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The Great American Mountain Rally Revival keeps getting better with its second run

Published in blog.hemmings.com

[ Editor’s note: this report comes to us from Gregory Davis, who also chronicled the 2018 Great American Mountain Rally Revival. If you’re interested in a longer version of the 2019 proceedings, check out Gregory’s five-part report on pittalk.org. All photos supplied by the author.]

In October of 2018 my wife, Lynn and I entered our 1948 Hudson Commodore 6 in the inaugural running of the Great American Mountain Rally Revival (GAMRR). The “revival” is a resurrection of the original Great American Mountain Rally series, previously run on Thanksgiving weekend from 1953-57. The original rallies lured driver and navigator teams from around the globe to the mountains of New England and New York. In last year’s rally our Commodore carried Lynn and me to a 2nd place finish among the “Original/Pre 1958 Class” cars.

The concept of a Great American Mountain Rally Revival (GAMRR) was the brain child of road rally enthusiast Gary Hamilton, and his mentor, veteran international road rally guru Steve McKelvie. They had been somewhat discouraged that only 13 teams were registered for the 2018 inaugural running of the GAMRR, but in the end the enthusiasm of the rally participants motivated Gary and Steve to press ahead with plans for a 2019 GAMRR, once again held at the end of October.

In January of last year came the stunning, tragic news that Steve McKelvie had died. It was a development that came out of left field for Steve’s family and the entire road rally community. Gary Hamilton’s initial fears were that he was not up to pulling off a 2019 running of the GAMRR without Steve at his side. Those fears were quickly washed away however, by words of support that came Gary’s way. Now more than ever, the 2019 GAMRR had to happen as a tribute to Steve, his devotion to the hobby in general, and this task in particular. And so, on the first day of registration Lynn and I once again signed on.

There were two very exciting elements in our preparation for this year’s GAMRR. The first was the car we registered! Based on a classified advertisement in the White Triangle News (official publication of the Hudson-Essex-Terraplane Club), I connected in July of 2018 with veteran California HET member Bruce Burmaster and his wife, Mickie. Bruce was looking for a new steward to watch after the 1952 Hudson Hornet Club Coupe he had owned since 1967. And it just so happened, my dream had been that one day I might find a 1952 Hudson Hornet Club Coupe that Lynn and I could call our own. My name may be on the car’s title today, but in some ways I’ll always think of our Hornet as Bruce’s car. The Hornet spent a significant chunk of this past summer in Shelbyville, Indiana where Doug Wildrick worked his Hudson magic to have the car rally ready. The second thrill was learning that we would not be alone in sharing the Hudson story in this year’s rally. Noel & Cynda Renner had read about the 2018 rally in the WTN and after talking with us decided that they would join us with their 1954 Hornet Convertible in the running of this year’s GAMRR.

The Fabulous Hudson Hornet, pictured before the rally.

The 2019 GAMRR launched at 9:00 a.m. on October 25th from the Saratoga Auto Museum in Saratoga Springs, New York. Rally officials were thrilled with a turnout of 32 registered cars. Part of the rally are timed Regularity Sections in which teams are challenged to maintain specified average speeds over an assortment of road types and conditions. One penalty point is assessed for each second a team is over or under the official, pre-calculated perfect time. Scores are then added up over the entire rally to determine the winners. Day one had five such sections.

Lined up for the start of the rally. Each car goes one minute after the one before it to space out the traffic.

The rest of the rally is spent exploring the beautiful scenery of along a predetermined route. Day one’s travels took us northwest out of Saratoga Springs along the Hudson River and into the boundaries of the Adirondack Park. Established in 1885 the Adirondack Park was the first state preserve of its type in the nation. While most forest preserves consist mostly of unsettled woodlands and waterlands, the Adirondack Park is about 52 percent privately held land. The park includes a population over 130,000 throughout 102 towns and villages, and is dotted with farms, businesses and an active timber harvesting industry. At 6.1 million acres in northeastern New York, the park makes up nearly 20 percent of the entire state’s land mass. With more than 10,000 lakes and 30,000 miles of rivers and streams, Adirondack Park was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1963. It is one of America’s great experiments of conservation within an industrialized world.

The Adirondacks during fall colors.

As we approached the outskirts of Lake Placid the rally came to a rather sudden and unfortunate end for Dave Smith and his son, Tom in the #24 car, a stylish 1930 Chrysler. As they attempted to hustle off of Pine Street and into the traffic on Highway 86, their clutch failed leaving them powerless at the side of the road. As they were working to set up their emergency road-side reflective triangles, Noel and Cynda Renner pulled in behind the Chrysler with their mighty 1954 Hornet. Noel and Tom each had come to the rally equipped with a tow strap. Noel maneuvered his Hudson up in front of the Chrysler and they used the two straps to link their classic cars. Slowly but surely Noel and the Hudson pulled the Chrysler out onto Highway 86 and the remainder of the way into and through Lake Placid. It was rally camaraderie and heroism of a type that was probably never seen during the original GAMR years. I only wish I had been there to get a picture or two.

The Smith’s Chrysler was sidelined by a clutch failure, but showed the camaraderie between everyone on the rally.

The day ended with teams congregating at the beautiful Mirror Lake Inn in scenic Lake Placid. Few villages of just 2500 people are as well known as Lake Placid. That largely stems from the fact that both the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympic games were hosted there. It was there in Lake Placid where the US Hockey team saw their “Miracle on Ice” victory over the Russians during 1980’s games.

The arena where the Miracle on Ice took place.

Day two was a twisty circuit route through the Adirondack’s High Peak Wilderness. The High Peaks name is given to a group of 46 Adirondack Park mountains in the Lake Placid area, each in the neighborhood of 4,000 feet in height. Perhaps the best known of the High Peaks is Whiteface Mountain, home to the Olympic ski venue. The day’s circuit took us through 139 beautiful miles and five timed Regularity Sections. We both started from and ended at our plush Mirror Lake Inn paradise.

Not even low clouds could ruin the spectacular view that came with the morning on day two.

After dinner on Day two, Rally Master Gary Hamilton told us all the wonderful story of his connection following the 2018 rally with Peter Bullard of Dartmouth, Massachusetts. Peter was the navigator for his best friend, George Foss when they put a 1954 Jaguar XK140 through its paces in the 1956 GAMR, as well as in 1957 with an Alfa Romeo Gulia. Ultimately Peter’s son, Steve, and Peter’s grandson, Matt were captivated by the rally enthusiasm to the degree that they felt compelled to enter their own Porsche 911 in this year’s running of the GAMRR. Theirs was a lovely story that united past and present, three generations, and the world’s ongoing love affair with automotive exploits.

 

Moody Pond which, in this case, seem to be a pretty good mood.

As we were sent off to bed that night, there was open discussion for the first time of the weather that was forecast for the rally’s third and final day. Up to that point we had been blessed with dry roads. For Day three however, we were looking at rather certain day-long rain with high winds and a low ceiling. It was an awareness that haunted my dreams that night.

A close-up view of most of day three.

Sure enough, I got wet taking things to the trunk of the Hudson the next morning. We learned at the morning Driver’s Meeting that our ferry boat trip across Lake Champlain into Vermont was cancelled due to high winds and roughness on the lake. Many of us had been looking forward to that ferry boat. This proved to be just the first of a number of unfortunate Day three events.

Prior to the second of the day’s four Regularity Sections, we missed a turn. I stopped to flip around and noticed that the Hudson’s brake pedal sank closer to the floor than normal. I gave it a single pump and it was right back up where it belonged. I didn’t think much about it. We got back on route and found the green “Start Regularity” sign for that second section. As I applied the brake to stop at the start sign, the pedal sank for a second time. By the time we finished the Regularity Section I was hearing noise from the rear drums.

Access to the Hudson’s brake fluid reservoir is underneath the driver’s feet.

At the Essex Ferry turn off, our new route instructions called for us to turn off away from the ferry and onto an amended alternate route. Lynn and I however, pulled into the ferry parking lot to debate our options. I’m not an auto mechanic, but it made sense to me that we might be losing brake fluid. I got out into rain to retrieve my tools from the trunk. I pulled back the carpet under the pedals and found the circular master cylinder access panel in the floor. To my surprise the fluid was completely full! I didn’t know what to make of that. I closed the master cylinder, replaced the access panel and laid the carpet back in place. I crossed my fingers and called Doug Wildrick. It’s Sunday. He’ll never answer, right? Ring….. Ring….. “Hello”. He answered! I explained the situation to Doug. Doug suggested that we forego the final Regularity Sections that might place significant demands on the brakes, but he insisted that as long as the system was not losing hydraulic fluid I could get the car back on the road and find the most efficient path to the rally’s end at Hemmings headquarters in Bennington, Vermont.

I still wasn’t convinced. Heck, Noel Renner has been wrenching on Hudsons since Doug Wildrick was in diapers, and Noel was on this rally with us in the #21 car, his trusty 1954 Hudson Hornet convertible. I called Noel. The first thing that we learned was that Cynda, Noel’s wife and navigator, had taken one too many twisty turn with her head buried in the route instruction sheet. Noel’s Hornet was running like a champ but his navigator was not. The Renners too were throwing in the towel and heading for Bennington. I explained our brake situation to Noel, and like Doug, Noel told me to get back on the road and bring the car on down to Bennington.

Arrival in Bennington.

I took a deep breath, looked at Lynn, and wanted to cry. I was cold and wet, and in the blink of an eye, both of the mighty Hudson Hornets were out of the 2019 Great American Mountain Rally Revival. The previous year I felt proud and jubilant when we arrived at the storied Hemmings campus. We had successfully finished our first attempt at a road rally. On this rainy Sunday however, I felt as if we were limping into town with our tails between our legs.

At the closing awards ceremony we learned that Ed & Ruth Sain with their 2015 Toyota Highlander were not only first place finishers within the Modern Car class, but also were the overall 2019 Great American Mountain Rally Revival Champions with just 132 penalty points across the 3-days of the rally.

Lynn and I made our rounds to extend “Good-bye” wishes. We’ve cemented some genuine friendships across the two years of the GAMRR. As we were talking, someone looked out the window and shouted “Look….. a rainbow!” Was it coincidence, the timing of this rainbow on what I personally had experienced as a dismal, disappointing day? There are some questions for which there simply is no answer. Whatever the source, the rainbow served as a wake-up call for me. Behind the wheel of my dream car, my wife and I had just spent three days traveling through the autumn colors and scenic beauty of New York’s Adirondack Park. We made new friends and deepened the relationships we initiated the year before. We and the Renners had the privilege and honor of trumpeting the Hudson story in corners where it is seldom heard. Indeed, between the 2018 and 2019 rallies, Lisa Colom, driver of the #2 Fiat Spider, was so captured by the Hudson magic that since returning home she has joined the Hudson Essex Terraplane Club and intends to be with us in July of 2020 for the club’s International Meet in Burlington, Vermont. I had invited Lisa to drive our Hornet before dinner at the close of Day two. Through the course of that short time in the driver’s seat, she has seemingly been bitten by the Hud-bug. That makes me smile.

A perfect finish.

As for the brakes, Noel’s guidance was that we should get on the road and drive the Hornet home. And that’s exactly what we did. The brakes were noisy but functional.
I don’t know about Lynn, but I’m already looking forward to October. Our mighty Hornet will return to New England for the 2020 Great American Mountain Rally Revival. One can never collect too many rainbows.

There were a total of 32 cars registered for this year’s GAMRR. Five of the cars, however, participated for recreational purposes and did not appear at the final gathering at Hemmings. A gallery of 26 of the competitors is below with the driver listed first in each caption.