Driving for a good cause. That’s what Rally North America is all about. In the past twelve months, members of RNA raised more than $85,000 for Camp Sunshine, an organization that invites children with life-threatening diseases and their families to come and have fun at camp for a week, free of charge. RNA was founded in 2010 by Scott Spielman and Tony Intrieri, two car guys looking to make a difference out on the road.
In recent years past, I drove in the inaugural 2010 Route 66 Rally and the 2011 Rally Appalachia. This time around I was part of the film crew set to document the day-to-day reality of this event. Over the next 1,300 miles (that is if you don’t get lost… like I did), more than eighty unique vehicles from exotics, classics, high performance pickup trucks, sports cars and tuners, will rally to give back.
This is the 2013 Rally New England.
Day 1: Teams from all over the United States (and Canada) gathered for a drivers meeting, in the hilly town of Ithaca, New York. Faces were put to names, decals applied and spirited laps done around the historic Watkins Glen racetrack. One of the many perks of participating in a RNA rally, is that you’ll get a chance to take on some of the nation’s best drag strips, circle tracks and road courses. For some, this was the first time they’d get to take their prized ride on a track and do a bit of competitive driving.
“That was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done!” a team shouted out while getting out of a red Audi A4.
I had the joy of riding with Team Cream, a group of three guys from NewJersey who had taken a 1994 Jeep Wrangler, and turned it into an exact replica of the Jurassic Park Jeep — costumes and everything. In the backseat I held on, as we roared down straightaways and up through right-hand turns. It was a blast. You’re not supposed to go off-roading at Watkins Glen. At one point the Jurassic Park Jeep utilized its four-wheel-drive system in the gravel traps beyond turn eight. There were no velociraptors.
Later that night we all munched down on some southern food and auctioned off various automotive memorabilia and merchandise to raise even more money for our charity cause.
Day 2: It’s rally time! City officials closed down a main street in Ithaca for vehicles of all sort to line up at 7:30am. The sounds of roaring engines played a morning hymn as teams made last minute preparations before kick-off. Townies, reporters and government officials stood by watching as a buffet of four-wheeled vehicles took off for the first checkpoint. At the starting line of each day’s rally, teams are given a route card with a list of checkpoints and clues.
The first clue teams were given was a photo of a rare classic car, and were simply told to find the exact one pictured. With three options to choose from, teams set out for the correct destination: The Northeast Classic Car Museum in Norwich, NY. Rolling in convoys, pairs or just solo, all Rally England Teams fought their way to other checkpoints like the Canajoharie Falls, Saratoga Monument , and Mount Equinox before rolling into the finish line at Rutland, Vermont.
Earlier that day, teams that visited the mountain for spectacular views did end up facing a bit of chaos on a dirt road. Props to the guys who weren’t afraid to get their Porsche Cayenne S covered in mud, and stuck. To celebrate a first day well done, cold drinks were on hand as we all stood in the hotel parking lot sharing stories throughout the day and getting to know each other more than just by team name and car.
Day 3: I’m currently writing this post from the backseat of a super-luxurious, newer BMW 750li, pulled over on the side of the road outside Sudbury, VT. It’s almost 1pm, and we’ve been waiting for two hours for a tow truck to come and flatbed a highly-modified Volkswagen Golf to the nearest major city after a clutch blowout.
Today’s trip started out rainy in downtown Rutland, Vermont. If you’ve never been to this state, you should know that it’s beautiful. So were the burnouts and drifts that took place at the Devil’s Bowl Speedway. Built in 1967, the fastest short track in the Vermont welcome all rally teams to come and do a few hot laps. Where else do you get to see a Qvale Mangusta go sideways or a rental Ford Taurus attempt the ‘Scandinavian flick’? There may or may not be a “Harlem Shake” video floating around on the interwebs involving a Bullitt Mustang and a few dinosaurs. Everyone then made their way to check out cool places like the Ben & Jerry’s Headquarters, Vermont State Capital Building, Sabbath Falls and the Albany Covered Bridge located in the thick, White Mountain National Forest.
As the day wrapped up, we all visited this year’s charity located in Casco, Maine, where those of us who fundraised were able to see first hand just how magnificent of a place Camp Sunshine really is. Hand painted signs made by the children happily welcomed Rally North America to the camp, where tours were given and teams were able to spend time meeting some of these bright children and their supportive families. Some teams weren’t so lucky in the last few stints of the day.
A friend of mine left his passport in the glovebox of his broken down Golf, which meant the Bimmerzine I was riding in, had to turn back and retrieve it. It’s okay though, yes we might of missed a few checkpoints, but gas station dinners and backseat movies kept team “Dinner & a Movie” occupied on our six hour drive to the day’s finish line. At least we got to drive on roller coaster-like roads through just stunning scenery. En route, we received texts that the team with a Shelby GT500 blew out an alternator, and was continuing to the day’s finish line in Lewiston, Maine, in the complete dark with no lights.
The spirit of the rally shined again as teams worked together by flashlight, in the parking lot of the hotel into the early hours of the morning, trying to get the Super Snake running again.
Day 4: Coffee and a hot breakfast started off our final day of the 2013 Rally New England, as all teams lining up at a park just a flew blocks away from the hotel. Everyone was excited and anxious to get back on the road for the last hurrah. Walking past cars, I saw teams spraying a quick coat of wax, checking their navigation systems, tuning their CB radios and mapping out plans for the next hefty day of driving. Out in the field people threw around footballs and a friend wearing a full redneck Stig costume refused to play wide end receiver.
Flag girls showed the cars on their way as they roared across an old steel bridge towards the Oxford Dragway. There, vehicles of all sorts lined up to roast their tires and launch down the 1/8. Even a new, highly-modified Volkswagen Beetle Turbo lit up its front tires in a mesmerizing display of smoke, enough to make Smokey the Bear shake in his boots. I managed to jokingly take a friend’s rental 2014 Toyota Rav4 and run it up against a first-gen Dodge Charger SRT8. Even with traction control off and “Sport” mode (whatever that actually does) flicked on, the Mopar hilariously slaughtered us.
After we all had our adrenaline fix, teams were given the day’s route card which included stops at neat, historical places like the haunted Owl’s Head Lighthouse, Fort Point Light House in, and a giant, 37-foot tall Paul Bunyan statue that towered over the city of Bangor, Maine. Driving along the coast on US 1 was breathtaking. Passing over seaside towns, bays filled with fishing boats and countless evergreen pine trees, teams approached the Canadian border.
A bunch of rally cars wearing rally decals sure doesn’t look suspicious going through customs right?
Everyone made it through with mostly no problems and pushed on towards the grand finish line in Saint John, New Brunswick Canada. While there were a slew of mechanical problems and issues of getting lost, they made for great memories to be shared on the board walk of Canada’s oldest town that night, as Rally North America celebrated the end of yet another hugely successful week.
Gathered in our hotel’s lower lobby, trophies were given out for best times each day, best costumes, hardest luck, longest distance to the starting line and the coveted “Spirit of the Rally Award.” As the hours of the night grew on, we rendezvoused at a local pub on the boardwalk to raise our glasses, cheering to good times and another rally in the books.
Strangers from coast to coast turned friends, and friends became family over the course of five days. We set eyes on fascinating, new scenery of the United States and Canada. We laughed, cried and cheered together. It’s just incredible how one common passion can bring people together to help a good cause. As of this post, Rally North America has raised $89,611 towards Camp Sunshine…and that number continues to rise, even as I type this post a few days later in the Philadelphia airport.
As teams make their long drives home, some seeing more than 5,000 miles show up on their trip odometer, they’ll not only soak up that strong post-rally camaraderie, but feel proud of the positive impact they’ve made on these children’s’ lives. I usually endure a multi-week, sometimes months on end, rally hangover, which is spent reminiscing over photos, keeping in contact with one another on a constant basis and scanning Craigslist for that potential next-rally machine. Ambulance anyone? Old Army DUKW?
Once you do your first road rally, you’re sucked in and can’t get out. I sure can’t, that’s why I’m doing two more this summer. Next year, Rally North America celebrates its fifth year anniversary. While complete details haven’t emerged, if you’re interested in partaking in an affordable road rally across the country and making some of the best friends you’ll ever have, all while giving back to a good cause, stay tuned for how you can join the RNA nation.
Want to see more pictures from Rally New England? check them out here.
[Images: Copyright ©2013 Hooniverse/Robby DeGraff, Gail Rushing, Jeremiah Stiable and Point Sebago]