Saturday December 3rd was the Nemadji Trail Winter Rally. Last year it was my first event as a co-driver. This year with a small entry field no-one was in need of a co-driver so I was happy to be volunteering.
Duquette, Minnesota, Headquarters for the rally is a short 90 minute drive for us from home, so there was no rush. We got up, had a leisurely breakfast and headed out. Perhaps we should have been in a rush as I ended up forgetting so much that at one point we had to turn around and go back. Even after one return trip home we still arrived in Duquette finding I’d forgotten my monopod for my camera and my iPad mini which I was going to use to record some interviews for the Open Paddock Rallycast.
It was a bit difficult to think of this as a winter rally. For here we were, December in Minnesota and there was no snow on the ground. It was a tad chilly, I’ll grant you. But after last years fun and games from the volunteers of building snowmen spectators for the event, the fact that there wasn’t any material on the ground to do this was a bit of a disappointment. The joke had been circulating for a couple of weeks prior to the event that the organizers might have to consider a dust minute for the cars because it was so dry.
On arrival we reported to first time chief of controls, Kenn Parps to find our volunteer assignments. Lorrie’s was easy. She’s learning how to work MTC. I was happy to be stood in the middle of the forest somewhere monitoring one of the many trails that crossed the stage. I was allocated the mysterious M-511.
Mysterious because though the volunteer list showed the location as unallocated. There was no worker packet, so the location must be allocated to someone. Who? We didn’t know. I strolled around Duquette community hall looking for a person carrying a yellow envelope with the wording M-511 on it. I couldn’t find anyone.
Then just as mysteriously, as the volunteer briefing was finishing, envelope M-511 appeared. I met up with my radio operator and a few other volunteers and we headed out with everyone else in convoy to find the mysterious M-511.
As we entered the stage in convoy, I definitely felt a few pangs of sadness not to be in the event as a co-driver. The course looked very different to last year and I just knew it would be a lot of fun out there. I really wanted to be calling that stage.
The convoy arrived at M-511. The mystery took a turn. There was no way that one car would fit in at this spot, let alone three. With a locked gate no more than 10 feet from the trail, there was no way anyone was getting on stage here. Where would we all go?
“We’ll make it up as we go along.” Said Team A leader Joe Lipinsky, the man responsible for making sure all locations were safe.
We reported the change of plan to net control and headed on to find somewhere else.
All movements and incidents on the stage are controlled by “net control” through radio operators. This way tight control can be kept on the proceedings on the event in case of emergencies. It is vital to the successful running of a rally.
Never having listened to rally radio before I was surprised at the amount of chatter over the airwaves, noting the passing of competitors and service vehicles as the event progressed. Emily Burton-Weinmann the voice of net control was a calm, reassuring voice, yet always in charge.
Half a mile or so along the stage we were found a new location. It might have been M-512 we weren’t entirely sure. We parked up, called our change of location in, checked the bannering and waited for the stage to go hot. That time was a good hour away so we all had a chance to get to know each other; Eli the radio operator, Emery and Billy and their partners. With the common interest in rally it was easy to get along with each other, it turned out we’d all been at Ojibwe in varying capacities and as the conversation flowed, we found we had other shared interests too. Emery and I discovered a shared interest in creating electronic music and found ourselves discussing Novation MIDI controllers and Abelton music software.
Car 000 passed by, then 00, and shortly after that Car 0 sped by. Pretty soon the stage would be hot and rally cars would be on their way!
First past us was Laughlin O’Sullivan and Scott Putnam in the Team CPD 4 wheel drive 2009 Subaru WRX STI. This car was the class of the field and it sounded fantastic! You could hear it from miles away. This car often finishes on the podium in national rallies. They set a new record on one pass of the stage, and would have won by a country mile but for the fact that they made the magnanimous gesture of checking in early at controls incurring an hour of time penalties to put them out of the running, so that the regional teams could have their chance on the podiums.
The regional drivers were giving it their all too. The four wheel drive Subarus growled past and Al Dante’s VW Jetta Rocket screamed like a Banshee as it sped past us.
With only 10 cars in the entry field the action was over pretty quickly, and soon the sweeps and medical teams sped past us and the airwaves were full of chatter as the sweeps and safety crews relocated and volunteers turned stage starts into finishes, and finishes into starts.
The time between stages sped by and before we knew it Cars 000, 00, and 0 passed us again checking things out in preparation for the second stage.
Remember how I said that we were unable to locate at M-511 due to the space restrictions and that we had reported the fact to net control?
Well someone in car 00 had forgotten (or missed) that fact, for as they passed the location of M-511 they wondered where we had gone. After a brief exchange between car 00, net control and ourselves the situation was resolved. The situation shows the importance of good communications and effective net control in sorting out and resolving problems.
The cars came by a second time, at one point we noticed a large gap in the intervals between cars. We had lost one. Tony Benusa and Christopher Yahner had made an off track excursion into a swamp and had to be extracted by sweep. Sadly for them, their day was over.
The cars returned for service and things went quiet for a while. Start became finishes and vice versa as crews relocated once again. It was time to grab a bite to eat before the cars returned for stages three and four.
Stage three passed without a problem, and as the light faded fast, stage four was run in near darkness. Rally cars at night are a very cool experience. You hear them coming from a long way away and then a huge pool of light roars past you before a trail of read tail lights disappear into the distance. On stage four we lost another car, Mike Erickson and Jacob Good had an off that necessitated the use of the sweep again. Radio chatter kept us informed of the situation, and that we should report in when car 76 passed our location. It passed by looking a little the worse for wear. It was the last car on course.
Erickson and Good exhibit a little damage from their exclusion off course that needed the use of sweep.
With that, the event was over and we waited as the course closing procedures were enacted. We couldn’t just up and leave. We had to wait as the first the sweeps left, and then the stage start crew. Then one by one, the marshalling points could leave as the green light car passed by. As we were closer to the end of the stage than the start the green light car was a while getting to us, then we could join the convoy out of the stage back to Rally HQ.
It was good to get back to Duquette and see everyone. I knew several of the competitors so it was good to get their stories. There was more than one tale of failed brakes as well as interior lights and rally computers going out. Some people certainly had their problems.
Although there were only 10 cars running the event, there were over 75 volunteers working all their various tasks, and before prize giving the organizers showed their appreciation of all our efforts by handing out freebies to us. Lorrie and I came away with these magnificent beanie hats. Can’t go to a winter rally without a beanie hat now can you?
Magnificent Beanie hats for the volunteers. I love it. Thanks Nemadji Winter Trail Rally and Rally Superstore!
All in all, Nemadji was a great event to be involved with. Thanks to Chairman Susi Little and her team for organizing everything, making it such an enjoyable experience. We both look forward to going back next year wether it’s to compete or volunteer it won’t matter. It’s sure to be a good time.
Results? You want results as well? Here you are then. The official results as posted at Duquette community hall. A good win for Nathan Usher and Marianna Langosh in 4 wheel drive and Matt Coatsworth and Ben Anderson just edged out Al Dantes and Brendon Snyder in 2 wheel.