"It was a dark and rainy night, snow and wind was blowing hard."
Not really, but that's the way stories are supposed to start. Instead, I was sitting in the "Gopher Hole" minding my own business and goofing off. For those who don't know, the "Gopher Hole" was in the Student Union at the University of Minnesota, the home of the Golden Gophers. This is where many of us went to hide, sleep, or sometimes study. They had a lot of comfy chairs.
I was approached by a friend, "Paul". He was a friend from church and was also a sports car nut. He knew that I was the proud owner of a brand-new Austin Healey Sprite.
Paul knew that the SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) had scheduled a Sports Car Rally for the next weekend. I said what is that? He explained that it was a competition where teams compete, usually in sports cars, to complete an assigned course, on public roads, without getting lost and on exact time. The team finishing with the lowest score wins. Points are given for each second early or late. One point per second. This was called a TSD rally (time, speed, distance).
I thought that might be fun, so I agreed, even though I had no idea what I was doing.
We set off in the Sprite to the starting point. We were given route instructions, what we didn't get to know before hand where we were going?
Paul was navigating and I was driving. He read the directions and told me when to turn and how fast to go. As an example, if we went 1 mile at 60 MPH, it should take us 1 minute. If it took us 58 Seconds we got 2 points, if it took us 65 Seconds we got 5 points. The only way to get 0 points is to do it in exactly 60 Seconds. The navigator has to keep us on time and the driver has to follow the route directions. Since the route is unknown and the speed changes at random intervals, usually marked by a road sign, turn or landmark, it can get tricky and hard to win.
The results were pretty predictable. I missed a turn and drove for half an hour, at 70 MPH, in the wrong direction. We didn't win!
That was my first exposure to this kind of competition and I thought it was a lot of fun. I also thought I could do a lot better. But before I could do much more, I had to go defend my country in the Air Force. I didn't realize that would give me a lot more experience.
Most people under the age of 50 won't remember this, but in the good old U.S.A, back in the 1960's there was this little thing called the "Draft". This was a system which required all red blooded American youths, of the male gender and over the age of 18, to register with the government so they could offer you a really good job, if they wanted to. Usually they wanted to give you a job involving crawling in the mud, jumping out of airplanes, or some other exciting adventure. I heard that the pay wasn't very good, but you did get free room and board.
Most of us really didn't want to get one of these jobs, since a lot of the positions were in the tropical paradise of Viet Nam, so we looked for ways to look busy so we wouldn't be offered one. A lot of people tried moving to Canada or some other country, but I preferred to just stay a student. As long as you were in school you were given a deferment called a 2S Student Deferment. I had a friend that was a college student for 10 years. Worked for him, I don't know how, but not for me!
The way that you knew that you were now one of the chosen one's is by a letter that was addressed to you and from "Your Fiends and Neighbors". Some friends and neighbors. This letter was a polite invitation to a meeting, with your new friends, at the Army recruitment center on a date about a month in the future. I don't think it was an RSVP. On the other hand, maybe there was an RSVP!
The thought of going in the Army for an exciting trip, maybe crawling in the mud, didn't sound like a lot of fun so I had to think of another option. As an aside, I don't have anything against the Army. I have a lot of friends, and a brother that were in the Army and my wife is an Army brat. I just didn't want to do the Army bit.
Eureka, why don't I join the Air Force. I would have to spend 4 years, as opposed to 2 in the Army, but I may be able to do something neat like playing with airplanes and stuff. So off I went to the Air Force recruiter. They seemed to be really happy to see me. They asked me to take a test, actually a lot of tests, that were designed to give them an idea of where you might fit in. Since I had been taking tests most of my life, I didn't have any problem and I got a pretty high percentage. I think I missed only 3 questions. I explained my situation with the Draft and they said "we can get you in a week before the Draft date." I thought I was home free. Silly me, I didn't yet know how the government worked.
A week or so goes by, I'm getting ready for my trip to the Air Force, and I get a call from the Air Force Recruiter. "We're sorry, but we are all filled up on the day you were supposed to be here. We're giving you a new date!" "Wait", I said. "That date is AFTER my draft date. Are you going to take care of that for me?" "Don't worry, we'll take care of telling the draft board." I was dumb, I believed them.
The Draft date is here, I ignore it and sleep in. The phone rings and there is some nasty mean guy on the other end asking where I am and why aren't I at the Army place. I tried to explain to him that I was scheduled to join the Air Force in a week but he was not impressed. He told me if I didn't get there ASAP there would be MP's at my door. I didn't know what MP's were but it sounded bad.
I got dressed and headed downtown to see the Air Force guys. They said "Sorry, we can't do anything about it. You have to report to the draft board." This got me somewhat upset, but I really didn't know what to do. So here I'm walking around the federal building in downtown Minneapolis, wondering if I should just get on a Greyhound bus and head to Montana, when I noticed the office directory on the wall. This brilliant and audacious idea came to me. I'll go talk to my Senator. He happened to be Walter Mondale. Elected officials are supposed to be there to help us, RIGHT. I told you I didn't know how government worked.
I walked into the Senator's office. "Can we help you?" "I want to talk to the Senator!" I was informed that people can't just walk in and talk to the Senator and I said "Why?" Then I was informed that he was in Washington. I then said I would like to talk to him on the phone. They said that I could talk to his secretary, I said "OK"
Believe it or not I actually got the secretary. I didn't know then, but if you want things done talk to the secretary. I explained my situation and she actually listened.
To make a very long story shorter, she told me to go see a Colonel, up on the 3rd floor and he would take care of it. When I got to his office he was talking on the phone and saying yes mam, a lot. He gave me a dirty look, got off the phone and typed up a form with a new draft date, which was 2 weeks in the future, threw it at me and said "get out of here." I was a hero with the Air Force recruiters and off I went, in a week, to join the Air Force.
I got to fly on an airplane, for the very first time. It took me to scenic San Antonio, Texas and then a bus ride to a wonderful place, Lackland AFB. This was to be my home for the next 4 weeks having a lot of fun, running, marching, doing push ups and getting yelled at. I think the yelling part was very important, because they did it a lot. I forgot to mention, we also learned how to shot rifles (can't call it a gun or I'd get yelled at). The culmination of all this was to be able to run a 50 mile obstacle course (seemed like 50 miles). We had to wait to do it several days because the weather was too hot. Also the house full of poison gas didn't have any (they ran out), so we had to pretend. If nothing else the Air Force was considerate of their newbee's.
After all this fun, we were given a list of bases and asked to choose which base we would like to go to. We thought that was really nice that we would get to choose. Everyone chose the base closest to their home. We didn't know that they immediately threw them in the trash and sent you where ever they wanted. I had asked to be in electronics so what happens, I was going to Lowry AFB to train for "Fire Control Systems". JUST GREAT! I was going to get to be a fireman. Some kids grew up wanting to be a fireman, but I didn't.
Well I was wrong, "Fire Control Systems" were actually the systems that controlled the firing of "MISSLES". Viet Nam was starting to really ramp up during this time. Therefore, many men needed to be trained on the the F4C Phantom systems. That's what I was going to be taught.
The Phantom was new and state of the art at the time. It was big, fast and deadly. The computer systems and radar were all classified. We all had to have security clearances and promise not to tell the Russians anything. I didn't know any Russians so that was no problem. Because of this we had no homework. We couldn't take the tech manuals out of the building. My advantage was that I could read good. The test's were open book and I could also read fast. I graduated near the top of the class. Next thing I know, I was transfered to Air Training Command and was sent to instructor training. I taught basic electronics and F4 weapons systems the rest of my time in the Air Force.
This is an MGB Not a TR3!
This is a Curta Calculator - We couldn't afford one.
We used 2 stop watches - We couldn't afford ones this good. We had cheap ones.
When I left for the Air Force, my brother acquired the Sprite, I didn't think I would need a car for awhile. Now that I was done with training and assigned to Lowry, I needed a car. Enter the infamous Triumph TR3. I managed to get it for $600 dollars. Pretty good since it was only 10 years old. I now had a car and I could get around. Much better than walking or taking a bus.
But this was not just a getting around town car. It was a SPORTS CAR. So naturally, I wanted to drive it in competitions. Autocrosses, Rallies or anything I thought the old Triumph could do. I hadn't ever done any real speed events before and I quickly found out I had a lot to learn. I attended a few sports car clubs driving schools and started getting the hang of speed events. However I still wanted to check out more of the rally events like the one I had gotten lost in, back in Minnesota.
Before I go any further, you are probably wondering how I'm managing all of this while I have a full time job with Uncle Sam. Some of the benefits of being an instructor, in Air Training Command, we didn't have to work on the weekends and in addition the classes were 6 hours a day and we usually got one day a week off. We also had an auto hobby shop on base where we could work on our cars. The hobby shop had all the tools you needed to do anything including rebuilding engines. It was a hard life but we persevered
In these days there was a lot of friendly competition between Triumph and MG owners. We all thought that our cars were better, faster, cooler and just all around neater. This was a conundrum because one of the other instructors, Ron, wanted to do rallies and he had an MG. However, we worked it out and decided to use the MGB. Actually, I have to admit his car was much better for this. It was much more civilized with roll up windows, a gear box with fully synchronized gears (didn't have to double clutch to get into first gear) and it was 10 years newer. I was going to be the driver and Ron the navigator. This worked out well because Ron was a walking computer.
We then proceeded to get the MGB ready for the Rally circuit in Colorado. Stiffer dampers (British for shock absorbers), big Cibie lights for the night rallies. Like I said the auto hobby shop was great.
The ralies were run with 2 classes, Computer class and Seat of the Pants (SOP). The computer class allowed the team to use any kind of computer and the SOP class allowed no computers. Now this is in the 60's. There were no PC's, IPads, or Tablets. There was one computer used by most teams in the class, the "Curta" Calculator. The world's first, last, and ONLY, mechanical hand-held pocket calculator. Most of the top teams used it, we couldn't afford it. We ran in the Computer Class using a "Slide Rule", two stop watches and Ron's brain.
The Denver MG club usually put on the first rally of the year, in March, and called it the Milk Train Rally. It was promoted as a fairly easy rally to encourage new competitors. Ron and I had already been running in events the previous year and had been doing fairly well. Consistently finishing near the top. We thought we would run the Milk Train, to get back in practice and maybe get an easy trophy. We were in for a bit of a surprise.
The day of the event dawned cold, rainy, and generally depressing. We had run rallys in the rain before so we weren't worried. We got to the starting point, got our route instructions, starting number and we were ready to go. Soon we were heading west up into the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. It wasn't long before we saw the rain change to snow. We hadn't been prepared to run in the snow and we didn't have snow tires. This was now getting interesting.
We were on dirt roads (a lot of the rallys used dirt roads) in Boulder Canyon, west of Boulder, Colo. This road is really steep with a lot of switchbacks. So we are going down hill toward a switch back and there are no guard rails to keep you from going off the road and over the cliff. The road was so steep and the snow was so deep that if I used the brakes we just kept sliding down the hill. We could also see the switchback ahead, a left hand 180 degree turn. So we are sliding down the hill toward the drop-off. This was made more interesting by the fact that a Mustang GT had tried to make this turn and was half way over the cliff. The only thing that saved them is the car hung up on the frame. So, now, I had to figure out how to slow down enough to get around the corner as well as not hit the Mustang and push him the rest of the way off. I told Ron not to look to his right (didn't want him to worry about getting killed going off the cliff) and figured that if I could get as far over to the right as I could, I could get more traction in the loose snow. No other cars had gone there so the snow wasn't packed down. It worked and I was able to make the corner and not hit the Mustang. FYI, the driver and navigator did get out of the Mustang, but I heard that a couple of other cars did hit it, I don't know if it went over the cliff.
Then my luck ran out. I tried to make an uphill right turn, I didn't make it and we ended up in the ditch. Luckily there was no cliff here. I had to climb out of the car on the passenger side. Ron and I looked at the car, saw that other than a dented in drivers door, the car was still pretty good. So, we proceeded to push it out of the ditch, got back in the car and continued. We did have to stop, a few times, to help other cars out of ditches etc.
This probably is hard to believe, but we continued to the end with no other problems and we WON! Just cost us some body work to fix the door and we were ready for the next one. I'm sure that a lot of first time rally teams decided that this was not as easy as it was supposed to be.