Sports Car Rallies, Trials, and Gymkhanas: Gimmick Rallies

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by David Hebb and Arthur Peck
Chapter 14

"Gimmick n - (Prob. fr. GIMCRACK) Slang, U.S.- Any small device used secretly by a magician in performing a trick." Or so says Mr. Webster. In his next edition, however, he might well add an additional line: "A gimmick rally is one in which the committee uses secret tricks and the rallyeists must be magicians to decipher the instructions." In the field of gimmick rallies, anything goes. There is no limit to how crazy you can get, either as the chairman with a gleam in your eye, or as the dazed contestant. Lunacy becomes legal. Come with us, for example, to the "Balloon Rally" put on a while ago by the Philadelphia Region, SCCA. These boys arranged with balloonist Don Piccard to take off one Sunday from the rally starting point. Once aloft, Piccard was free to go wherever he wished. But the contestants had to follow him. In mad chase, dozens of rally cars came to sudden stops at dead end roads, at intervening lakes and rivers and then scurried back to other winding roads as variable winds carried Piccard's balloon hither and yon. The whole scheme came to a fitting conclusion when the balloon finally descended on a sand bar in the middle of the Delaware River. The winners then had to wade and swim from the nearest point on the shore to the sand bar; they had to touch the landed balloon to be officially "checked in."

Most gimmick rallies are of a calmer and less aquatic nature. But they all put the emphasis on fun. For these rallies. the usual navigational demands are minimized: courses are relatively simple. average speeds are readily obtainable. time-speed-and-distance problems are kept easy. But after that-who knows? There are as many variations as there are rally chairmen.

Some gimmick rallies have withstood the test of time. They're the ones we'll describe; not to teach you, but to warn you.


Scrambled Word Rally

You receive your instruction sheet. Proceed at 30 mph. it says. until you come to "SEVNTAER ODBRUALVE".

There are two kinds of navigator. One is efficient. intelligent. alert; he starts out by seeing what word can be made if its first letter is "a" A few minutes later he has progressed to the "n." In five minutes. He's at the "r." Still no luck... Then there's the sweet young thing who has been out with you just once before. On that occasion she made history by reading the wrong lines of the TSD tables. and by tossing your slide rule into the back of the car in a gesture of womanly displeasure at having to do "geometry." She looks at the letters "SEVNTAER ODBRUALVE." and says:. "Oh Veterans Boulevard!'. That's all there is to it. Just choose the right navigator.

Scrambled Directions

You glance at the instruction sheet. It reads: <backwards> "Turn left at US 169 Average speed 25 mph." The alert eye realizes that these are directions reading from right to left and in reverse. and as the driver deciphers them he dictates them to the navigator. Or vice versa. The sweet young thing, still applying lipstick to her ruby lips, simply holds the instruction sheet in front of her mirror, and gently dictates the directions to you.

But this is only one manifestation of Scrambled Directions. At other times you'll be called upon to unscramble sentences mixed up quite as completely as are the individual words in a Scrambled Word rally. Or you'll be given all directions straight, except for key words. And in the place of those will be daffy definitions. We'll make the sample real simple: "Individual eligible to sport ruptured duck on avenue." Yep -- Veterans Boulevard.

Puzzle Rallies

That man at the checkpoint holding a fish is not a proud angler. Nor is the official at the next checkpoint a lilac in his hand a horticulturist! And what about the gentleman in another part of the city, standing in front of his Porsche with a monkey wrench in one hand. a diploma in the other what is he?

He and they are officials in a puzzle rally. And these are some of the myriad ways in which you may receive your instructions. That fish, does it guide you to a State Fish Hatchery, a popular pier always crowded with I. Waltons, or a well known sea-food restaurant? That's up to you to figure out. The lilac, is it a symbol of Lilac Street, or a hint to go to the local Botanical Gardens? But ah, the monkey wrench and the parchment they can only mean the State Technical Institute!

Your directions may be presented in rebus form; in an allegorical rhyme; as a crossword puzzle; or with a combination of several techniques, one to each leg.

Ordinarily, you rarely refer to the index on a road map. You'll want to do so. however. on Puzzle Rallies and Scrambled Word Rallies. In fact, you'll want to bring as many road maps with you as possible, since one may contain names or data not on the other. And in any case, they can be wildly ripped when insanity strikes.

Treasure Hunt

Treasure hunts are the same whether performed on foot, horseback, or in a sports car .They're usually part of the glowing memories of childhood; and the rally official who sets one up will probably make sure that it utilizes some of his misty memories of the past. You'll be asked to gather specific "things"; or if not things, then you'll be instructed to copy down numbers, legends, even scenes to prove that you were indeed at the right place at the right time. And when you do this, you must be complete down to the last comma on a sign, the position of hands on a clock, the numbers stenciled on a pole.

In one Treasure Hunt, the contestants had to collect, among other valuables, a hard-boiled egg. The man who won used rare imagination: he got the first egg he could, and then boiled it in his radiator. To duplicate this feat, be sure to have a large radiator opening and a small egg.

Hare and Hounds

The variations, again, are endless. But the most exciting gimmick rally of this type we've ever run was one in which the "hare" started out over the rally route about a half-hour before the first contestant (a "hound") was waved ahead. The hare marked his trail by leaving good-sized spots of powdered lime AFTER each turn. Note the big black letters of the word "after." This made things all the tougher, since the pursuing hounds then had to investigate each road along the way to locate the correct turn. And when the hare came to an intersection at which three or four roads joined, he took special steps to place his marker far enough up the correct road so that it couldn't be seen from the car of a hound approaching that corner. Here's where you'll trade your vocabulary expert for a track-man. To avoid running up extra mileage when approaching one of these complex junctions. you need do some fast foot work down each road until you come to the identifying blob of powdered lime. Perhaps, cunning one that you are, you wait for another contestant, thus using the trial-and-error method. But that system isn't guaranteed, for Hare and Hounds events are judged on the twin factors of correct mileage and adherence to the prescribed average speed.

Your best bet is to try to be one of the first cars off at the start. Not the first, for then you cannot profit by another contestant's errors. And not one of the last, since ordinary traffic and a posse of rally cars soon thin out or obliterate the lime spots.

Historical Landmarks

The only limitation here is what your rally chair-man considers "historical." He may use statues, or perhaps bronze tablets on public buildings; he may decide to have you copy names from ancient gravestones in a variety of cemeteries. Or he may just make it a "Landmarks" rally, forgetting history and ask you to work from one country school to the next, from one radio transmitter to another, or along a potpourri of landscape features. It's how he gives you the clues that are important. At times they'll be photographs-snapshots of statues, directional signs, buildings, store fronts, or what have you. At times they'll be presented rebus fashion. At times in other puzzles, anagrams or conundrums.

The photograph technique is gaining in popularity; and so sooner or later you're going to find to your own dismay how vast is the difference between the way things look through a windshield and a camera eye.

In one form of photo gimmick rally, you'll be given a series of photographs to identify as you go along, jotting down your odometer reading on the back of each one as you find the "original" of the scene. The nasty task for the navigator in this problem is to look to the right, to the left, and to the rear in an attempt to spot signs, buildings or statues. The driver's supposed to keep his eyes sharply to the front.

In a second variation, you're required to make all or some of your key turns from photos taken of those turns by the rally committee. And don't forget that the officials may consider it fair game to photograph the back of a sign.

Poker Rallies

Navigators often complain that they "never see a thing." With heads buried in maps, instruction sheets, and TSD tables with eyes focused on slide rule or computer the navigator sees neither handsome landscape nor handsome passerby. A "Poker Rally" takes this pressure off. Luck is all-important; skill is a minimum ingredient.

The officials set up from five to eight checkpoints. And as each car pulls into each checkpoint, the navigator takes or is given a card from a pack of poker cards. The winner is the car which comes in within a specified time-and-mileage allowance (generously set to the easiest possible standards) with the highest poker hand assembled from the collected cards.

This amounts to giving away trophies as though they were door prizes but it's a lot more fun. Picture yourself pulling up to the fourth checkpoint, hoping to draw a card to match three-of-a-kind. Imagine the excitement and tension at checkpoints five and six, when you're hoping to fill an inside straight.

Usually, the poker rally is one event in which you know in minutes whether or not you're a winner. As the cars come in, their hands are posted on a board. From that point on, everything goes according to Hoyle.

Sealed Instruments

Perhaps the final act of barbarity is the event in which your speedometer is masked with tape, your instrument panel timepiece is covered, and on occasion you even raise your hand in solemn oath that you will glance neither at wristwatch nor at pocket watch for the rest of the meet. (Uh uh, can't listen to the car radio either.)

You'll be asked to hold to a stiff series of time-speed-and-distance instructions, based on an official rally map. In short, this is blind flying, a demand that you measure time and mileage by the seat of your pants.

Do you remember the man who used to bang his head against the wall because "it felt so good when he stopped!" For quite similar reasons, this rally will make you love, cherish and honor your odometer, slide rule, computer, and chronograph.

What Next

Someday you will be named chairman of a gimmick rally, and you'll be afire with the vision of a super-duperevent-to-end-all-super-duper-events. Your instructions will call for the baking of a cake between checkpoints

  1. 1 and 2. The directions at checkpoint #4 will be enclosed in tiny parcels and hung around the necks of

giraffes in the local zoo. Sounds pretty good, we must admit. But it gives us a wow of an idea for when we're chairmen...

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