Again, poor grammar, punctuation, and creative spelling. Enjoy!
The LSPR Story
Car #50 Dantes / Solka
"Into the Darkness"
Written by Al Dantes, Jr.
LSPR was bittersweet for me. This is a very hard story to write, thus why it has taken me so long to get around to it.
LSPR is my home rally. I live in Herman and the Herman stage is less than 2 miles from my house. I refer to this stage as my "driveway" as it is the the quickest and shortest way if my family and I are heading to Marquette. It is also one of my favorite (yet unfruitful) hunting roads. LSPR Weekend is also one of my holidays. To finally be able to RALLY it, is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. I can't thank my family enough for understanding why I HAD to. I also thank the team; Matt, Jesse, Josh, Ryan, Cassie, and Elwood for helping out SOOO much and making the weekend a success!
Now, lets go back to the end of Ojibwe. Car died, dead fuel pump. I dropped (literally fell off the trailer crooked) the car off at my brother's house in Baraga, and let it sit. Sourced a new "import" fuel pump off Ebay, threw it in, and voila car was back. Still not running right, as it had a bad fuel cut and sputter over 1/2 throttle. I took it home and fiddled with it over the next month, never completely solving it. Car was a beast to start, and would usually take 5 minutes to get running, and wouldn't run correctly until hitting 160 degrees.
LSPR was coming up quick. Matt was excited. His first rally! He lives in Houghton, and I did my best to force feed him with as much info as possible. I would send him Youtube videos of "good" incar communication as well as bad. (No, I won't reveal which were which. Haha!) I explained to him how the codriver could actually "drive" the car and control the speed, flow, etc. He did a ton of research himself as well, and had a plan for adjusting his diet and supplements for rally week. Awesomely, I had a team let us borrow a 5 year old set of Notes, so I could let him review, learn, and acclimate himself to the new language. We did a slow speed run through of Herman with the Durango so he could get a feel of reading the hieroglyphics. He was fine at first, but got slightly nauseous after we stopped. He also did his research on car setup. He was able to contact HotBits and get a good process for setting up the suspension. It took us about 20 miles from baseline, but once we found it, we giggled like little school girls. The car was feeling good! We still had wiring gremlins though.
It wasn't going so well. Children's schooling and extracurriculars were in full blast. My wonder woman of a wife was kicking butt, working full time AND she started college in the summer and was well in to her Fall semester. Awesome! She had a full plate and a large course load. My brother, Elwood, was gone off to Afghanistan. His 3rd tour; 2 in Iraq, his first in the 'Stan. He is a driver over there, as well as a stock car racer, at home. My brother, Scott and I work together at a machine shop. We work 10pm to 10am, 5 plus days a week.
My mom, well she was doing worse than us all. She had been battling cancer for over a year. The weeks leading up to LSPR she started to lose her mobility, and some how became dependent on the rest of us. This was very strange, as she is a very strong woman, very independent, and very stubborn! Great person to learn from!! I wrote her this note http://www.facebook.com/notes/al-dan.../4181972419938
I think in many ways, LSPR was harder for me than Ojibwe. The team effort and approach required so much coordination, where as Ojibwe, I tried to do it "by myself", and darn near pulled it off!
The week leading up to the rally, I finally sourced a spare rear axle, spare tie rod links, knuckle, snow tires, fresh rally rubber, power steering pump, etc. from Mr. Merbach. We had a funny conversation with Ivan Milanovic, while scouring through the compound. Ivan's old Jetta was going to be reappearing for the first time in years at LSPR, with a brand new driver, and Ivan poured on some good natured ribbing. I was finally getting excited. My competitive spirit was getting fired up.
My brother, Elwood, was granted leave to come home and visit with Mom. He sourced a GoPro, so he could share some of the rally with us.
I kept researching lights. Finally after seeing Dylan Helferich's lights on his new Open Light build, I bit the bullet and ordered 4 generic HIDs off Ebay. Extinguishers! Crap, I forgot. Amazon had them cheapest, but after checking out, I had to cancel the order as they would have been a week late. Grainger in the end.
I had put an invite out to everyone on SpecialStage for a PreLSPR BBQ get-together at Matt's house. I was excited. Kali Marker Vasquez was fighting with her vinyl cutting machine, trying her darndest to get us some sweet decals. Sponsors were coming on board, the community was great! In the end, L'Anse Manufacturing, Shear Hair Design, TC Electric, Lamberts Auto, Homestead Graphics, and Adaptive Physical Therapy all helped make the effort a success!
Tuesday and Wednesday, my lights finally came in, but no light bar! My crew chief Goof aka Jesse, came through. We cracked some brews and grabbed some scrap steel and started brainstorming. A couple hours later we had it! He kept the car and bar over night and he finished welding and massaging Wednesday morning. Wednesday evening, we finished the light install and wiring, and had my brother Elwood drive the car to Houghton. I finished loading the rest of the spares in the Durango, stopped by TC's house to pick up sponsor monies and talk/teach about rally, and off to Hougton I went.
I pulled up to Matt's house, and they already had the car up on stands. Josh and Ryan were new to rally, but not at all new to motorsports or wrenching. They dug right in. My list was growing. Their fresh eyes were finding problems, defects, broken, and worn out stuff everywhere. They thought I was crazy, and I'm glad they pointed it out, that I had changed the fuel pump, but failed to change the ancient fuel filter. Add it to the list. Finally after midnight, we called it.
THURSDAY: Rally weekend starts officially.
Matt has to work, but Josh is available after noon to help me out. I head to registration and everything goes swimmingly. I pick out our service locations in Covington and L'Anse. I even take pictures to help out the crew. Finnish Fury pulls in and we exchange pleasantries. I meet up with Adam Van Damme (Chief of Controls) as he has a new rear bumper cover and fuel pump relay for me. (just in case). Ryan ends up having to transport it in his lil ricer car. Josh and I source a lot of parts and supplies. The Baraga County parts stores couldn't help me at all with a coil, plug wires, or fuel filter. Houghton had a fuel filter, but none of the others. I had a spare coil, so on it went. We find the leaking power steering pump was caused by the actual weldment on the housing falling out. Luckily we had another pump. Put that on and STILL leaking. Then we found the BRAND NEW pre bent power steering line had actually failed at the fitting. Baah. Finally we solved most of our issues and headed out. Josh riding shotgun, we head to South Range and meet up with the Rally Team Kaltak. Their crew chief, Grant, has some of the decals Kali made for me. We splashed through some mud puddles on the way to their cabin and now the car is running like poo. Paaska. Now off to Tech.
Side story, the night before, the crew was checking out the car, and I was explaining Expose, etc. and Josh pipes up (Josh is a bear of a man with a hilarious sense of humor and his appearance has been likened to Harry (Jeff Daniels)), "Well I don't know issh about this car, I hope they don't ask me questions!" I tell him "Don't worry, just say its a 1995 Jetta Vr6, you'll be fine."
So we get to tech. We pull in the building, and I try to dry the windows to put on the name stickers. Josh follows the scrutineer to the front of the car, and opens the hood. The tech gasps, steps back and exclaims "THAT'S A VR6!!!". Josh puts his hands on his hips and says "Yup, sure is!" Long story short, tech was a nightmare. Very short of being called a liar many times, triple checking the VIN versus the logbook, and repeatedly getting asked where's the "other" logbook, we almost passed. My Appendix I cage was nearly rejected until Mr. Hurst stepped in and said "Yup, that is an Appendix I cage, that's the right logbook for the car, and everything is good." Whew. Only things we had to get re-teched for were name decals, fire extinguisher mounting, and lap belt angle on codrivers side. Back to Matt's shop.
By now the rest of the team was filling in. Jesse and Cassie were back, Elwood showed up and threw the GoPro in, Ryan was out of school (Tech), and Matt was off work. We went to work on the car AGAIN. The list was getting shorter but the car wasn't getting better. Time was up. We ran to Tech again, and were finally cleared to race. Now off to Shakedown. This is held every year at the Keweenaw Research Center test track. It's usually sandy, but this year its raining, windy, and very cold. The team travels up in a minivan and Elwood's STI. It's so cold they won't even get out of the cars. Sissies. We get squared away and ready to go, and Matt forgot his intercom head set at home. Crap. Ok, press on. Elwood heads back to get it, we head out to the stage. Mr Parps sells us 5 passes and wishes us luck. I had a half used up set of hard Hankooks on the car.
We take the start and its muddy! We spin threw the first 3 gears, and Matt says "Hey Al! Think we can put that fresh rubber on tomorrow?" The stage is absolutely atrocious. Rocks everywhere, slime, ruts, jumps, just nasty! So we finish and head back over to the team. They are still hiding in the van. We barely get them to crack a window to talk to us. They won't even spectate it's that nasty out. So Matt and I go run the "torture test" again. and again. and again. and again. 5 passes used up, and Matt is doing great on the notes. Everytime, I think I'm ripping wheels and parts off the car, but we return to the team intact. Just then I realize the car is overheating, the battery light is on, and she's not happy. Ryan hops out, checks it out, and to no avail no radiator fans.
We let it cool for a bit, and head back to Houghton. Halfway back the fans come back. Matt and I head to the car wash. The GMC Sonoma and OBRT are there. I fight with the change machine forever and nothing is happening. Matt remembers we have the BBQ in 5 minutes and we better get back. We swing by the gas station, get brew, and change, and head to Matt's. I drop him off and head back to the car wash, as the car is COMPLETELY covered in mud and its having issues. Splish splash everything's good, and thinking I can't make it any worse, I clean the engine bay and head back to the BBQ. Lights are flickering, car is running good, and fans are intermittently turning off and on. Press on.
I pull up in the driveway, and the garage is already hopping. Entropy (Mark and Chris) are there, the Mustang team is there (LaFavor/Beyer), a couple friends are visiting, grill is grilling, and the stories are flying. Not much later, Ian and the Finnish Fury team arrive. Ian has freshly butchered marinated steaks! MMMmmm, best ever! He even brought one for me, as I tried to help him source some fresher tires, Thanks guy! Elwood even brought a party favor and treated everyone to a lil Rumchata. BBQ was a success, even with the horrid weather. We wrapped up the night with videos in the garage, chilling in our lawn chairs. Ooh, almost forgot. Josh and I ventured off to the pit to aim the new rally lights at midnight. Very impressive, but on the way back the OIL PRESSURE LIGHT AND SIREN, yup SIREN, went off. What NOW!
Back at the ranch, we all agree to fix the car and finish the list in the morning. Most of the team stays the night in Matt's living room. I choose the couch. Jesse and Cassie choose the PREMIUM air mattress. I believe the famous quote was "Damn! This thing's so fancy, I'm going to have to take my socks off!"
FRIDAY RALLY DAY!
Josh and I are the first ones up and at it. First, start the car. Josh has the hood open and hollers, "Holy Sparkies Batman!" We have rattled everything loose. He finds the main ground cable to the bellhousing is very loose. That solved our alternator and fan issues. Oil pressure wire was loose on top of the housing. That's fixed. Power steering hose still leaking. The night previous, Mr. Beyer considered it a challenge when I said impossible to welding a power steering line. Awesomely, he won the bet Friday morning in the hotel parking lot! We have power steering!
Off to Expose, Matt and I suit up. I sort out the essential tools out of the garage and put them in a bowling bag. I also take 4 quarts of various fluids and put them in a plastic bag. He comes out with a large duffel bag full of winter gear, just in case. We head down the hill. I hit 3 grand and the Oil siren goes off again. After reassuring Matt that we DO have oil pressure and we MIGHT not be able to turn the siren off, he's screaming! We stop for gas, I open the hood, point at the 3 wires, and fill up the car. He finds one more loose, and we cross our fingers. Over to Expose and EVERYTHING IS GOOD! Even the engine is running smooth!
Expose goes smoothly. Snow and rain, I get dirty looks steady for the snow. Paul Koll laughs and admires my Falken's. He informs me my "fresh" rubber was last made in 2003. The crew checks in and says they have our service area ready to go. Game on!
THE STORY BEHIND THE STORY
Mom was getting worse. She is requiring constant care, she is bedridden, yet still still sharp as a tack. My wife is working, and taking college courses, yet she dedicates all her spare time and sleeping hours to caring for my mother. She coordinates the nurses, caretakers, and her bills. My children are gone to family members homes off and on throughout the week. Mom's not eating. Occasionally she'll stomach a piece of candy, but other than that not much. I stop to visit throughout the week, but not for long. I can sit by her side, but not look her in the eye. It's hard to see your mother in that kind of shape. So helpless. As the rally approached, my wife gave me the orders, and said she would see me on Sunday afterwards. Sunday was always football day at my mom's. She is a Giant's fan, and for longer a Packer hater. Me being a Packer fan, she loves to watch the games and point out the errors.
STAGE 1 Gravel Pit.
I've Stage captained this stage many times. Rallied it at the Mini LSPR '07, and watched countless incar and external videos of the stage. I've also driven it in the off season. I'm ready! Take the start, run through the gears, top of fourth, heavy braking, flick for the hairpin, and WOOPSEDAISY! Spun the car right around. F'd up the first corner of the rally. Congrats dumbass. Reverse out, fly up the hill, back down the other side, up, down in to the pit, jump, up the other side, out in to the rough section, but no finish sign. What the? Another 1/4 mile and then the sign comes in to sight. 1st stage done. The transit out was CRAZY! Water so deep in sections, it was over the top of the tires! Back through the other pit to meet the crew and check out the car, everything's fine, back out we go.
Stage 2 Gravel Pit
Everything goes smoothly, Matt is spot on with the notes, and we are feeling much better! Car is perfect! We are transiting back out and wander upon the Martynov Group 2 Subaru on the side of the trail. Broken CV. I holler, grab your strap, we'll pull ya out! And we do. When we hit the gate, the marshall lets US know we have a right rear flat. Damn! New Falken! We unstrap the Subie, the marshall drags them back to service, and we change the flat. Back to the crew, exchange tires, and head to Covington!
Long ride, and we get there well before our crew and GAS! Uh oh, I start re-planning. May have to run back to the intersection for the gas station. I quickly learn our designated service spot was stolen, and we are relegated to the back of the park. Back in the corner. Crew arrives, we park the trailer, fill up on gas, and I have them put our best tire on the car. Hell breaks loose. 2 studs cross threaded, 2 lugs tights, and we are out of time. We head out of service and Matt gives me the details. I stop the car on the highway, use my tools, and still can't tighten the other 2. We head down the road with Matt hanging out the window looking for wheel wobble. He says everything looks good, so off to Stage 3 we go.
Stage 3 Passmore
Our first forest stage with notes, as well as the fastest stage at LSPR!! I tried to study the Kenton stages on Youtube, as they were the ones I was most unfamiliar with, but on video they seem so straight, so fast, and so long I usually fell asleep. Haha. So we take the start, and the cheap-o HIDs perform awesomely. 2 spots and 2 Euros, we have zero vision issues and can see the ends of all the straights and if anything the sides are lit up too much. We are flying and hitting the top of fourth repeatedly (98mph), very rarely I dare grab 5th as the high speeds are new to me. We hit the spectator area perfectly (where I have enjoyed the rally on occasion through the years), we grab the inside rut and shoot right around the corner. Back on the gas and up the hill. 7 corners later, the speed catches us out. Left 4 tightened up, and off the road we go. Up the hill and through the bushes, we escape back to the road unscathed. Whewww. I let Matt know to please enunciate, holler, whatever just know we are going to have to treat 4's with a lot more respect. For the rest of the rally, as a precaution, I down shift to 3rd everytime I hear a 4 coming. We finish the stage, and we are ecstatic.
Stage 4 Far Point
This stage is a little slower than Passmore, and for some reason, our times are a lot more respectable on this stage. We are gellin', Matt is spot on, and I laugh as his voice, tempo, and mood changes after we launch off the uneven jump. He misses his first note on this stage as the corners tighten up and it goes Left 4 into Left 3 in to.....I scream RIGHT 2!!! We still hooked the rut perfect, and the world was good. Awesome story at the end of the stage. We are getting our time, and I see a large nose standing on the left side of the road. It slowly approaches, and sure as Shineola, it's Nick Bertagnoli! My high school chum and fellow long time rally enthusiast who moved away to Alaska and Hawaii. Never did I think I would be seeing him in the woods this night, and he was very enthusiastic to see I kept my word, and was out rallying.
Stage 5 Bob Lake
We arrive, and the cars are backed up down the hill. Everyone is out and bs'ing, so I join the fray. With the car running PERFECTLY, I leave it running and walk up the road. I return to the car, and sit down. Crap! The temp gauge is maxed out. I jump out and without even opening the hood, I can tell she's hot. I open the hood, and inspect, wiggle,and poke at the rad fan wires. No dice. Matt hollers, 2 minutes! I hop back in, idle up the hill to check in, and shut off the car. Wait again, start car, drive ahead, shut off. Same thing, take the start, and run through the gears. More speed, more wind, more cooling. WHAM!!! Hood flies up and crashes in to the windshield. Typical, I look under through the gap, I look twice, nope, I'm pulling over. Matt questions "What's in your pocket, Al??" So funny. I hop out, sit on the hood, and re-pin it. I hop back in, and make sure I put all my belts on properly. Here comes the new Fiesta. I let him pass, wait 10 seconds and tear after him. I turn off the spots, but leave on the Euros, and chase him through the stage. Sooo much easier this way, but sooo frustrating to lose 2 minutes. We still nearly stuff it on the Left that goes 5, 4, 3 minus. The car still never cooled off, but appreciated the leisurely drive. We finish the stage, and I want to fix it. Matt insists no, so we drive the car slowly back to Covington. Slowly accelerating to 60 and coasting down all the hills. We safely make it back to service.
I hop out of the car, and the crew grab me. "Al, coffee, donuts, and juice in trailer. Go!" What? They shove me in the trailer, and I see all the food. I grab some donuts and juice, have a seat next to the huge heater, and recline my gravity chair. Chilling out, and can't even see the car. I relax, but what's going on? I sneak out the side door and see the crew wrenching away. I get hollered at and I book it to the Multi Purpose building. Once inside I use the facilities and talk to some local friends. One of the rally officials looks at me and says #50?? I say yup, and he says "Get your butt in your car, you are out next! REseed!" I run back to the team, and give them the news. "Service is over boys, we've moved up 11 spots!!" I hop in the car and Ryan gives me the rundown on the new switch he installed for the fans. Matt lets me know Goof replaced the wheel studs, and the car is golden. All I'm thinking is wow, spoiled.
Stage 6 Passmore2
Once again, very fast, but we drive with a bit of caution, and respect the woods. We feel alot better at the finish, even after seeing dancing cheeseheads (Louis M and crew) along the stage. We even nearly caught the car in front of us! Somehow we were slower the second pass.
Stage 7 Far Point
We are smooth, but yet respecting the 4's and not taking any chances. We hit the jump ALOT faster and launch farther. So fun. We pull in to finish control and my buddy Nick comes running up to the driver's window. "Did you just get passed?" Nope "Well that car was right in front of you!" Cool. Rock on. I think this was when the Volvo was dead on the side of the road. We hook up the strap, and prepare to pull. Split second before the car fires. Unstrap and on our way.
Stage 8 Bob Lake2
We arrive without incident, and the car in front of us, Grenwis, asks if we want to go ahead of them. Enjoying the game of cat-and-mouse, I decline. Plus the stage isn't as long as the others. Our first real run at the stage, as the 1st run had the "hood pop". I love the start as it is a 1/4 mile drag into some twisties. The terrain changes a lot with slime, sand, deep ditches, and stumps everywhere. We fly along and are getting loose. Matt is using one of the techniques I taught him, and I'm not appreciating it. He's doing it well, when I get going too fast, he slows down with the notes. I'm screaming! And then, and then??? Finally I overcook it in the twisties and my brain reverts back to RWD. These techniques DON'T work in a Jetta. We go sliding tail first towards a stump. Matt braces, and what, NO impact. At the last chance, I mashed the gas and pulled the car back on course. I had a few brainfarts as far as using Dirt track RWD techniques in the FWD Jetta. This will be interesting in the summer! We finish the stage, but almost slide off the decreasing radius left hander again.
Back to Covington. Long drive back, and Matt is silent. My brain wanders back to the family. What's mom doing? What's Jamie doing? How are my babies? A tear falls. I quickly ask Matt, "Whatcha thinking?" I let him ramble on, and I'm sure he didn't notice me.
We pull up to our service spot, whoop, holler, let the crew know to "Load 'er up! We're heading to L'A!!!"
Back in L'Anse, the entire team settles in at Goof's house. Cassie apologizes, her hide-a-bed isn't as fancy as Matt's air mattress, and Matt doesn't have to take his socks off. Josh settles in a chair, and Ryan sleeps on the floor. Elwood heads home, and I stay up on the computer. Reading results over and over, and reading Billy Mann's awesome event coverage on SpecialStage. I step out for a smoke and Jesse's cat comes in. Just as I figured, the cat decides to inspect all the new company and walks thru the house standing on each sleeping person's chests.
Off to bed, I sleep in the recliner.
I wake up and the whole team is sleeping. I hop in the car and head to the gas station in my Pj's. My little buddy Mikey is there, and he's ecstatic. I tell him some stories and tell him to come to Expose downtown. I hurry in the store, and Mikey follows. "Here Al! Your gas cap!" I forgot to replace it after filling up. I head over to the car wash, and wait for some ugly yellow STI to finish in the stall. (Just kidding Mason). Wash the car, and back to the house. Conveniently, the house is one block from the school, and 2 blocks from Expose. The crew already ate a home cooked meal, thanks to Cassie, and headed out to the car. I sat in the house by myself and ate. Crew came in, car's ready, off to Expose we go. They went and set up service at the school.
We are one of the first to arrive. A cold morning on the lakeshore. It was cool to have the pavilion full of hot liquids and treats. We enjoyed it. We check the starting order and penalties. Hmmm. The official board says we have been excluded for missing a control. Strange. We ask Steve Gingras the Steward if he knew anything. Not cool. He says "Write an inquiry, and maybe it will be reversed." Luckily in the end it was. The penalty was for the #150, not us #50. Dallas Bond asked us to do an interview with TV6 news out of Marquette. So fun, we were honored and humbled. Enjoyed some conversations with friends and Stan. Stan Spruce is a good friend, fellow bowler, and avid photographer of our team and any kind of racing we get in to. He's now hooked on rally, and trying to fill in for Mr. Buchkoe, as he was unable to make it this year. Unexpectedly, we are told to line up, "Parade". I thought cool! Of course, I'm the only noodle brain, and do a tire spin / burnout at the intersection. We come around to the checkout by the Celotex bridge, and something completely unexpected happens. THE SUN COMES OUT!! Uh oh. We didn't have any sunglasses in the car. We call the crew, they are at the school. Ryan grabs 2 pair out of Matt's rig and shows up downtown just in time! The pair I chose were PERFECT! They were fancy polarized with a yellow tint and REALLY made the terrain pop. Off to the the stages.
Stage 9 Menge Creek
Absolutely love this road. It's so twisty with elevation changes and fast finish, no one can not enjoy. I've driven this road for almost 20 years, and will take any excuse to make a side trip up it. But once again, I will use the excuse, "RALLY speeds are a hole different ball game." It's just completely different having a road "shut down" and the ability to use the entire road and commit to corners. Part of the psychological and acclimation part of rally, I suppose. We take the start and get up to speed. We are flowing and enjoying the road, ok, downshift, grind, downshift, grind, what? No clutch, no skills, we complete the bottom half of the stage in 3rd, finally dare another shift on the top and stay in 4th for the remainder, bogging out on the one good corner left in the last 2 miles. Sad. We come up to the finish control and Paul Koll is jumping up and down. His enthusiasm is infectious. He checks all 4 corners and sends us on our way.
Stage 10 Baraga Plains
I am familiar with this road as well, and can't wait for what I call "the rollercoaster". A one mile straight stretch with 4 or 5 rolling humps thrown in. One of our favorite memories of the rally. The start line. The big guy throwin gang signs for 30 seconds. Love it. Matt insists next time we come by we are going to flash "VDub" back at him. We take the start and everything is good, car is shifting well, and we are FLYING! Top of 4th and in to 5th. Well over 100 mph thru the rollercoaster and the car is tail wagging wildly. The cars in front of us have rutted up the road, and if you can imagine those speeds over ruts....Yup...sketchy...but SOO fun. We get back in to the twistie stuff and I run out of FWD talent again heading down hill. I almost stuff it in a R4 but again, escape unscathed.
BACK TO SERVICE
Nothing exciting to report. Gas and wheel wiggles. The crew is quiet. They aren't telling me anything. Back out to the woods.
Stage 11 Arvon
Again, a stage with a quickly earned reputation, and such a fun start. We tear off, run through the gears, downshift Right 2, back up to speed, jump, jump, jump, brakes, BIG kick, huge mud puddle and up the hill. Matt gets lost in the notes and I read the road to him, and a LEFT 3! He smiles and waves. Hey! That's my wife and kids, he says. Her uncle's camp is very close to the stage road. We boogie up the hill and to the spectator area. Again, like Stage 1, this hair pin and spectator area is epic. Don't F it up, I think. I hold her wide open, and brake at the last second. No flick this time, and we wrap the car perfectly around the apex. Not fancy, but effective. I wind her out, go for 3rd and GGGRRRIND, clutch being special again. Finally grabbing the gear. we escape, back down the hill, across the bridge, and 1 mile straight to the finish. I shift to 5th early and don't hit the speeds I hoped to. Still we finished.
Stage 12 Herman
The Promised Land! Haha. We drive the stage clean, tidy, and take zero risks. I smack the bedrock on the kink of the hill, even though the notes explicitly say not to. Matt lets me know. We are having fun, but I'm still "downshifting for safety" and respecting all the 4's. Near the end of the stage, by the spectator area, there is a Caution Right 4, and the road falls away over the crest. Matt called the corner, I giggled "4", and kept it pinned. He repeated Right 4, Right 4! As I tucked the car to the right side of the road and snuck under the tree, over the hill ,and back on the road. He whispered. "Nice cut." We finished the stage smiling, and it was the first time we smelled brakes.
Back to service
Again uneventful, crew still not talking much. Ryan and Josh let me know. "Hey Al, this would be funner if you would give us something to fix!" Sorry guys. I ask Josh to check the clutch and after testing he can't explain it. You can speed pump the pedal up by hand, wait 3 seconds, and blah it's on the fire wall. Strangely, it does it intermittently, and hasn't done it to me since. Nathan Fisher, another talented photographer and rally nut, shows up and takes some awesome photos of the team.
Back out to the woods.
Stage 13 Menge Creek 2
We are faster this pass, but again shifting issues. Sadly, we see the Smigowski team retired on the side of the road near the finish.
Stage 14 Baraga Plains
Still fun and fast, but the ruts are getting bad in the high speed stuff. The wiggles keep you from keeping it pinned. Again we improve on our previous run
Back to service.
Finally the crew is talking. I start to get the laundry list of what's wrong with the car. Front right wheel bearing is almost shot. Back rear brake is dragging. Front tires are bald already. We don't have any tires left. 2 stages to go. We tell the crew, we have Arvon and Herman left, when and if we pop out in Nestoria, we'll let ya know if we're good and you can pack up and head to Houghton. I check the front tires, and I'm not happy. They are trashed, gashed, and bald. (They were fresh 450 miles ago.) I ask "Can't we have switched to the Hankook's?" Nope, they send us out. I drive down the Skanee Road, lifting the load off and on the wheel bearing. Judging by sound how fast I want to race. I'm not happy.
Stage 15 Arvon
We take the start, and for some reason I'm driving faster, I don't brake check the KICK as much and the car launches. The rear end comes down hard, and I'm pretty sure we are toast. I splash through the puddle, and fill my inside of the car with water and mud. I keep listening to the car. Hmmm, sounds good...press on. Up the hill, and again to the spectator. This time I go faster, and stay in the gas longer. I mash the brakes, and the car doesn't slow, we just slide. I see the apex, dump the clutch, and we nail it perfect. Upshifts are perfect, and I'm giggling. Down the hill and across the bridge, off to the straight, and wham. My half of the windshield is covered in mud on the inside and we are racing directly in to the sunset. Trusting my knowledge and Matt's notes, I keep my foot to the floor. 70, 80, 90, 100 mph. Shift to 5th, stay on it, and across the line. Steve Gingras is at the finish, and I'm having fun. We stop shortly thereafter and I clean the inside of the windshield.
Stage 16 Herman 2
We work our way up to the start line, and fellow Hermanoid and local reporter Chris Ford is waiting with his camera. He takes our pic, puts us on the back color page of the L'Anse Sentinel, and the world is good.
We take the start and gel out perfectly. Matt performed like an old vet. I don't know if it's because I hit the bedrock in the kink again, or if he wanted me to slow down, but Matt stopped reading notes for a couple miles, and started back up again as we slowly passed the Sanford's wrecked BMW. We were a touch slower this pass. As we received our time card, I was fist pumping out the window to Fred (long time LSPR banner chief and volunteer). I don't know if he understood a word that came out of my mouth, but I was so happy to have finished all the stages of my first LSPR.
We transited out to the highway and Matt called the crew. They must have trusted us a lil too much as they had already packed up and were past Baraga, and heading to Houghton. We drove our slow and steady 58 mph back to the school. Exchanged time cards and headed to Houghton. We stopped in Baraga and grabbed some bevvies for the banquet. I found my phone, updated my status to let everyone and my family know we had safely finished the stages, and were heading to our final checkpoint. My wife let my mom know we were safe.
We mosey down the highway, and the car is getting cold. I quickly grab the temperature dial twist it, and snap. Matt hollers, "OH NO you didn't! The only reason I like rally is you get a windshield and heat, and YOU just broke the heat!" Ooops.
We pull in to Houghton, and the makeshift car show. We are the last car in. Somebody finishes a speech just as we walk up to the gathering, and everyone disperses. OK. Off to the Dee Stadium for the banquet. We pull the car down, and Josh had grabbed our clothes and supplies from the house. We change in the parking lot and head in. Our entire team is walking out. The darn bums got there so early, they had their fill and were heading home. We talk them in to coming back in, and they do. As soon as the trophies are done, they all peel out. I know they were all tired and/or wore out. Josh, Matt, and I are left to fend for our selves. We BS for an hour with Grenwis, Gingras, Stan, and Adam Van Damme. Finally we escape outside. Josh offers to drive us where ever we want to go. I won't make that mistake again. Adam comes for a ride, and we visit the Continental. Very nice place and enjoyed relaxing in the 3rd floor VIP. Really relaxing, but I heard some of the older drivers thought it was too loud.
I see Chris Gordon. I enjoy Chris' company and respect the guy to the ends. He points across the way, and says "Those guys are talking about you over there." Good things I hope. He assures me they are. Later on, I explain the entire Arvon 2 run to a few drivers in the VIP. Josh, Adam, Matt, and I exit the building. Josh drives us back to the hotel to drop off Adam. One of the most spirited rides I've ever had in a minivan, and I'm pretty sure Adam was excited to exit first. We take the long way back to Matt's and it was a trip not soon to be forgotten. I'll let your map skills figure it out.
Matt and Josh settle down in the kitchen. Telling war stories and making plans. Josh starts the grocery list of what needs fixin', changin', and replacin' on the car. He insists next rally, I give him at least 10 days with the car before hand. He asks the budget and explain to him "zero". The rally is over. Reality comes back. Off to sleep I go.
THE DAY AFTER
I wake up to Matt holding a phone. He says "Al. Your mom is dead." I don't even remember the phone conversation. I had forgotten my phone in the rally car, and my entire family couldn't find me. My mom had passed, with my wife by her side at 5:55 am. They explained that after she knew I was safe, her health declined overnight. I was reassured that she wanted me out on the stages and she was proud. My two younger brothers had to carry her out to the hearse as the funeral home "didn't have the help" on the weekends. I took the long, shameful ride home. I drove to Mom's house, but no one was there. I sat at the end of the road, and couldn't go in the house. I drove home....back to Herman.