After a few years spent drag racing and bombing around Ohio Buckeye backroads in the late 1960s it took a benefit gimmick rally in San Angelo, Texas to launch my life-long rallysport affliction. After tiring of quarter-mile long straight runs on tarmac and dodging harmless rubber cones in a parking lot, the prospect of doing a speed competition on an open unpaved road with a teammate to help you go fast was impossible to pass up! Your cockpit compatriot in performance rally wasn’t a simple navigator, oh no! He/she was a “co-driver!” This new term took a little research for me to fully grasp. Long ago it was reported that the late Gene Henderson – a Jeep driver who got four wheel drive banned from WRC events (until new rules allowed Audi to show up with the Quattro) – contended that “(co-drivers) seem to have common traits … (they are) as brave as Dick Tracy, can compute square roots during an earthquake, and honestly believe their driver is a God.”
Thirty-three co-drivers have shared a stage rally machine with me since 1977 and I’m sure each and every one of them could compute a square root during an earthquake, whether they’d admit that or not. To my mind the only ones not displaying the nerves of Dick Tracy were certifiable but unflappable nonetheless! I mean, don’t you need to be a little off-kilter to strap yourself in some mad man’s car knowing full well his plan was to go just as fast as possible on the country’s gnarliest back roads? Lord knows at least a few off-kilters sat with me in the sixteen different rally cars or trucks I’ve raced. And every single one of those thirty-three, certifiable or not, have left an indelible mark on me.
Twenty-three of my teammates have been male but that means ten were female. It took a Minnesotan – Emily Burton-Weinman – to claim career co-driver number eleven and broke my masculine teammate streak in 1999. After just the first stage, Emily left me wondering why I had not teamed with a lady co-driver earlier. Emily was the very first co-driver who made me feel like we’d been working together for years, right from the get-go. Recently I crunched the numbers to find out she’s also the co-driver who competed in the most events with me. With only one notable exception I found that a female voice coming over the intercom was a beneficially calming influence. But that’s a whole other story.
If you would like the full scoop on that first event with “EM” be sure to check out the article I wrote called, “Could I Put My Clothes On First?” It’s still here, http://www.realautosport.com/headwaters_main.htm
I’m lucky and proud to have had some well-known co-drivers ride with me over my career. Ty Holmquist, Joe Andreini, Ole Holter, John Dillon, and Bill Montgomery to name a few. I’ve also had some more unique teammates including a first time co-driver who turned out to be a writer for the Irish Car Buyers Guide magazine. Conor Twomey was stateside innocently covering sporting venues when he caught wind of a stage rally in Texas. He contacted event chairman Richard Miller and was convinced to get up close and personal with American performance rally by codriving for “Mad Mike.” In a truly self-deprecating article Conor bared his soul about the trials and tribulations willingly tackled by co-drivers who often don’t know what they were getting into.
“Square right!” I scream.
Mike’s voice comes in calm and composed over the headset. “You sure?”
“Ehhhh. No.” Sure enough, it’s a square left and that sudden inability to tell my left from my right could have resulted in an expensive and painful meeting with some large pine trees.
We hurtle through the 90 degree corner surprisingly quickly and surprisingly sideways and on to the next bend. I’ve a few seconds to lick my wounds, hit zero on the mileage counter, find the next direction note on the page, tell Mike what’s coming up, sound convincing, ignore the puddle forming in my borrowed Nomex suit and brace myself for another sudden change in direction. For the first time in my life I’m rallying. And I’m terrified.
Conor wrapped up his article with, “Rallying is huge fun and I’m bewildered more people don’t do it here in the US. The events are really well organized and the cars aren’t that expensive to run if you have a little sponsorship or a reasonably deep pocket. Sadly, Mad Mike has neither and the Beetle may have run their last rally together. Fortunately, he has a car to sell and another trophy to show off. The Nomex suit I borrowed from him, on the other hand, will never race again.”
Everyone’s first performance rally should be a memorable one!
M. E. “Mad Mike” Halley has been involved in rallying in one form or another since 1972. With two national rally driving titles along with experience as a factory sponsored car builder, sanctioning body steward, organizer, volunteer, and driver/co-driver coach, Halley embraces a life-long rally affliction to this day