RASC Snowflake

Rainier Auto Sports Club  


No Alibi 2003

 Ron Sorem © 2003


Snoqualmie Pass, May 31 and Jun 1, 2003.  Weather is bright and sunny, and actually warm for the 3022-foot elevation.  Registration and tech inspection are woven around breakfast, and the drivers meeting is about as low-key as one could want.  There are only minor changes to the detailed route book, addressed by a correction sheet, and only a couple of questions from the group for Rally Master Kirk Simons and his Rainier Auto Sports Club crew. 

First car out at 9:01, is the Impreza 2.5RS of Lee and Rod Sorenson up from Sacramento to defend last year’s win.  They were “assigned” car one, as a “long-standing tradition”, one we’ve never heard of before on No Alibi.  A total of 34 teams will take the start for 600 miles of gravel, dirt, sand, and mud over two days in “sunny” central Washington.

No Alibi has become a premier brisk TSD gravel rally, drawing teams from all over the West, with a few scattered entrants from as far as the East Coast.  The field was roughly half Subaru, 1983 GL through 2003 WRX, then a great showing of vintage Saab, Sonett II V4 and 96 V4, and most everything in between including Ford Ranger pickup, Audi, Honda, a 2003 Mini Cooper S, and the eventual winners Michael Daily and Steve Pfau in a 1984 Jetta.

The rally started east on the Interstate and broke off to the two-lane for a couple of controls before Cle Elum, then a transit to the gold-mining town of Liberty and the first of the twisty gravel hill-climbs that would hold teams interest with narrow roadways and oncoming traffic.  Lion Gulch climbed rapidly for three miles then turned west again for the drop down to Highway 97.  As the crow flies just 4 miles, but the rally cars would travel 8.52 miles of twisting forest roads with exposures left and right.  A short transit to climb to the summit of Swauk Pass.  (Named for Swauk Creek, which runs nearly to the summit, after this modern road was cut through the Wenatchee Mountains ridge a few miles east of “old” Blewett Pass-- very narrow, very steep, but a worthwhile detour for a sunny afternoon, and used as a hill-climb on several rallies).  This section of Highway 97 is still referred to as the Blewett Pass Highway.  The next TSD takes the rally down Scotty Creek to meet the old highway and then back to Highway 97.  I missed the first turn a half-mile into the section because the drop off was so abrupt it looked like part of the shoulder not a road… “keep straight over crest (downhill)” could have added “hard to see”.  I overshot, backed up, eased over the edge and sure enough there was a road—now just make up time on something calling for 23mph, where 26 might be too fast, but we made it, taking a 1 early at the first control, then still having too much fun, a 2 early at the second control.

We transit down Peshastin Creek to the Wenatchee River where whitewater rafters are competing with the fishermen, and cross the Columbia River to East Wenatchee and the climb up Badger Mountain.  The elevation gain from the river is spectacular, affording views of the valley with cherry and apple orchards and contrasting with snow-capped peaks of the Stuart and Cascade Ranges.  The climb also tests the cooling systems on the rally cars.

Badger Mountain section is 19.91 miles of gravel with a couple of short stretches of pavement.  Then transit through Waterville, and prepare to drop down to the Columbia through Browns Canyon.  The first real confidence test was only a half-mile into Browns Canyon gravel at a four-way intersection with the main road sweeping right, but no instruction to turn right.  Most teams turned right and immediately asked each other why.  Quick referral to the General Instructions and still further discussion.  The Main Road Rule was why, but only seeing the next reference come up at the right mileage, and then finding a control, really validated the decision.  Cars that went straight through the intersection eventually ran out of road and recovered the route minutes later, trying to calculate their time allowances.

Lunch was provided by the organizers at a beautiful little park at Chelan Falls on the Columbia River.  Lunch arrived at the same time as car one… great timing, but actually great driving on behalf of the crew—their shortcut to the park had been closed for the weekend by construction and they had to backtrack to Wenatchee before “quickly” heading north to the lunch break.  Good food, refreshments, welcomed shade and restrooms for all.

The cars barely had time to cool down before the next TSD began with a 12% hill-climb and the obligatory control at the top.  The next sections ran through narrow dirt roads normally providing access to the wheat fields on the plateau, then down Central Ferry Road to cross the Columbia again at Brewster.

Leaving the river, climbing the rock hills into the cattle ranges and wheat fields of the Colville Nation, the section named Cameron Lake brought the best show of the day.  The weather had changed from hot and sunny to cool and cloudy.  It was getting dark fast, then the lightning strikes jarred teams awake.  Within minutes the roads changed from choking dust to wondering if the wipers could handle the deluge.  Every low spot in the road became a puddle, the lower spots became lakes, and the really low spots were now really BIG lakes.  This storm cell hit after the pace car.  It sent control workers from the back of their pickup to inside the cab, and after the passage of 34 teams, the sweep car got stuck.  A control worker got stuck trying to get sweep out and a third 4x4 managed to extricate them all.  Apparently the control was not scored due to so many cars having trouble with the mini-lakes.  A half-mile transit, then 8.5 miles of gravel later we are completely out of the rain.

The transit to Grand Coulee Dam gave some cars the opportunity to explain the finer points of rallying to an assortment of Crown Victorias and Expeditions, but apparently no serious paperwork transpired.  A quick stop for gas and restrooms, then we drop down Spring Canyon to near the river.  The TSD section climbs along the plateau and wheat fields, through a ranch yard, and begins a serious twisty climb out to the top of the rolling hills and a Main Time Control—the only stop control of the rally, to turn in the Do It Yourself Checkpoint slips.

A speed limit transit with little time to spare in 31 miles brings the rally to another 23 mile TSD with speeds in the mid- to upper-forties, including “KR at Crest (Use Caution)” at 44mph on gravel.  Several of these crests were deceiving, the road could be seen straight ahead, but getting there involved a quick little right-left-right just out of view in the dip after crest.

Day One’s dirt behind, the teams cruised into Ephrata for the overnight.  Dinner and door prizes, and rally stories from car 5’s Steve Richards and Gary Reid covering experiences from 1968 to date, combined age of the car 5 team is 116.  There were a lot of gray hairs in the audience—can’t say if that was prematurely or not, considering the rally experiences of many years.


Day Two began East of Ephrata, reversing one of No Alibi’s favorite sections including the “water-crossing”.  The depth and width vary with weather so that what had been deep and rough on check-out was wide and smooth for spectacular sprays at speed and great photo ops by the organizers.  Later in the same section, big irrigation sprinklers covered the road and some teams got the carwash treatment for the top of their cars too.

West again, and north of Ephrata into the Beezley Hills TSD.  This 24.39-mile section is mostly gravel and dirt featuring up and down, tight and rough acute turns, high-speed roller coasters and spectacular scenery.  A transit into Quincy and then Nor’Westerly toward Wenatchee again, for the “Rock”.

Rock Island Grade has been used by numerous rallies and hill-climb events.  The twisty route is slightly over one lane and climbs some 1800 feet in 3 miles.  Today’s run would be delayed.  The word was passed back through the assemble cars awaiting their start, that we might encounter horse trailers descending the grade.  Then the radio crackled with the word that the horse trailers were semi-sized and taking up the whole road.  The rally would have to wait its turn.  Surprisingly the 30-minute delay was taken in stride by the teams as we watched the two big trucks very slowly crawl down the hill… there are no escape roads, just very big exposures, so the heavy trucks were saving their brakes.  The only hot brakes were on the rally master’s truck, having had to pass the first semi to stop car 1 in mid hill.  His out-time came up just as the delay was called in and Lee Sorenson had the benefit of a “pre-run” for part of the hill.  The remainder of the section gradually gained another 1000 feet on the southeast slope of Badger Mountain.  The route drops into Waterville again and retraces Day One’s Brown Canyon TSD.  The same Main Road intersection had been “explained” at the morning drivers meeting, but the controls had been relocated this time through the section.

A transit with time for lunch toured the rally down the Columbia, though Wenatchee and Cashmere for a look at a popular rock climbing area at Peshastin Pinnacles State Park, then on to the Blewett Pass area.

Scotty Creek this time was up hill, 23mph, very twisty and rough, with deep first-gear rollers in some apexes.  An added “distraction” was a group of dirt-bikers who insisted this was “their road”…  Eventually the control at the top of the hill was not scored because of delays.  It would seem that if two cars can figure out a way to share the road when meeting on a one-lane track that one car and three bikes could do the same.  I suppose riding in single file is just too novel an idea.

The Mountain Home section climbed away from the highway up Hurley Creek, passed the primitive Pipe Creek Ski Area and down toward Liberty before turning west for several miles of very twisty exposure on hairpins, ending with a very steep downhill to end the timed portion of the rally.  A rural paved route brought the rally to Cle Elum for the finish and awards. 

Although the majority of the teams were Unlimited (16), the Equipped, Seat-Of-Pants, and Novice teams were all very competitive.  First to Second UNL was separated by 2 points followed by 5 points to Third.  First to Second SOP was only 1 second, and another 7 seconds to Third. 


Congratulations to:

Michael Daily and Steve Pfau             1st  UNL      1st   OA           40

Lee Sorenson and Rod Sorenson      2nd UNL      2nd  OA           42

Ron Sorem and Max Vaysburd           3rd  UNL      3rd   OA           47


Don Gibson and Mike Workman         1st  EQU      8th   OA           96

Jeff McMillen and Marvin Crippen     2nd EQU       12th OA           120

Tom Palidar and Brian Palidar            3rd  EQU     27th OA           514


Vasco de Pinna and Kevin Mullins    1st  SOP       18th OA           263

Steve Perret and Kathryn Hansen        2nd SOP    19th OA           264

Taylor Van Vleet and Holly Odegard 3rd  SOP      20th OA           271


Brian Zaugra and Jon Harbour             1st  NOV     21st OA           281

Sasha Horst and Nicole Nuber             2nd NOV    26th OA           411

Patrick Widner and Philip Widner        3rd  NOV    29th OA           770


All 34 teams finished the two-day event

Total mileage:  Day One 365.42 plus Day Two 234.57, for 599.99 miles of fun!


More info on this and other events at  www.rainierautosports.com



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