RASC Snowflake

Rainier Auto Sports Club  



My Return to Rally in '86
by Steve Richards


It's about 9:00pm, early in August, 1986.  I'm sitting at the navigators station on my sailboat, Harlequin Pup, at the Port of Everett Marina, paying some bills when the phone rings.


      "Hello, is this Steve?"


      "Well, my name is Ken Maytag.  Jerry Hines told me to give you a call. He said that you might be interested in navigating for me on the Alcan Rally in September."

      "Well, gee...uh....didn't Jerry tell you that I have been out of rallying for a while?"

      "Yes, but he said you were capable, and had the kind of experience I was looking for, and thought you could get right back into the swing of it, assuming you had any desire to go of course."

      Having been cooped up in this boat for the better part of 4 years, I realize that while the cruising life has been wonderful, it really would be nice to do a little rallying again.  Besides which I've been thinking of selling the boat and moving back onto hard ground again anyway.

      "Well Ken, I just might be interested.  Maybe we ought to get together and talk about it."

      "OK, great.  I live near Santa Barbara but plan to be in Seattle, next week and maybe we can meet then.  We'll have dinner."

      "Sounds like a plan.  Give me a call when you get into town."

      A week later Ken called to say that he was staying at the Sheraton in downtown Seattle, and that I should come down the following evening for dinner.

      I brushed the mildew off my sport jacket and met Ken the next night at the four star Fuller's Restaurant in the Sheraton.  Pretty fancy I'm thinking.  It's a good thing I brought my Visa.

      Dinner was excellent and when Ken asked the wine waiter to show us what Cognac they had on hand, I patted my back pocket just  to be sure my wallet was there.

      Ken seemed to be pretty smooth and knew the ropes when it came to the good life and I had the opinion that he dined like this regularly. 

      "What do you do for a living Ken?" I asked sheepishly.

      The silence that followed almost caused me to loose the Chateau Briand that had tasted so good about 45 minutes before.  My God, I thought, I've just had dinner with a drug cartel kingpin or something.

      "Well, said Ken, a little uneasily, "Actually, I guess... I don't do anything."

      It was getting worse!!

      "My father," he went on, " was chairman of the board of the Maytag Company."

      I felt like crawling under the table but I decided the other patrons wouldn't understand.  At any rate, we had a very nice meeting and decided that we (three of us actually) could manage to get along for eleven days in Ken's Audi 5000CS Turbo Quattro.  The third member of our team was to be Glenn Bjorkman of Goleta, California.  Glenn is a corporate pilot for a California company.  A very good driver in his own right, Glenn is currently racing a Formula Mazda in his spare time.

      I pulled my Curta Model II out of storage and cleaned it up for the ordeal ahead.  I had purchased it in 1968 for use by my then navigator, Brian Dearmin, on rallies such as Nor'wester, Oregon Trails, Ponderosa, Long Days Journey Into Night, and many, many others.  I had never navigated on any of those rallies but in the process of driving so many of them, some of the finer points of  Curta operation naturally rubbed off.

      Back on my boat, I sat at the navigators station (quite appropriate I thought) for hours, practicing cranking the Curta along with a stopwatch, making early-late calls, speed changes, pauses and whatever other skills I thought I might be needing.  I put together factor tables and all the other rally paraphernalia I thought I would need.   It wouldn't be quite right going into this thing completely cold and unprepared, would it?

      This was to be the third running of the Alcan 5000.  Ken and Glenn had run it the previous year in a GMC Suburban.  They finished, but since they had a total of one previous rally's experience between them they were a bit unsure of how things were done and understandably didn't fare too well.  But they were really getting into this rallying thing by now and wanted to whip the world next time out so they brought along the "hired gun" ... me.   Right.

      We were flagged off the start from Bellevue's Greenwood Inn on Saturday, September, 20th.  As car number 11, we were part of a 30 car field which included none other than: Pro Rally champion John Buffum with navigator Tom Grimshaw and Richard Hughes as back-up driver, also in a Audi; nationally renowned Gene Henderson with Navigator Mike VanLoo, in a Subaru; off-road celebrity Rod Hall with navigator Jim Fricker, in a Dodge Raider; Gary Sowerby, internationally recognized adventurer with his navigator Greg Turner, in a Suburban; and the omnipresent Satch Carlson with Bob Chandler and Elliott Nelson, in a Saab 900.  Bringing up the rear of this odd caravan was, amazingly, a 29 foot Rockwood motor home driven by Richard Gordon and Rob Rissberger who were using the rally as a publicity vehicle for their after-market motor home equipment business.  Like us, there were 4 other teams who chose to run with a three-man compliment.

      We had decided that during the TSD sections, the best way to work the three man system was for the "timekeeping" navigator, me, to sit behind the driver, Glenn, and look between the seats at the odometer which was in front of the "course-and-mileage" navigator, Ken.   For the first 5 or 6 years, the Alcan did not allow computers, only hand held calculators which were to be totally independent from car input, and auxiliary odos. For mileage we were using a Timewise 547 "B" box.   This had quite a large and readable mileage display which I could see very well from the back seat, day or night. 

      The first half of the route would take us from Bellevue, over the North Cascades to Winthrop, then all night to Jasper and on to Fort Nelson in extreme northern BC for our first overnight stay.  From there we drove into the Yukon and Dawson City.  From Dawson City it was over the Top of the World Highway to Tok Junction Alaska, and then on to Anchorage, for our first major rest halt at the rally midpoint on Thursday, the 25th.

      As we headed out of Bellevue toward our first TSD section north of Darrington, Ken and Glenn thought it might be a good idea to practice some average speeds while we were on the highway and without the pressure of the "real thing."   This sounded good, in theory, but I hadn't really planned for this contingency. 

      "Go ahead and give us some calls at 62 miles per hour Steve," said Ken.       "Yeh...OK," I responded."  Uh... just let me get the factor...uh... what did I do with my tables....uh...damn, my tables don't have 62...uh...just a minute I'll calculate the factor ...uh ... where is my calculator...uh...OK, now I have it...let me see...we can't zero the ODO because we're on an ODO check...uh, let me see...uh...time...I need to start a watch...uh"

      This went on for several miles and during this confusion I noticed Ken and Glenn giving each other sidelong glances.  Eleven days, they're thinking, what have we gotten ourselves into?

      We finally arrived at the start of the TSD on the outskirts of Darrington, never having had even one time call by me during the ODO check.  After a visit to the woods, we piled back into the car and pulled up to the out marker as our out time of  2:41pm approached.

      "OK guys," I said, "zero the ODO ." 

      You could cut the tension in the car with a knife.

      We pulled gradually away at about 2:40:50 and got up to our average speed.  I started my analog, decimal reading stopwatch precisely at 2:41:00 and we were on our way.

      "Up eight," I called.  "Up five...up two...down two...up one...on...on...up one..."

      This went on every two tenths of a mile for the entire 20 mile section. Ken was busy dialing in the factor and correcting mileage as needed and Glenn was quickly getting into the rhythm of averaging a speed.  He later commented that it was much like flying an airplane.  First you stop the error from progressing and then you gradually work to bring it back to nominal so as not to "overshoot."

      The atmosphere eased considerably as the section progressed and Ken and Glenn began to gain some measure of confidence that I actually knew what I was doing.  We motored on through the afternoon and into the night and through the next day until we finally arrived at our first rest halt in Fort Nelson, B.C. on Sunday night.

      The next morning everyone was seen to gather around the door of Jerry's room where he had posted the first two day's scores.  Lo and behold, we were in third place behind John Buffum and Gene Henderson.  Ken and Glenn were absolutely beside themselves with joy and I was, to say the least, relieved.

      We continued to polish and improve our technique during the next several days.  I found that trying to change my focus from the counters on the dash, to the stopwatch velcroed to my knee, and the Curta clenched in my left fist, was causing some slight delay and inaccuracy, not to mention a headache.  We found that if Ken would say "mark" every even tenth mile (or whatever we decided) I could maintain focus on the watch and give some very accurate calls.

      When we pulled into the halfway halt in Anchorage, and checked our scores, we were astonished to discover ourselves in first place. Buffum's Audi was slowly disintegrating around them as on the first night they had a slight "off" which bent the front suspension and they fought with it, and other mechanical woes, for the rest of the rally.  Grimshaw was heard to say, “They're destroying my office." Gene was now in second place, only two or three seconds behind us. It was very close but we were actually in first place and that night Ken treated Glenn and I to a celebration dinner at Josephine's Restaurant atop the Sheraton Anchorage.  I didn't worry about my Visa balance this time.

      After two days in Anchorage, we headed out for the return trip.  Our first TSD out of Anchorage was exciting beyond measure.  We were all understandably a little nervous at this point, being in the lead and all. We started on our correct minute and I began my calls.

      "Mark," says Ken,  at the first tenth mark 

      "Up one," says I.

      "Mark," says Ken, at the next tenth mark.

      "Down one," says I.

      Ken continued to call out the tenth mile marks and I continued...

      "Down three...down six...down ten."

      Meanwhile Glenn began to accelerate hard to try to stop the bleeding. Our CAST  was 37mph and by now we were up to 55 or 60.

      "Down twelve...down fifteen...down twenty..."

      "What's going on?" yelled Glenn."  "Are you calling the wrong side of

the clock?"

      I double checked, I triple checked.  I was OK. I was right.

      "Mark," says Ken.

      "Down twenty five," says I.

      "Wait!!" shouted Ken.  "I'm marking the time instead of the mileage!"

      The two displays looked alike and were one above the other.  An easy mistake to make.

            At this point Glenn immediately performed a proof test of the anti-lock braking system.  After pulling my head out of the see-through headrest on the drivers seat back, I ran a new "out time" on the Curta.  About 15 seconds later we pulled away, back on time.  Around the very next corner was the first checkpoint, which we zeroed.

      The adventure continued with many high spots and a few low ones.  One very serious setback was getting caught behind a logging truck just before a checkpoint and picking up 12 points on that control alone.  We had pulled away from Gene a bit but now we were back, neck and neck again.  On into the Yukon again and over to Whitehorse, where we picked up the beautiful Cassiar Highway down to Prince Rupert, on the B.C. Coast. 

      On Tuesday, the 30th, we all boarded the Ferry to take us to Port Hardy on the northern tip of Vancouver Island.  On the ferry ride we noticed Gene and Mike huddled together trying to figure out how they were going to beat us.  After our logging truck incident we again continued to pull away, one second at a time, and as long as we didn't make any mistakes it wasn't looking too good for them. 

      Meanwhile we were busy going through the route book, trying to find anything that might cause us problems on the last two sections.  We read every instruction, pre-calculated every known reference point, did all the little things one needs to do to be competitive.  We noticed that there was one instruction that had a rather complex alpine diagram with five intersecting roads coming in at odd angles and we promised ourselves we would be very careful to get through it properly and cleanly.

      We disembarked at Port Hardy at 10:30pm Tuesday night and proceeded to the first TSD section on Vancouver Island.  We picked up a few more points on this section but we knew that even if Gene zeroed all of the controls we should still be front by six or seven seconds.  On to the last section.

      It was quite rough and narrow and by now we were on pins and needles.  I was intent on reading the Curta in the light of my REI camping "head lamp."  It was very dark outside the car with trees seemingly brushing both sides of the car and the headlights illuminating a hole in the gloom ahead.  Then came the five road intersection. 

      I was looking down, as usual, and I heard Ken say,

      "Any time now...less than a tenth...here it is, here it is."

      The turn had come up much quicker that Glenn expected and it was very difficult to see off to the right.  We overshot only about thirty feet but enough to have to stop and back up.  Glenn slammed it into reverse and got us onto the correct road very quickly, but no sooner had we gotten back on course when there was a checkpoint, the last of the rally. It was Jerry.

      We were in shock.  We didn't know exactly how much time we'd lost but now it had to be very close indeed.  All that remained now was a drive to the ferry in Nanaimo for a trip across the Straits of Georgia and onto the fairgrounds at the 1986 Vancouver Worlds Fair.  The ferry was littered with exhausted rallyists and bored morning work commuters.

      The scores were announced.  We had lost to Gene by one second. Ken was sick. Glenn was sick. I was sick. But we had made our presence known and over the next two years we returned to win the event, once in August, of 1987 and again on the first Winter Alcan in February, of 1988.  Once we got over our initial trial by fire at the Darrington TSD, our team jelled into a really tight and cohesive group and rarely have I had so much fun as I had on those early Alcan rallies.  It wasn't until several months after the first rally that I told Ken I had never used a Curta before.  He just smiled and said that I didn't know how close I'd come to being thrown out of the car on the trip to Darrington.  It was fortunate that neither Ken nor Glenn had the faintest idea what I was doing in the back seat with that pepper mill that made such wonderful noises.


Steve Richards



View our Privacy Policy.  Web problems? Suggestions?  Mail the webmaster.
Copyright © 2000-2005 Rainier Auto Sports Club. All rights reserved