(Editor’s note: During the month of April, the Journal presents a series of stories about vintage rallies and vintage racing. Today, Larry Edsall writes about his participation in several rallies, events ranging from a $40 entry fee to those charging thousands of dollars. If you have a story about your participation in a vintage rally or race that you’d like to share, please email us at [email protected].)
It cost only $40 to participate in the Route 66 Motor Tour, at least that was the registration fee. You also had to pay for your meals and lodging along the remaining segments of the historic Mother Road which ran all the way from Chicago to Los Angeles.
Living in Phoenix at the time, and busy with work and other responsibilities, I just did the section of the tour across northwestern Arizona. I met up with the group at its early morning driver’s meeting in Williams, Arizona, paid my $40 fee, got my T-shirt and window sticker, listened as tour director Craig Parrish briefed us and handed out copies of the route plan for the day, and off we went.
I’d met Parrish during one of my summer visits to Michigan, where for a decade or so he had been organizing the annual driving tour up Old US 27 from Coldwater to Cheboygan. Parrish noted that US 27 was “the other Route 66, the north-south version” that ran through Michigan and on down to Miami.
He also had done several drives on Route 66 and finally, in the fall of 2014, felt he was ready to lead a group on such a tour. By scheduling the event in the fall, he not only was able to get off-season rates at motels along the way, but avoided the triple-digit summer temperatures in the Southwest desert.
Here is one anecdote that, I think, speaks volumes about the folks who participate in such events: One of the US 27-tour regulars was Jan Miller, who had done the Michigan drive in a 1947 Oldsmobile convertible with her late husband and now was doing the Route 66 event on her own.
But to make sure her trip went well, a group of other Route 27 veterans stayed close to her Olds all the way to California should she encounter any problems.
Another rally, another example: While it cost only $40 to take part in that Route 66 event, it costs several thousands of dollars to enter a car in the annual Copperstate 1000 vintage sports car rally, a fund-raiser for the Phoenix Art Museum that also supports families of injured or fallen Arizona Highway Patrol officers. I tagged along on the event several times, covering it for ClassicCars.com.
One daym one of the older British sports cars had a mechanical issue that forced it onto the shoulder of a desert highway. Almost immediately, three or four other British cars from the same era had arrived and pulled over with their drivers diving into trunks and offering whatever parts that might be needed to get the ailing car back on the road. Maybe half an hour later, all the cars returned to the rally route.
The rally routes and what you see along the way is a big part of such events, but so are the relationships that emerge as the troupe makes its way across the landscape. People who met on such events often develop friendships that last a lifetime. I did all or parts of the Copperstate often enough during my years in Phoenix that I still count several of those I met as friends.
While I was mainly a journalist covering the Copperstate, I was very much a participant on the ELK Charity Challenge drives in 2015 and 2016.
ELK is short for Everyone Loves Kids, and was founded by Craig Corbell, a Texan who had done several high-speed driving events but realized there were folks who desired a slower pace and a way to raise money for children’s charities.
The inaugural event was staged in California with a route from Santa Barbara to the San Francisco Bay. Supposedly to make the event more attractive for those paying the 4-figure entry fee, Corbell invited several celebrities to go along. There were actors and rodeo champions, plus one much lesser celebrity, me.
Spending a full week on the road with a bunch of people who are having a good time and who enjoy raising money for charity and afterward while you go your separate ways, you also go with new friends you’re eager to see again.
I know, because in 2016 I paid my way into the second ELK Charity Challenge rally, which in that second year started in Detroit and ended at Lake Placid, New York.
By the way, you don’t necessarily have to own a vintage or exotic vehicle to participate in such events. Some people bring a car from home, others rent something fun when they arrive. For the second ELK event, I was able to borrow a spanking new Chevrolet Camaro convertible from General Motors, which was willing to do so because I’d just written a book about the car’s design and development, and because of the charitable nature of the event.
And what an event! We got to race grownup-sized vehicles down the official Soap Box Derby championship hill, got a private tour of the Corning Glass Museum, got to slide down the pole in a firefighting museum, drove hot laps around a race track and drag-raced on a closed airport runway, and we participated in some hugely embarrassing escapades as part of the daily contest to see which charity would get that’s days donation.
Two of our stops were emotional events for me. One was a visit to the Shriners Hospital for Children in Erie, Pennsylvania. I had received in-hospital and out-patient care at the Shriners facility near Chicago from the time I was 2 until I was 18 and can walk today because of the treatment I received back then.
The other emotional stop was our final one, at Lake Placid, where I’d covered the 1980 Olympic Winter Games as a newspaper sports writer and where I trekked up Whiteface Mountain to watch downhill skiers slide past and where I covered speedskating and figure skating and biathlon and cross-country and bobsled and lots of ice hockey and where I sat in press row in disbelief as a bunch of American college kids beat the daunted Soviet hockey team.
Cars are cars and, quite literally, they come and go, but it’s the memories and the friendships they enable that we carry with us throughout a lifetime.