous effort by SBSCC, in creating the course, organizing registration, accommodations, and the banquet, assembling a large number of workers, and sacrificing an awful lot of sleep. There was a good chance that the event would not take place, given decreasing participation (and income) in recent years, but GM came to the resue, having SBSCC create a corporate rallye during the year, and effectively subsidizing Starlite.

This year's course covered some seldom seen areas, not a trivial task given that there are only so many ways to get to Las Vegas from Santa Barbara. There were a number of long freeway stretches, hours with nothing for the navigator to do, plus some execution problems that made the rallye a bit below par compared to the typical top-quality Starlite (I've run or worked the last 21 of them).

Leg 1 headed South out of Santa Barbara to a course control for regulars and novices near Ojai, and a different one near Fillmore for experts. It seemed that the expert course was easier which we couldn't quite understand. The course continued to standoff 1 near Fillmore. A flashing light should have been visible to identify checkpoint 1, but the workers were unable to get this set up, so a handout was given that made the leg easy.

Leg 2 was designed well, with novices going to a standoff with a perpendicular, thus relatively easy siting to a checkpoint in the mountains above San Fernando, and the regulars and experts going to a standoff near Magic Mountain, that would have presumably had a more difficult siting. Unfortunately, Magic Mountain considered this standoff road to be part of the park, and closed down the standoff. We were surprised that SBSCC didn't see this risk, or think on-the-fly to move the standoff to the nearest public road. As it was, cars wandered around all over the place, and the leg was thrown for regulars and experts.

A long freeway stretch took us to legs 3 and 4, which looked like they could have made a difficult maze, and caused the most head scratching at the start. They were both North of San Bernardino, and ended up being easy and with way too much time available. Typically, Starlite forces the contestant to consider "time available" to help figure out where checkpoints are, but in this case, there was lots of time to kill, a bit of which was needed because of a dead-end road that was incorrectly shown as through on the official rallye maps.

Another long freeway stretch took us to leg 5, near North Palm Springs. This leg was done well, with a bit of navigating needed to get on the right road heading in the right direction, and the time-available coming out about right.

Next was a breakfast stop in Yucca Valley. Denny's was almost the only game in town, and was poorly prepared for us. By the time we got our food, we had less than 5 minutes before we had to leave. Others ordering only cold cereal had similar experiences. Cars were held until a specific time in the Denny's parking lot, then it was on to leg 6. The standoff was nearby, but incorrectly described in the course instructions. Also, by far the best way to leave the standoff street was using a street not on the official maps. As we measured it, using roads on the map, and not exceeding the posted speed limits, there was insufficient time to get to the checkpoint on time. It's not that the leg couldn't be done safely at resonable speeds, but using speed limits to determine the maximum distance, and using only roads on the map, simply didn't work on this leg. Between this, which others confirmed, and for those who lost time sorting out the error in the course instructions, we expected SBSCC to make adjustments for this leg but they didn't.

The course continued past Twentynine Palms, then North towards I-40. At standoff 7, we were given the location of of the checkpoint, which didn't seem necessary. Continuing North towards I-15, we came to standoff 8. A sighting put the checkpoint East of the town of Nipton, which didn't seem possible given time available. We stayed just a few MPH over the speed limit to arrive at the checkpoint on time. Our calculations showed the checkpoint a full 4 miles beyond where it could be while running the expert course at speed limits.

Leg 9 was fairly interesting. We were only told it was on some road, two hundred and something miles from the breakfast break. A sighting from standoff 9 confirmed it to be on the only road that seemed to fit the description. Still the road, in Boulder City, took some good navigation to find, and again, the time to the checkpoint seemed a bit short.

A short drive took us to the Showboat Hotel, for turing in the scorecard, and a welcome shower and nap. Few seem to like the Showboat, being so far from The Strip, and wonder if SBSCC can't do better. It had always been difficult to find a hotel that would accept a big group for just Saturday night, but the arrangement of the last couple Starlites has us pay for both Friday and Saturday nights with a Saturday morning arrival, and that seems like it should open up more choices. Still, the Showboat is adequate, and SBSCC and the hotel did a great job with cocktails, banquet, and awards. Evening events were moved earlier to give people more time to see the town and loose money.

I'm looking forward to Starlite '97, hopefully a little more polished and maybe with a new finish location.

- Dave