Sports Car Rally Handbook: Gimmick Rallies

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by Gene Hammond

Author was the first Rally Chief for San Francisco Region SCCA and Rallymaster of the first Golden West National Rally.

It was mentioned at the beginning of this book that there are a wide variety of non time-and-distance rallies being put on by sports car groups throughout the country each year. To attempt to identify each type, much less to describe them all, would be a hopeless task. New ones are cropping up almost weekly!

A few of the better-known "gimmick" rallies are mentioned below, however, to give the newcomer to sports car activities a somewhat broader view of the whole non-racing picture.

In general, it may be said that a "gimmick" rally is one in which scoring is based upon some factor other than time or distance (although either or both of these elements may also be used). Luck and or familiarity with the area in which the event is held frequently has a great deal more to do with determining the outcome than skill. Nonetheless, such events are popular, and their contribution to the national sports car activities picture should never be underestimated.


Scavenger Hunt

Taking a cue from the familiar children's pastime, this event is especially popular with the smaller clubs, since it requires little effort and only one or two people to stage. Contestants are provided with a list of items which they must obtain within a certain period of time. Odometer readings are recorded at the start and finish, with low mileage used as a tie-breaker. Winner is the car which brings the most complete selection of required items to the finish, and arrives within the time allowed.

Believe me, no navigator has lived until he or she is faced with riding ten miles or so to the finish of a scavenger hunt, balancing a live goldfish in a bowl on his/her lap, while resting his/her feet on a 25 pound cake of ice which is melting fast, and which (according to the instructions) will be weighed in at the finish!

Poker Run

Strictly a "fun" event, with winner determined entirely by chance. Contestants follow a predetermined route stopping at five specified points along the way to draw playing cards from a container. Winner is the team which reaches finish with the best poker hand.

In a minor variation, contestants may be given clues to location of the five containers, but no route to follow. In this case, cars completing the run with five cards, and with odometers showing less than a certain predetermined number of miles, are awarded a "wild card" which they may substitute for any card in their hand, to improve their standing.

Hare & Hounds

A competitive event, the results of which are largely based on luck...hunches...good guesses. Contestants are required to follow a course laid out by an advance car (the "hare"), and by doing so accurately, to reach the finish with the lowest possible mileage.

Markings are normally made by the hare at intersections, by dropping paper bags of powdered lime (or flour) on the pavement. Upon sighting such a mark, contestant must decide which direction he believes hare has gone at the intersection. If his decision is correct, he will encounter another mark on the pavement approximately one mile up the road. If he finds no such mark, he must return to the intersection an try again.

Although contestants are generally advised that time is not a factor in scoring this type of event, all too often those who make an excessive number of wrong guesses end up driving the course too rapidly, For this reason, Hare and Hound Rallies have been outlawed in some areas, and are avoided by most of the larger clubs.


A twist on normal time-and-distance rallies, in which contestants are provided with Route Instructions containing speed changes, just as in a normal rally, except that all odometers, tachometers, and speedometers are completely masked off by rally officials at start of the event.

Note: In some states, masking the speedometer is illegal. Before any group considers holding such an event, this point should be checked with law enforcement officers.

Timing and calculating equipment are of absolutely no value in a seat-of-the-pants rally. Maps, however, can be of substantial assistance in staying on course.

Although it might be assumed that this type of event is nine-tenths luck, this has seldom proven true in actual practice. The experienced rally driver, who knows the "feel" of his speeds, can come much closer to approximating the required speeds than a beginner. Typical events of this type, with two or three checkpoints in a four hour rally, will normally result in an error of less than two minutes overall for the winning car.

Hint: While it is always better to drive your own event independently of what any other contestants are doing, it may be worth keeping in mind that, in a seat-of-the-pants rally the average contestant will come into checkpoints slightly behind time if the odometer only is masked. This same contestant will tend to arrive at checkpoints slightly ahead of time, if both speedometer and odometer are masked.

Do not depend upon road signs to provide you with valid mileage. They are probably way off! Gain experience driving regular time-and-distance rallies and then, when faced with a seat-of-the-pants event, drive it the way you "feel" it. You'll be surprised how close you can come!

Picture Rallies

At the start, contestants are supplied with a series of photographs depicting various scenes and/or structures in the vicinity. They are also supplied with a sheet of paper on which a list of questions appears. In order to determine correct answers to the questions, contestants must locate and go to the places shown in the pictures.

Scoring is based upon correct answers to the questions, with low mileage used as a tie-breaker.

Here, again, maps can be all important. Also a local telephone directory, in which to look up addresses of any firms whose signs show in the pictures. Plan your route carefully, hitting each pictured location in order and then proceeding to the finishing point by the most direct route. Do not leave the start until you are certain of your route, all the way! A few additional tenths of a mile. caused by one wrong turn, can add painfully to your overall mileage reading.

Hint: This is one event where a declaration of any known odometer error, in advance, is most important. Officials will be rightly skeptical if you attempt to put in any such claim at the finish, when you find yourself just three-tenths of a mile behind the winner!

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