The Mountain Mile
Vintage auto rallying takes a modern turn in the mountains of West Virginia.
Have you ever thought of yourself as a rally car driver? Like the professionals from the World Rally Championship (WRC) that drive factory-prepared $200,000 Audis, Subarus, or Peugeots through the pounding backwood gravel roads at speeds up to 100 miles per hour in countries around the world?
Though it can be extreme, rallying is auto racing at its purest, with teams trying to “beat the clock.” If you arrive early or late at a surprise checkpoint, you earn penalty points—and that’s not what you’re looking for. Over the years, rallying has taken on many forms, from all-out events like the WRC to vintage rallying, like the Mountain Mile here in West Virginia. It’s a tame version of rallying conducted only on paved roads such as U.S. Routes 33 and 219 and state Route 66, making for a spectacular four-day, thousand-mile, journey through the mountains.
Rookies and veterans alike are welcome to attend the rally school held prior to the big trip, but there’s no experience required. As a driver all you have to do is follow the instructions in your “route book.” Racing helmets are replaced with a favorite ball cap and bulky suits give way to a comfy pair of blue jeans. You only have the vaguest idea of where you are going on roads you have never seen, and all you have to do is get from checkpoint A to checkpoint B in the allotted time determined by the rally master who wrote the route book—all in an exhilarating effort to achieve a perfect score of zero.
The event is planned and organized by Rich and Jean Taylor of Vintage Rallies in Sharon, Connecticut, and 2010 marks its sixth anniversary. Over the years, they have conducted vintage rallies over the years in New England, Texas, the Northwest Passage, and Nova Scotia. According to Rich, there are two ways to qualify for entry—your vehicle must either be a model from 1975 or earlier, or it must be a road-legal racing, sports or GT car from any year. He says, “Our requirements really open the door wide enough for a participant to drive a Shelby Mustang, a Corvette, a Porsche Carrera GT, or even a genuine Moonshine Runner.”
It’s called “vintage rallying” because no high-tech timing or tracking devices are permitted. A good stopwatch, the speedometer and odometer in the car, and a calculator are all you need. Because this particular route utilizes the winding roads of Southern West Virginia, the organizers and participants take full advantage of The Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs for overnight accommodations.
The all-inclusive cost of this event is $5,495, with a good part of the money going to local charities. Jean says, “In 18 years, Vintage Rallies has given away over $1 million to diverse charities in many areas of the country that host our events.” Jean’s obsessive organization guarantees that all participants have to do is drive and purchase gas. The rally staff—known as “wranglers”—move the participants’ luggage from hotel to hotel while three meals per day are planned at great stops along the way, like Smokey’s on the Gorge in Hawk’s Nest.
Rallying is truly a team sport with drivers bringing along a friend or spouse to navigate, and though driving can be as competitive as you desire, many teams are quite serious about earning a perfect score. For most, it’s a low-key driving event through the remote and beautiful mountains of West Virginia with stops at landmarks like Cass Railroad and Snowshoe. It’s a chance to experience unbeatable views of the New River Gorge, Seneca Rocks, and historic Lewisburg. “It is a vacation for us,” says Flo Makofske of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, who navigates for her husband Don in a yellow Porsche Carrera S. “Why go on a cruise when you can have more fun and better accommodations cruising the countryside in your car?”
If rallying is in your soul, tune up your old MG, Alfa, T-Bird, or Moonshine Runner and participate in this year’s drive. The event is limited to forty cars.