Trans America Challenge 2018

27 May - 17 June 2018

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The Trans America Challenge 2018

Sunday 27 May – Sunday 17 June 2018

The Endurance Rally Association Team has been hard at work planning a true ‘hum-dinger’ of a challenge for 2018 and is thrilled to open up the entry book for the third running of the iconic Trans-America Challenge.

ERA and American historic rally guru Steve McKelvie have joined forces to ensure that the exciting all-new route will satisfy a competitive and adventurous spirit as well as guaranteeing that once engines stop at the end of each day, entrants get to experience the very best of American hospitality.

Starting in Charleston on May 27th and finishing in Seattle on 17th June 2018, the three-week fusion of competitive historic rallying and road trip will clock up 8,000 kilometres of breath taking sights and scenery.  As well as taking in little-known back roads, the route encompasses deserts, oceans, mountains, flat plains, small towns and big cities and features gravel tests, forest regularities and race circuits.

Four rest days have been built into the route to give entrants the chance to take in Nashville, New Orleans, Santa Fe and Aspen. In addition, scheduled visits to places such as the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte are also part of the experience.

Tell Me More

To find out more please call Annette, Eleonora or any of the Rally Office team or email us for your copy of the event brochure and entry form. We’ll be happy to answer your questions and offer any guidance you may need.

Phone:   +44 (0)1235 831221

Email:   [email protected]


Trans America Challenge 2018 Participants

updated 25th May 2018

Num Participants Motorcar Engine size
1 Bill Holroyd(GB) / Julie Holroyd(GB) 1927 – Bentley 4½ VDP Tourer 4398
2 Joe Dillier(CH) / Heidi Dillier(CH) 1930 – Chrysler 70 Roadster 3622
3 Alex Vassbotten(N) / Erik Osland(N) 1933 – Alvis Firefly 3500
4 Brian Scowcroft(GB) / Catherine Scowcroft(GB) 1936 – Chevrolet Coupe 3300
5 Jeff Urbina(USA) / Chris Pike(NZ) 1936 – Ford Cabriolet 4600
6 Jim Gately(USA) / Tony Brooks(GB) 1937 – Cadillac Convertible 5670
7 John Whitelock(GB) / Nicole Whitelock(GB) 1938 – Ford Coupe 3600
8 Manuel Dubs(CH) / Irene Dubs(CH) 1940 – Ford Coupe 3619
11 Paul Hickman(AUS) / Bas Gross(AUS) 1954 – Bristol 403 1976
12 Pam King(USA) / Gaye Hill(USA) 1957 – Chevrolet Bel Air 4600
14 Chris Dillier(CH) / Rita Dillier(CH) 1967 – Chevrolet Corvette 5400
15 Mike Harrison(GB) / Lorna Harrison(GB) 1963 – Volvo PV544 1800
16 Janet Howle(USA) / Ed Howle(USA) 1967 – VW Beetle 1600
17 Alan Beardshaw(GB) / Tina Beardshaw(GB) 1973 – Triumph TR6 2498
18 Stephen Hardwick(GB) / Samantha Hardwick(GB) 1965 – Ford Falcon 5000
19 Phillip Blunden(AUS) / Lynda Blunden(AUS) 1965 – Austin Healey 3000 MkIII 3000
20 Boris Gruzman(USA) / Dave Ferguson(USA) 1965 – Jaguar E Type Roadster 4235
23 Michael Eatough(GB) / Marcus Eatough(GB) 1966 – Mercedes Benz 230S Fintail 2778
24 Mick de Haas(NL) / Grace de Haas(NL) 1966 – Mercedes Benz 230SL 2800
25 Roger Hitchins(GB) / Jeremy Clayton(GB) 1966 – Ford Mustang 4735
26 Michael Kershaw(GB) / Matthew Smith(GB) 1966 – Ford Mustang 4735
27 David Roberts(GB) / Jo Roberts(GB) 1968 – Triumph TR250 2498
28 Peter Weigelt(CH) / Bruno Himmelberger(CH) 1968 – Ford Mustang Fastback 4700
29 Florence Fontaine(F) / Morgan Hector(F) 1969 – Chevrolet Camaro 5500
30 Daniel Wiedemann(GB) / Barbara Wiedemann(GB) 1970 – Mercedes Benz 280SL 2778
32 Carlos Rieder(CH) / Martina Rieder-Weber(CH) 1971 – Alfa Romeo 2000GT Veloce 1962
33 Otakar Chladek(CZ) / Ota Chladek (Jnr)(CZ) 1971 – Mercedes Benz 350 SL 3500
34 Bill Gill(AUS) / Kathy Gill(AUS) 1972 – Mercedes Benz 350 SLC 3500
35 Jean-Philippe Tripet(CH) / Iris Tripet(CH) 1974 – Lancia Fulvia Coupe 1296
36 Erik van Droogenbroek(NL) / Adrian van der Linde(NL) 1973 – Volvo P1800 ES 1986
37 Serge Berthier(F) / Jacqueline Berthier(F) 1973 – Jensen Interceptor Series III 7200
38 Anthony Verloop(NL) / Sonja Verloop(NL) 1973 – MG BGT V8 3528
39 Hudson Lee(HK) / Mary Lee(GB) 1979 – Mercedes Benz 450 SLC 4500

We’re in no doubt at all… this, the third edition Trans-America Challenge, is set to be the best yet.

Pre Start – Charleston, South Carolina

The Dewberry Charleston hotel is the venue we have selected as the start hotel of this iconic drive. It has a great location and there’s lots of parking for the pre-event scrutineering and fettling…

Day 1 – Charleston, South Carolina to Charlotte, North Carolina

Thanks to Irma, the greatest hurricane in the Atlantic since 2005, mayhem reigned supreme over our carefully planned recce preparations.  But undeterred, we tweaked our schedule in deference to Mother Nature and her severe flood warnings and started the recce a day earlier than planned.

This first day of the rally is geared to settling in with just a couple of short regularities to negotiate as we head towards Charlotte, driving through flat country littered with mobile homes and tiny churches.

A visit to the spectacular NASCAR Hall of Fame will mark the end of the day’s motoring before we make tracks to our hotel for the night.

Day 2 – Charlotte to Highlands

Today will be mainly… tremendous! Get ready for the fabulous rally roads that await you.

Carrying on the ‘tremendous’ theme, our lunch halt will not disappoint. Organised in a quirky venue in Asheville, it’s the sort of place made for Endurance Rally Association events. Repleted, we head onwards through yet more mountain roads to the fabulous hotel we’re staying in, located in Highlands, North Carolina.

Day 3 – Highlands, North Carolina to Nashville, Tennessee

During our recce, the weather upon departure was a bit miserable but then the sun broke through and the stunning scenery took our breath away!

During the morning we remained in the mountains and tested a scenic half gravel/half asphalt regularity alongside a river.  It’s a lovely road, set amid a backdrop of beautiful scenery and ticks a lot of boxes on our ‘great ERA road’ checklist.

The Dragon’s Tail pass between the states of North Carolina and Tennessee is legendary.  A bit too legendary, as it turns out, because it was packed with bikers, camper vans and very slow traffic. Obviously, NOT something that we want to encounter on our adventure, thank you very much…

So, we backtracked and took an alternative pass, the Cherohala Scenic Skyway that climbed to 1500m/5000ft with plentiful twists and turns before another riverside regularity on smooth asphalt which is sure to keep you entertained!

The afternoon’s route takes us into the flat lands and then onto a couple of dirt oval race circuits so we can kick up our wheels and get dusty. The final regularity is laced with a potentially tricky final timing point that should make for lively discussions in the bar of the hotel in Nashville tonight!

Day 4 – Nashville – Rest Day

The first rest day of the event will give us all the chance to kick back in the home of country music.  There’s loads to do in this interesting city – not all of it involving guitars! Soak up the atmosphere and take a load off.

Day 5 – Nashville to Memphis

During the recce, we found a fabulous parkway where we covered almost 100km/62mi without encountering any traffic, fast food stops, advertising hoardings etc. Utter bliss.

Testing out the regularities we built up quite an appetite.  Fortunately, we came upon the Pickwick Dam where we enjoyed a wonderful Southern home-cooked meal. One of the popular offerings on the menu was a local dish of “waffle” fries served with pulled pork and topped with melted cheese – it was deliciously not good for you.

The afternoon’s challenge comes courtesy of a few more regularity tests before an easy arrival into Memphis and the Mississippi River.

Our overnight halt is the Peabody Hotel; the grand old lady of Memphis. With a bit of luck, we’ll get there early enough for one of us to be crowned ‘The Duck Master’ during the curious late afternoon ceremony held at the hotel.  Yep, it’s quackers.

The famous Beale Street is only a block away for some late night entertainment.

Day 6 – Memphis, Tennessee to Jackson, Mississippi

Quite by chance, on our route south and away from the highway, we discovered the little town of Tunica. Within minutes, the Town Clerk, Chief of Police and Deputy Mayor all agreed we should have a morning stop there. So, that’s what we’ll be doing!

We then went to the banks of the Mississippi and drove along a levee – sadly, in a Ford not a Chevy… Leaving the great river behind us, we travelled through some of the more remote areas of the South before coming across the Native America equivalent of Stonehenge where there is a curious museum. Perfect for an outdoor lunch!

Acres of farmland, some gravel roads and a basic afternoon ‘grocery’ stop make up the afternoon’s route before the final gravel regularity of the day and a really easy route into our hotel for the night in Jackson, Mississippi.

Day 7 – Jackson, Mississippi to New Orleans, Louisiana

We’ll have a very easy exit from Jackson, using the splendid Natchez Trace Parkway we encountered on day five. Minor roads then take us cross-country to our lunch halt in an art gallery/coffee shop, which will kindly open especially for us today!

Rested and reloaded, we head to Lake Pontchartrain, crossing the longest over-water road bridge in the world; a staggering 42km/26mi long!  We motor onwards into New Orleans and our overnight hotel, which is situated in the heart of the French Quarter and has a decidedly colonial-era feel to it.

Turn left out of the hotel and you’re on Bourbon Street which is host to loads of bars, lights, music and a great party atmosphere.  Turn right out of the hotel and head one street parallel and you’re on Royale which, with its galleries, antique shops and fine restaurants, caters to those looking for a quieter experience.

Day 8 – New Orleans – Rest Day

There is so much to see and do in this great city that the only recommendation we have is to embrace the city’s unofficial motto and ‘let the good times roll’.

Day 9 – New Orleans, Louisiana to Galveston, Texas

Today, we follow the Gulf of Mexico coast through swampland where there are lots of deserted roads and, unsurprisingly, lots of swamps!  Our recce threw up plenty of ‘alligator evidence’ but we weren’t lucky/unlucky enough to see one.  However, the lady in a fuel station said they see them every day.  Note: the first person to utter a ‘make it snappy’ pun will be severely penalised…

We’ll likely partake of a picnic lunch in a national park overlooking the Gulf before following the coastline and hopping on a couple of ferries (dolphins can be seen following the ships) to Galveston, a pleasant seaside resort with a grand Art Deco hotel which will host our overnight halt.

Day 10 – Galveston to Austin

Today, we follow the coast for nearly 60km/37mi along the Gulf of Mexico before heading north-west.

We have planned three regularities during the day;  ‘Texas Flats’, ‘Texas Ranch’ and ‘Texas Vines’ and the roads get progressively more interesting as the Texas Hills approach.

We are negotiating a visit to an asphalt test venue before ending the day at a grand, hillside hotel on the outskirts of Austin.

Day 11 – Austin to Wichita Falls

Today, the hills continue and we will be almost spoilt for choice with gravel roads.

During the recce, we found a pleasant lunch stop in a German café before we entered the flat, fairly unremarkable part of the USA that is encountered on any trans-continental trip. The good news is that there will only be two of these on the rally and the second part has some great entertainment along the way.

Day 12 – Wichita Falls to Amarillo

Today includes some straight roads to start with before we get to a small, isolated mountain chain featuring herds of roaming buffalo!  We then enter a park where we’ll visit the impressive Quartz Mountain resort which offers breath-taking scenery and a great lunch venue.

After a short regularity test in the afternoon, we head on to the town of Turkey which is home to the famous (?) ‘Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys’.  Their 1950s tour bus sits in a restored fuel station across the way from a fine little café.  Western (no Country & …) music memorabilia lines the walls.

Our hotel and a great steakhouse will be most welcome after a long day of driving.

Day 13 – Amarillo, Texas to Santa Fe, New Mexico

The road out of town follows the route of the old Route 66.  Along the way, we found lots of interesting/slightly weird sights, including the strange Cadillac Ranch and lots of eerie deserted hotels and gas stations!

Further along, we found a superb, 1960s-style diner which we’ll visit for an early lunch and an authentic milkshake.

After lunch, the route winds gradually upwards with a (fairly) grand canyon along the way before we hit the city of Santa Fe, New Mexico. The local vintage car club are looking forward to meeting us!

Day 14 –Santa Fe – Rest Day

Being the oldest capital city in North America, we’re sure you’ll agree that Santa Fe is the perfect location for the rally’s third rest day. The city is brimming with history, culture and architecture, plenty of good shops, all kinds of bars and restaurants and lots of green, open spaces. Enjoy!

Day 15 – Santa Fe, New Mexico to Colorado Springs, Colorado

An interesting mountain route will take us up to Taos where we’ve identified a fabulous hotel for the all-important morning coffee stop.

The scenery remains spectacular as we follow ‘The Highway of Legends’ with a couple of passes around the 3000m/9843ft mark. Then, we take in a couple of gravel regularities before reaching Colorado Springs and our fine hotel for the night, which features an impressive mountain backdrop.

Day 16 – Colorado Springs to Aspen

Very soon after leaving the hotel, we passed a few of Colorado’s legal marijuana stores before arriving at the mighty Pike’s Peak. This one-way, asphalt road twists its way to over 4300m/14,108ft! On your way up, try to fathom exactly how Sébastien Loeb drove 19.99 kilometres in a time of 8m13.8s to average 140kph through the 156 corners.  Yes, it’s worth reading those statistics again…

The views from the top are said to be extraordinary but during our recce in late autumn 2017 we were greeted by fog, ice and snow and thus, saw nothing – roll on spring 2018!

We will then loop south to the fascinating town of Cripple Creek where we’ve built half an hour into the schedule to allow for a smidgeon of exploring.  Afterwards, we climb the Independence Pass and the Continental Divide before a narrow descent into the elegant ski town of Aspen. Our hotel is top class and the good news is that tomorrow is a rest day so you’ll have plenty of time to thoroughly enjoy your stay.

Day 17 – Aspen – Rest Day

This final rest day of the rally will give you a chance to explore Aspen and dine at one of its many great restaurants. This town is full of attractions, including a fabulous bookshop café.

Day 18 – Aspen, Colorado to Park City, Utah

Fully refreshed, we head north and into Utah’s Dinosaur Country … anyone who spots a live one wins the event! A simple lunch stop is followed by a pair of regularities before we arrive in Park City, host to the 2002 Winter Olympics for nearby Salt Lake City.

Day 19 – Park City, Utah to Boise, Idaho

On the recce we bypassed the morning traffic by wiggling up some Alpine-style mountain roads before descending into Salt Lake City and its fast-flowing ring road.

We visit a splendid motor sports complex and negotiate a couple of tests before we head west. We’ll have a time control at the famous Bonneville Salt Flats, where Captain George Eyston broke the World Land Speed Record three times in 1937 and 1938.  ERA’s HQ is located within the grounds of the Eyston family seat in East Hendred – indeed, our offices are the Old School House where the great man learned to read and write, so we couldn’t not go to this location!  Eyston left the record at a 357.5 mph (575.3 kph); a brave man indeed.

We’ll have lunch at the Salt Flats Café where lots of great speed record memorabilia plasters the walls. This place offers authentic Mexican cuisine and if time allows, you may be able to visit any of the many establishments along the Utah/Nevada frontier.

A simple run north will take us to Boise; a great little city in the agricultural lands of Idaho.

Day 20 – Boise, Idaho to Bend, Oregon

Out of Boise and we’re straight into fruit country where a huge challenge awaits; namely, which is the best fruit pie?  Both the morning coffee stop and the lunch halt offer up worthy contenders so you’ll have a tough time making your choice! Our ‘Pie of the Recce’ was a draw but make sure your research includes the Marion Berry/Rhubarb pie which is only available locally. The ERA will award a competitor-voted, ‘Pie of the Rally’ Trophy which will be posted to the deserving recipient afterwards.

In the afternoon, we found the rally’s final, long, smooth gravel sections through the Ochoco Forest and then, on our way to Bend we discovered a time-warp general store in the middle of nowhere.  A stop is obligatory.

Our hotel in Bend is set just above the regenerated riverside area with restaurants and shops galore. We have arranged for our hosts to provide drinks and canapés by the cars so we can all make our own choice of dinner venue.

Day 21 – Bend to Newberg

A couple of long, asphalt mountain passes are on the menu today. The scenery is spectacular and the traffic is light; just as we like it! After a coffee stop at a very welcoming biker pub, we found the event’s final regularity on a quiet, twisty mountain road.

Just before the day ends we hope to be part of a classic drag race meeting with the chance to discover your car’s Standing Quarter Mile abilities.

Then, we make tracks to our fabulous night halt amongst Oregon’s vineyards. Cheers!

Day 22 – Newberg, Oregon to Seattle, Washington

Today features a lovely route through forests up to the state border and a spectacular Meccano-style bridge. Small spanners at the ready! Then it’s highway to Seattle and our prize-giving gala dinner in the downtown Fairmont.

Be proud of your achievement, whatever the leader-board may say, tonight is for celebration! You and your vintage or classic car made it, from sea to shining sea.




Scrutineering Day- Day 0 – Welcome to Charleston, South Carolina.

May 26, 2018 – Charleston

Fresh from a bracing Flying Scotsman, and with the taste of single malt fading on our lips, today was the time to enjoy some sub tropical humidity and to acquaint ourselves with good old fashioned southern sipping whiskey.

Over the last few days, thirty three crews from all over the world have assembled in Charleston, the warm and welcoming capital of Southern Carolina. Yesterday they collected their cars, with the expert help of Melvyn Palmer and today, the countdown to the start line began in earnest.

The car park and lobby of the Dewberry Charleston hotel was full of these rally cars and their crews looking to complete the necessary formalities to begin the third Trans America Challenge.

The ERA Office Manager, Eleonora Piccolo was, as usual in charge of paperwork and all things official, whilst Andy Inskip and the sweep teams set about the parking lot (as it’s called here), with their years of experience, checking safety equipment and regulatory compliance. Sarah Ormerod meanwhile, our new Medic – fresh in from the Middle East – was on hand with band aids and aspirin for anyone who needed them.

There was a discernible buzz about the place and, to add to all of this excitement, outside of the hotel grounds, the upcoming Memorial Day celebrations saw thumping live music, a marching band and a fun fair, which served to amuse any of the crews who had some time on their hands.

The oldest car in the Rally is the 1927 Bentley of Bill and Julie Holroyd from the UK whilst the youngest is the 1979 Mercedes of Hudson and Mary Lee from Hong Kong and between these two bookends lies an impressive automotive gazetteer.

Most of the assembled crews have got more than a few miles under their wheels, but special mention must be made of Ed and Janet Howle, who are lined up with us for a third Trans America along with their trusty Beetle AKA Stewball, but more remarkably, this will be the seventh sea to sea crossing that the three of them have made together and the embroidered lumbar support cushion in the drivers seat says it all “the little engine that could”. Coincidentally, it also seems that today marks 80 years since the planned building of the “new” VW factory in Fallersleben, was announced by Hitler and that the car thereby produced, was going to be called the KDFwagen – “the strength through joy auto”. Not quite as catchy perhaps?

From the 1600cc of the little blue VW, it’s one giant leap to the 5670cc of Jim Gately’s Cadillac. He’s here for his maiden Trans America along with ace navigator Tony Brooks and Jim is on home ground for the first time. In common with a few of the other crews, he’s ostensibly shaking down for next years Peking to Paris, but the form book has them down as being highly fancied for the overall.

Sadly though, Stephen and Samantha Hardwick who came out of Africa as a winner of the Classic Safari, have been forced into a rental car even before the flag has dropped thanks to a run of bad luck with the preparation of their new Ford Falcon.

Manuel and Irene Dubs on the other hand, also winners in Cape Town, are hoping to put the disappointment of their retirement from the Road to Saigon behind them and get their faithful Ford Coupe all of the way to Seattle.

Most of the official business was concluded by lunchtime which left the afternoon free for crews to sample more of the delights of Charleston or if they felt the need, to join in a novice navigational training seminar with Gill Cotton before the official welcome dinner and briefing this evening.

Over a steaming bowl of seafood chowder, lamb and some excellent old world wines, Rally Director Fred Gallagher introduced the ERA team along with the Clerk of the Course, Mark Appleton and the co route designer, Steve McKelvie who expanded on the details and finer points of the rally and answered any questions.

Jamie Turner meanwhile crammed in a few sage words of advice about looking after the car and what to expect from the sweep crews.

As usual though there were a couple of notable absences, those of Paul Heal and Dick Appleton who, as usual are some 48 hours ahead of the game and, looking for trouble – and finding ways around it. Some of our old rally friends however had travelled to meet up and chew the fat and were happy to fill these empty seats. We were delighted to welcome the likes of Tony and Jill O’Connor and Tim Eades and Willie McNickle to the dinner.

Tomorrow, the flag finally drops on an epic three weeks and an incredible 5000 miles through the new world.

Syd Stelvio

 Day 1 – Charleston to Charlotte – Sunday Best

The road then ran alongside Lake Moultrie to the first Regularity at Clarendon County after some 93 miles. Thick woodland characterised this section along with a softy sandy floor and many alternative tracks from the left and the right. By the end of it there were some who were glad that they’d paid attention to the Gill Cotton briefing and there were some who perhaps wishes that they’d been there in the first place.

Soon enough, the lunch Time Control in Manning appeared and, a variety of all American eateries vied with each other to take our dollars and, from the reaction of the rest of the customers on the forecourt it was clear that they’d never seen anything like this collection of old metal.

David and Jo Roberts were a little late to the sandwich counter though as they had a few electrical issues to overcome first. An alternator fault was diagnosed and the offending piece was changed in less than ten minutes by Supersweep Bob Harrod leaving them just enough time to explain that they really didn’t eat meat!

It was but twenty one miles thereafter until the second Regularity at Brohum Camp where, quite aptly for a Sunday, there were some navigators seeking redemption after their performance over the morning.

Between signs, warning us against incursions off the road because of ‘air to ground bombing activities’ the cars threaded their way through freshly planted fields and thick stands of pine trees.

A picturesque run along the shores of Lake Wateree then took us to the Time Control at Dutchman’s Creek Marina for a spot of refuelling for both man and machine before the final push up the Interstate and the Billy Graham Parkway to Charlotte in North Carolina.

The Nascar Hall of fame is where the day officially ended and, after checking in their timecards, the crews were then able to enjoy some superb exhibits showcasing Nascar race engineering at its brutal best.

A few blocks beyond the museum lay the Hyatt Hotel where we were to spend the night and over a drink or two in the bar, the crews clinically dissected the days results which showed conclusively that Jeff Urbina and Chris Pike were sat fully in the driving seat leading from Jim Gately and Tony Brooks and Mike and Lorna Harrison.

Syd Stelvio

Day 2 – Charlotte to Highlands – Sailing by

Tropical Storm Alberto did it’s worst today and according to the shipping forecast it looks like giving us a repeat performance tomorrow.

The day itself dawned grey and damp, with the promise of heavy rain to come and prior to the start, the open car crews busied themselves in the car park putting up their hoods and fastening them down good and tight.

Leaving Charlotte on Memorial Day was quick and easy and, soon we left the high rise buildings of the metropolis behind us and looked forward to the remote woodlands of North Carolina where we’d be spending the rest of our day.

The first Regularity was on Joe White Road. It began on gravel but quickly the route turned to tarmac which rose, fell and looped through and alongside typical clapperboard houses surrounded as they were by tumble down out buildings, expansive and immaculate lawns peppered incongruously with abandoned classic vehicles, slowly sinking into the undergrowth. This must surely be barn-find heaven for anyone so inclined.

Jamie turner and Bob Harrod were running the morning Time Control in a gas station in Marion. By now the rain was falling steadily which had James Gately and Tony Brooks finally reaching for their hood.

So with the weather settling into something like that of Northern Europe it was apt therefore that the next section took us to the second Regularity of the day around Little Switzerland in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.

Chris Dillier, a genuine Swiss native was looking forward to seeing this little corner of him homeland abut thanks to the weather he couldn’t and sadly this beautiful road through the Pisgah Forest hid its true beauty from us beneath a veil of mist and low cloud.

The iconic yet sometimes invisible Blue Ridge Parkway then whisked us off to lunch in the Grand Bohemian Hotel in the centre of Asheville. This was superb and a welcome relief for the soggy rally who made light work of chicken, fish and peach crumble beneath sparkling chandeliers. More of the same was served up to us after lunch. Never mind the lack of scenery, the road itself was superb, a black velvet ribbon of tarmac billiard board smooth and cambered to perfection.

The last Regularity of the day along Canada Road saw the crews battling through a strange mixture of driving rain and full sun with steam rising mysteriously from the blacktop.

Through this maelstrom we just about caught sight of Alex Vassbotten and Eric Osland whose Alvis was the only car without a roof and it was quite a sight to see Eric simultaneously reading the speed tables and reaching out with a squeegee to supplement the patently insufficient efforts of their windscreen wipers. Suffice to say that by days end they were as wet as an otter’s pocket.

The night halt and drying out station was in the sprawling but beautiful town of Highlands at the 220 Main Hotel but, we dined at the exquisite ‘Farm at Old Edwards Inn’ which dates back to 1900 and was in fact shipped in to the area from Pennsylvania.  The menu of mixed field greens and kale was followed by the classic surf and turf combo of halibut and beef tenderloin, vegetables, potatoes and polenta. The miniature desert display also had something for everyone. Nobody left feeling hungry.

After an epic day, there has also been a change at the top of the leaderboard. Jeff Urbina and Chris Pyke had to take time out from the competition to deal with a family matter but they’re still very much with us and are determined to get to Seattle.

This leaves us therefore with Jim Gately and Tony Brooks in the big Cadillac at the top of the tree followed by Mike and Lorna Harrison in their Volvo and Peter Weigelt and Bruno Himmelburger in a Mustang.

We were spared the wind today but tomorrow during the passage to Nashville it might be a different story and, over dinner, Mark Appleton the admiral of the fleet recommended to all crews that their sails are reefed and their hatches are battened.

Syd Stelvio

Day 3 – Highlands to Nashville – Stormy

As the news channels had predicted it was indeed a very wild night and, as we awoke to a very wet morning it quickly became clear that some of the cars weren’t as waterproof as they were when they rolled off the assembly lines

Morgan and Florence Hector were seen draining the headlights of their Camaro as the clock counted down to the restart, the Jaguar E Type – one of the fastest cats in the Jungle, was being mopped out by its crew of Boris Gruzman and Dave Ferguson and the Corvette of Chris Dillier had at least 5cm of water in each footwell leading Rita to wonder if anyone in the car park had a bilge pump, or a snorkel.

Mike Harrison, the overnight leader was scratching his head and looking at other options for clearing his windscreen given that the Volvo’s wiper motor had failed totally over the course of the yesterday and we wondered if maybe we’d see Lorna herself on squeegee duty today.

There was in short, an awful lot of water around and, as we ran alongside and across the Little Tennessee River, itself in full spate, we saw why this area is home to one of the worlds largest producers of whitewater kayaks. The crews taking in the first Regularity along Needmore Road though did their level best to keep themselves out of the foaming brine and happily no capsizes were reported and the lifeboats weren’t required.

Once they’d got themselves out of the rapids, the crews were rewarded with a complimentary coffee and a fruit and cheese platter in the gas station and store in Wolf Creek. Luckily it was early so no one tried to order a beer, if they had however, they’d have been bitterly disappointed and slapped down with the pithy riposte that ‘this is a dry county’!

Next up was another section through the Appalachian Mountains along the Cherohala Skyway Drive which is, we were told, an outstandingly beautiful road. Sadly though, as we saw yesterday with the Blue Ridge Parkway, the mist, low cloud and driving rain hid most of it from us as we sloshed along to the second Regularity in the Cherokee Forest all the while alongside the very same Little Tennessee River. We were now, well into Tennessee itself “the promised land” according to the bumper stickers and once out of the woods the lunch halt in Tellico Plains came as a welcome relief.

Unbelievably the rain had stopped at this point and, daring to hope that it would enjoy a dry afternoon, the Rally pulled out of the Tellicafe for the run in to the Test at the Crossville Raceway and onto Nashville over the Caney Fork River and along the Purple Heart Trail.

The Crossville Test was a rallycross inspired blast over a loose and sticky piste and, in truth it dug deep into the inventory of cones and warning tape which the ERA always travels with. Jim Smith, Pete Stone, Bob Hargreaves and Sarah Ormerod however proved themselves to be masters (and mistress) of improvisation and not only took charge of the clocks but also kept their eyes open for fair play and infractions.

The combination of rear wheel drive, road biased tyres and off camber turns gave some highly amusing moments.

This could have easily been the end of the days sport but instead, the crews were faced with one more Regularity some 53 miles down the road. On the map, Dale Ridge looked like just another lovely road. Rural – remote – rarely used, once transposed into the route book though this section punched well above its weight. Trip meter accuracy was everything through these narrow broken lanes and, after much to-ing and fro-ing there weren’t many crews who weren’t delighted to see Gill Cotton sat serenely behind a church at the Regularity’s end.

This really was the end of the day and all that we had to do was to get ourselves along the Interstate into Nashville, along with another rather special visitor who, despite the fact that it was very stormy and would likely be blowing hard, President Trump decided that he really had to be there; to attend his very own rally. In the Municipal Auditorium.

We are billeted in the Thompson Hotel tonight and also for our subsequent rest day in Nashville. Over dinner the crews made their plans for the following day and also took in the newly published results which show that the leaderboard has changed yet again, Jim Gately and Tony Brooks maintain their place at the top of the bill just ahead of David and Jo Roberts and Mike and Lorna Harrison.

It’s been a wild ride so far but tomorrow the crews can chill out and take in some of the sights and sounds of the Athens of the South.

Syd Stelvio

Day 4 – Nashville – Rest Day

Day four of the Trans America Challenge saw the crews given the chance to chill out and dry out in this most laid back of American cities and, the twelfth floor breakfast buffet in the Thompson Hotel, with windows on three sides, was the ideal spot to plan whatever this morning.

Obviously there were jobs to be done though, car prep’ and laundry being the two most obvious but, this was also a great opportunity to pick up the Stetson, belt buckle and boots you always knew you wanted.

Thankfully, the weather really seems to be improving and this morning, it was actually warm and dry enough to take coffee outside so, Mick de Haas planned on parking his Mercedes somewhere sunny for a few hours. There’s a slight misfire as well but he’s hoping that some of this light therapy might be all that’s needed to sort out the Red Lady.

Mike Harrison was fretting over the delayed delivery of a new wiper motor which he badly needed yesterday but, according to the forecast, from here on in he might not need it quite so much.

David and Jo Roberts’ Triumph has an intermittent fuelling issue and with Tony Jones working at the front end, Jamie Turner tankside and Bob Harrod reattaching an overworked wiper blade this truly was a team effort. Andy Inskip meanwhile was keeping an eye on Daniel and  Barbara Wiedemann who were checking the tyre pressures and oil level in their Mercedes.

Mornings tend to be quiet in Nashville we’re told and it seemed to us that the relaxed vibe throughout the city was merely down to the fact that it was keeping its powder dry for this evening.

There’s music and beer everywhere. Along Broadway, each drinking establishment had a live act thumping it out from 11.00am – 3.00am and, sharp eyed and well tuned crews were also treated to the sight of country legend John Prine recording a music video outside of the legendary Ernest Tubbs’ Record Store.

For most crews, a light lunch was called for and then a short siesta before the darkness drew in, the lights went on and the band struck up.

We’re back on the road again tomorrow, leaving behind the Country music scene and heading into Memphis, the land of the Blues.

Syd Stelvio

Day 5 – Nashville to Memphis – Memphis Belle

Suitably rested and refreshed, and not at all fragile after its last night in Nashville, the Rally set out today for what was set to be an action packed day with three Regularities and Test to tackle before rolling into Memphis.

Another Thompson Hotel ‘breakfast with a view’ was the first thing to tackle before a short run down the Interstate and onto the sublimely smooth Natchez Trace Parkway to the Passage Control at Gordon House where more than one crew remarked on the consistently high standards of the American roadbuilding industry. The “no commercial hauling” restriction meant that we pretty much had the road to ourselves and additionally, this was the first day that we’d been able to see what beautiful countryside we were driving through, and it made a welcome change.

The tortoise chicanes on the ever warming tarmac kept us sharp, the wild turkeys running alongside the road made us think of Christmas whilst the coyotes which slid into the bushes after them just thought of lunch.

The first objective for today was the American Rebel Test, a grass track slalom around hefty bales of hay and through a lush meadow bordered by a bog at one end and a pond at the other.

Alex Vassbotten and Erik Osland had their silver bullet style Alvis slipping and sliding very capably through the wet grassy turns along with Philip and Lynda Blunden’s Healey but, with the conditions underfoot softening, disaster struck for the  big Cadillac of the leaders Jim Gately and Tony Brooks which stalled and then sank at the midway point. Despite the best efforts of the marshals the rescue eventually came from Stephen Hardwick in his big rented 4×4 which just about managed to pull the old bus out of the mire.

Once through this section and, with the mud on the running boards baking hard in the 29°c heat the crews then made for the First Regularity along the Clifton Turnpike and then, via the town of Savannah – “the catfish capital of the world” to lunch at the Outpost Storehouse on the Pickwick Lake Dam. This was an impressive place with great pulled pork and all manner of curios to look at and to buy.

After lunch, it was over the dam itself and onto the Second Regularity on a very hot Gravel Hill Road where, despite the few drops of rain, the thermometer showed a sticky 32°c. There was little time for man or machine to cool down though as there was still the third and final Regularity along Rocky Springs Road to tackle before anyone could even think about the run into Memphis and the delights which lay there.

Once out of the woods and after an easy Interstate passage, the Peabody Hotel, the days destination arrived. This fine establishment has many defining features but perhaps one of the most unusual is a flock of domestic ducks which by day live quite happily in a pool in the lobby. At 5.00pm sharp though, a Duckmaster escorts them to an elevator and thence to their night quarters on the Plantation Roof. Other than this unique sight there is plenty to do and see in the city including the Peabody Roof Party and the bars and music venues of the world famous and close by, Beale Street.

The three top spots remain unchanged tonight. Despite their muddy mishap this morning, Jim Gately and Tony Brooks maintain their first place just ahead of David and Jo Roberts with Mike and Lorna Harrison close by in third place.

Today we said goodbye to Ele’ Piccolo who’s done her duty and is flying back to work in the Rally Office but leaving behind Alan McNaughton Gisby in her place as the hotels and HQ supremo.

We were also delighted to welcome back the two cars of the team of Jeff Urbina and Chris Pyke, and Pam King and Gaye Hill. Just as they promised us two days ago they’ve picked themselves up, dusted themselves down and got right back in the saddle and it’s great to have them riding along again.

Syd Stelvio

Day 6 – Memphis to Jackson – Deep South

It was another morning after the night before sort of start to the day. Beale Street and the Peabody Rooftop Party – with Gumbo Voodoo – were in full swing till the wee small hours and God knows how those ducks got any sleep up in their penthouse pool.

We shot out of Memphis on the Interstate and then we were quickly into the first Regularity which took in a delightful mixed surface loop of the Holly Springs National Forest along Little Snow Creek. Thundery showers rolled around the Rally with some crews emerging on the other side as dry as a bone whilst others found themselves a little on the damp side as they pulled into the final timing point eager to learn how close they’d got to the ideal time.

From little Snow Creek we enjoyed an easy and interesting run through the back roads of Mississippi to the lunch Time Control in the Tupelo Automobile Museum. This wonderful collection of more than 100 vehicles spanning more than 100 years of motoring had many of the crews fascinated and in some cases even looking for spare parts.

Alex Vassbotten took a particular interest in some of the old Alvis’ on display whilst Bill Holroyd, the proud owner / driver of a 1927 Bentley, a marque not included in the collection, gave an interview to the local TV channel.

Tupelo is also famous as the birthplace of Elvis Presley and as a result there’s a museum dedicated to “The King”, as well as bars, restaurants and retail outlets along Main Street.

Crews were free to find their own lunch in Tupelo today, but John and Nicole Whitelock had to spend their time looking for a repair shop to fix a steering or suspension issue which they’d noticed over the course of the morning.

For the rest of the Rally, as soon as they’d seen and eaten enough, it was back on to the Natchez Trace Parkway and through the Tombigbee National Forest to the second Regularity. Before the clocks started though there was a very welcome Time Control in the Council House Cafe in French Camp, which brought everything back together before this section on the Road to McCool.

The Regularity featured some tarmac of varying quality and miles of fast and loose gravel and, as a result, there was some spirited driving on display. Morgan Hector and Florence Fontaine put on a big show in their Chevrolet Camaro. Kris Dillier wasn’t to be outdone with a little Corvette sideslip which also sprayed the delighted spectators with a wheel full of shrapnel. Otakar and Ota Chladek though looked very smooth and in control right through the bends in their big red Mercedes.

Timing though was everything and, along the route the organisers had placed several marshalling teams with clocks and clipboards to measure the progress of the cars. At one such control we saw that our new medic / marshal Sarah Ormerod had, fifty years too late, gone all summer of love with flowers in her hair.

Bob Hargreaves meanwhile was simply looking forward to a pint of Flowers after his long hot day in the woods.

Our old friend, the Natchez Trace Parkway then whisked us south, towards the Jackson Hilton Hotel where we were to bed down for the night and dinner was a convivial sit down affair with baked oysters and other southern delights on offer.

There was little to trouble the leaders today so the top three have kept their places. Jim Gately and Tony Brooks maintain their first place just ahead of David and Jo Roberts with Mike and Lorna Harrison close by in third place.

Syd Stelvio

Day 7 – Jackson to New Orleans – Easy does it

To borrow from and to paraphrase Johnny Cash and Nancy Sinatra, we got out of Jackson “Hotter than a pepper sprout” this morning. But an 8.30am start and the lack of live music last night gave today’s start a much more civilised feel and the Interstate on the doorstep didn’t do anything to upset this.

Within a few miles though we were back on the signature Natchez Trace Parkway for another easy few kilometres.

Curious raccoons and lumbering tortoises, keeping to their very own time schedules, ran along beside us but soon it was time to leave them behind and strike south to the first Regularity along Hoodtown Road complete with a couple of speed changes and a few tricky timing points. Gravel, tar, light and shade. This section had it all and it was great to see Michael Eatough in his Mercedes, now on his third Trans America, enjoying it as much as if was his first.

Once the crews were out of the woods, so to speak, the Time Control in Hazlehurst gave them a chance to grab a snack and a cold drink before the long pull though the Southern countryside to the second Regularity along Jack Loftin Road which also had another couple of speed changes. Given that they also had to keep an eye open for critters crossing the road in front of them, the crews had plenty to think about this morning in the deep dark woods of Mississippi.

The lunch Time Control in Columbia gave everyone a chance to refuel and to cool down before the third Regularity along Mays Creek which, had only one speed change. By now the temperature was 35°c though and the open car crews were baking as thoroughly as last night’s oysters.

Further along the road, the magnificent 40km Lake Pontchartrain Causeway led us over the water and straight into the Big Easy and on the voyage over some of us had cause to reflect that it’s not often you’re in a car and out of sight of land. By the mid point we wondered whether to put the Garmin into marine mode.

Safely delivered to shore though we anchored opposite our base for tonight and tomorrow’s rest day. The Marazin Hotel is a quirky and delightful boutique hotel deep in the French quarter and is steeped in the culture and history New Orleans.

As we pulled up to the door it was good to see out old Friend John Layzell (Peking to Paris 2013 and Road to Mandalay) who’s flown in with Celia his wife for a bit of a meet and greet session.

Jeff Urbina and Chris Pyke unfortunately aren’t with us this evening as they’ve stayed behind in Jackson to fit a new clutch to their Ford but we fully expect too see them again in Texas.

The top three on the leaderboard have kept their placings today. Jim Gately and Tony Brooks maintain their first place ahead of David and Jo Roberts, with Mike and Lorna Harrison just behind them in third place. The gap between these two is now down to one second only. Deep in the South the heat is on, physically and metaphorically.

There’s plenty to do and see on the rest day tomorrow might and tonight the jazz bands are tuning up. This might be just the thing to let the crews chill out a little.

Syd Stelvio

Day 8 – New Orleans Rest Day

We had country in Nashville, we’ve had the blues in Memphis and as we’re in New Orleans we’ve got jazz. The all America Musical tour is now pretty much complete.

Here, on the banks of the Mississippi there’s been plenty to see and do today from the delights of Bourbon Street through the eclectic culture and markets of the French Quarter, to a trip on the Natchez paddle steamer which weighed anchor at 11.30am for a civilised mid morning cruise.

A ride in a horse drawn carriage to and from the impressive Jackson Square was also an option which didn’t raise too much of a sweat. An important consideration in these parts.

There were plenty of choices for lunch as well with crawfish, lobster and alligator vying for top billing on the chalkboard menus.

After one week on the road there’s obviously a bit of fixing, fettling and fiddling to be done, but this rest day seems to be dedicated to kicking back and taking it all in.

As the sun set, an oyster festival with live jazz and cool beers in nearby Woldenberg Park proved the ideal way to round things off before a suitably early bedtime.

Syd Stelvio


Day 9 – New Orleans to Galveston – Lone Star State

Today was slated to be a long day and a hot day but, a relatively straightforward day. Thus, spurred on by the late great Glen Campbell we made our way to Galveston.

There were no Regularities or Tests in the routebook so the crews were free to concentrate on the drive thorough this most remarkable and perhaps unknown, region of the USA.

As we hit the highway we pretty soon found that despite the road being jacked up on stilts, we were actually -15m below sea level which, if nothing else made the Dutch feel at home.

The Interstate and Freeways delivered us quickly to a Passage Control in the Sugar Cane Fields near Franklin and on our way there we crossed the mighty Mississippi where we reached the dizzying height of 43m. In these parts that’s flyin’ high and bulrushes, rice fields, cane plantations and one huge dead alligator marked the route for us.

This is wild and remote countryside and, at the passage control itself, Andy Inskip and Tony Jones stood manfully by the side of the road surrounded by a forest of spiders and huge (and fresh) alligator prints in the mud.

The lunch Time Control at Cypremort Point soon afterwards  saw Fred, galloping gourmet, Gallagher overseeing his team of sous chefs as they sliced, diced and filled ciabatta, savoury croissants, rolled Italian prosciutto and mixed together a fine tomato, basil and mozzarella salad.

Under the shade of a rustic pavilion on the Gulf of Mexico, the crews tucked into another fine ERA picnic whilst John and Gill Cotton ran the clocks and shooed away any stray alligators which didn’t have a reservation.

This al fresco dejeuner sur la plage took us right back to Geoff Watson and Graham Wild’s Bistro 315 all the way over in South East Asia on the Road to Saigon. They set the bar high but this morning we think it was equalled.

Life isn’t always a picnic however and today was no exception, as some of the crews and sweeps enjoyed what could be described as a working lunch. Serge Berthier’s Jensen was having a little electrical issue so Jaimie Turner was fitting bulbs and fuses like he was rigging Christmas lights in Times Square.

Chris Dillier’s, Corvette had made it to a fuel station earlier in the morning on vapours and the engine now seemed a little rough so, with a cheese roll in one hand and an air filter in the other he set about diagnosing the problem.

Roger Hutchins and Jeremy Clayton were a little late in to lunch also as they were struggling with a mysterious drop in oil pressure. A missing seal around the dipstick had allowed the precious black fluid to leak out so, before they could eat they diverted a garage for a top up. The rest of the day passed without incident for them and their Mustang and they rolled in with the rest of the pack.

The long pull from lunch to the end of the day was broken up by many bridges over the canals and wetlands of the Intercoastal Waterway as well as two car ferries. The Cameron Holly Beach Ferry was first and it barely took 10 minutes from bank to bank and, as an added bonus it came with an escort of dolphins. One of which, local legend has it, is coloured pink.

120 miles of Louisiana’s and Texas’ coastline followed until we reached the Galveston Port Bolivar ferry. In places the road ran almost along the beach with swamp to the right of us and ocean to the left. Oil and gas installations peppered the skyline, it was an impressive drive made more so by the pods of pelicans which took over the escort duty as the journey neared its end.

Our night halt, the Gálvez Hotel and Spa is right on the beach and after dinner there were plenty of crews who stirred themselves for a walk along the strip.

The leaderboard hasn’t changed. Jim Gately and Tony Brooks maintain their first place ahead of David and Jo Roberts, with Mike and Lorna Harrison still behind them in third place. The gap between them still one second but tomorrow, the pedal gets pressed to that metal again and that’s a slim margin.

Syd Stelvio

Day 10 – Galveston to Austin – Surf & Turf

The isthmus, that is the coastline to the south west of Galveston took us straight from the hotel this morning down to the most southerly point of our route via salt grass marshland and rows of neat stilt mounted holiday homes.

In the town of Freeport we finally said goodbye to the Gulf coast and struck northwards to the first time Control in the Bay City, Dairy Queen Cafe. There we found some crews who had just scraped in to the control within the 15 minute window, thanks to a freight train, some hundreds of meters long, which had ground to a halt on critical level crossing.

With just about enough time for a coffee and a comfort break it was then time to head to the first Regularity, the Texas Flats, a gravel blast through cotton fields, corn fields and pastures filled with livestock.

The Texana Raceway “your favourite small town dirt track” was up next and this short, banked oval was the venue for the days Test. Two laps, with a slalom and a stop astride thrown in for good measure opened the ERA ‘run what you brung’ championship in the good town of Edna.

Iris Tripet was in the driving seat this morning whilst Jean-Philippe took over pace note duty and were first in line for the Test and looked to thoroughly enjoy her first time driving on a track, as she and her Fulvia roared away from the line showering the start marshals with a plume of grit and gravel.

Stephen Hardwick was also happy today finding himself at the wheel of a tail happy Ford, which has finally arrived from Mexico after a bit of reworking and finessing. He and Samantha have finally ditched their SUV and were delighted to announce to everyone that, on the roads arounds Houston, the Falcon had landed.

This was a busy morning and the second Regularity at Texas Ranch helped the Rally to build an appetite for the grill at the lunch Time Control in the H&H Cafe in Yoakum. The air conditioned dining room proved as big a hit as the food as the mercury had climbed to 37°c over the course of the morning.

As all good things must come to an end though, once the plates had been cleared away the crews were obliged to tear themselves away from their cool sanctuary and head to the third and final Regularity for the day around the Texas Vines. Like the two before it this was a dry as a bone gravel section with several square corners in the finest American tradition and herds of longhorn cattle looking on.

From here, the home run took us through Delhi, which caught the eye of those crews looking to take on the Himalaya Challenge later this year and soon after we just missed another called Rockne, named after the founder of the car company, which must have grabbed Manuel Dubs’ attention. The fact that we finished in Austin can’t have been lost on Philip Blunden either.

The massive Circuit of the America’s came and went on our right hand side, just before we swung onto the ring roads and freeways, which would take us into Austin, the capital of Texas, which claims that it is the “live music capital of the world” although having been through Nashville, Memphis and New Orleans, some of us may beg to differ.

There has been some swapping of seconds within the top three crews today but the broad picture is still the same.  Jim Gately and Tony Brooks maintain first place ahead of David and Jo Roberts, with Mike and Lorna Harrison just behind them in third place.

The Hotel Granduca is where we find ourselves this evening and it was good to see our old Friend Manoj Saxena in the carpark as we drove in.

Over dinner it was mentioned that the state of Texas was recently voted the 47th safest State in the Union but, erring on the side of caution, we made sure that we’d locked our doors and windows before we turned in.

Syd Stelvio

Day 11 – Austin to Wichita Falls – Don’t mess with Texas

We enjoyed a 9.00am start today which allowed any rush hour unpleasantness in the Austin area to sort itself out and thereby gave us a clear run straight out of the hotel and into what was to be an epic day. Perhaps this wasn’t the longest of endurance rallying days but the immensity of the landscape and the roads less travelled which we were using allowed it to punch well above its mileage.

There were three passage controls before lunch to make sure that we were all on the right track and the first of these was in a peculiar place called Dead Man’s Hole which may have marked the site of a Civil War era mass grave. Shortly after we crossed the Colorado River and headed to the second, more cheery control, in the sleepy Hoover Valley Country Store and Cafe where we all kicked ourselves for not being able to return for the ‘all you can eat catfish special’, on Friday night.

The big draw in these parts is Ink Lake which hosts all manner of watersports but today, the remote shoreline rang to a different tune, that of squealing tyres and revving engines as the rally headed down to the third Passage Control in Old San Saba Road before pulling into the lunch Time Control in, Lampasas Country Kitchen and Cafe.

It was turning out to be another hot day and as we saw yesterday, a simple hostelry was a welcome oasis of cool. Despite the heat, it was clear though that everyone had enjoyed the ride so far and, shuffling along the buffet line with the rest of the crews, Janet Howle was fulsome in her praise of the route which the organisers had chosen for the day.

Once the last of the iced tea had been drained and the crumbs of lemon meringue pie hoovered up, then the clock started ticking again. There were two Regularities this afternoon and at the first, Ranch Lands, the ERA medic, Sarah Ormerod was not only counting down the start times but was also dispensing bottles of chilled isotonic drinks to anyone and everyone who wanted one.

Once out of the Ranch Lands then it was on to Grid Lock, the second Regularity which tantalisingly featured a ford in the route book soon after the start. Anyone anticipating a cooling water splash though was bitterly disappointed as this river crossing was as dry as everything else around here.

The rest of the section though served to put a smile on everyones face as they were forced to press on through thick woodland on a gravel road with many turnings to be considered, other than those noted in the route book.

When the final timing point was reached there were some crews who, strictly between themselves, could only ask ‘how did that happen’?

Two more time controls kept the Rally together on the drive into Wichita Falls, the Dairy Queen cafe in Hamilton and the Longhorn Inn at Thurber Lake which churned out ice cream and banana splits at an incredible rate.

Soon enough though the hotel carpark appeared in the windscreens and there were plenty of crews who postponed their regular spanner checks until after they’d had a dip in the pool and an iced water or two.

As far as the results go, the bigger picture is the same as it was yesterday with Jim Gately and Tony Brooks in first place ahead of David and Jo Roberts, with Mike and Lorna Harrison just behind them in third.

A special thanks today must go to the 48 hour car. Manned by Dick Appleton and Paul Heal this vehicular vanguard has well and truly earned its keep by providing us with a lengthy yet precise re -route past some extensive and unexpected roadworks.

Syd Stelvio

Day 12 – Wichita Falls to Amarillo – Big Beef

It was a simple sort of day today with lots of big skies and impressive landscapes both to look at and to drive though.

We woke up in Texas but, almost as soon as we left Wichita Falls and hit the highway, we entered Oklahoma, the Sooner State, and the seventh of our journey so far. We were headed for the Wichita Mountains through an open range complete with buffalo, antelope and longhorns.

Our American Marshal, Mike Halley is now on his home patch and he proudly sported an Oklahoma State University hat whilst manning his Passage Control alongside Dave Maryon and a herd of curious bison.

The road, rolling through these low hills and over scrubby plains, eventually led us to lunch in the log cabins of the Quartz Mountain resort where the Rally enjoyed, beef, creamed potatoes and beans.

Pam King and Gaye Hill who rolled in a little later than the rest of the field explained that they’d stopped to replace some vital brake calliper bolts on there way through the mountains, with the help of Andy Inskip and Tony Jones.

After lunch, a short sharp rainstorm with thunder and lightning added a bit of drama to the drive just before we re entered Texas and set a course for the Route 66 Test which was another two lap, dirt oval blast with some strategically placed cones to give the navigators something to do other than hang on and try not to scream.

It looked simple enough on paper but with adrenalin running high there were some notable performances such as that from Alex Vassbotten and  Eric Osland who spun their Alvis through 180° then quite calmly put it into a power slide to bring it back onto the right track and continued as if nothing had happened.

Stephen Hardwick is obviously still getting used to the power from his Falcon and a couple of late saves around the cones kept him pretty much on course.

For Roger Hitchins and Jeremy Clayton though it was a lack of speed which caused them to lose time here. Fuel vaporisation caused their Mustang to stall mid way through the test. Starting this old warhorse isn’t easy either as the park switch sensor on the gearbox has failed which means that they’ve got to go through a bit of a sequence to get the motor fired upon again.

Peter Weigelt and Bruno Himmelman were late into test as their Mustang has also been struggling with the heat and, once the two laps of the track were up and they’d pulled into the time control, their motor died and would only start again once it had cooled down sufficiently.

The night halt in Amarillo was only a few blocks from the circuit and in the Hoffbrau Steakhouse, the days events were relived and evaluated.

There’s no change for the top three though, Jim Gately and Tony Brooks are still leading, ahead of David and Jo Roberts, with Mike and Lorna Harrison in third. And, over a salmon steak in the self styled beef capital of the world, David admitted that he’s delighted with their performance so far but is taking nothing for granted as there’s still a long way to go to Seattle.

Tomorrow we move into New Mexico, via the Cadillac Ranch and a section of the old Route 66.

Syd Stelvio

Day 13 – Amarillo to Santa Fe – Route 66. A Fine Country for Old Cars

We’ve just tipped over the halfway point today and there’s definitely a change in the air. For a start it was windy this morning and, also much cooler because suddenly we find ourselves at 1,200m and, roaring across the open prairies with tumbleweed and little else between us and the horizon Trans America started to feel a bit more epic.

Our first stop today was a Passage Control at the Cadillac Ranch, an odd but colourful set of 10 upended and part buried Cadillac cars which the public are invited to, nay encouraged, to cover with their own graffiti.

These world famous motoring monoliths, which can trace their genesis to 1974, can almost claim to be the Carhenge of Northwest Texas and they certainly attract the crowds who are more than happy to add their aerosol additions to them.

The next Control was at the Old Route 66 Mid Point Cafe in the town of Adrian, which served up coffee, cakes and cinnamon buns. The gift shop also did a brisk trade in stickers, key rings and fridge magnets and, from this point, the signs told us that we were exactly 1,139 miles from either Chicago or Los Angeles. The old Route 66 has largely been swallowed up by bigger and faster roads but this little slice of the past was well worth a visit.

The border with New Mexico “The Land of Enchantment” slipped by shortly before the Old Route 66 gravel section, which eventually led the rally back onto the Interstate and then to lunch in the ‘Kix on 66 Diner’ in Tucumcari. A special Trans America had been devised and, perched on bar stools, the crews enjoyed some excellent food.

The afternoon section was billed as a pretty dramatic one and it surely lived up to this. Almost as soon as we’d left lunch, we were onto Route 104 through the low mesas of the old Comanche country. It was a hot, hilly and impressive road which rose quickly to 2000m on the way to the Las Vegas Time Control at the foot of the Sangre de Christo Mountain range. The Plaza Hotel, which was used as a set for the Film no Country for Old Men, looked after us very well with cold drinks and snacks on offer to see us thorough to the end.

From Las Vegas, the Santa Fe Trail and Interstate 25 snaked though the forests and the mountains into Santa Fe itself and the night halt at the El Dorado Hotel. At almost 2,200m this could rightly be described as a cool place, thanks to its altitude and the vibrant artistic scene which the city supports. It was still warm enough to eat outside though and, the carpark buffet rounded off an exceptional day with the cars forming a circle into which  our dining tables had been laid and a bar set out. Naturally, it was Mexican food which was on the menu washed down with some good local wines.

As there’s been no competition today, the results haven’t changed so Jim Gately and Tony Brooks can sleep soundly this evening knowing that David and Jo Roberts and Mike and Lorna Harrison still have some catching up to do on Sunday.

We’re also pleased to report that with just over one week to go, the entire field is still running, with no hire cars or substitutes in the mix, but it’s been a long hot few days and this has taken its toll on one or two of the cars which means that the sweeps have been busy as usual.

Erik van Droogenbroek and Adrian van der Linde’s Volvo still has fuelling issues and has now worked its way through four pumps. Tomorrow, the plan is to remove the foam lined petrol tank completely to see what’s causing the problem but there’s a hunch that the ethanol in the fuel may be part of the reason.

Alan and Tina Beardshaw’s Triumph blew the master cylinder this morning so was limping for pretty much all of the day with much reduced braking capacity but they arrived in Santa Fe just in time for dinner.

Tomorrow we enjoy a well deserved day off and there’s plenty to do and see, once the cars have been fixed.

Syd Stelvio

Day 14 – Santa Fe – Rest Day

Art galleries, shops and cafes. Churches and cathedrals, boutiques and markets. Santa Fe provided more than just a little retail therapy for the Trans America Challenge’s rest day.

There were dozens of places to eat, drink and be merry and at least one where you could get some laundry done.

Our old friend and long distance rally veteran Marc Buchanan had dropped by for dinner last night and he gave us a few useful pointers.

Adobe and Pueblo architecture dominate the city with warm honey coloured rendering and exposed weathered timber supports. Bunches of chilli peppers hung from many door posts. Santa Fe is also home to the oldest house in the USA and the oldest church. The associated gift shops however seemed to be a little more modern.

As always, there were car issues to resolve and David Roberts took his Triumph down to the muffler shop for some work on his exhaust whilst the sweeps, along with Alan Beardshaw, set about finding a more permanent fix to the brake issue which surfaced yesterday.

As we expected, Erik van Droogenbroek’s fuel tank was drained, cleaned and refitted and all fingers are crossed that this has got to the bottom of the problem.

Brian and Catherine Scowcroft’s Chevy on the other hand needed just a little tune up and some minor attention to its tickover speed.

We also received some important news today from the ever alert 48 hour car. Because of a forest fire still raging along our intended route there will have to be a significant change to it tomorrow.

Mark Appleton therefore got no rest today, busy as he was with an atlas and a bunch of tulips.

Syd Stelvio

Day 15 – Santa Fe to Colorado Springs – Getting high in Cowboy country

And so, the last week begins. And, the confirmation of the big reroute arrived late last night. Thankfully it wasn’t quite as drastic as we first thought and we neatly skirted around the smouldering forest and even managed to slot in a replacement Regularity section to boot. We lost none of the big sky views and wide open countryside for which this area is so famous. Indeed, Mark Appleton did such a good job of rearranging the tulips that he’s thinking of training as a florist.

Early Sunday morning is obviously a good day to leave Santa Fe, so getting out of the city was as easy as it possibly could be. There’s no doubt that we’re in the hills now though as soon we hit 2,500m and went on to top out at 3,046m when we crossed the Cuchara Pass during the afternoon. Some of the cars were complaining and spluttering a little but for most a quick adjustment to the fuel / air mixture sorted things out.

Not everyone managed to get out of Santa Fe this morning however; Mick and Grace de Haas’ Mercedes has fuel evaporation issues, John and Nicole Whitelock’s Ford has a seized engine and Michael Kershaw and Matthew Smith’s Mustang needs a new fuel pump. Luckily for all concerend, Mark Buchanan – the ERA’s Santa Fe emergency service, is coordinating the recovery operation so we fully expect these three crews to be back with us shortly.

For the rest of the rally, there were three Regularities on the schedule and they were all on gravel and they all involved some high altitude work.

The first Regularity, the last minute substitution, was at La Canada and it took the cars along a rocky and broken road through a dense pine forest towards the time Control in Rene’s 50s Diner in Mora, where a small crowd had gathered to meet and greet the cars ass they pulled into the ‘lot.

From here the roads took us on a fantastic drive over the seemingly endless high plains around Mora and The Turkey Mountains.

Arrow straight, smooth as silk and well over 2,000m high, this section was spectacular to say the least although sadly Hudson and Mary Lee’s Mercedes found it a bit too demanding and it finished the day on a flatbed. The sweeps will take a look this evening and if it can be fixed then it surely will be fixed.

Alex Vassbotten and Eric Osland’s Alvis was also feeling the heat and just before lunch it rid itself of the custom made engine side panels which were then stowed in an obliging ERA crew vehicle.

The lunch Time Control was in the busy Oasis Motel, in the small town of Raton, where the crews mixed with the local diners who’d turned out for the Sunday special and, it was into this carpark that Brian and Catherine Scowcroft’s Chevy came spluttering, minus its rally plate, which had shaken itself free earlier in the day. Jaimie Turner was quickly under the bonnet and made some more adjustments to the carb’s and as they pulled out it did sound a little better, but tonight it will likely need a new set of plugs to be on the safe side.

Climbing over the 2,388m Raton Pass we left New Mexico and arrived in Colorado on the Interstate, before turning off for the second Regularity, the aptly named Rocky View which saw us cruising very nicely into the Rockies and the beautiful San Isabel National Forest. If any of the crews had a hard time keeping their eyes on the clocks then they could be forgiven, as the scenery around them was nothing short of breathtaking. The approach to the 3,046m Cuchara Pass proving to be a highlight in more ways than one.

Some of the cars were wheezing by now and some of the crews might just have been feeling a little short of breath, so a well placed Time Control at the Paradise Coffee shop in La Veta gave all concerned a welcome breather before the road turned towards the last Regularity on Pass Creek Road. Once this had been negotiated it was then pretty much all downhill into Colorado Springs which sits at 1,750m, although with 200km to go it was a very gentle decline.

Tim Eades, one of the support crew for the team, found himself riding in the eye-catching Chevy Bel Air itself today and, unfortunately for him, a rock was kicked up which threw a fan blade in the direction of the radiator. Tim’s quick thinking and his Peking to Paris resourcefulness prevented any major damage to the cooling system and with just a little time lost he was on the road again.

The road to the night halt was a new one and, along this traffic free blacktop there were signs which warned us to look out for eagles in the road, to be alert for Amish buggies and not to approach the wild buffalo. We paid heed to them and eventually we arrived safely at the excellent Antlers Hotel in delightful downtown Colorado Springs where the evening’s talking point was the superb selection of fresh green vegetables on offer at dinner.

It’s been a tough day but a rewarding day and even after so many miles and so much climbing, the  leaderboard hasn’t changed. Jim Gately and Tony Brooks are still first, David and Jo Roberts are still second and Mike and Lorna Harrison are third.

We head to Pike’s Peak tomorrow and then take in some more of stunning Colorado.

Syd Stelvio

Day 16 – Colorado Springs to Aspen – Hill climb heaven

The big draw for today was the trip to Pike’s Peak, giving the crews the chance to pit themselves and their cars against the 4,302m giant bulging from the Pike Forest.

This hillclimb is a legendary motorsport venue and every year the International Hillclimb makes its way up the series of switchbacks called “The W’s,” because of their shape on the side of the mountain. There are in fact over 156 turns from top to bottom and almost everyone is a picture perfect photo opportunity.

The current record holder for the 12.42 miles course is pro’ rally driver Sébastien Loeb, who, in 2013 managed it in a  time of 8:13.878 aboard a Peugeot 208 Pikes Peak T16. There wasn’t any timing for the Trans America Challenge crews as they made their way up to the Passage Control though, but it’s safe to say that every one of the old engines were flat out for the entire way.

Brian and Catherine Scowcroft’s Chevy unfortunately didn’t make it. After ten miles they called it a day, turned around and rolled on to the lunch halt. So far they’ve been through three sets of plugs and there’s still a feeling that the fuel / air mixture still isn’t right for the altitude. Tomorrows rest day will give them another crack at getting it sorted for the remainder of the rally.

Cripple Creek, an old gold mining town was where the lunch Time Control was and, after a bite to eat, a look around the museum and a short trip on the steam train the only Regularity of the day began, along a tarmac road past the Florissant Fossil beds.

By now the scenery was changing and on the horizon, a panorama of snow capped peaks began to break through the haze and a quick look at the map book confirmed that this was where we were heading. The Trout Creek Pass, shortly before the Time Control In Brown Dog Cafe in Buena Vista, served as a warm up for the second main act of the day, the mighty Independence Pass, 3,687m which sits right on the Continental Divide.

It was literally all downhill from here into Aspen, and the lovely Hotel Jerome which is where we’ll be spending our last rest day.

With time running out for anyone looking to make a run on the podium, we see that the top three cars are still hanging on to their places. Jim Gately and Tony Brooks are first, David and Jo Roberts are second and Mike and Lorna Harrison are third.

Mick and Grace De Haas and Michael Kershaw and Matthew Smith meanwhile are still in Santa Fe with their Mercedes and Ford Mustang respectively, but they’ve assured us that they’ll be back with us tomorrow night.

John and Nicole Whitelock and Hudson and Mary Lee rejoined the Rally this morning, but in a pair of rental cars. Their competition cars couldn’t be fixed so they are now all packed up and ready to be sent home.

Aspen is a beautiful town. Very cosmopolitan and very welcoming, and there won’t be many who can’t find something to do on the rest day tomorrow.

Syd Stelvio

Day 17 – Aspen Rest Day

The late and much lamented John Denver summed this place up perfectly, “Aspen. A sweet Rocky Mountain paradise” and if we could add that sentiment, if ever anyone needs an image for a chocolate box then Aspen’s the place to look for it.

Wall to wall blue sky and full sun gave our day off in the mountains a distinct holiday feel. Ringed by mountains and pine forest the town is one big sun trap and is guaranteed to put a smile on your face.

If you need a visual reference then think Chamonix crossed with the Champs Elysee with a little Bond Street added for good measure.

For our weary crews there were plenty of restorative things to do, they could rent a bike and take this (or walk) along the riverside Rio Grande Trail, there was the option of a chairlift ride to Aspen Snowmass, the ski station high above the town or there were the cafes, boutiques and shops of the downtown area tackle.

There were also some cars to be fixed though and down in the garage the sweeps were on duty. Ready, willing and Able.  Anthony Verloop was under the front of his MG fitting new suspension bushes. Erik Droogenbroek was busy in the ‘trunk’ of his Volvo plumbing in the fifth fuel pump of the trip.

Andy Inskip meanwhile was working on the bodywork of Otakar Chladek’s Mercedes. Sadly he clipped a pillar in one of the underground garages and mashed up his headlight and right hand wing although luckily the damage is just cosmetic.

Michael Eatough was spanner checking and he coyly showed us his ‘tool hamper’ nestling in the boot of the Mercedes. This Fortnum and Mason wicker box supposedly had a full set of spares in it but we couldn’t help wondering if it was really stuffed with foie gras and French cheese and some nice ham.

The Jerome Hotel has been an excellent base for us today and indeed it has some previous form where old cars are concerned. In 1952 there was a street race in Aspen and the course took the cars past the hotel and onto Mill Street. Notably, John Johantgen and Kurt Kircher drove this race in a pair of Allard J2’s.

By nightfall everyone was agreed that this had been an excellent rest day and that one thing is for sure. It’ll be hard to leave.

Syd Stelvio

Day 18 – Aspen to Park City – Swap Shop

Rest days can lull a rally into a false sense of peace and security and today, this proved to be the case. With just under a week to go things seemed to have settled into a pattern and the results were beginning to look almost decided.

This morning then, with the beautiful town of Aspen, and the snowy peaks of the Rockies disappearing in our rear view mirrors we set a course for a new chapter in the route book and, almost straight out of the gate we were into a circuit test at the excellent but possibly not much used, Aspen Motorsports Park.

This was a nadgery little section and it contained a chicane which was judged so crucial to the overall result, that the ERA Rally Director, Fred Gallagher himself was on observation duty here. Under an oversized brim and clutching a clipboard he assiduously  recorded any infringements incurred.

Two laps per car were down on the schedule and, after a lot of revving and squealing this short little blast left most of the crews with broad beaming smiles and a sense of a job well done.

It was also good to see Mick and Grace De Haas along with Michael Kershaw and Matthew Smith back in the hunt and lined up with the rest of the rally on the grid after their enforced sojourn in Santa Fe. Mick and Grace gave it all they had around the circuit but sadly, Michael and Matthew finished their day in a hire car as the Mustang’s engine gave up the fight soon after they pulled off the track.

David and Jo Roberts however, knew that they had time to make up in this, the final week of the Rally. So, they pushed their well travelled Triumph hard, and through some of the sharp corners it began to complain, audibly. Thankfully, once the clock had stopped and they’d pulled off into the pits, Andy Inskip and Tony Jones leaped into action and quickly diagnosed that their ‘big end’ had been suffering from oil starvation, brought on by centrifugal force.

The Time Control in the Whistle Pig Cafe in the town of Rifle gave the crews a chance to reflect and relive their track time before the long haul to lunch, in the town the Rangeley, through the vast semi desert of lower Colorado.

We all knew that this was going to be a long day on the road so, after a quick hotdog / burger / ice cream and some time at the petrol pump, the crews climbed back into their cars and pointed themselves towards Utah and the longest regularity of the Rally so far via the town of Altamont, in Duchesne County, where another Time Control had been sited in the Sinclair fuel station.

Having been notified of our impending arrival by the 48 hour car, this small town, with a population of just under 300, had turned out in force to welcome the cars and to mingle with the crews under a heaving canopy of selfie sticks and cowboy hats. With such a reception, the Trans America Challenge felt like it had come home.

Sadly though, we couldn’t stay too long in Altamont as there was one more Regularity to complete off before the days end and, the stunning 35km section through the beautiful Uintas Mountains was the perfect way to end an incredible day although the last time control might be remembered for all the wrong reasons by Manuel and Irene Dubs who overshot and were landed with a hefty penalty which at days end denied them the third place.

Once we’d wrapped up proceedings, we made our way down the hill and booked into the night halt where we tucked into generous, and beautifully prepared, elk steaks in the Marriott Hotel in Park City. Here we learned that at last there has been a change to the top three placings. David and Jo Roberts, who’ve never led an ERA rally before, are now in top spot – some 22 seconds ahead of Jim Gately and Tony Brooks with Mike and Lorna Harrison only one second behind them.

Tony Brooks, whilst disappointed was generous and philosophical at dinner and declared that he and Jim were “determined to keep looking through the windshield not the rear view mirror”. They know that they’re strong in the regularities but less so on the tests so have decided to box clever, keeping their powder dry and the pressure on the Triumph and hoping to force a mistake. Jim’s post match analysis though was slightly more succinct, when he got news of the results he shot back “Aw shit. I hate that track”.

David and Jo Roberts though were rightly delighted with their new status but admitted that it feels a little strange. The oil starvation gave them a fright this morning and as David reflected on what was a great day he knows that in this game you’re “only as good as your last mistake”. Similarly, Jo isn’t in the habit of counting her chickens before they hatch and tonight she says that she will be looking closely at the routebook to time their sprint to the line with as much accuracy as she can.

Finally, before we sign off we must wish Janet Howle many happy returns. It’s her birthday today and this isn’t such a bad place for a party.

Syd Stelvio

Day 19 – Park City to Boise – Flat Out

This was our last morning in the high mountains and the drive straight from the hotel door over the Guardsman Pass into Salt Lake City was great way to sign off.

Once we were back on the valley floor we joined the Interstate for a short drive to the Utah Motorsports Campus where there were two tests in quick succession. This modern and well used high speed facility allowed the crews to channel their inner Fangio and also served to give the likes of David and Jo Roberts – and any other speed merchants – a chance to put some more time into the Regularity specialists. Jim Gately and Tony Brooks, as expected put up a good fight but by day’s end the big Cadillac had lost a few more seconds and slipped to third.

Mike and Lorna Harrison who finished up in second place were almost late into the test because of an oil leak on the way out of town but Jaimie Turner and Bob Harrod arrived on the scene just in time to help them hang on to their time slot and eventually move up one rung on the leaderboard.

After the fun on the track, next on the agenda was a Passage Control at the Bonneville Speedway, on the legendary salt flats. After booking in, there was just enough time for a couple of runs up and down the salt crust piste, just as George Eyston, an illustrious resident of East Hendred, had done many years before us.

Lunch, and the Time Control, was in the Copper Kettle in Wendover and immediately afterwards we crossed into Nevada and started the long trek to Boise in Idaho. In  a typically American grid pattern, first we went West and then we went North, through towns such as Jackpot and Hollister where a Time Control brought everyone back together for a quick coffee before we hit the Interstate again and pulled into Boise, the delightful capital of Idaho.

When we arrived, we were met by Brian and Colin Shields, citizens of the Parish and ex-Peking to Paris, and Rally of the Incas competitors. It was good to see them prior to the Himalaya Challenge in October.

The night halt is the Residence Inn and the results published before dinner made for interesting reading. After two weeks of near stalemate, there has been a complete re-ordering of the top three. David and Jo Roberts, who grabbed first place yesterday are still there, but Mike and Lorna Harrison have leapfrogged Jim Gately and Tony Brooks to move into second.

There are three more days to go and a few more miles to cover. It looks like we’re heading for a very close finish.

Syd Stelvio

Day 20 – Boise to Bend – The Oregon Trail

An easy exit from Boise, Idaho had the crews delivered to the first Time Control in Vale, Oregon just in time for a mid morning snack. The Starlite Cafe served up gallons of coffee and generous wedges of fruit pie to dozens of grateful rally crews and after an hour had passed it appeared as if a plague of locusts had been and gone, the shelves were empty and the chiller cabinets bare, leading one wag to quip “who ate all the pies”.

There was then an idyllic run to lunch along the Malheur River and over the Drinkwater Pass to the lunch Time Control in the bustling town of Burns where we enjoyed another epicurean extravaganza. There was also plenty of time to take in one or two of the shops along the high street such as the Trading Post, which dealt in all manner of hazardous hardware. Guns, knives, crossbows or slingshots could be traded for Atari Game Boy consoles or clean unused workwear.

The Regularity for the day was in the Ochoco Forest which took the cars on and off a tarmac and gravel track just to the west of Sugarloaf Mountain.

The final Time Control of the day was in Kurt’s Country Store in Paulina where we came across Erik van Droogenbroek’s Volvo up on a jack with Tony Jones underneath, looking at the prop shaft bushing.

The hotel for this evening is the Hilton Garden but there was no group dinner this evening as there’s so much local choice within a very short walk from the hotel.

After a pretty relaxed sort of day where there was little to trouble the crews. The leaderboard hasn’t changed, which means that David and Jo Roberts are inching closer to their maiden win whilst Mike and Lorna Harrison along with Jim Gately and Tony Brooks are still looking for ways to grab some time.

Syd Stelvio

Day 21 – Bend to Newberg – Drag Queens

The Pacific Northwest is cooler and lower than almost anywhere we’ve been for the last ten days and this morning, Bend almost felt chilly. There were clouds in the sky and even the Viking duo of Alex Vassbotten and Eric Osland had their thick flying jackets on in the cockpit of their Alvis.

The first Regularity today was to be over the impressive McKenzie Pass but, thanks to forest fire, flood and roadworks the road was closed until Monday morning so, a bit of 48 hour car quick thinking sorted out a re route around the problem and another timed section was seamlessly slotted in as a replacement and, from Bend we drove to Sisters then crossed the Pacific Crest Trail to pick up the original route at the lunch halt in the Korner Post Cafe in Detroit.

After a good lunch alongside an Oshkosh mounted division of the US army, on manoeuvres in the area, there followed another two regularities in the beautiful Cascade Mountains around Pinhead Buttes and the Salmon Huckleberry Wilderness on the Clackamas River where we also crossed the 45th parallel, the halfway point between the Equator and the North Pole.

The big draw for today though wasn’t anything so lofty, rather the crews were getting excited about something much more basic. A drag race on the Woodburn Strip, in which man (or Janet Howle) and machine, were pitted against each other and the clock and, there could only ever be one winner. The standing quarter mile is an American institution which has helped to breed muscle cars such as the Mustang, the Camaro and the Corvette and, coincidentally we had all three of these represented this afternoon.

Testosterone mixed with gasoline and suffused with burning rubber, is indeed a heady scent and, over three runs down the strip the crews thoroughly enjoyed its near narcotic effect and our own little band top of ‘top fuellers’ drew polite applause from the crowds in the grandstand.

Before each run, every car had to go through process of staging, one of the most important aspects of drag racing whereby the car creeps forward through the start gate and triggers a series of sensors which are linked to the Christmas tree lights, red, amber and green, which let the driver know when to start the run.

Several measurements are then taken from each race: reaction time, elapsed time, and terminal speed.

This was a test on consistency in which three runs had to be carefully matched.

Reaction time was the time from the green light, to the car leaving the line. Elapsed time was the time from the car leaving the start to crossing the finish line. The speed was measured through a trap / gate in the final 20m, giving the terminal speed of the car over that distance.

Despite some desperate efforts with the pedals, nothing this afternoon upset the top three placings. There wasn’t enough time available in three short runs to do any real damage to their overall positions so, David Roberts shot his Triumph down the lane with just enough care and consideration that it would survive another day and hopefully carry him and Jo over the finish line in first place. Mike and Lorna Harrison were almost as guarded with their Volvo despite giving a little extra throttle and pipping their rivals to the post in the second leg. Jim Gately on the other hand, with the home crowd behind him, floored the Cadillac in a do or die attempt to either cement third place or move up a couple of places.

From the track it was a short hop to the night halt, the Allison Inn, where there was something of an end of term atmosphere and growing feeling that tomorrow’s drive, despite the presence of a couple of regularities, might actually turn out to be nothing more than a victory lap.

Syd Stelvio

Day 22 – Newberg to Seattle – A Maiden Win

Well that was some victory lap. If David and Jo Roberts thought they were in for an armchair ride to the finish today then they were quickly disabused of any such notion as the last day of the Trans America Challenge 2018 unfolded.

From the lovely Allison Inn in Newberg, there was an easy run to brunch in Astoria and, the meal itself was a very civilised affair in the Bridgwater Bistro. Under the magnificent Megler Bridge where an excellent selection of quiche, cakes and coffee was provided by the Rally Organisers.

Two tough and demanding Regularities followed soon afterwards, around the renowned Brooklyn stage of the Olympus Rally which tested the crews to the limits of their last day reserves. Thick forest, an uncertain surface and many timing points made this section, the sting in the tail which some had been dreading.

As tough as it was, it was also pretty short and with audible sighs relief the rally eventually hit the highway and set a course for the finish line at the Tacoma Motor Museum where the time cards were collected and the clocks were stopped.

Sadly, after three weeks of hard work and determination though the Bristol driven by Paul Hicks and Sebastian Gross had to be towed across the line because of an electrical fault.

However they managed it, once through the finish arch, all that was required of the crews thereafter was to drive into Seattle, park up at the Fairmont Olympic, await the awards dinner and collect whatever prizes were due to them.

It was good to have Pam Lyford sitting down with us for dinner, she and her late husband Chuck won both the Vintage Cape Horn Rally in 2013 and the Rally of the Incas in 2016. Many crews with us tonight remembered their infectious enthusiasm and competitive spirit and Pam, along with Rally Director Fred Gallagher and Clerk of the Course Mark Appleton took charge of distributing the awards and offering a few witty anecdotes.

Fred summed up the mood of the evening when he said that it had been ‘a great event with a fabulous bunch of competitors’.

For David and Jo Roberts, the overall winners, this has been a long time coming. From the Peking to Paris in 2007, when they rolled into Place Vendome with Jo holding a can of oil on her lap, to the Classic Safari of 2017 which involved Jo flying back to the UK and returning with a new swing arm assembly this couple have travelled a hard road but have never failed to finish a rally.

Mike and Lorna Harrison, who were in second place in the Classic Category were almost as delighted as the winners were. They’ve had a brilliant time storming across the USA and were generous in their praise of both their erstwhile rivals and the ERA team for putting on this event in the first place. Mike loved the route, loved the variety of landscapes and loved the competition. He finished by saying that he’s already looking forward to his next outing – once he’s got the car serviced.

Jim Gately and Tony Brooks, so often the bridesmaids but never the brides, were pipped at the post at the very end of the Blue Train Challenge when the wheels quite literally fell off their wagon and now they were beaten by a power to weight deficit on the track. They’re fighters though and, taking home the Vintageant class win and third place overall against a field of newer cars was a magnificent achievement.

After the dinner, David Roberts drew on his decade long experience of listening to others making their victory speech but reassured us that he wasn’t going to talk for as long as Bruce Washington did in Paris 2016. He thanked Jo for her efforts over the last three weeks and he also thanked all the Porsches, Datsun 240Zs and every other fast car which didn’t come to Charleston to start the rally

He then informed us that Alan Beardshaw had offered him the use of the winners speech which he’s been carrying around in his inside pocket for the last 25 years. As David didn’t know any greenkeepers or caddies though he politely refused and continued to use his own which recounted his and Jo’s triumphant fancy dress outfit, the pub quiz victory and the many discretionary awards picked up along the road.

As well as the  overall and the class awards, there were a couple of discretionary awards presented as well, the Spirit of the Rally Award went to Team Urbina and the crew which was collected by Tim and Peggy Eades on behalf of Chris, Jeff, Gaye and Willie.

The Against all Odds trophy was then taken by Mick and Grace De Haas who battled back to rejoin the Rally in Aspen after a fuel pump fiasco in Santa Fe.

Finally, we’re sad to report that Pam King, from the Chevy Bel Air died last night after a long illness. Her husband Chris, along with her good friends Jeff Urbina, Gaye Hill, Tim and Peggy Eades and Willie Willie McNickle pulled out all the stops in an attempt to get her to the finish line and to fulfil her dream and we salute the entire team for this.

Syd Stelvio