One of the great things about the time-speed distance rally game is the sudden realization that time is relative. Einstein already informed us of this phenomenon, of course, but it seems that we are reminded of it, again and again, on the day (or night) before a rally, when time suddenly shrinks to a size best described as Not Enough.
But we persevere!
The 2022 O’Fest Forever BBS TSD Rally was no exception. Called in to tidy up some of the measurements and calculations, the San Diego Chapter rallied—see what I did there?!—to the cause. And since I own a Timewise rally computer, it was like being the kid who owns the only bat and the only ball: They had to let me play, too.
But I had no car.
Yes, I would love to have tossed the Timewise into my Z4 roadster and hit the road, but that was out of the question because the roadster is still on display at the BMW CCA Foundation Museum, where I presume visitors are still squinting at the ghost flames. So I took a leaf from the Book of Oktoberfests Past, this one from Chapter 1998. My memory is hazy—alcohol may have been involved, come to think of it—but I definitely remember a decision to install a Timewise rally computer in somebody’s car.
In the parking lot.
In the middle of the night before the rally.
Fortunately, my friend Anne Littrell, a director of various events for the San Diego Chapter, is a track rat, and she planned to take her E36 M3 over the mountain to La Quinta for O’Fest. “Well, hey,” I said, “I’ll bet I could install a rally computer in your M3, and we could use it to check out the rally route!”
“What exactly would that entail?” she asked. Did I detect a hint of suspicion?
“Oh, it’s pretty simple,” I explained. “We pull off a front wheel, and I find a piece of scrap metal I can drill holes in and bend into a bracket. We’ll tie that to the strut with hose clamps, and mount a transponder in the bracket. We’ll run its wires up through the engine compartment and out the passenger side, then leave about three feet of wire in the passenger compartment when we close the door.”
“And that’s it?”
“Well, not quite,” I said. “Then we have to fasten some rare-earth magnets to the inside of the wheel, and adjust the transponder thingie so the magnets pass close to it—that’s what measures the distance—but don’t hit it.”
Easy-peasy… assuming I can find the rally box.
The thing is, I have recently undergone the trauma of moving. Well, not moving, exactly, more like relocating—as in moving everything from the garage and makeshift workshop to another garage that I’m renting. The trauma has to do with the guy who was supposed to show up with a crew and move all of this stuff for me kind of disappeared, leaving me two-and-a-half days to move it by myself. Which I did, but the result was not as organized as I might have wished.
Still, by Sunday I had found the rally computer, a transponder, and a hunk of steel, along with a box of hose clamps. I even found a couple of magnets clinging to a toolbox. So off came the left front wheel of the E36 (no, I don’t know why I invariably use the left wheel instead of the right wheel), and in no time I had fashioned a right-angle bracket to hold the transponder.
Well, in no time is not entirely accurate. This particular transponder, the only one I could salvage from the aftermath of the garage move, is larger than the ones I have used in the past, so eventually we had to Home Depot a step drill, a vital tool which I am sure I have one or two of somewhere.
While Anne was off at the Depot, I was working my way through her ancient drill index, going up 1/64″ at a time; each drill would either spin hopelessly without cutting into the smaller hole in the steel or suddenly grab a bite and stop dead, nearly yanking the DeWalt out of my hands and trying to break my wrist. When Anne arrived with the step drill, the hole was finished within 30 seconds—seriously.
Once the bracket was whacked into L-shape, it was fairly easy to affix it to the strut. Helpful hint: When you don’t have hose clamps of sufficient diameter to go around a strut, screw one hose clamp to another until you have something long enough. Or you can go back to Home Depot for longer clamps, but where’s the challenge in that?
Once the transponder was vaguely in place, and its attendant cable run through the engine compartment and over to the computer, the trial-and-error process of adjustment began: squint through the spokes to see how close the thing was to the magnets, pull off the wheel, adjust the threads, put the wheel back on and try again. When moving the wheel back and forth in a small arc triggers the transponder enough to produce numbers on the computer, rotate the wheel 180 degrees and see if it works for the other magnet; if it does, pull the wheel back off, cinch down everything with threads—a few last turns on the hose clamps are always a good idea—replace the wheel, torque the lugs properly, and go rallying.
Of course, now the computer must be calibrated, but these days that’s easy. Waze is one of many GPS-based applications that tells you how fast you’re going, and the Timewise has a readout for speed, too. In the Olden Times, you had to find an officially measured stretch of road and match your mileage to official mileage by adjusting its factor—the number which multiplied by the number of magnetic pulses produces a specific distance. Today, you just drive along the highway, tweaking the Timewise factor until the computer shows you the same speed that Waze says you’re doing. (By the way, once you are satisfied that the computer is properly calibrated, you should write down the factor. And you should also remember where you wrote it.)
Since Dave Farnsworth was flying in from Chicago, I was confident that he and Anne could check out the rally without me, because Farnsworth is an old rally hand with a Timewise of his own. However, I did concede that I might be useful once the route had been logged and transcribed.
That route, by the way, featured two historic Southern California driving roads, State Route 74—the Palms to Pines Scenic Byway—and SR 243, the Banning-Idyllwild Panoramic Highway. Both are up-and-down romps with terrific views and challenging curves. (Yes, I hear you in the back: “It’s a shame to spoil that road by puttin’ a rally on it!”)
By Tuesday, I felt recovered enough from Covid-19 (with my wrist recovered from DeWalt torque) that while Anne drove the entire route with Dave noting mileage, I drove to La Quinta on my first hundred-dollar tank of Shell.
We quickly transcribed Dave’s notes into my computer and printed out a draft instruction sheet. Then Anne drove through the entire route again, this time with me behind the computer, double-checking mileage references and noting possible checkpoint locations. (As the late Gene Henderson used to say, “Checkpoints are like Christmas presents: You don’t know what’s in ’em, but you want as many as you can get!”) Then I drove back to San Diego to make final revisions and calculations.
Rally Day often seems chaotic, but with the LA Chapter’s Delight Lucas stepping up to handle registration and numbering, and with Tim Beechuk assigning instructions to the competitors, it was really quite orderly.
… alerted rally workers that a rallyist was coming. Of course, since Anne and Dave were now more than familiar with the route, they led the worker train through the desert and into the mountain forests, dropping off worker crews along the way and working the final control in the M3—Anne’s third tour of the route. Other San Diego Chapter stalwarts pitching in to work the event included our rally host, Dan Tackett, who also worked a timing control with SD’s Greg Uhler, while long-time New York rally hand André Noël and Sin City’s George Diaz worked another. (André usually rallies with Michael Washington, but he gave up his seat to Lindsay Draine in order to work the event.) Veteran rally worker Bill McNally shared a control with Hawaii’s Eric Chow. We even had Pacific Region VP Steve Libby working a control with Remon Klaver! It was a testament to the vast regional nature of this organization.With great roads, spectacular views, and even a rare summer mountain thunderstorm, the 2022 O’Fest BBS TSD Rally was a memorable event. There must have been some magical attraction, because on Thursday, having driven the route three times already, Anne Littrell traveled the entire course again.
But this time she let somebody else drive the M3 while she rode in the passenger seat. So she says it doesn’t count.—Satch Carlson