Fall Paris Rally

by Mike Strawbridge

On the day after thanksgiving, our well fed crew met at Janice’s uncle’s house to begin our emotional roller coaster ride to the west. Towing this time with our GMC Suburban. Two refills of the twelve disk CD changer later we arrived in Paris. Even though there were four teams from our part of the world making the trip we did not see any of them until we arrived in Texas.

At registration, we were greeted by the always friendly  Juanita Miller and the rest of the Texas Rally staff. Sue Robinson (SCCA Rally director) was on hand to check my paper work and make sure all my crew signed the waiver. There was both excitement and sadness as we began the last ever SCCA ClubRally.

Tired, hungry and excited we made the drive to tech and met up with rally master Richard Miller. We laughed that the Jeep was exactly the same as the last time he had teched it and even had gas in it form the last Paris rally. After a quick inspection in bitter wind that came all the way from Oklahoma, we loaded the Jeep back up to search for dinner. Just as we loaded, we saw Randy Bailey and Will Perry arrive in their Isuzu so dinner was delayed while we talked a bit. Finally we were off to feed our now very tired and hungry crew and check into the Paris Hampton.

Next morning, we unloaded the Jeep and Josh and I headed to the Home depot for Parc expose. The normal torture of standing around for two hours was made even more fun by 30mph winds from the due north. We sought shelter form the wind behind the Witchdoctor team's big black trailer and got to spend some time bench racing and lamenting the fate of rally racing with them. We kept watching for the Applebee’s waitress that promised to come watch us race but she never showed up. Josh continued to give Janice grief for not bringing her hot single friend along on the trip.

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As it was nearing time for our crew to go set up service we realized that Randy’s crew was not around. Their motor home was refusing to pump up its air brakes. I sent Scott and Janice to check on them and a little while later they show up with the big red Rivergate trailer behind our Suburban and both ours crews loaded inside. As parc expose ended, Randy and I took our cars to stake out a service spot while our two crews went to get fuel. Randy’s co driver Will was still trying to fix the Motorhome in his mind and my crew chief Scott was trying to sort our where he put all his gear that he had so carefully arranged in our own trailer. Luckily, the only thing he forgot in his haste to swap gear was our tarp to park on and Richard loaned us one saving a drive back to town.

Once we were finally settled in, we were pitted across from another Tennessee team that had driven their rally car to the event after their tow vehicle broke down in Nashville. We were also close enough to the Witchdoctor team and Utecht’s crew to share tools.

All seemed good with the Jeep until we tested the intercom. Josh’s side refused to make any noise other than snap, crackle and pop when the wires were moved. We fired up the soldering iron but eventually the repairs were left to another day and Josh just had to yell. It makes the in car video better but he was really hoarse by the end off the day.

After sufficient time for the butterflies to set in we headed out for the odo check. It was comforting to know that the odo was dead on. Especially since we were using the same tires and it was last calibrated at this same site.

As we climbed in for Stage one we were actually happy for the hurricane force winds as we knew it would quickly sweep the dust that can be a problem in Paris. As we launched into a twisty start for the stage, I was very happy with the extra top end power the repaired exhaust gave me. As I reached for the shifter, I was also very happy with the new motor mounts. With the stock mounts, the transmission was always moving around slightly making the shifter hard to find without looking down. Now the shifter was always in the same place no matter whether I was on the gas or off. Nice. The road was slightly muddy but there was still a bit of dust. About the middle of the stage, we were suddenly slowed by orange warning triangles and people waving us down. One of the Mitsubishis had taking a skip across the pond where he should have turned right and Costas was off in the loose stuff and they had a fire extinguisher out. Everyone waved their OK signs and urged us on, so I was back on gas as Josh noted the mileage. Just after passing the spectator area, I noticed the dust getting a bit heavier in front of us and caught a glimpse of a white wing topping the crest in front of us. Soon we were closing on the Eclipse that had started a minute in front of us. I was pretty excited about getting to pass someone and they pulled over for a very clean pass as we braked into a hard right turn. Josh called the "don’t lift" note we had added to the routes from our previous run here but this time I was going about 10MPH faster than last time so I chickened out and lifted a bit as we pulled through the last turn of the stage.

Stage two was a repeat of stage one including more cars off at the pond.   We covered it three seconds faster than the first time. The brakes had been fading during the stage and at the finish table smoke was rolling up off both front wheels. They cooled quickly on the short transit to service. At service, only a quick check of vital fluids and we were ready again.

Stages three and four were one and two run backwards. So now we had to drive through the ruts we had just made. In some places these were getting deep. We began the stage with a dive into the ‘sippi hole ignoring the "don’t cut". Picking up more speed as I become more familiar with the roads we were another three seconds faster. By now there were only two PGT cars left running.

By Stage 4, the sun was setting slowly in the west and right in my eyes on one of the long fast straights. Passing the spectator area we saw the triangles of the Nashville TN team out and wondered how they were getting home. We ended up 4 seconds slower on this last stage. The other PGT car was 17 seconds faster than us but was shown with 2 minutes of road points.

During the break between rallies we spent some time in the Rivergate motor home that had been repaired and brought to the site to take its proper place in front of the big red trailer. Hot dogs and Chili were provided by the Texas Rally folks. We got our inspiration for the second race by watching figure 8 trailer racing and 50’s saloon car racing on Speed.

While mounting up for the night stages, we were treated to the sound of Richard’s new 5.0 Mustang prerunning the course. The sound of the V8 singing in the distance was wonderful.

As we launched onto the first night stage we were greeted by white powdery dust hanging in the air as the wind had stopped. Our $11 Harbor Freight driving lights glared in the dust just like the HID’s of the richer teams. A couple of times I almost stopped in places I had run 85 earlier in the day. At one point I dove into a muddy corner and hit a big mud hole that I could not see in the dark. Not that I would have tried to miss a mud puddle if I had seen it. Mud covered the hood and windshield. The wipers struggled to push it off as I accelerated into the dark. Later, on a fast straight, mud that was splashed in the grill made its way out and onto the windshield at surprising and annoying times.

After the scary stage one all the drivers requested and got a two minute separation of cars. The lesser amount of dust was good for a thirty second improvement for us on stage two.

Stages 3 and 4 were reversed again. The Paris rally is run on a military base and tank driver training ground. At many places along the route there are markers for potentially unexploded munitions and other hazards. At one fast right over a crest I was lifting just a bit even though I thought I might could go faster. This time as I crested the hill I saw triangles for the very fast Honda and saw their car waaaay off in the bushes. It did not look like it had exploded anything and they waved their OK sign for us to go on. The finish was a very long fast straight and we had much trouble stopping the heavy Jeep with faded brakes. We stopped about a car length past the timing table. Apparently we were not the only ones who had trouble as they moved the finish line on the next stage.

We considered shooting stage 4 video in "Night vision" but decided we had had enough Paris Hilton jokes by now.  On stage 4, we let it all hang out and ran a very fun and fast stage. 13 seconds faster than the previous stage. We had no trouble stopping at the last control for an SCCA rally in its new location. Passing one of the PGT Subaru’s on the transit back let us know we had possibly moved up another position.

Back at the hotel, the provisional results showed us first in Texas Star and second in Paris by Night. However, at the trophy presentation we learned that the road penalties for the Subaru had been removed and we were second in both rallies.  More up and down emotions. We did get a good laugh out of the mispronouncing of Aslinger when we got our trophies.  Knowing we had to leave way too early in the morning we left the Wake/party ending SCCA’s rally series early at 1am and headed to our rooms at the Paris Hampton. Nicole came by for a shower while we watched the in car video huddled around Josh’s video camera.   Frustrated by the fact that several tech savvy people could not make the Hotel TV recognize the AV inputs.  Those must be reserved for Paris Pay per View movies.  

Official results

On our long trip back home we were happy to have finished well but not as happy as when we thought we had first. We were amused at the change in questions about the Jeep that went from "Why did you build a Jeep?" at the beginning to "How did you make a Jeep go so fast?" at the end. We were disappointed at the number of people that loose interest when they find out the Jeep is totally stock. We were happy for a good season of rallying but sad to know SCCA is now out of the sport.  We look forward to seeing what happens with Rally America and NASA as they pick up the slack.  Hopefully the RallyJeep will be back in action soon.

Thanks to my Crew: Scott Strawbridge, Janice Strawbridge, Will Strawbridge and to Co driver Josh Aslinger.   Also, thanks to Richard and Juanita and all the workers who spent the day in the cold wind so we could play.



Content by Mike Strawbridge