A lot of people ask me what my favourite car is. It’s a loaded question that I used try to qualify and explain. Now I usually just blurt out whatever automotive device currently has my eye.
But you know what no one ever asks me. What is the most fun I have ever had behind the wheel of a car? Why can’t anyone ask me that one? That’s an easy one to answer.
Despite all the tracks I had the privilege to drive on, all the press trips I attended, all the expensive machinery people were foolish enough to entrust me with, the most fun I ever had was participating in Rally North America events.
Humble Beginnings, Huge Achievements
Starting during a drunken night in 2009, Rally North America sprung from an idea a few good friends of mine had. They figured they could create a cross-country, scavenger hunt style road rally that not only was for regular car enthusiasts but could also do some good and raise money for charity.
Jumping ahead quite a bit, 2020 should have marked the 10th Anniversary for Rally North America but COVID-19 has derailed things substantially. Still, over the past 10 years, the organization has raised in excess of $1,400,000 USD in donations for various charities. This is a pure word of mouth, grassroots fundraising campaign where each participating team is asked to raise as much as they can through donations. Think of that for a second, random car enthusiasts across North America have raised over a $1,400,000, in just ten years.
Can’t Beat the Original
Back to 2010, the original Rally North America event was created to run famous Route 66. A group of teams would start at the eastern most point of the road in Illinois while another group of cars departed the western most point of Route 66 in California. We would all meet in Amarillo, Texas at the Big Texan Steak Ranch for oversize steaks, oversized drinks and oversized fun.
Coming from Toronto, we joined the Illinois crew. Although I had met a few people the year prior and few others I had talked to exclusively online, my co-driver knew no one. None of that mattered though because within a few days, we had made lifelong friends. I always say the adventure is secondary on a Rally North America event, the comradery is primary.
By the end of the final day of this event, a five-car breakout had formed of fun-loving sightseers including us from Canada, as well as teams from Delaware, Chicago, Maine and Texas. Ages of our motley crew ranged from under 20 to over 60. That has always been the beauty of Rally North America – uniting people.
We became so close with some friends from the rallies, we would do mini after-rally-rallies with them, and even teamed up to make super team once (where we won the award for best costume thank you very much).
So, let’s talk about my team. As much as the Rally North American crew is like a second family, what had always made these events memorable, entertaining and something to look forward to, was because of actual family. When I a similar event in 2009 I had done it solo. I drove into New York city solo, then drove in a pack to Ocean City, Delaware solo. After our wild night, I proceeded to drive home to Toronto in one stint, solo. 14 hours straight on the road, in a Mazda RX-8, consuming fuel faster than an Antonov An-225.
When the Route 66 Rally was on the horizon, I was not about to attempt a week-long journey into Texas and back solo once again. Unsure who would want to travel that far, tolerate me and let me do most of the driving, I was stuck. Then my mom suggested the most logical solution. “Why not take your father?”
Of course! That made perfect sense. He wasn’t a car guy so I wasn’t sure if he would want to go on the adventure. But the more I thought of it, he was the obvious choice. Aside from the fact we always got along and were stuck with each other for life, he loved a good road trip as much as me (he drove our family for 28 days from Toronto to Vancouver and back when I was six-years old). He also got along easily with people, enjoyed an evening beverage with friends as much as I do, but most importantly, wouldn’t mind if I drove most of the time.
That first adventure in 2010 had us hooked. We signed up and participated again in the 2011, 2012 and 2013 rallies as well as two events in 2014. The sights we saw, the places we visited, the people we met. It’s impossible to quantify those life experiences. Rally North America always traveled off the beaten path and I got to experience more of America, the real America, then I ever thought possible.
My dad and I would spend hours in the car talking with other teams through two-way radios during the events. But just as much fun was the long drives to and from the events. It would just be the two of us, for several hours in the car, talking about music, sports or even our old adventures. I learned more about my Dad’s past growing up on those trips than I probably have the rest of my life. Like when he reminisced about a draft dodger he once knew at school back in Canada, because we just happened to be driving through the exact town in Alabama where he was from.
Brief but Unforgettable
In 2015, we had to pull out of the rally because my son was due to be born right around the time of the event. As is the tired but true cliché, priorities change and with a young family at home, we haven’t been able to make an event since.
I know my dad misses the events as much as I do, even if he doesn’t outwardly say it to me. Our plan has always been to return sometime in the future. Maybe we’ll come back as a three-generation team with my son when he is old enough – to pass on the legacy of father son bonding, adventure and exploration. Watch out, Team Canada isn’t done yet.
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