In July, I talked about a classic-car rally, one of few car rallies held in this decidedly strange year. But recently I’ve been thinking about another rally I attended—one in what seems like a different world entirely.

We know a car-rally team from the Pacific Northwest that had decided to run Rally Jamaica. You can imagine the logistics challenges—everything from people passports to vehicle preparation to, well, customs-and-duty issues. Thank goodness this island’s language is English, at least.

A trash can in downtown Kingston carries its own message.

The rally team made a valiant effort to take their own car to the event, but the challenges hinted at in the above paragraph multiplied like fruit flies as the deadlines drew near. When the plan’s pressure-relief valve started to whistle, the team switched to an alternate scheme: borrow a car already on the island. In standard rally-folk fashion, they know people from all over, and they knew a man in Kingston with a caged Mitsubishi Evo just waiting for a crew. Bingo! With that alteration, a host of unknowns and expenses evaporated, and the equation became solvable.

The borrowed race car looks sharp.

Now they just had to get a few spares and consumables to Jamaica, and not the entire garage. The Dammralliers cooperative was a minor sponsor for the effort, and we took the opportunity to visit “the land of wood and water” with the team and their support crew, who collectively know their way around the island. Our party added a couple of local race enthusiasts, including a man well-connected to one of the wealthy families there—call him Gordon.

Our local fixer and generally good guy is known as Gordon.

Gordon had advice and guidance for many things Jamaican, and a host of contacts in the motorsport community. He wrangled me a co-driver spot in the course-closing marshal’s car, wheeled with some abandon by a keen driver in a fairly high-riding pickup. Pictures of my face on that ride all capture my wide eyes and wider smile.

The course-closing marshal tails the field—make that fish-tails the field.

He also clued us in to Juici Patties, the local fast-food version of a cornish pasty or bierock, spicy meat wrapped in pastry. Juici Patties are apparently cooked in a nuclear reactor; when they’re slid across the counter to you in little cardboard boxes, you daren’t touch them for their heat. We waited ten minutes at minimum before risking contact.

Juici Patties, Fries Unlimited: two restaurants to live by.

The rally as a whole was quite entertaining; early stages ran through hilly orange groves with high-speed sections in open fields. Our team, however, suffered an early out: The borrowed car had been set up for tarmac rallies, so the suspension was low and stiff. One of the early big drops (or jumps) caused a strut to fail, and despite heroic efforts by the service team, the car had to retire. The DNF, however, did free up both the team and the service crew to join us in that perfect people-mover, the HiAce.

The Toyota HiAce is the connoisseurs’ choice for rally spectating.

Our HiAce was a right-hand-drive diesel five-speed Toyota van. It was Tardis-like—much bigger on the inside than it looked from the outside. We packed the back with coolers and filled the seats with rally fans, and drove up into the orange groves to watch the racing.

The finale was held downtown, with streets closed and some blocks absolutely packed with spectators. Finishing positions had been pretty much fixed by that stage, so there was some freedom for the competitors to just show off and have some fun. Knowing what was coming, car enthusiasts on the island wrangled a sort of opening-act assignment, seizing their opportunity to slide around the main streets with impunity, immune from police interference. With reggae blasting from the main stand and tire smoke drifting through the air, the party ramped up as the sun slid down.

Local heroes wow the crowd in the Rally Jamaica final stage.

Did you know that there is a BMW dealer in Kingston? There is.

Part of the warm-up before the downtown stage was essentially a drift exhibition by street cars.

I’d like to roll back the tape for a minute, though, to describe something unrelated to engines, gasoline, or tires. It was on the first rally day. Our caravan of vehicles was heading for the main stages in Bog Walk, outside Kingston. Kingston, on the southeast corner of the island, is geographically and culturally opposite from the totally managed tourist experiences in the resorts on the northwest coast, around Montego Bay.

We were stopped for fuel when a somewhat scruffy man approached us to beg. Gordon moved over and went about dissuading the man, saying, “These people are with me, why you want to trouble them?” and the man’s response was so atypical of my experience in America that it landed crossways on the deck of my mind, and still upsets my bearing. He politely but firmly demanded respect from Gordon, asserting his right to it, a right having nothing to do with wealth, status, or appearance; whether he would get any money from us or not, the respect was required.

Gordon, still “shielding” his guests from the imposition, sincerely responded that he did respect the man, and even turned it back on him, “Would you respect us, too, and leave us be?” They shortly disengaged from each other, and the beggar went on his way.

Three generations of rally fans review the program.

It was an interaction between one man with very little influence and one with much influence, and the mutualitythe level playing field: no sneering, no disregard on either sidestill sits with me. It was a neat lesson that human-to-human interactions need not be a zero-sum game (that is, there does not have to be a winner and a loser in every encounter).—Marinus Damm

[Photos courtesy Brandon Harer and Anish von Ahlefeld.]

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