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Behind the Wheel with Team CJ Pony

Behind the Wheel with Team CJ Pony

This year’s CJ Pony Parts – Rally New England just came to a close, and we got the firsthand account from Team CJ Pony driver, Bill Tumas. He’s back to work in the studio here at CJ’s after the exciting 1,300 mile Rally drive, and we’re sure you’ll enjoy this “behind the scenes” account of hunting checkpoints across New England, track time at Watkins Glen International Raceway, an ice cream fueled detour, and even a visit at Camp Sunshine.

Pre-Rally Driver’s Meeting

Each year, there is a driver’s meeting to discuss the rules of the rally, which are pretty simple: Get your checkpoints, find them, take a picture. If you get a speeding ticket, you are no longer eligible to win any day of the rally, and if you finish faster than a given time you also lose. This meeting took it to a whole other level though, since it was followed by paced laps at Watkins Glen International Raceway!

“The Glen” is one of the most famous tracks in the world, and the chance to make some paced laps was exciting for all of the drivers.  Rally drivers set out on the track in two groups following a pace truck for the purpose of keeping the group under 80 MPH. The track proved challenging even at lower speeds, and Bill imagines running wide open here must be a crazy sort of thrill.

Team CJ Pony at Watkin's Glenn

Day 1

Day 1 of the rally started out in a wet Ithaca, New York, and Team CJ Pony decided to compete right away looking to place. The Rally is three days with 1st, 2nd, and 3rd places awarded each day. Once you place, you are not eligible to place any other day. This means if the CJ Pony team placed on Day 1, they could make their own checkpoints for themselves during the rest of the rally and take their time on the ride.

Out of 80 teams, Bill and Gordon received the 8th highest amount of donations, putting them in the #8 starting spot for the week. The first checkpoint clue was simply a picture of a car that was built by a Buffalo, NY auto manufacturer in the 50’s. To make this checkpoint, Team CJ Pony had to figure out what kind of car it was, and then locate that exact car in a museum in New York.

At Rally New EnglandThrough some internet research, they found out the car was built by the Playboy Automobile Company and the car was on display at the Northeast Classic Car Museum in Norwich, NY. After finding the location of the checkpoint, they made their way there and got the next clue: A picture of a 45 foot horsetail style waterfall somewhere in Montgomery County, NY. After some quick thinking in solving this riddle, the team ran into some trouble in making it to where they thought the waterfall was.

They headed towards the falls location, yet felt it was not correct since it was a school parking lot and they had already passed the park entrance a mile back. After heading back to the entrance and following a few other teams towards the falls, they had to park and go to the falls on foot (unfortunately walking over a mile in the wrong direction). They were able to finally make it to the falls with several other teams and get the picture, where they noticed they could see the school (where they originally drove to) through the trees. Bill says, “Had we trusted this, we would have saved over 45 minutes – but that’s rallying for you.”

Our next checkpoint was: “The monument that commemorates the American victory in the Battles of Saratoga,” and they had to find it and take a picture with a Hagerty Insurance rep, one of the event sponsors.  Gordon called ahead once they figured out where it was, and was told the monument was in the cemetery and not the park itself, saving the team some time after their misfortunes at the falls.

At Rally New EnglandFor this checkpoint, Bill and Gordon were the first to arrive, giving the team a good shot for a Day 1 win! Checkpoint 4 had this clue: “This view awaits you if you navigate to the viewing center in Vermont named for Saint Bruno.” After some sleuthing, they were about to find out this location is called Mount Equinox, and they set off in that direction. Gordon again called ahead and was told by the visitor center to not follow the navigation directions and instead to follow a better route. This quick thinking worked out well for Team CJ Pony, since the navigation would have taken them up a jeep trail that many could not navigate.

The roads in this area were steep and, with the cloud coverage, visibility wasn’t great. However, they made it safely to the peak, got the picture, and slowly made their way back down. At this time, only one team was ahead of Bill and Gordon, giving them a good chance at placing!

The finish line was at Baxter’s Restaurant in Rutland, Vermont. As they were pulling in to Baxter’s parking lot, they looked around and realized they were the first team to arrive! This was certainly exciting, but the team knew it didn’t guarantee them a place, since all 80 cars can’t leave at the same time, meaning start times are staggered and all would come down to total times. Once the math was done, Team CJ Pony was pleased to have made third place for the day!

Day 2

Day 2 once again started out with rain for the driver’s, but it looked to be clearing up. Since Team CJ Pony wasn’t eligible to win anything else due to their third place on Day 1, they decided to look at the checkpoints and make some of our own. The first stop was Devil’s Bowl Speedway, a 1/2 mile oval in Fair Haven, VT. Bill says they were “certainly not missing any track time!” so they traveled there and got to make two laps on the speedway, driving as fast as they wanted.

At Rally New EnglandThe next location was another waterfall and, after day 1, they figured they had enough waterfalls to last for awhile. The next location was a general store, but the last clue caught Bill and Gordon’s attention, which they figured out instantly:  Ben & Jerry’s! They headed straight there and planned to spend some time exploring and taking the tour. It proved a good choice for the team, who said it was fun being able to sit there eating their Ben & Jerry’s, watching other teams still competing run in and then back out again.

Team CJ Pony knew the finish line was Camp Sunshine, so they only hit one more check point: a supposedly haunted bridge, known as Emily’s Bridge. After taking in the creepy sight of the bridge and snapping a quick picture, they headed off to Camp Sunshine. Pulling into the camp was very emotional for the drivers, as the kids and volunteers made hand written thank you signs for all the teams, placed along the road heading into the camp.

Once they pulled in, all the volunteers and families started clapping for us. Seeing firsthand what the donations from the rally were able to do and seeing those it helped was the highlight of the rally for everyone involved. The drivers spent some time at the camp talking to families, meeting the kids, and getting tours. The kids and many of the parents loved Team CJ Pony’s 2011 Mustang GT and many even asked to sit in it!

Camp Sunshine, at Rally New England

Day 3

At Camp SunshineCamp Sunshine could have easily been the finish line and nobody would have been upset, but it was time for Day 3 for the rally gang, which would take everyone into Canada. Checkpoint 1 was Oxford Plains Speedway, which meant it was time for some 1/8th mile drag racing! Team CJ Pony was one of the first ones to the track and, since there was no timing equipment, they were going “old school” with arm drop racing for the day. There was also no prep beforehand, so their 700HP Mustang had some slight traction issues the entire way down the track. However, Team CJ Pony still had a great time and was reluctant to leave the speedway.

When they headed out, Bill and Gordon chose to hit some of the checkpoints, which were lighthouses, before heading for the Paul Bunyan Statue in Bangor, Maine. Here, they were interviewed for the local news, and when they were finished with that, they headed towards Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada!  After 1300 miles, 3 days, and a lifetime of memories, Team CJ Pony finally arrived at the last finish line on the boardwalk at Saint John.

Rally Wrap-Up

“Rally New England has come to an end and I miss it already. It’s really hard to put into words what all of these teams come together to accomplish.”

The final total raised for Camp Sunshine was over $90,000, which will be used to send 45 children with life threatening illnesses and their family to camp for a week. They will get to escape for a week from the harsh realities of daily life coping with a life threatening illness and go to a beautiful camp near Lake Elsinore, surrounded by others that are experiencing the same illness they are and some of the nicest volunteers Bill and Gordon have ever had the privilege to meet. Seeing these kids faces light up as all these cars came rumbling in still brings a tear to my eye. 

“These kids simply get to be normal kids on vacation with their family, and when rally driver’s drove into camp, they also had the chance to check out some cool cars all driving for their cause. It was a life changing moment, and Rally North America made it happen.”

From Rally New England

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