A look back at Starlite, by Dave Graubart
I learned about SBSCC and Starlite by accident. I had been running gimmick rallyes in Northern California since the early 1970s. I started school at UCSB in 1974, but didn't hear anything about SBSCC on campus. I wrote a gimmick rallye as a fundraiser for my dorm, although like a lot of rallyes, it lost money. One of the entries was a member of the community who asked if I would write another event for a charity function. That one did raise a little money, and at that event, I met someone from SBSCC. I joined the club and worked Starlite 1976-1980, and then ran as a contestant from 1981-2000. Here are a few of my favorite memories.
The '70s - Working Checkpoints:
There is a temperature below which duct tape doesn't stick to the road. I don't remember how we got the hose to stay put, but it wasn't easy. Thankfully, I shared the checkpoint with a couple in a motor home who kept the hot chocolate on and kept us workers from freezing our butts off.
I worked an inmarker in the hills East of Magic Mountain. It was right around a sharp right turn and the pullout was on the left. This is where we, the timing car, parked. Several cars came in at pretty high speeds and swung wide coming fairly close to hitting us. One swung real wide and passed between my car and the cliff. When parking, I hadn't deliberately left enough room for that. And then there was a Jaguar that spun out when hitting its brakes at the inmarker and smacked the timing box. The hose and wire went flying. There were still perhaps 100 cars to time in, so I managed to repair this, working on it for about 30 seconds, then scrambling up the hill for 30 seconds as another car came in, repeating this for about 15 minutes. We maxed the Jaguar.
One of the best comments I heard at a checkpoint from a contestant came from future TRC team member Bill Jonesi. I think it was on Lockwood Valley Road, he came in either early or late and quite confidently stated that we couldn't be here. He had figured out where the inmarker had to be and this wasn't it. I think the evidence spoke for itself.
At this time, it seemed like everyone in SBSCC had a souped up Chevy Vega or a souped up Datsun 240Z. I was driving a 1976 Celica, an OK car, except the front end got very light above about 70 mph. I bought a J.C. Whitney fiberglass spoiler to try to improve this. Thankfully it arrived a few days before my first running of a Starlite checkout one October. There were some pretty fast caravans, and without the spoiler, I think I would have been toast. SBSCC caravans were a blast. I remember at least six cars on the freeway in tight formation, doing synchronized maneuvers based on CB radio commands. The smokey-watch worked out well, with the caravan speed rising and falling based on some sharp-eyed folks in the front and rear. Finally, there was one great drive back to SBSCC after a Starlite, taking in some excellent dirt roads that wouldn't get used in the rallye itself.
My ticket of the 1970s: An easy to recognize Starlite car of this era was a big sedan, a Cadillac I think, with big driving lights mounted in the roof. Sometime after working my checkpoint and while following much of the route to Vegas, I saw this car stopped with some mechanical problems. I stopped to help them pull off some exhaust components that were dragging on the ground. Not long after getting back on the highway, 58 East of Mojave as I recall, a CHP clocked me somewhere in the 80s. And after being a good samaritan!
The '80s - Early Years as a Contestant:
I moved to the Bay Area after finishing college. It was now time to join the ranks of Starlite competitors. I ran the ten Starlites from '81 to '90 with six different navigators. I can't quite remember if I scared them away or what.
In the first few Starlites of the 1980s, we ran as team SCID, bringing out just two or three cars each year. We all worked for HP, and this was the Santa Clara Instrument Division, but we told most people SCID stood for Sports Cars with Insane Drivers. We started entering as TRC in 1984. TRC participation went from a low of two cars in 1984 up to ten in 1990 as both real TRC members joined the fun and we adopted a few honorary TRC members.
I ran SBSCC's Moonlite in June, 1981 with Glenn Oliver in my new RX-7. We aced it with a score of zero. So we were ready to try to do the same on Starlite '81. This rallye included the first use of Round Mountain Road, North of Bakersfield. Fog doesn't get any thicker than this. We wandered around the oil fields, trying to find the standoff road for quite a while, seeing rallye cars going in every direction. A dozen or so cars actually made it to the inmarker, but all max late. We eventually gave up, got out of the fog, and hopelessly tried to get to the next inmarker on time. The only cars taking less than max late on that one had given up quickly on the Round Mountain leg. Unlike the stock Celica, the RX-7 loved to go fast, but didn't like stopping. The brakes when hot were really scary, pulling hard to one side as I found out here for the first time. We took a 1001 as I remember, good for 8th regular in the days when there was no expert class and trophies went to 10th regular.
1982 was the year I zeroed and won Starlite, neither feat to be repeated in 18 more attempts. This was also the only time I know of that SBSCC made a serious typo in the instructions, leaving 20 minutes off of one leg. We of course didn't know this for sure until the banquet when the leg was thrown. While on the rallye, there sure seemed to be a problem on Leg 3. It had a ten minute gas break in it and we did stop for most of that time (my navigator drank a lot at the start). We hit the inmarker going pretty fast about three minutes late, passing a creeping Masarati. At this point we figure this is one FAST rallye and we are several minutes late, so it was time to pick up the pace to standoff 4. Arriving there about 30 minutes earlier than we needed to, we figured the gas break was calculated on the wrong leg or something like that. Inmarker 4 was a challenge anyway as another car was creeping to the hose on our minute, and yelling some obscenities at us for crowding them. We managed to come in side-by-side on time after which the other driver said oops and apologized. Hours later, the pressure was on for one more zero on the final leg. As we were creeping in, a couple of patrol cars come into the checkpoint with lights and sirens, stopping right at the hose. Like good rallyeists, we ignored them, and focused for that last zero.
I took a third place in 1983 and figured earning a trophy every year would be the norm. 1984 brought me back down to earth. I had a navigator who was a friend, coworker, smart guy, and couldn't read a map to save his life. Of course we made the mistake of spending practice time before Starlite preparing for the first use of the double hose instead of how to follow a course. I ran with rallye veteran Stu Helfer in 1985 in my new Toyota MR-2, earning a 2nd expert. Stu was really on top of things, always knowing where we were and what was coming up next. We ran again in 1986 with Stu under the influence of lots of cold medication, not so on top of things, and often told me to just "drive for a while" which got us lost a couple times and is something we kid about to this day. That was also the year Stu had the zillion candle-power spotlight on his seat, accidentally (he says) left it on, and burned a nice hole in the seat cover. I earned one more trophy this decade, a 3rd expert in 1990.
I was fortunate to not have any significant car or personal problems on any Starlites in the '80s. Some others in TRC weren't quite as lucky. There was Russ who lost his oil pan on Lockwood Valley Road, Brian who's differential blew up a hundred miles from the closest junk yard for a replacement, and Grady who got food poisoning hours before his start time, was being rehydrated at a hospital at his out time, and caught up to the rallye well before the breakfast break.
My ticket of the 1980s: One section of Starlite '87 went into the mountains above San Bernardino, where we got terribly lost in the fog. After a max late, we jumped onto Interstate 10 to try to catch up for the next leg. Freeway speeds had recently gone up to 65, so gaining time wasn't so easy. My navigator, a first timer but a math wiz, kept saying "you've got to go faster, Dave". I must have been clocked over 100. The CHP was nice, all things considered. He asked us where we were going. "Las Vegas", I replied. "You're going the wrong way", he tells us. Well, no wonder we had to be going fast.
The '90s - TRC Participation in Full Swing:
I settled down a bit in the '90s, running with the same navigator, Glenn Oliver, each year. Total Starlite participation had been dropping some, but competition remained tough. We still managed to earn three 2nd places and one 3rd in the '90s. We also had total scores of 1 and 2 in two other years, neither of which trophied.
TRC's participation in Startlite was well established by now. We brought as many as 12 entries to the rallye. We won the Club Participation award once, in 1992, and came close several other times. We won the Best Club award three times during the decade. We expanded the event some, with practice mini-rallyes and parties on the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend, and team T-shirts.
Running with Glenn had only one downside, that he lived in Santa Barbara which was not on my way home from Las Vegas. For six of the years, we had a great arrangement where he caught a ride home with someone else from Santa Barbara, and my wife would fly in to Vegas on Saturday night for a mini-vacation, and we'd drive home Monday.
Details and photos from several of the Starlites of the '90s can be found in the TRC Starlite Scrapbook.
My ticket of the 1990s: This one was pretty stupid. We left a standoff near the Nevada/Arizona border on a four lane divided road at just enough above the speed limit to attract the attention of a patrolman keeping his eye on the standoff. He took his time writing me up, but luckily the route crossed into Arizona a half mile later so we could make up the time in a different jurisdiction.
By the mid '90s, Starlite's days seemed to be numbered. Participation was still better than most any other rallye, but less than half of what it was at its peak, and the rallye was loosing money. SBSCC was ready to call it quits in the mid '90s but General Motors came to the rescue for several years, paying SBSCC to write a promotional rallye, effectively subsidizing Starlite. SBSCC maintained the high quality of the event to the very end, with a few nice extra touches on the final event in December 2000. I feel lucky to have been a part of this fine event for so many years and am grateful to the organizers for their enormous effort and their uncompromising standards.