You’re about to read a 100% unique story about the Prescott Rally. There will be no mention of stage times or points, and only a link to the results for those who want them. Instead, we want to share the magic that is our favorite rally event with you. Pause for a moment and appreciate the mechanical symphony in which you play a part.
We arrived in Prescott, Arizona, USA, for the 23rd running of the Prescott Rally under bright, sunny skies. The air was filled with the familiar staccato of Subarus, the undulating growl of Mitsubishis, the sophisticated thrum of Mazda rotaries, snarling, naturally aspirated fours and sixes, and the roar of one very angry Ford truck. We made our rounds, admiring the hard work of many a dedicated rallyista, meeting new friends, and catching up with old ones.
Media passes and yellow wristbands hanging round our necks from spanking new Subaru lanyards, we patiently waited our turn at the grill, where burgers and hot dogs were sizzling under the roof of one of Tim’s Subaru’s new service drives. There was a crack of thunder and it began to rain; a light sprinkle giving way to the sort of “big ol’ fat rain drops” Forrest Gump once talked about. While some took shelter in the service drive, others continued about their business as if nothing had changed.
The afternoon shower soon passed. An army of “left coast” Dirty Impreza members marched past the Asfir (AOTechUSA.com) 4X4 display. One by one, rally cars were filling the slots in Parc Expose, 18 cars, four trucks, and two motorcycles. Drivers, co-drivers, and service crew milled about, trying to hide the boiling anticipation of firing their engines and heading to the first control of the rally.
Friends Michael Rodarte and Mike Foster joined me this year as Gearbox Magazine sought a different kind of story on the “home” event. With all the competitors tied up in Parc Expose, we got checked into our hotel (the Prescottonian, Rally HQ for several years, now), and made our way out to the stages.
Our plan was to transit Perkinsville Road and set up our cameras somewhere along Witty Tom. Sadly, we spent so much time farting along behind a local on a cell phone on Perkinsville, we arrived at the control after the stage was declared “hot” and had to observe from there.
One by one, the teams began to arrive. Brian Scott appeared to be stuck in third gear, struggling to get the car moving, and even letting others go by before starting down the stage himself. Each machine had a solo in the symphony that is stage rally, and we enjoyed each of them, as they made their way through the first narrow hairpins of Witty Tom and over the ridge.
The most interesting Toyota Celica on the planet rolled by, green light flashing on the roof and we knew it was safe to make our way onto Witty Tom ourselves, marveling at the skill of such a diverse group of drivers, who made conquering these bumpy, washboard-riddled, blind, uphill hairpins look easy. We threaded my old Galant VR4 through the twisties at a brisk 15mph or so (wink) and staked out a spot along the stage while the competitors were at service. Soon they would be coming back through.
The problem with trying to find a “good spot” to watch rally is that, just about every corner is a good spot. You think to yourself, “This would be perfect,” but you have to keep going, because maybe there will be something better just around the bend. We did not have time to drive the stage back and forth a couple times and so settled on the outside of a nicely-cambered L3.
So the first rule of rally spectating is “You do not spectate from the outside of corners.” This is similar to the second rule of rally spectating, which is “You do not spectate from the outside of corners.” Time was running out before 00 would be coming through, so we pulled well off the road, behind some trees, and hoped for the best. (Still bugs me that we did this, for the record.)
The sun set and we found ourselves surrounded by inky darkness, our pupils opened nearly as wide as our ears, which were filled with the sound of Cicadas. The storm from earlier had cleared to the north, flickering with lightning on the horizon. A river of stars made its way overhead, and we spotted more than a couple shooting stars.
Our wishes soon came true. The crackle and pop of anti-lag echoing off the distant hills combined with high intensity discharge pencil beams reaching towards the sky as mechanical monsters made their way towards us. Would our decision to spectate from this location be problematic? I wasn’t sure yet.
The bang-bang got louder, the HIDs brighter, until, finally, the brilliant blue-white beams were upon us! We stood there, motionless, as Lawless rounded the corner, clean, smooth, and fast. Gravel bounced on the ground all around us and, as the cloud of dust rolled over our position, we turned to the south to watch him turn the high beams back on and roar up the straight, lighting even the tops of the trees until he crested the ridge and began his descent to the twisty finish.
One by one, the competitors passed us. There were sparks from the skidplate as the black Ford Focus rounded the bend, and Aaron Ekinaka, in his first stage rally, seemed to slide ‘round the bend for days. Each vehicle would pass and we would watch them climb up the straight and out of the valley through the dust and green streaks their pencil beams left etched into our retinas.
Green streaks gave way to blinding green flashes of sweep, as once again, the most interesting Celica on the planet rolled past, then stopped and backed up to be sure there weren’t time cards to collect. We made our way back down Witty Tom to Perkinsville, passing a dazed rally team standing at the edge of an exposure, holding their “OK” sign.
Oh shit. They stuffed it right before the end of the stage, some 50 feet down into the canyon. Nose dive. Game over. Though, their standing alongside the road was indeed a sign of sportsmanship, as they made sure their fellow competitors would not start the next stage worried about them.
Back at the Prescottonian, we wandered out back to see what was going on. McCormack’s rally was obviously done, his red Lancer Evolution lashed to the trailer with a rather unique door ding. That had to sting a bit, as reaching through the hole to see if the door/sill bars were affected, I couldn’t find any.
Mustafa had lost oil pressure shortly after starting Witty Tom south and now had a small army of professionals huddled over his engine bay. He would return Saturday morning. Also hopeful for the morning was Brian Scott, who was jumping into a truck at 11pm to make the 2+ hour drive down to Mesa for a transmission part, bring it back, and have what appeared to be his one-man service crew re-install the transmission.
Saturday morning, we followed the Marciniaks out to Perkinsville Road and, as the stage was hot, marched a quarter-mile in to get some pictures and video. (Sadly, the video camera spent Friday night at the hotel, while the Nikon refused to take pictures when it couldn’t focus on anything in the pitch black.) We got an excellent spot, this time properly up and off the side of a straight away, just before the flying finish.
Rather than go on and on, making this post even longer than it already is, I’m going to shift gears and share a couple more pictures before a huge gallery of shots taken on Perkinsville Saturday afternoon.
The all-important champagne spray and victory celebration.
This has to be the most interesting way I’ve ever seen a race car loaded for transport (I hear Lawless has a loading dock back in New York).
Finally, as there’s no party like a CRS party, introducing John Rood, Mustafa “Moose” Samli, and El Blendero Evolution II (dos).
For a complete listing of stage times and final results, please visit RallyData.com. Below is a gallery of all the pictures I managed to get on Perkinsville, just before the flying finish. If you’d like a larger version of any shot(s), please contact me and I’ll make it happen for you.
Note: It seems some of the thumbnails are missing. The pictures are still there. These were uploaded completely unedited and using an experimental image viewer plugin.