Starlite 1999 - Review by Dave Graubart
TRC participated in Santa Barbara Sports Car Club's 29th annual rallye to Las Vegas over the December 10 weekend with an excellent showing of ten cars:
We ran in Expert class, which had a somewhat different route than the Regular and Novice cars. The first thing that stood out, was that rather than the nine or so checkpoints that Starlite always has, this one had 16. This was a most welcome change as there would be more challenges, more chances for us (but hopefully others) to mess up, and no long boring stretches between any Controls. In order to pull this off with a reasonable number of rallye workers, SBSCC borrowed a technique used by other clubs - the Passage Control. For each leg, if we see a particular sign before finding a staffed Inmarker, we are to just record the letter attached to the sign. We of course have no idea which will be staffed and which Passage, so we have to run as if all will be staffed and timed.
The TRC team started the course around 8:30 PM, each one minute apart. The route started South on 101 then East on 150 towards Ojai. Time was fairly tight to get to Inmarker 1, which turned out to be a Passage Control. From there, we headed into the mountains of Ventura County up Route 33. We passed a couple of snow plows, which is usually not a good sign. The Standoff for Leg 2 was set up several miles early, to warn us of snow and ice ahead, and they weren't kidding. Glenn has a great eye for ice and kept me out of trouble, unlike an episode many years ago on the same icy road. Inmarker 2 wasn't timing cars, which was a little disappointing since we were on time, but safety comes first. This was the first of a couple of places that inadvertently caused huge headaches for the organizers. The control worker gave cars new Out Times, attempting to give people more time on the bad roads, however Out Times are not normally used on this type of rallye and different contestants interpreted it differently. We took the simple approach and ignored it all together. We later learned that Caltrans closed the road after one of their snow plows plowed into a rallye car (no one hurt), preventing the last cars from coming this way at all.
The roads gradually improved and we boogied on to Standoff 3, just off Highway 5 in Gorman. This was the classic Standoff where there is a flashing light ahead indicating the Inmarker location. The compass bearing to the light went right down the road providing no clue. After almost three hours on the rallye, we finally saw our first hose. I was a little too eager and took a .01 early. We continued along the roads on top of the San Andreas fault down into Palmdale for a quick gas stop. Now the fun was about to begin. Experts had legs 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8, all in a tight interwoven pattern with plenty of opportunities to arrive in the wrong order or go through something backwards. This was in the vicinity of the tiny town of Pearblossom, somewhat overused by rallyes, but there do seem to be enough variations to keep it interesting. We were able to narrow things down at the start to three scenarios such that the location of the Inmarker 6 light would determine which scenario was being used. This was only possible by looking carefully at every time and mileage interval to rule out what would have been another dozen possibilities. After seeing the flashing light, everything did fall into place, except that the workers at Inmarker 7 seemed to be packing up as we were creeping in. It turned out that some local resident didn't think there should be traffic on "his" road and was backing up that opinion with a shotgun, threatening the rallye workers. The workers kept their cool and even managed to time us in.
We then headed East through Victorville to Standoff 9. The instructions said that the Inmarker could be on any of four roads, but the flashing light had a clear relationship to lights at the Apple Valley airport which made it clear to us which road it was on. This didn't prevent me from a second .01 early. Some contestants used a compass bearing and covered each place the bearing crossed one of the possible roads. Unfortunately for them, there was an error on one of the maps, showing a street that went between two of the roads, but that street was closed. From Inmarker 9, we headed up Interstate 15 past Barstow and into Standoff 11. The light showed the Inmarker to be on the frontage to 15, West of our approach to that road, but we had to enter heading East. We also had to go to Inmarker 10 first. It was staffed to make sure we didn't have any extra time on the way to Inmarker 11. It was tempting to hop on the freeway heading West for one exit, and then come back on the frontage into the Inmarker. However, a close look at the map and the time available said this would have been a really bad idea, leaving an impossible 15 miles to cover in 9 minutes. The right answer was to take a frontage on the other side of 15 that crossed over the freeway to intersect the Inmarker road just half the distance West as the first freeway exit. Piece of cake, especially after seeing this unusual road layout on a couple of previous Starlites.
It was now time to refuel body and car in downtown "home of the world's largest thermometer" Baker. Bun Boy was slow and crowded, so we settled down at Denny's which did a great job. Imagine waiting tables at 5:00 AM and having a pair of tired, hungry, and impatient rallyists arrive every minute. I hope everyone gives them generous tips.
Leg 12 started North and uphill on 15, which has a Speed Limit of 70. I'm relaxed and ignoring the fact that I'm only doing about 60. The MR-2 is a terrific rallye car, but it doesn't gain elevation at 70 in 5th gear. You'd think I would know this by now after over a dozen Starlites in the car. After Standoff and especially after getting off 15, there was enough distance to catch up and arrive at Inmarker 12 on time. Inmarker 13, for experts only was on Powerline Road, a marginally paved alley through the desert, that thank God has huge power lines right above it to help find it. The organizers did their best to trick contestants into thinking it was a Passage Control and that taking a shortcut would be good enough, but we weren't about to fall for that. A staffed Inmarker was indeed waiting along with instructions to pick up an extra Course Control. Leg 14 took us almost into Las Vegas. It was a "minimum speed" Inmarker where one had to approach at no less than 30 mph. It was heading South on a frontage to the freeway, so the trick was to measure the distance while driving parallel to the Inmarker road on the freeway. We were too clever for our own good, carefully measuring the distance, setting up the rallye computer for a 40 mph run, and then not paying attention to bends in the Inmarker road that made the distance a bit longer than the distance measured on the freeway. That cost us a .03 late, a huge error in the expert class.
Inmarker 15 was an easy Passage Control, but kept experts off the faster freeway. Inmarker 16 was straightforward. The rapid growth in Las Vegas was apparent as Standoff workers pointed out the Inmarker location on a photo - then we look out and see framing for a housing tract that wasn't in the photo. From here, it was just a drive across town to the hotel and a much anticipated nap. We had a total of .05, unlikely worth an expert trophy, but are satisfied that we ran clean and had a good time. Little did we know that most experts had much bigger errors.
The rallye ended at the Showboat Hotel again. The hotel is not very conveniently located, but we sure appreciated the special arrangements they make with SBSCC for early arrivals. We were in our room by 9:00 AM and I think I was asleep by about 9:05. The awards banquet started at 6:30. It was fun as always to see new and old faces, exchange rallye stories, and catch up on news of the last year. It was great to see that the size of the crowd was the same or maybe even a little bigger than last year, following a number of years of steadily declining participation.
After a great dinner and rallye stories, awards were announced. TRC honors included 1st Novice to Pete and Dave, 3rd Expert to Glenn and me, Best in Club to Norm and Henry, a tie for Club Participation (losing on the tiebreaker of who had all entries paid earliest), and a clean win for Best Club (lowest average error among top five cars in each club)!
Kudos to the rallyemasters, workers, the rest of SBSCC, and the Showboat
Hotel for another excellent event. We'll be trying for that Best Club Award again at the
30th annual Starlite in 2000.