By Ted Waddell
FORESTBURGH May 7, 2004 If your idea of a good time is roaring down a closed circuit of back country gravel roads with trees and rocks whizzing by at 70-plus miles per hour with a co-driver telling you which way to go, then road rallying might just be your ticket.
Not a ticket from the local cops unless you break the law in transit sections along public highways between timed events but to a spirit of motorsports adventure popular in Europe but just making a major impact in North America.
On April 17, several hundred people converged at Mr. Willys Restaurant on Forestburgh Road in Monticello. The restaurant served as the headquarters of Rally New York 2004, the third round of the Eastern States Rally Championship (ESRC).
The event was sanctioned by the National Auto Sport Association (NASA).
After breakfast, the drivers and their co-drivers/navigators set off in pursuit of the clock following a ceremonial start of the staged rally.
On the previous day, race officials registered the competitors and scrutinized their vehicles to make sure they were up to rally safety standards.
Rally New York organizer Ivan Orisek said a staged rally has a number of special stages on roads closed to the public linked together by transit sections over paved roadways open to the general motoring public going about their daily lives.
According to the NASA, Rally racing is one of the most challenging and grueling forms of motor sports in the world. Rally is a type of sports car racing involving real sports cars on real roads going real fast! Battling against the road,the elements, oneself and competitors, its the ultimate durability test for a race car and a race team.
On closed sections in the Towns of Lumberland and Forestburgh in Sullivan County and the Town of Colchester in Delaware County, the rally cars took to the closed courses at one-minute intervals and wound it up to full speed along the dirt roads.
Several cars chipped away at a wooden bridge on Hartwood Club Road (Special Stage 2), sending splinters and fragments of rally cars flying in all directions.
They were incidents that thrilled spectators and camera crews from around the world, but they were kept out of harms way by trained safety marshals.
However, one team narrowly escaped disaster after the driver of an Audi Quattro 4000 reportedly stopped in the roadway, jacked up the vehicle and crawled under it to repair a disconnected turbo hose.
His car was struck at high speed by an Eagle Talon driven by Carlos Lopez and Emmons DJ Hathaway.
The impact caused the Audi to drop off the jack, pinning Gerry Brinkman beneath his vehicle.
He sustained a fractured pelvis and after being extricated from under the vehicle by members of a local rescue squad was airlifted to Westchester Medical Center (WMC) in Valhalla.
Brinkmans co-driver Mike Henniger was not injured.
We were coming around a blind right-hand four that tightened up, and there was no indication there was a car stopped, recalled Hathaway, of Cleveland, Ohio.
Carlos did everything he could to stop, added the co-driver of the Eagle Talon. He skidded it sideways, but we drove his trunk in about two feet, knocking it off the jack stand. One guy was underneath the car, but his helmet and safety stuff saved him.
We we going in excess of 60 [m.p.h.] and we came upon this car that was half in the road, and half off the road, Lopez said. I hit his bumper and it came off the jacks . . . he had movement in his legs, but he was in a lot of pain.
Lopez, of Miami, started rallying in 1973. Rallies include the 24-Hours of the Dominican Republic and numerous events in Puerto Rico, Jamaica and the U.S.
I remember when we were doing rallies with little Twin Masters and door decals made of cardboard, he said.
Asked about the thrill of rallying, Lopez replied, Its man and machine against all the elements under road conditions that are not necessarily optimum . . . It takes a lot of driving skills, but its a lot of fun.
Later in the afternoon, James Fox, the driver of a Saab 900 Turbo, sustained a broken ankle on Special Stage 8. Fox was airlifted to WMC, while his co-driver Charles Paulsen, was transported to a local hospital for observation and released.
To make the day even more exciting, a local volunteer fire department was called to extinguish a rally car that burst into flames on the closed course in Colchester near Russell Brook and Morton Hill Roads.
There were no reported injuries in that incident.
Orisek, the Rally New York 2004 organizer/promoter, began his career in rallying more than 30 years ago in Czechoslovakia driving a little Skoda, a small 4-cylinder Czech car with a 100-year history in rally motorsports.
A couple of years ago, Orisek severely damaged his Audi Quattro 4000. Hes now in the process of building a rally car based on a Subaru WRX.
Rally is very popular in Europe, and its finally catching on in the country, he said.
Orisek said that the April 17 Rally New York 2004 event was so successful that negotiations are currently underway with representatives of Sullivan and Delaware Counties to hold a similar rally this autumn.
Tom Barker, Rally New Yorks press officer, said hes worked a lot more rallies than hes competed in.
In the beginning, I wasnt a very good rallyest because I got lost a lot, but Ive gotten better over the years, he said of his days behind the wheel of a Dodge Omni TLH.
Barker credited a small army of volunteers with making Rally New York 2004 a success. Included in that dedicated group are course safety marshals, firefighters, EMS personnel and ham radio operators.
These guys do it for a lunch, dinner and a free t-shirt, he said.
Late in the rally, ESRC point leaders Seamus Burke and co-driver Charles Bradley were suddenly out of the race when the center differential in their Mitsubishi EVO IV decided to call it quits.
After running consistently fast stages in their Group N Subaru WRX, Shane Mitchell and co-driver Paul Donnely found themselves in front of the pack en route to first place finish. Their winning time was 45:26.
Second place honors went to John Drislane and Ronan Burke in a Mitsubishi EVO VIII (47:52).
Third place was awarded to Celsus Donnelly and Barry McCann in a Mitsubishi EVO II (48:15).
Of the 65 cars entered in the race, only 41 finished the rally.
Weve taken competition in the United States to the next level, Orisek commented. With full notes and recce, and excellently fought battles, the event was a rousing success. The mix of gravel and tarmac kept things interesting for both the teams and the spectators.