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The Ecphorizer
Blast From the Past: Another Perspective
Tod Wicks

As I read Cris Wendt’s fine article in the “July-Aug-Sept-Oct” issue of The Critique recently, I found myself tripping down memory lane.

Yes, rallying was different then in many respects, but, as Cris said, “My how things have changed and my how they stayed the same.” I belonged to one of the larger car clubs on the Peninsula in the late 60s and early 70s. In those days there were no membership recruiting drives; rather it seemed that the clubs were diliberately maintaining an air of exclusivity about themselves. One member of my club on reviewing a prospective applicant sniffed that he is joining simply to have our club name on his resume!

Joining some of the clubs then meant being sponsored by an active member. You had to work at least two club events, then the membership voted on your application! This selection process didn’t apply to all clubs. Many were clubs formed by groups of students at a particular high school. Some clubs were marque clubs, that is, they were clubs for owners of a particular marque or model (Triumph Travelers, Camino Corvettes, Z Owners of Northern California). And then there were the 1-person clubs that Cris mentioned like Dick Heinz’ Sportin’ Life.

Cris also mentioned Frank DeSmit of Milpitas. Frank liked to have his pizza and eat it, too! Frank originally worked in a pizza parlor in Alameda County, and was an active member of the Olympic Sports Car Association, or OSCA. There was also an Olympic Trophy company in Oakland. Any connection?? Well, Frank opened his Milpitas Straw Hat with the rallyist in mind. And how best to get rallyists into his joint? Right! He started a couple of 1-person rally clubs (Fun Touring Club, for one) and specialized in beginner-novice rallies in the Milpitas-Berryessa area. How to get new rallyists to do this? Well, he also sponsored Little League teams, got other teams to visit there, and convinced the older boys to get their dads out on a rally!

Cris may never have been exposed to the seamier side of the Golden Years. As he wrote, there were indeed a large number of clubs putting on rallies in various parts of the Bay Area. For some reason, there was a certain mystique about the Stanford Shopping Center as a rally start. Every club wanted at least one date a month at the Center. This led to lots of turf wars, fighting that everyone agreed was bad for the sport, but no one wanted to give an inch.

Eventually cooler heads prevailed and a committee from the American Rallye Association composed of representatives of many of the local clubs approached Walter Plonski, the site manager of the Center. They worked out a lottery-based drawing of dates for each club. First went all the Saturday nights. Then went the next plums: Friday nights. Finally Sunday afternoon dates were picked. This worked for the clubs who were “charter” members, but aced out newer clubs. It was almost as if newer clubs had to “prove” their staying power by running a few rallies from Parkview Gem in San Jose and/or Lake Merritt in Oakland. Then they would be considered for picks the next year.

In those days, no one from the sponsoring club was allowed to run the rally. Hell, you needed every warm body just to help with the massive registration, checkpoint relief, and scoring. The task of handling the inevitable questions became one of one group working the usual beginner-type questions and another group doing the experts (who sometimes were under strict time limit or number-of-questions limit -- something to think about these days). Each rally was usually handled by two or three co-rallyemasters.

In our club, each rally was meticulously planned. Previews usually involved as many members as possible conducting a mini-rally. Instead of coursemarkers, little index cards were tacked to the utility poles. The club went through the course and were given critiques at the end. Then everyone picked it apart from all perspectives. Then it was put back together again, and a final preview was done by a car with the rallyemasters and a member of the preview committee.

Then it was back to the typewriter and those awful green duplicator masters (how many of you are old enough to remember the days before Xerox? OK, now who remembers the purple jelly of a hectograph?). Of course a bottle of Green Goo was near the typewriter to handle mistakes. Then run the copy over to the member lucky enough to have a garage large enough to house a Gestetner or Multilith printing press. ( I remember getting a frantic call one Tuesday night from the president of our club. It seems that the Gestetner was about to land on the street due to a domestic conflict in the home that housed our machine!)

What were the rewards of belonging to such a club? The obvious one of non-reportable income that the 1-person clubs enjoyed can be overlooked for now. Our club had a “non-profit” status, and therefore we had to keep the treasury pretty lean. This was done by treating club members and their families to dinners at fine area steak houses We did other outings. We contributed to the “Toys for Tots” program at Christmastime. We also treated all rally workers pretty well. It’s really hell finishing the rally cleanup at 2:00am, but knowing that breakfast is coming up helped to keep us going. 



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About
Tod Wicks
Globetrotting engineer TOD WICKS recently blew in from Tibet, wearing a fur hat and complaining that they don't brew yak-butter tea like they used to. He may or may not be off to Australia shortly, depending on whether or not they need more telephones. [He was off to Australia when his boss said:  "Go to Australia for a couple of weeks to help out.  We'll get another engineer to replace you after three weeks tops.  Three months later he returned.  Famous last words from El Jefe.]

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