Rally North America 2014 Rally US 50

Mike Schlee
by Mike Schlee

Another successful Rally North America (RNA) event has come and gone. The last of the stragglers have finally made their way home and 75 cars are getting a well-deserved rest.

Rally North America is a non-profit organization that conducts multi-day scavenger hunt-like road rally for charity. Currently in its fifth year of operation, this year’s rally is an extra-long five-day event across historic Route 50, a road that cuts through the middle of the US. Martinsburg, West Virginia is where the rally gets underway with teams (hopefully) arriving in Pueblo, Colorado five days later.

SEE ALSO: Rally North America 2014 Rally US 50

The goal behind every Rally North America event is to allow the average automotive enthusiast a chance to drive cross country while giving back. With an entry fee of $500 including a mandatory $100 charity donation, this year’s grid featured everything from an Audi R8 and Hennessy Cadillac CTS-V Coupe to a pair of minivans – one of which was adorned in a Queen Family Truckster livery complete with trailing dog leash and Wally World sticker.

Before We Run, a Little Fun

The night before the rally begins there is always a pre-drivers meeting and charity auction hosted by yours truly. This year we get the extra benefit of running a few paced laps around Summit Point Racetrack. Considering many teams have never turned a wheel on a racetrack before, this isn’t a bad initiation to the world of closed circuit driving as there will be a chance to run our cars wide open in Pueblo.

This year I decided to give my father and co-driver a break from the onslaught of sports cars we have driven in the past. No modified WRXs, Miatas or Camaro ZL1s this year. Instead, we are heading out in a 2015 Hyundai Genesis Sedan 3.8 AWD. It isn’t the sportiest choice, but we were about to drive 4,000 miles in nine days, a lot of which would be through corn country.

Day One – Martinsburg, WV to Athens, OH

The starting line for RNA events is always full of excitement, but this year seems a little bit more energetic. Maybe it’s the influx of new teams, maybe it’s the prospect of driving two thirds of the continent or maybe it’s the knowledge that we as a group had already raised over $105,000 for our charity of choice, the Accelerated Cure Project for MS Research and the rally hadn’t even begun yet.

The green flag drops and teams grab their route cards for the day and head off. The route cards are prepared each day by Rally Master Tony Intrieri and consist of between five and 10 pictures of locations we need to find that day and maybe a brief description. We all know we are heading to Athens, Ohio today, but we have no clue where we are going in-between. The first team to find all the locations, take a team selfie and arrive at the finish line wins.

Easy right? Well, not so fast. The locations are usually pretty hard to find. Because we represent a charity, excessive speeding and reckless driving is strictly forbidden. Get a speeding ticket at any point of the rally, your team is disqualified. Get caught on camera driving like a jackass by another team, you’re disqualified. Arrive at the finish line before a “breakout time” calculated by driving distance and speed limits, you’re disqualified.

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For the most part, teams are behaving themselves through the mountains of West Virginia, but a few stern talks from rally organizers would occur at the end of day one. We don’t have to worry much about this as speed is never going to be an issue since our Genesis is cruising in a convoy we quickly dubbed “The Land Yachts” that includes a Ford F-150 Raptor and a 1963 Ford Galaxie.

Checkpoints for the day include the Confederate Memorial at Indian Mound Cemetery, the flagstaff of a battleship in Clarksburg, WV, Cliff’s museum of car memorabilia and the highlight of the day, a tour of the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in Weston, WV. Having been abandoned for decades, most of the asylum has been left unrestored which adds a horror-movie, someone-is-going-to-kill-me-around-the-next-corner aura to the building. Those stupid brave enough can even spend the night in one of the derelict cells.

Day Two – Athens, OH to Mitchell, IN

Day two begins in downtown Athens and once again many townspeople get up early to check out the unique rides accompanying the rally like a custom built, Corvette powered Chevrolet S-10 and an air-cooled Porsche 911.

Today we begin driving out of the mountains and into an endless array of farmland plains that locals refer to as “level”, not flat. Checkpoints include the Hopewell Indian mounds, the Tri State Warbird museum and Beers Auto Sales in Lawrenceburg, IN that features a superabundance of historic road signs and advertisements that would spur the American Pickers into a conniption fit.

For most teams, the highlight of the day is Edgewater Sports Park. It’s a quarter mile drag strip and the idea is for teams to take one pass and leave. Those vying for the win today perform their run and head back on the road. For many others, two, three, five or eight passes have to be run before they are going to leave. One team, behind the wheel of a modified Porsche 911 Turbo, arrives late to the drag strip. Earlier in the day a Turkey Vulture was too slow in getting off the road through a twisting mountain pass and met its fate on the windshield of the 911 Turbo.

Speaking to many teams that regularly run at drag strips across America, the track seems to be off a half second or so today thanks to a strong headwind and humid temperatures. My Genesis, with 4,500 lbs. and only 311 hp, runs the track in 15.4 seconds @ 91.96 MPH. Not bad for a big comfy cruiser.

Day Three – Mitchell, IN to Jefferson City, MO

The night before day three is spent at the Spring Mill State Park Inn, a place that had a definite “The Shining” feel to it. Best of all, there is a giant games room where several teams stay up way to late, indulging in adult beverages. Needless to say many teams are tired and unusually quiet at the starting line today.

For checkpoint two today, teams are given a choice to see completely white squirrels in Olney City, IN or to cross the Wabash Cannon Ball Bridge outside Vincennes, IN. Since we aren’t really competing to win, we head for both checkpoints as they sound too good to pass up. The Cannon Ball Bridge is a sketchy, rusty metal bridge with rows of plank boards drilled onto to the floor making two rudimentary tire tracks. Thoughts of rope bridges in action movies snapping mid-crossing played through my head as we cross the bridge. In a moment of poor planning, we put the Raptor and the Genesis on the bridge at the same time.

Once across the quarter mile bridge, we are greeted by another, shorter and even sketchier looking bridge. We make it cross and begin high fiving each other, happy in the knowledge we beat the odds taking our heavy vehicles across such a scary bridge. Then two transport trucks round the corner and cross the bridges without a second thought. We’ve been humbled.

Next it’s off to Olney City where we see zero white squirrels. Later that night, several teams are more than happy to show us their fantastic pictures of white squirrels, with comments like “They were everywhere! How did you miss them?”

Day Four – Jefferson City, MO to Dodge City, KS

Day four is destined to be the longest day of the rally. If we don’t stop at all, it will take us over eight hours to reach our destination, Dodge City. And these eight hours are not going to be exciting either. Unless a fanatical purveyor of corn fields and grain silos, west Missouri and Kansas do not exactly offer a lot in the way of visual stimulation when driving. Add to this Kansas State Troopers eagerly waiting to pull over teams throughout the state and spirits are sinking fairly low as we cross the plains.

That is until we reach the All Veterans Memorial in Emporia, KS. Rally North America purposely picks cities and towns on their rallies that are somewhat out of the way to give participants a chance to see other parts of this vast continent. The people in Emporia really appreciate our visit and make us feel at home. Everyone with a hot rod, classic car or modified ride has come out to the memorial. Goodie bags, big smiles and welcome signs are waiting for us upon arrival. Everyone is taking pictures of our cars, chatting with us and recommending places to eat. Emporia, Kansas may be home to the friendliest group of people on earth.

As mentioned on day three, our team is not really competing to win, but rather enjoying the sights. So as we arrive at the underground salt mines of Strataca in Hutchinson, KS, the six hours of driving we had just completed is not about to deter us from heading 650 feet underground to explore the mine. Anyone who hasn’t been in a salt mine should tour one sometime. It’s like being on a different planet and the train tours though the abandoned mining tunnels are surreal.

One side note, if you’re planning to visit Strataca with a high performance car, make sure it’s topped up with fuel before heading out. Gas stations for miles around only offer 87, 88 and 89 octane. Yes…88 octane.

Day Five – Dodge City, KS to Pueblo, CO

The final day is the shortest of the rally with a relatively quick jaunt over to Pueblo, CO. The only two stops for the day are the Granada War Relocation Center & and Bent’s Old Fort. The reason being is teams need to finish early and get ready for some open lapping at Pueblo Motorsports Park.

Now, the Genesis is not a sports car and I’m not a professional driver, but having driven all the way to Pueblo I’m not about to pass up a few free laps around the track. The big boat is surprisingly composed and balanced around the tight track and I think it surprised a few Mustang and Challenger owners during the few brief laps I took. Not wanting to abuse a car never intended for the track, I somehow convince an owner of a Mitsubishi EVO and a Camaro V6 to allow me to take a few laps in their cars. I must be a charmer.

The Rally is Over, But is it Really?

With the rally over, teams all say their goodbyes and begin the trek home. For people like me, this is going to be a long drive back to the east coast. With such a daunting drive ahead, you’d think we’d get right to it. Wrong. Over the half the teams the morning after the rally head north to Pikes Peak to climb the famous hill. The big Genesis makes it up to the top no problem, but at 14,000 feet, the V6 becomes quite anemic and struggles to haul the portly sedan around some of slower the bends.

Adding one extra checkpoint to the adventure is not enough for some teams and they continue heading west, determined to make it all the way to the end of Route 50 in San Diego. That basically sums up Rally North America. A group of people, who just want to get in their cars, drive, explore and have a great time. And raising over $109,000 for charity is just the icing on the cake.

Road Rally Essentials

Spending 4,000 miles in a car over a nine day period requires a few essentials to help survive the long days. Here a few products we put to the test during the US 50 Rally.

Magellan Smart GPS – Portable navigation systems can be a life saver in a navigational road rally and the Magellan was a welcome companion. Although the interface is a bit confusing and complicated to use, we do like how custom cruising speeds can be adjusted, the red light/speed camera warnings and the real time traffic/construction updates.

Motorola Talkabout 2-Way MR565CR FRS Radios – The rallies feature hours upon hours of driving and since teams are in separate vehicles, communication can be difficult. We always use two way radios on these rallies so we can talk to each other while travelling. These Motorola units were flawless and offer great battery life and decent range.

Goo Gone Automotive Spray Gel – Removing vinyl decals from a car is equivalent to removing a band-aid. Even if all the glue from under the vinyl is removed, there is still a sticky residue left behind outlining the shape of the decal. Goo Gone and elbow grease make quick work of this glue and are essential in cleaning up after a rally.

Mobicool W45 Portable Cooler – After being on the road for 7 hours a day, nothing is better than a cold drink. We decided to test out this plug in mobile cooler to see if it would keep our water and soda cold during our long drives. After the first day we discovered it cannot make warm liquids cold, even after five hours with the cooler on. But it will keep already cold beverages chilled all day long without issue.

* – all items provided for evaluation courtesy of Canadian Tire.

SUPER GALLERY: Rally North America 2014 Rally US 50

Mike Schlee
Mike Schlee

A 20+ year industry veteran, Mike rejoins the AutoGuide team as the Managing Editor. He started his career at a young age working at dealerships, car rentals, and used car advertisers. He then found his true passion, automotive writing. After contributing to multiple websites for several years, he spent the next six years working at the head office of an automotive OEM, before returning back to the field he loves. He is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC), and Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA). He's the recipient of a feature writing of the year award and multiple video of the year awards.

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