Coker Tire Challenge: Part 2

Coker Tire Challenge: Part 2

Rain had been threatening us all weekend. On Friday, we got lucky and managed to dodge every drop that fell from the dark skies, but on this day our luck was out – rain was coming down in sheets. Doing my best to ignore the weather, I lined the blown ’32 roadster up with the starting sign. Jeff Stumb (my navigator) concentrated on his clock and counted me down. 3… 2… 1… GO.

I let off the clutch easy and stabbed the throttle in an effort to get to the scheduled 35 mph as quickly as I could. The 18″ Firestone dirt trackers struggled for traction and finally relented in smoke. I feathered the gas, letting the car regain its composure, and then finally settled on the target speed.

The speedometer bounced between 34 and 36 mph. Knowing that wasn’t good enough and that it wouldn’t be long before Jeff mentioned my performance, I started to concentrate deeply on my right foot. I had to hold 35 mph… EXACTLY.

“Right turn ahead. Enter at 35 mph. Hit the apex at 17 mph. Come out at 5 mph,” Jeff barked.

Shit. Did he say come out at 5 mph or 35 mph? It’s too late to ask. The corner is now. I figured it was easier to scrub off time than to make it up, so I hit the corner and came off the apex fairly hard aiming for 35 mph. I concentrated on the insanely large speedo. No sense in watching the road too hard as I couldn’t see much through the rain anyhow.

Just when I looked up, I noticed there wasn’t a road in front of me. It was a blind corner. Rather than nail the brakes and under steer, I decided to nail the throttle and slide the rear around. Luckily, it worked. The dirt trackers broke loose on the wet asphault, the ass end came right around, and the car pointed perfectly down the road.

I looked over at Jeff expecting to see the look of a man only moments from defecating himself. He showed no fear from the incident… Only aggravation at my missed speed.

“FIVE! FIVE! FIVE! Get down to five! It’s ok… I can scrub that speed at the next stop sign.”

And that’s rally racing gentlemen. It’s hour after hour of fairly intense concentration, mathematics, and timing followed by short burst of intense concentration and a bit of adrenaline. Essentially, it works like this:

- Cars are outfitted with a driver and a navigator to form a rally team.

- Each team is then given a set of directions for the day. Typically, a day covers about 300 miles and has around 100 or more maneuvers. A set of maneuvers might look like this:

+ Start at 55 mph.

+ At the I35 east sign, drive 45 mph for 35 seconds.

+ (comes quickly) Turn right on Sawyer Ranch Road and go to 45 mph.

- Throughout the day, you drive through several checkpoints. At these checkpoints, the time of each team is recorded.

- Teams are scored by how closely they finish the course to the official time. If your timing is perfect, you get an “ace.” Typically, you can throw out one bad run (a section between checkpoints) per day.

- At the end of the Rally, the team with the best score takes home all of the marbles and often, a pretty generous purse as well.

- Note: There is one factor. Older and more period perfect cars get bonus points over more modern and well equipped cars.

Now, all of this seems simple on paper – doesn’t it? It’s not. It damn hard and very cerebral. For instance, when the maneuver says go from 45 mph to 35 mph at a specific point on the map (lets say a road sign of some sort), it’s not a matter of just reducing your speed. See, the timer expects you to be able to go from 45 to 35 instantly. Even if you were rallying a Ferrari Enzo, that just isn’t possible. So, you begin dropping your speed a certain distance before the sign and you reach the target speed the exact same distance past the sign. As you are doing this, the navigator times the process and figures how much time you need to scrub or make up in the future because of the lack of efficiency in the maneuver.

My head hurts just thinking about it. There is no way in hell I could navigate a rally team. I found out on the first day, however, that I could drive one so long as I had an absolute master in the navigator seat. Enter Jeff Stumb. On our first day out, Jeff and I turned in two aces, a one, a two, an eight, and a nine. We threw the nine out and found ourselves in 5th place (out of 52 cars). Not only did we have the most aces of the day, but we were way ahead of any other rookie in the field. I’d like to tell you it was my “hot shoe,” but realistically it was all Jeff’s master mind.

We started out Saturday looking pretty damn good as well, but I had a flight to catch and had to bail on Jeff before the event was over. Jess Hoodenpyle met us at lunch and took over driving duties. I haven’t gotten word yet as to where we finished and am hoping Jess replies to this post and fills us all in.

Of course, since getting back home I’ve been fielding a ton of questions from curious pals. The most often asked is, “So… Is rallying a more gratifying time than a simple reliability run?”

I actually thought a lot about this while in Tennessee as well as on my way home. There are definite pluses and minus to the sport. I love dumping the throttle on a freeway and just clicking off miles as quickly I can. I also love loafing around the country side and taking in the sights. In all honesty, you can’t do either in a rally. The fastest speed I saw during the Coker Tire Challenge was 55 mph and that was pretty rare. And although the Tennessee country side is breathtaking, I was too busy watching the speedometer, listening to my navigator, and concentrating on the next maneuver to do much of anything else. Admittedly, this was frustrating at times.

But I can be a pretty competitive guy… And at the end of the first day and after we got our results, my mind began to think about winning. I love winning. I wanted to win that damn thing. That was fun.

And then the rain of Saturday brought another dimension to the event. Carrying a corner at 45 mph with no visibility and nothing but a set of bias ply tires keeping your pal’s bad ass ’32 roadster from the guardrail was simply incredible. The sight of early style indy cars rolling in the same weather (30′ rooster tails, miserable looking pilots and navigators, and great sounds) was just as exasperating.

More than anything though… What I really like about rally racing is that the guys and gals that participate, do more than just drive their cars. They abuse their cars. They beat the hell out of their cars. I LOVE THAT.

Special Thanks:

- The Cokers… All of em…  Corky, Theresa, Casey, Greg, and Cameron (even though he couldn’t make it). Needless to say, I consider the whole family to be good pals of mine and I can’t thank them enough for inviting me down for this deal. The experience meant a lot.

- Honest Mike. I got maybe the quote of the week from Mike with, “I just like casual hot rods, ya know? Nothing too fancy – Just traditional and clean.”

Every car Mike owns is perfect.

- Jeff Stumb. Jeff ruled the navigator’s seat. He’s also building a vintage stock car and with any luck, I’ll be showing you guys his progress in the future. Congrats on the Auburn win over West Virginia!

- Jess Hoodenpyle. One of my favorite Coker suits on earth. He went miles to make me feel at home.

- All of the guys at Coker’s Garage. As I’ve mentioned, I drove the “double exposure” ’32 roadster in the rally. The blown flathead ran flawlessly and was a ton of fun to boot. I suspicion that owe more than a few of these guys a thanks or two.

- All of the Coker Tire Challenge Competitors. You guys taught me ton… and that was fun!

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