Time-Speed-Distance Rallying: Hit the Road (Very Precisely) with the Santa Monica Sports Car Club

Road Rally Scenic driveThe concept of a “grassroots” motorsport has become warped over the years. To compete at the top levels of something as simple and allegedly affordable as, say, autocross one needs to spend many dollars and countless hours on car preparation. Road racing is largely a playground for the at least moderately wealthy, and even though there are low-cost options available such as the 24 Hours of Lemons or ChumpCar, even those series require expensive safety equipment and potentially lofty travel budgets.
There is, however, one automotive activity that requires little cash, no special equipment, not even a high-performance car to compete at a high level: road rally. Nearly as old as the automobile itself (and the forerunner of the modern “special stage” rally most famously embodied in the World Rally Championship) road rally is a test of navigational skill, driving precision, and mental agility. Road rallies are run on public roads at legal speeds; two-person driver/navigator teams are given lightly coded instructions and assigned average speeds. The object is to arrive at checkpoints along the course exactly on-time (to the hundredth of a minute.) The challenge is that the location of each checkpoint is a secret, so rallyists must attempt to run on-time, all the time, while not going off-course or becoming lost.
[Ed – If nothing else, Hooniverse is dedicated to getting you out there doing something with cars. As our friend Pete Pat, aka PFG, outlines here, road rally is one of the quickest ways to get you (and a friend!) out there putting your car to good use, legally. We’re happy to let him share more about the time-speed-distance rallies run by the Santa Monical Sports Car Club, and plan on tagging along for future events.]

In the Los Angeles area, road rallies are historically the domain of the Santa Monica Sports Car Club (the rally affiliate of the Cal Club Region-SCCA.) Founded in the 1950s, the SMSCC has held its First Friday Night rally series for decades (and once counted Formula 1 champion Phil Hill among its participants.) Departing from Mission Hills the first Friday night of every month, these beginner-friendly navigational rallies typically feature driver-oriented courses on the region’s many canyon and country roads. Although there are veteran competitors running sophisticated rally computers and super-accurate external odometers, there are classes for unequipped teams…a calculator, a clipboard, a watch with a second hand, and a flashlight are highly recommended, but really, all that is needed to participate is a road-legal car and a navigator not prone to carsickness.
(There is also an advanced, daytime rally series run several times per year; the photos here were taken at “Inaugural,” held on 2/19 and won by a father-daughter team in a rented Chevy HHR…again, no special equipment required!)

cobra road rallymini cooper road rally

Registration for First Friday Nighters opens at a 7 p.m. at the Bank of America parking lot at Devonshire and Sepulveda, with first car out at 8:01. An instructional session for novices is available at around 7:40; beginners run in a special class of their own, so if you’re new, you needn’t worry about getting pummeled by more experienced teams. Entry fees are less than $20, and trophies are awarded to top finishers in all classes. A valid driver’s license and proof of insurance are required, as are functional braking systems and lights.
Road rally…it’s living automotive history, and it’s a helluva lot of fun.
Click through to find more about the SMSCC and their First Friday Night Rallies. Obviously, if you’re looking for something to do in Los Angeles tonight, we’d strongly recommend you head out to the B of A on Devonshire.

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  1. muthalovin Avatar

    Wow, that sounds like a lot of fun for the cost involved. I will check it out and see if there are any in my 'hood.
    As an aside, my dad, god bless him, is taking my parents 7-series up to Albuquerque to do some auto-crossing. The 7 is a 2001, and is very stock. He is part of the Porsche club of New Mexico, but his 944 will not be ready for the event, so he is taking the Bimmer. I just hope nothing breaks. He should come back with some entertaining stories.

    1. Maxichamp Avatar

      Let's hope it's an i and not the longer wheelbased iL.

      1. muthalovin Avatar

        Yeah, it is a 740i, so it should do alright. Alas, it's a slushbox, er, manumatic.

  2. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar
    Peter Tanshanomi

    Lots of mouth-breathers manage to go fast just by being stupid/ballsy enough to hold the loud pedal down longer than the other guy, yet are still lousy drivers out in the real world of public roadways. "Fast" doesn't automatically make you "good."
    Doing well in a precision road rally demonstrates the ability to properly control your vehicle, observe your surroundings, properly estimate the margins needed to react to unforeseeable hazards, and maintain multiple contingency plans that you can quickly assess and implement to allow you to successfully overcome them.
    If you can rally really well, you have an undeniable right to consider yourself a "skilled driver."

  3. longrooffan Avatar

    I was actually looking at a blog about this type of event last evening (alas, I can't remember which one) and the clues as to when to turn and which route to take were as tough as maintaining the correct speed and times. Kinda like Mystery Car.

  4. taborj Avatar

    I used to be heavily into TSD rally (road rally), but haven't had the time lately. My wife (a counselor by training) always said that any couple looking to get married would do well to run a couple TSDs first. Really opens your eyes to communication styles, especially if the TSD is a trap rally (such as those put on in Portland, OR by the Cascade Sports Car Club).
    After you've master a couple tour-type events, move on to the trap rallies. After that, move yourself over to the "performance" road rallies, like Thunderbird or Totem in British Columbia. Excellent times. I love 'em all.
    Go do it. You won't regret it, and you'll meet some cool people.

    1. Mr_Biggles Avatar

      Dig your current avatar. I used to play that game all the time as a kid.

  5. Joe Dunlap Avatar
    Joe Dunlap

    TSD's are fun….once. As TaborJ said, it will open your eyes to communication styles. It will also end relationships faster than spinach on a front tooth on the first date. If youre going to do this, do it with someone you A. know very very intimately, or B. you have never met prior to getting into the car. and C. if they are the navigator, has a cast iron stomach. Getting lost brings out the worst in people, driver and navigator. I used to do this on occasion back in the 70s on the central coast, and well remember rounding a bend on night and seeing the crew of a 240Z in a fistfight on the side of the road. I will say they must have settled their differences, as they did finish the rally. Hindsight being 20/10, I should have kept doing it. Maybe I would have gotten out of that marriage a lot sooner. 🙂