If you are not familiar with Rally North America’s events, let me give you a little background. These events are the brainchild of Tony Intrieri and Scott Spielman, along with a few other like-minded individuals who decided that multi-day road rallies should be affordable to the masses, not just the rich, and that they could be used to raise money for charity, and not to line someone’s already fat wallet. In 2009, Rally North America was formed and, in 2010, they ran their first official event, the Route 66 Rally. CJ Pony Parts has been on board since the beginning, and I am proud to say I have been as well.
The concept of the rally is very simple on paper, but quite different when you are on the road. Your day begins when a set of clues to your checkpoints are handed to you. The goal is to figure out the landmarks described in the clues, which are sometimes just a picture or some very vague wording. Once, and if, you can figure out the clue, you head towards that checkpoint in the most efficient way you can. Since this is for charity, speeding and reckless driving is highly frowned upon. If you receive any moving violation during the rally, it’s an automatic DQ. Make it to the finish line too quickly? Same result. The team that finds all the checkpoints, takes selfies in front of them, and makes it to the finish line the quickest, wins. Awards are given out for first, second, and third place for each day of the Rally. Once you place, you are not eligible to place again during the event, giving plenty of chances for others to compete.
Sounds easy right? If you are into cars and a road rally isn’t on your bucket list, it should be. Nothing like spending a few days on the road with a large group of like-minded individuals all with the same goal: Have a good time, find some checkpoints, and support a great charity.
In a tradition we all hope will continue, Rally North America got an early start with some laps at a local race track. Even though the Rally would not officially start until Monday morning, we all headed out to Summit Point Raceway on Sunday afternoon for some paced laps around their road course. This was a perfect way to have some fun and give some of the rally participants a few laps to get familiar with a road course, since some more serious laps were in our future in Colorado. The pace car was a Boss 302S, and he led the cars around at speeds well over what you would legally see on the highway. Everyone had a great time and headed to the hotel to get ready for the start of the Rally!
For the 2014 CJ Pony Parts - Rally US 50, Team CJ Pony was made up of myself and my rookie navigator, Tom. My usual navigator, Gordon, was unavailable, so Tom had big shoes to fill, given Team CJ Pony had placed in every previous rally. We were third in overall donations that were raised for this year’s charity, Accelerated Cure for MS, so we were able to line up on the front row. At 8:30 a.m., we were waved off by the Bud girls, and we were off to our first checkpoint. We were given a vague clue and were able to determine the first checkpoint was the Confederate Memorial at the Indian Mount Cemetery.
With several other teams in front and behind us, we made our way there, then headed to the second checkpoint, a scenic view of Saddle Mountain in Skyline, West Virginia. This checkpoint was a little trickier than it appears because you had to park in a specific spot to get the correct picture… a drive-by picture wouldn’t cut it.
At this point, we realized the pace was a little on the quick side and we were way behind the leaders, so we decided to make up a few new checkpoints. We found a few teams looking to do the same thing and decided to make Biggie’s Hamburgers our first unofficial checkpoint. While the official checkpoints are always interesting, sometimes you find the best things by accident, and Biggie's was just that.
With a full belly, we got back on the road towards Harrison County Courthouse, an official checkpoint hosting the flags from the USS West Virginia. A quick picture and we were off to what was possibly the creepiest checkpoint in the history of the rally, the Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum. We signed up for the required tour and were led through a decrepit old asylum, where horrible things were most certainly done to those deemed insane. Since the tour was required, that typically meant there was a reason and, sure enough, we were given two additional checkpoints at the end, a car museum and another asylum.
After Trans Allegheny, we had had enough asylums for one lifetime and headed to the car museum Cliff’s Museum of Car Memorabilia felt like a step back in time to a real car dealership from the ‘20s or ‘30s. The owner was kind enough to show us around and even offered a few donations to ACP. We spent some extra time checking out his fantastic collection and then headed off to Kiser’s BBQ to enjoy some food and drinks with the other teams.
Just like every year, tomorrow at 7:30 a.m., the madness starts all over again as we continue to head west on US 50!
I was up before my alarm, counting the minutes until we headed to the starting line in Athens, Ohio. Just like day one, we started third because we were third overall in donations to ACP for MS. Today, Tom and I decided to go for it, which in rally speak means that we were looking to run well and place in the top 3. That means we hit all the checkpoints in the most efficient way possible and only stop when necessary. Food and bathroom breaks are optional.
At 8:30, we left the cobble streets of Athens behind and headed to the first checkpoint, which we determined was the Indian Mounds at Hopewell Culture Park. We were able to get the required picture without issue and were headed to checkpoint 2. Driving a Mustang, I was looking forward to this checkpoint, because we were headed to the Warbird’s Museum to see an actual Mustang P-51 fighter plane!!
We had two routes we could take and figured the highway route would be the quickest. It wasn’t. There were quite a few teams that we knew were behind us that were now in front as we got to the museum. The “Cincinnati Miss” was beautiful, but we were on a mission to stay competitive, so a quick picture was taken and we were back on the road.
Checkpoint 3 was right up my alley, Edgewater Dragstrip for some 1/4 mile passes!! Unfortunately, as happens so many times in a rally, this is where our day took another turn. Thanks to a questionable Google map, the road it took us to made it hard to get to the strip, because the turn it recommended would have taken us over a river, one without a bridge. Since my Mustang doesn’t float, we had to go the long way around. Twenty minutes later, we arrived at the dragstrip and figured the day was lost, so we made a couple 12-second passes and took our time heading to the next checkpoint, a garage on route 50 with some gorgeous vintage signs.
We, again, got the required picture, then stopped for gas and headed to the next checkpoint. We noticed there was a competitor in front of us that we believed was running towards the front. We followed them to the Hayden historic gas station, where the owner announced we were the first two teams to arrive!! We were still in it!
We followed the other Mustang back out to Route 50 and headed to the finish line at Spring Mill Inn near Mitchell, Indiana. We were the second team to arrive, but there were a few teams that showed up right behind us, so we will have to wait and see how we placed. Because of the staggered start times, just because you get here second doesn’t mean you are in second place.
About an hour later, Scott and Tony came looking for us asking to see our pictures to prove we hit all the checkpoints. From my experience, I knew that only meant one thing: Team CJ Pony placed!! Once everything was calculated and the pictures were checked, we were officially awarded second place for day 2. We lost by 3 minutes and beat third place by 32 seconds.
Let that sink in for a second. Day 2 was over 6 hours of driving and it came down to seconds. Had we not made a second pass at the drag strip or made a couple of wrong turns, we would have won, but that’s rallying for you. Given the competitiveness of the Rally, I will take second place all day long!
The rules of the rally state that once you place in the top three, you are no longer eligible to win another leg. So all we have to do to lock in second place is make it to the finish line in Pueblo without any moving violations. That left Team CJs in a familiar position of being able to look at the official checkpoints and maybe find some new ones along the way.
We lined up 5-wide in Bedford, Indiana and hit the road again. We decided checkpoint 1 would be Denny's, unofficial of course, but, as usual, a few teams followed us, not knowing we weren't heading for an official checkpoint. Over some slammichs, Tom and I, along with Team Chillin, looked at the options and decided to make our own checkpoint.
My Ridetech coilovers were making a little noise, and I found out Ridetech was less than an hour away! Hello unofficial checkpoint 2!!
We made it to Ridetech, and I handed my car off to their techs, and we were given a tour of their amazing facility and car collection. If you are ever in Jasper, Indiana and are looking for a killer suspension for your car, check these guys out. My Mustang got a suspension makeover, and it was getting late, so we headed to the hotel, 5 hours away in Jefferson City, Missouri. Time to get some sleep and get ready for day 4!
We woke up to a beautiful morning in Jefferson City, Missouri. The hotel gave us private parking in their garage, so there was probably nobody sleeping past 7 a.m., as 60+ Rally cars roared to life and headed to the downtown starting location.
Even though we were no longer eligible to win, we took our spot up front and hit the road at 8:30. We took a look at the checkpoints offered and decided which ones we really wanted to see, and which ones we might skip, given today’s finish line in Dodge City, Kansas was almost 500 miles away. Since there were not a lot of route options, we figured most of the checkpoints would be somewhat close to Route 50.
Our clue for checkpoint 1 was an 8 ball, and we were told to find the biggest one we could find. A quick google search had us headed to Tipton, Missouri, to see a water tower painted just like an 8 ball. A quick picture and we were off to checkpoint 2. Our clue this time was a picture of a travel trunk that belonged to the women who founded Sedalia, Missouri. We were able to determine the trunk was at the Katy Train Station, a beautifully restored train station with a nice museum inside.
Checkpoint 3 was a statue of a dog with quite a story behind it, but we decided to pass on that one and head to Emporia, Kansas. Emporia was supposed to be a secret checkpoint, but the town was so excited we were coming that they leaked the location on the web, so we all knew where we were going.
Emporia personified what is great about this rally. The town LOVED that we were coming and really rolled out the red carpet for us. They brought classic cars, water, candy, and lots of people! It almost makes you get an idea what it is like to be famous when we pulled in and cameras started going off! We spent quite a bit of time checking out the All Veterans Memorial and talking to the locals. We got a tip for some good BBQ, so we said our goodbyes and grabbed some good eats before hitting the road to Dodge City.
This was probably the longest stretch in the rally. Route 50 between Emporia and Dodge City is long and flat. There were a couple checkpoints to check out, including a salt mine and a sod house, which broke up the long stretch. A few hours later, we rolled into the finish line at the Boot Hill Casino and headed to the hotel for a rest after the long day. Hard to believe Friday is the last day for the CJ Pony Parts - Rally Route 50 as we head out of Dodge City and head for Pueblo, Colorado!
Although it seems like just yesterday when we met up for some laps at Summit Point before the rally, today is Day 5, the final day of the CJ Pony Part Rally Route 50. We got second place on day two, so all we have to do to lock in the runner-up spot is make it to the finish line without any moving violations.
Before the mayor of Dodge City sent us on our way, many of us took the tour of the Boot Hill Museum. If you are ever in the area, I highly suggest giving it a look.
Compared to the marathon that was day 4, day 5 was a 4.5-hour walk in the park. There were only two checkpoints, a Japanese Internment Camp and Bent’s Old Fort. The Internment camp was right on Rt. 50, so we took a cruise through the dirt roads and were on our way. We found out the fort was about 13 miles off the road, so decided to bypass that one and head right to Pueblo. We pulled into town on Main Street and made a left onto Riverwalk and the finish line!!!
Pueblo had a welcoming committee waiting for us along with a gift bag for all the cars. We hung out with fellow ralliers, shared some stories, and headed to the hotel.
Was the Rally over? Officially, yes, but Rally North America reserved Pueblo Motorsports Park for some hot laps!! Unlike the paced laps before, this time it was helmets on and flat out!! We did 6 hard laps in the Mustang before the brakes started objecting, and I decided it was time to park the car and do some spectating. While the Rally may end in Pueblo, my trip is not over as I am planning on going all the way to the Pacific before heading home to Pennsylvania.
The last part of the event is the awards banquet, which is the perfect time to spend a few more hours with my fellow Rally drivers and acknowledge all those who placed, as well as a few special awards for longest distance, spirit of the rally, and best costume. It will only be a few months before the organizers start planning Rally 2015.
To get in on the craziness, make sure you check out www.rallynorthamerica.com
While the Rally was over, my time on the road was far from it. I always have been of the opinion that Mustangs are meant to be driven, and have given no second thoughts to driving mine all over the country. With the finish being all the way out in Colorado, it was just too tempting to not go all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Before the start of the Rally, Tom and I went down to Ocean City, Maryland figuring I could start there and then go clear across the county, touching both oceans in less than two weeks. How cool is that!
I decided to make the time after the rally my vacation, so Tom flew home and my wife Tanya flew into Colorado Springs. What happened next was an absolute whirlwind of sights and sounds for the next week. We drove up Pikes Peak, went flat out on the Bonneville Salt Flats, drove down Lombard street in San Francisco, drove the PCH, touched the Pacific Ocean, cruised the strip in Vegas, hit the Grand Canyon, and made quite a few other unplanned stops along the way. After all was said and done, I hit 21 states and drove over 7200 miles in my 2011 Mustang GT. What have you done with your Mustang lately?