motorsports fans in New England, post Thanksgiving means a snow induced hibernation
from live racing. Motorcycle gas tank drained to fill the snowblower, I had resigned
myself to reflection on the '95 racing season. Memorial Day Weekend's SCCA Trans
Am / IMSA World Sports Car twin bill was almost as exciting as the Tornado we
barely missed. It followed us up Route 41 and across 23, through the Berkshires
on the way home from Lime Rock Park. There was Jean Alesi's fortuitous victory
for Ferrari in the Grand Prix of Canada and the memorable victory ride atop Schumacher's
Benneton Renault. Honda's first IndyCar victory came on New Hampshire International
Speedway's 1-mile oval for Tasman Motorsports' Andre Ribiero of Brazil. Jeff Gordon
won at NHIS on the way to his first Winston Cup Championship. There wasn't even
any rain for the Loudon Classic motorcycle race for the first time in recent memory.
But wait - it wasn't over yet! I had found a way to stretch the season into December.
The SCCA Michelin Pro Rally Series
was running their last race of the year December 1st and 2nd in Maine. I convinced
my fellow motorsports junkie, Doug that we had to smell race fuel and hear the
howl of racing engines one more time in '95. The Maine Forest Rally is run on
logging roads owned by the Boise Cascade Paper Company in Rumford Maine. In Pro
Rally each team consists of a driver and co-driver, (navigator) the exact course
is kept secret until just before the event. The cars start at one-minute intervals
and race against the clock over stages ranging in length from 4 to 25 miles. The
team with the fastest combined times over the stages wins the rally. This event
included a night stage Friday evening from 4 PM - 10 PM. Snow covered roads and
icy conditions prevailed over the weekend, as well as biting cold with wind chill
temperatures well below zero. Attending this event is a true test of a fan's resolve,
as we would soon find out.
morning's first stage started at 9 AM on the streets of Rumford Maine. As we watched
the car's leave at one minute intervals, announcer Andy Schupack said that if
spectators wanted to make it to the first viewing area in time for the cars' expected
11:10 arrival, we should leave now, picking up directions at the Madison Inn.
The spectator area was 55 miles and an hour and fifteen minutes away! We were
off on our own Maine Forest Rally. The odyssey north on desolate Route 17 included
a treacherous mountain pass on ice-packed roads and a panoramic view high above
Mooselookmeguntic Lake. The directions to the viewing area stated that once we
reached the town of Oquuossoc, to drive 11 miles into the woods on logging roads,
which were covered in a foot of freshly fallen snow!
snow was scrapping the undercarriage of the car - our mission was in doubt. The
Honda Accord wagon, shod with four snow tires, was doing the job but it was apparent
that if conditions got any worse we would have to turn back. Thank God for the
Dodge Daytona in front of us that caused my fearless driver's competitive juices
to flow. He wouldn't let them out of our sight, the "if they can make it, we can
make it" mindset took over. On the way out we would rescue these same amateur
rallyers from a little off-course excursion. After another 15 minutes of white
knuckle driving, we reached a straightaway with about 25 cars parked on the right
shoulder of the road. More deranged racing fans! There were lots of Audi Quattros
and other 4wd vehicles.
In order to
reach the viewing area, spectators must walk on the racecourse - we were paying
attention! In true rally form, a group of about fifty fans was perched on a snow-covered
bank on the outside apex of a slippery curve on the course. If any of the cars
failed to negotiate the tricky turn, we would have had company. With the frigid
temperatures it seemed like an eternity before the first cars arrived. Despite
the conditions, the anticipation was a time of levity between diverse people with
the common bond of racing. In this small crowd I heard at least four languages
being spoken, French, English, Czech and Downeast.
the cars arrived, the first being the right hand drive #4 Mitsubishi Lancer Evo
II of Henry Joy and Jimmy Brandt. Then the Sprongl brothers, Frank and co-driver
Dan from Ontario in the Michelin sponsored #8 Quattro S-2, the eventual winners
of the rally. Next by was Paul Choiniere of Shelburne, Vermont and CO-driver Jeff
Becker from Great Neck, New York in the Hyundai Elantra. Choiniere's second place
overall was good enough to keep the #1 on the side of his car for another year.
The '95 Championship was his fifth SCCA Pro Rally National title in the last six
years. Carl Merrill from Ogunquit Maine and CO-driver John Bellefleur of Thornhill
Ontario, were next by in the exotic purple 4wd Ford Escort Cosworth, a 1.6 liter
turbocharged, 300 horsepower winged wonder. They would place third in the event.
Finishing fourth in the Production GT Class was the Seattle based team of Janice
Damitio and Amity Trowbridge, who had the best message of the rally written on
their window: Pro Rally - Real Roads, Real Cars, Driven Real Fast! by REAL WOMEN.
They finished the season second in points in the Production GT Class.
successive car would blast us with a rooster tail of snow, eventually it looked
like we were over at Sugarloaf Mountain in the middle of a snow making operation.
The adrenaline had made me forget that I couldn't feel my toes, especially when
Frank Sprongl's Audi nearly stopped in for a visit. After the leaders went by
some of the frostbitten were heading back to their cars while competitors were
still on the course. It was rather amusing hearing the crowd yell in unison, "CAR"
and watching people scatter into the snow covered woods. In retrospect, it was
a long way to travel for a few brief moments of excitement. The journey to the
event was as adventurous as the race itself. Would we do it again? Absolutely!