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Arizona Border Rally Weekend

By on March 17, 2018

by David Head, Navigator for Road Rally eNews March 2018

A barrel cactus flowers in the desert, making Arizona Border Region a unique venue in SCCA rallying.

Described by one competitor as the toughest Course Rally on the SCCA National Course Rally Championship, the Desert Sands was contested by nine rally teams on Saturday, March 3, 2018. The weather was fabulous with temperatures in the 70’s, sunny skies, and desert beauty.

Desert Sands was difficult because it relied on precise definitions and special rules contained in its General Instructions. Rallymaster John Sears is one of the best there is at crafting an event from precisely worded instructions, both Generals and Route Instructions.

For instance, the definition of an SLnn, which means a speed limit sign with digits nn, contains the phrase, “perpendicular to your car when you pass it.” What could possibly go wrong with that?  Nothing, other than it restricts the sign when trying to use it to do something “before” it. Since you need to be even with the SLnn for it to be an SL, then you can’t do any instruction using the term “before” when referencing the SL. Tricky.

Then there are just the basic rally traps. The first leg was preceded by a transit zone that said, “BTZ of 40 minutes to NRI 21,” where BTZ was defined in the glossary of the General Instructions as “Begin Transit Zone.” NRI 21 read, “13.150   21   SL25 (appears soon). End Odometer Calibration Run. Cast 24. Watch for easy traps for 0.00001 mile. ETZ. Cast 1 for 0.01 mile.” Again, what could go wrong? Well, there were a lot of distractions in the instruction, such as “Watch for easy traps…” That doesn’t have a real effect. But then there’s the “ETZ”, which means “End Transit Zone.” But, from the 1st instruction, we know that the transit zone goes to NRI 21. That means the 1st action of NRI 21, which is observing the SL25. So, after you get to the Speed Limit 25 sign, the transit zone is ended. Can you now end a transit zone at “ETZ?” No, you can’t, so you’re stopped right there in the middle of NRI 21, and cannot proceed to the “CAST 1 for 0.01 mile.” That would put you nearly a 0.60 minutes late, which was the basis for the penalty for the trap, getting you a max score of 50 at the control. Some experienced people did it, too, so it wasn’t anywhere close to easy. Our experience was that we knew we didn’t want to do that cast, it was the obvious trap, but it took us a while to figure out that we couldn’t “ETZ” because the transit zone had expired at that point. We just continued at 24 mph and followed the main roads into the control for a good score. This trap was enough to penalize 2nd place finishers Bob Morseburg and Bruce Gezon who would have had 50 fewer points and the win, except that 1st place finishers Steve Gaddy and Jim Wakeman did the trap right.

Debbi Segall, who came to Tucson to help John Sears put on the rally, explains the last-minute detour for road construction that occurred on the Saturday’s Desert Sands course rally.  We were all glad to see Debbi again.

Also altered by the General Instructions were the definitions of crossroad, sideroad, and the main road determinant “ONTO.” Such things made the rally unique, something you’ve never run before. Much consideration, decoding, and question-asking was necessary to approach understanding the rally. ONTO roads, once designated, stayed designated for the whole rally. They were in effect whenever the ONTO main road determinant was active in the main road determinant list. By the end of the rally, there were probably 10 or more ONTO roads.

So what was the most difficult trap of the rally? That came late in the day, while although everyone was by that time very experienced with the ins and outs of this event, there was one more to spring on contestants. That is, the General Instructions allowed only one use of a sign unless you go out of sight of it. Leg 24 had a T, or so it appeared, where the name of the road you entered on being also affixed to the same post as a stop sign. The stop sign was used first, which then precluded, by the Generals, the intersection it appeared at from being a T because the Generals required a T to have three different road names. With that road name gone, there was no T. You couldn’t use the main road Right at T to follow the course and instead executed an instruction with, I believe a pause, that put the correct cars later on the course for a good score. This trap nailed all but one team, Wendy Harrison and Craig Beidelman, which made it the most vicious trap of the day.


Wendy Harrison and Craig Beidelman study the posted questions for Desert Sands, on their way to being the only team to do the toughest leg of the rally correctly, leg 24.

On a personal note, we had some excitement in the morning when the rally computer quit. I could tell by the way it failed that it was most likely a power delivery problem, but when I got the cigarette lighter plug power source from the trunk of the car and attempted to use it, it didn’t work either. Computer dead? Stowed my computer and used the spare that Jim Crittenden brought. Plugged it into the hardwired power and…no power either! Ha, it is the power source. Next plugged the replacement computer into the cigarette lighter plugged power and it came up fine. Don’t know even yet why mine hadn’t. Inserted the odo factor from my computer, went back to the start of the leg since it wasn’t too far, rebuilt the leg and continued.   The computer worked fine the rest of the day.


High finishers on Desert Sands saw some “regulars” and some newcomers. Class E was won by Jim Wakeman and Steve Gaddy, with Bruce Gezon and Bob Morseburg 2nd, with Jim Crittenden and myself, Dave Head 3rd. The not so familiar occurred in class L  and saw Richard Wetzel and Andy Stocker winning, Wendy Harrison and Craig Beidelman 2nd, and Stu Helfer and Jeanne English having an atypically bad day finishing 3rd. In S class, J and Jessica Toney took first unopposed but beat all three L cars and the two remaining E cars as well. Not too shabby.

On Sunday the 4th, the Foothills Tour was the opposite of Desert Sands, being really laid-back with passage controls and automatic delays, so you didn’t have to turn in delay slips. Foothills was a zero-hero event, where Rallymaster John Sears had arranged for the checkpoint in-lines to be situated so that the calculated in-times were very close to the ½ hundredth, giving the contestants the best chance of getting a zero if they measured the course well and performed the cast changes where they should. This rally was won and lost by 1/1000th-mile errors in measurement, which accompanied with some unusually slow speeds in places, made for large timing errors from very small errors in distance measurement. I remember having a CAST of 12 mph at one point. Being 1/1000 “off” in measurement at 12 mph will get you ½ a hundredth in time error. ½ a hundredth will give you a one if you’re unlucky.

In addition to a very precise basis for competition, the rally also went out by the old Mission, which is a sight to see and photograph. It is still used, and when using those roads on Sunday morning like we used to do, we always had to talk the Indians out of charging us for parking, explaining we were just continuing down the road rather than parking for the service. Since the course went by the Mission in the afternoon this year, we avoided that little bit of awkwardness.

Contestants gather for the awards ceremony for both days. Seen in the center of the picture is Dave Jameson, longtime rally organizer, who was able to come to the finishing point for Foothills rally and share the day with us.

Class E was not much of a surprise, with the always tough to beat team of John Emmons and Lois van Vleet taking 1st with 4/100ths error. Jim Crittenden and I were 2nd with 7/100ths, Bruce Gezon and Bob Morseburg took 3rd with 9/100ths, and then there is another story in 4th place Class E with Jim Wakeman and Steve Gaddy taking it with 12/100ths.

Jim and Steve’s 4th place is remarkable since they were using a GPS application to run the rally; I’m surprised it did so well. A score of 12 in a rally like this is not competitive, yet their score shows an unusually good timing capability which, if you’re just starting out rallying and competing in regionals, against other people without a Timewise or Alpha computer (or even people that have those but are not quite so expert at running them), you can get competitive with a really affordable app and a phone. 

Continuing with the results, the Toneys were 1st in S and beat all the Class L cars again, With Wetzel / Stocker over Helfer / English by just 6 points in L.

If you’ve never run an Arizona Border Region rally in March, do yourself a favor and come to the desert southwest, enjoy the desert beauty and the great weather, and run a well-done rally no matter whether you choose the Course or Tour rally, or both. I drive 2200 miles each way for it since I’m no longer a fan of flying and converting a rental car, and it is worth it.


1 1E Wakemen/Gaddy 169
2 2E Gezon/Morseburg 207
3 3E Crittenden/Head 268
4 1S Toney/Toney 513
5 1L Wetzel/Stocker 543
6 2L Harrison/Beidelman 568
7 4E Eklund/Smolyansky 571
8 3L Helfer/English 583
9 5E Huckabay/Hanson 706
1 1E Emmons/Van Vleet 4
2 2E Crittenden/Head 7
3 3E Gezon/Morseburg 9
4 4E Wakemen/Gaddy 12
5 5E Eklund/Smolyansky 37
6 6E Huckabay/Hanson 87
7 1S Toney/Toney 92
8 1L Wetzel/Stocker 103
9 2L Helfer/English 109


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One Comment

  1. Debbi Laitenberger

    April 5, 2018 at 1:05 AM

    So glad I attended. I knew I missed my friends, but had not realized how much I missed rallying. Thanks Karl B for letting me tag along all weekend.