Rallying and the Authorities

Vile Gossip

Join up with a band of goofballs on an organized road adventure, and prepare yourself for police intervention. That’s just the way it goes. From Brock Yates’s infamous flat-out, cross-country Cannonball Baker Sea-to-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash to his more or less civically responsible One Lap of America event, from strictly enforced SCCA Pro Rally championship transit stages on public roads to the BABE Rally’s ragtag 1500-mile parade of automotive abominations, there are cops out there. They see you and the race car-like decals on your team car, and they are not amused.

The Cannonball was the king of all cop-baiters, a flat-out run from the East Coast to the West Coast to see who could make it first (the fastest time was 32 hours and 51 minutes), bamboozling the cops with ridiculous costumes and outrageous excuses. The Cannonball was also over almost before it began, the last one of four (run in 1979) saw more than fifty speeding tickets spread among the forty-two finishers. Yates’s watered-down 9000-plus-mile One Lap of America was set up five years later to be run at the horrible 55-mph federally mandated speed limit, wink-wink, nudge-nudge.

I ran it that first year with Parnelli Jones and off-road legend Walker Evans, in a Dodge van disguised as a Stroh Brewery truck. We were first off the line, which helped immensely to avoid detection by the scores of police poised to pick off the teams as they sped around the United States. I remember rolling past a half-mile stretch of cop cars parked along I-5, just south of Tumwater, Washington. That sweep alone netted twenty-five speeding teams.

Funny enough, the speeding was unnecessary, because the winner was the team whose total miles most closely matched Yates’s secret mileage during the prerun. That didn’t stop the madness. One particular entrant, Fred Borrelli, would scream past us regularly at warp speed in his Porsche 930 Turbo. He didn’t stay ahead, though, because he was arrested on a regular basis all week. Every time he’d go by, Parnelli would snort, “Betcha he’s got on those perforated driving gloves, and they’re choking off the blood to his brain.”

It also didn’t stop a state trooper in Indiana from pulling over one of the teams to find out which car Parnelli was in. “I gotta arrest him for A. J. Foyt,” he said. He never got us.

I’m not 100 percent sure of this, but I believe that no speeding tickets were issued on this year’s BABE Rally, probably much to the disappointment of its enthusiastic younger entrants. Me, I can live without another point being added to my lifetime achievement in speeding citations.

As our epic saga (page 114) details, we had several conversations with the law. One was so that the cop could express admiration for our fine chariot, and another was to find out why our car was weaving and why we had been driving 14 mph under the speed limit.

The biggest police moment was in North Carolina and involved a team car wrapped entirely in aluminum foil and driven by some rambunctious kids. The foil had been flying off the car in chunks across the state, and a cop following us all finally pulled them over and ticketed them for littering. It was a big fine, and a charge that required the driver’s future attendance in court. In a rare gesture of remorse, the same cop later pulled over Team 12, the duck-encrusted van with the soap bubble machine on top.

“I don’t want to butt into your business, but are you with all those beat-up cars?” asked the trooper.

How could he tell?

“I gave this car a ticket for littering, and it says they have to come to court. I don’t want them to have to do that.” He had written a new ticket with a fine that could be mailed in.

“Would you give this to them?”

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