RASC Snowflake

Rainier Auto Sports Club  



Early Nor'wester Rallies
as remembered by Steve Richards


1967 saw the first Nor'wester rally. The rally was conceived by a man named Jack Deno who, to us young wanabes, was the original rally godfather. He had competed in one or two of the original Shell 4000 Trans Canadian rallies which, as far as I was concerned, was akin to running the East African Safari on snow instead of sand. Jack drove a Lotus Cortina which in itself made him something very special and almost unapproachable to an upstart ralliest like myself. Jack was one of the founding members of Rainier Auto Sports Club and as such was very influential in determining the clubs direction and philosophy.

The Nor'wester was patterned somewhat after the Ponderosa Sweepstakes Rally run out of Spokane. The Ponderosa was a really great event which saw us take over the Davenport Hotel in Coeur d'Alene for the overnight stay. Coeur d'Alene was pretty much a sleepy little resort town in those days and except for one or two permanent residences, we pretty much had the run of the hotel. As you can imagine, there are many great stories connected with the Davenport and its rowdy occupants on one special night out of the year. I seem to remember we almost burned the place down once. But I digress. The Ponderosa Rally was a pure TSD event, fairly brisk, with one or two closed speed sections thrown in, and run on as much gravel as possible (which isn't hard to do in Eastern Washington and the Idaho Panhandle) and raising as much dust as possible.

The Nor'wester seemed to resemble the Ponderosa in character but would cover much more territory. We often did 500 miles a day for three days and touched many of the 39 counties in the state of Washington, but that also entailed much more pavement motoring in order to get to the juicy gravel parts. The TSD speeds were generally quite attainable, even by a novice like myself, but that didn't seem to detract from the wonderful character of the event. Most of the time, the 80 mile transits were harder to make than the TSD sections.

In 1970 Jack had planned a little different type of Nor'wester. It was to start in Bellevue, on the west side of the Cascades, run the first section entirely at night, with a Saturday layover in Ellensburg, in Eastern Washington. Then, on Sunday morning, rally on to the finish (I don't remember where) in mid to late afternoon. After running the 1967, 1968 and 1969 Nor'westers I had committed to join Rainier and contribute what help I could to this wonderful event. In 1970 I was to become part of the checkout crew which numbered about 6 cars.

Cliff (CR) Hall was club president that year. Like many of the rest of us, CR had been rallying only a few years but he had no misconceptions about what kind of rally RASC should design. It was to be long, tough, and memorable, for better or worse. CR was a very dynamic and persuasive personality and usually got what he wanted.

Three weeks before the event we began the checkout in Bellevue. This lead time would turn out to be a blessing. We left in the early evening as the checkout was to mimic rally time as much as possible. The first part of the rally was mostly all paved with a few ho-hum TSDs. Then we finally arrived at the first of the real tests, well after dark, in the Georgia Pacific timber lands north of Darrington.

This property was gated and locked but Jack had been assuring us for weeks that he had access to the keys and that we would have unrestricted road use for the checkout. Not. We all gathered at the first gate, waiting for Jack to arrive, only to learn that indeed he did not have the keys at all. This Georgia Pacific section was quite long and formed the meat of the rally on the west side of the mountains. After this section, the rally was to simply transit over the pass to the layover in Ellensburg with only a few TSDs on the other side in the morning. Jack assured us that we shouldn't worry and that the keys would be in hand on the day of the Rally. So we all motored over the mountains to Ellensburg, ran the morning TSDs and checked into the motel to rest before beginning the second half the following day.

At about 10:00 am we were all summoned to CR's room where we had a very somber meeting to say the least. I don't remember all the details but suffice it to say that CR went ballistic, Jack quit the club, and the rest of us agreed that we needed to design and checkout a completely new rally, the bulk of which was about 200 miles from our homes, and do it all in 3 weeks. We even decided to discard the untested Sunday section as our confidence in Jack had been severely shaken at this point.

Ken Matson and Vic Alvarez in one car, and CR and I in another, agreed to lay out a new route. We all took some time off work and, after first designing a rough plan on paper, we each took a different section and planned to meet in the middle somewhere. We knew where the start and finish had to be, and that we were going to concentrate our efforts in Eastern Washington, and what the road character should be, but more than that, we weren't sure. This meant that one of us had to construct our part of the rally backwards and then, to save time, we'd meet in the middle, exchange instructions, and proof each others section in reverse order. Somehow it all came together and we had a full checkout the following weekend, one week before the rally. The rally wasn't perfect but all in all the competitors were happy, and we were eager to do it bigger and better the next year.

The following year CR was ready for bear. The 1971 event was designed to put the Nor'wester on the map as the premier endurance and performance rally in the Northwest. We were striving for the same kind of preeminence in the Northwest that the POR held in the Midwest, and we even had aspirations for a possible FIA sanction in the future.

By now I was becoming familiar with Eastern Washington and agreed to take on the job of course marshal (actually co-course marshal with CR) and CR would also serve as the event chairman. I was to set up the first half of the event which would start in Leavenworth, late Friday afternoon, and run all night and well into the next morning to the layover in Wenatchee. Then on Sunday, CR took over the route to finish in Ellensburg on Sunday afternoon.

The '71, '72 and '73 Nor'westers are mostly all a blur now. I can't remember everything that happened on which rally but I know they were fast, rough, and we rarely had more than 60% finishers. My job during the running of all three rallies was to run slow pace about 1 hour ahead of the rally to see that checkpoints were properly placed and, in some cases, to meet crews along the route and place them. CR would run fast pace just ahead of the rally. In '71 my friend, and then navigator, Mary Fears, was riding shotgun with me and helping to organize the crew setting effort. We had gotten through the night and were well into the morning section, about 2 hours from the Wenatchee, layover when it got a bit nasty out. While motoring along at about 40 on Soap Lake Road, a one lane dirt road on the Colville Indian Reservation, a cow jumped out from behind a large bush on the left edge of the road. It was about 12 feet from the car when I first saw it and I had no chance to do anything but grip the wheel a bit tighter. We hit the animal on the side of its head with the left front fender of the 510, just outside the headlight assembly, which is a very stout piece body work. The cow spun around my side of the car and slammed into the drivers door. After bringing the car to a stop I checked the rear view mirror and saw the cow sprawled neatly across the road. I looked at Mary.

"There's no way you and I are going to move that cow short of dragging it with the tow strap," I said. "I think we had better press on." "If CR wants to move it, he and Larry can probably drag it off the road."

I didn't offer that I was also visualizing us buried up to the neck in an ant hill, being on the Indian reservation and all.

When we arrived at the next checkpoint the crew walked up, checking out the damaged drivers door, and asked, "What's that?" "Oh, we hit a cow," I said. "No, what's that brown stuff?" I got out and saw that the whole side of the car was covered with cow dung. About that time CR pulled up. "Did you deal with the cow OK?" I asked. "What cow?" CR replied. Apparently it had gotten up after we left and wandered off.

In 1973 I remember one little section called "sissy hill", where cars had to turn left at a given mileage off a one lane trail into what seemed like an abyss at night, but what was really just a 30 foot embankment with about a 40% grade, only to end up driving in a creek bed (not dry by any means) for about 50 yards until some semblance of road appeared. One needed to be very confident indeed. That year only 6 cars finished, out of about 25, and while I think the non-finishers were none too happy, the finishers were relieved, and proud, and never forgot the ordeal they had survived. Bob Chandler finished the '73 event in his 240Z with the rear suspension held on by vice grips and bailing wire. That car is still rallying today. Probably still has the vice grips too.

While CR and his new bride Wendy left the rally scene and the State in 1974 to pursue more sensible and serious interests like raising a family, he did compete in the 1974 Nor'wester with Larry Richardson navigating. I guess there were those who might have said that it was only justice that he knocked the radiator on his 510 Datsun back into the fan on the fifth stage.

So the Nor'wester was looking for a new Rallymaster. My good friend and fellow rallyist Pete Hufschmidt and I agreed to jump into the fray; for 1974 anyway. We decided to shorten the rally from what had been two sections of around 12 hours and 8 hours to one section of about 16 hours, run mostly at night.

The route instructions are included elsewhere for your review and/or amusement. You will note that they are quite primitive by today's standards but they were pretty much the norm for the day. Looking at them now, I don't know how anybody could read them in a bouncing car at night. This was to be my last attempt at rallymastering a major event. For weeks before the rally I can remember having nightmares of rally cars launching off cliffs and me trying to explain to the grieving families and the authorities that what we were doing was not breaking the law, and then waking up in a cold sweat.

Beginning in 1975, the Nor'wester moved exclusively to the west side of the Cascades and was usually concentrated in one relatively small area. Initially we used the Weyerhauser district between North Bend, and Index. This compact area of about 200 square miles allowed us to have much more control over the rally as well as make it easier for the crews to move around from location to location as necessary. It was also 100% gravel. Yes, we had gate keys too.

Less rough and somewhat more sophisticated, the Nor'wester had became a pure performance rally with less emphasis on survival and more on pure speed. We were using radios for communications by then and even had one or two paramedics available. I worked a few of these later events and even ran one or two but my interest had shifted to sailing, and I became less involved with rallying. In 1986 I returned to the fold but that is another story.




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