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A Sunday drive for a good cause

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All images courtesy of and copyright Bryan McCarthy of Bearded Mug Media, except as noted.

A few years back I wrote about the need to take your kid to a vintage rally. If you didn’t heed my advice then—and apparently few did since we haven’t yet reached “Take Your Kid to a Vintage Rally” as an official national holiday, I can only tell you that you’ve been missing out. My oldest son and I had a great time this past weekend at the Ninth Annual Domenico & Tindara Spadaro Memorial Drive Against Cancer.

The Spadaro Rally, as most of its participants call it, is run for a good cause, with entry fees and proceeds from a silent auction and raffle tickets going to fund the fight against cancer. But the organizers, Vera, Frank and Santo Spadaro, Domenico and Tindara’s children, bill the day as one filled with good cars, good food and, most importantly, good friends and family. After having attended for the seventh year in a row, I can attest that all of those things are true.

Santo Spadaro talks family, friends, fun, cars, and a good cause while his brother Frank looks on.

The Sicilian-born Domenico Spadaro was the owner of Dominick European Car Repair, a White Plains, New York, shop that is somewhat of the epicenter of vintage Italian cars in southeastern New York. Owners of vintage Lancias, Alfa Romeos, Ferraris, and other cars have remained faithful to the shop, now run by Vera, Frank and Santo. Year in and year out, the three make every participant in the rally feel like family, just as they do for many of their customers during the week. They are car people through and through. Santo regularly competes in vintage races and hillclimbs in his Alfa Romeo.

The drive has evolved over the years, with a highly organized force of volunteers handling driver and navigator check in, coordinating the raffle and silent auction,  parking more than 100 specialty cars, and certainly handling other details that go on behind the scenes while the participants talk cars, nosh a bit, catch up where they left the year before, and gawk at some of the hardware other friends have acquired recently. Once again, Mike and Meg Bruno of Armonk, New York, hosted the start of the event at their farm.

The best part of the day is that none of the cars at the rally are garage queens. They all get driven. We can’t say they all get driven particularly hard at such an event—it is a bit of a Sunday drive in mostly residential areas, after all. But where else can you expect to see a Ferrari 275 GTB and a 1939 Cadillac V-16 entered into the same event? How about Peugeot 205 GTI? An MGA? Jaguar SS100? Aston Martin DB5? Datsun 280Z?  Alpine-Renault A110? And we can’t even begin to list all of the Lancias and Alfa Romeos that were entered.

1939 Cadillac V-16 sedan. Photo by the author

I will admit that we made the trip in a modern car, my Ford Focus RS, but more than one person noted that a proper rally car for a rally seemed appropriate. And while we did drive a fair distance from our new North Carolina home up to Westchester County, New York, for the drive, that hardly compares to the more than 250 miles Walter Miller drove in his 1939 Cadillac from outside Syracuse, New York, to get to the event. The very Driveable Dream-y Cadillac, with its monstrous, but nearly silent, V-16 engine, was every bit as welcome as the Alfa Romeo GTVs and Spiders and the several Lancia and Alfa berlinas (sedans).

There were simply no boring cars at the rally. And there were plenty of unexpected appearances, such as the continuation/tribute/copy of the Cunningham C-4RK that debuted just weeks earlier at the Greenwich Concours. Owner Chuck Schoendorf had spent years not only arranging for almost every Cunningham-built car to be together on that show field, but also having this car ready for the event. Built from the last remaining, unused continuation Cunningham C3 chassis made in the 1990s, the lovingly made and faithfully honest machine was put through its paces during the course of the day.

Personally, I enjoy doing the event with my older son, Santiago. Last year, we had the opportunity to do it with my younger son as well, but the timing didn’t quite work out this year. Santiago and I have built up a bit of high expectations for the drive. You see, we’ve “won” the event or placed highly every time we’ve done it.

How can you “win” a Sunday drive? Well, first of all, notice the quotes around “win.” Were we speaking face to face, I would be making air quotes with my fingers. The competitive part of the drive comes from a page of the route instructions that asks participants to count certain, very specific types of road signs along the route. The “winners” are the driver and navigator pair that get the highest percentage of the total number of signs correct. I suspect that some groups just go along for the drive, and don’t bother to count signs. But I have been assured that some other groups really are trying. Still, there is nothing quite like earning a small trophy with your child while also playing with cars.

Put together by former SCCA rallyist Richard Klein , the route had only a couple of small tricks in it to fool the teams, for instance, an instruction to turn left at a chapel which was but a couple of tenths of a mile from a dead-end Chapel Street. I can only imagine what the traffic jam was like for all of those sweet vintage cars attempting to turn around at the end of Chapel Street to get back on course.  Fortunately, we were able to avoid that mess by following the number one rule of rallying: Never follow the guy in front of you!

Santiago Shea enjoys the trophy and car posters award to the winning navigator./Photo by the author

Save for one, brief moment of second guessing ourselves where two immediate U-turns got us back on track, we never missed an instruction and got 100 percent correct on the sign spotting. Though we did walk away with a couple of neat little cups in a wood bracket (the latter handmade by rallymeister Richard), to me, the win comes in having a son who has grown into a competent navigator and who enjoys spending time around a bunch of old cars and the people who love them.

And the real win comes in spending a day with like-minded car people, many of whom I now consider friends.  A good Sunday drive for a good cause.