Altered States

Lauren's ad Ken's Adventures in The Great Race

One Man’s Paved Road…

Posted on June 27, 2017

Touring Tennessee and Kentucky On The Historic Dixie Highway
It was so late and I was so tired, I just couldn’t sit and think about writing last night. Hopefully I’ll remember enough this morning!

We had a lazy start in Chattanooga since our start position was 109 and the official start time was 7:00 AM. That meant we could pick up our instructions for the day at 8:19 (30 minutes before our departure time of 8:49.) Plenty of time to pack up and check out the car before heading over to the Chattanoogan Hotel where the start was located! Also lots of opportunity to share stories and hints and tips with other racers.

The calibration run was pretty long and gave us a good sense of how were were running against the Rallymaster’s speedometer (he might actually be devious and change it a click or two between days!) Turns out we were running about 12 second / hour slow. Once we reached the staging area for the start I adjusted the speedometer, Lauren finished calulating the morning’s legs, and we were ready to go!

We felt like we got off to a good start on the first leg and we were doing well executing the instructions. But we seemed to be gaining on the 1970 Pontiac GTO in front of us. Could we be running too fast? Or are they slow? You can’t really know, so you must run your own race!

We discussed our options for what to do in the event we overtook them before the end of the leg and what to do if the leg ended before we were up their tailpipes. Our best plan was to take a 10 second time allowance to put some space between us at the restart for the next leg. We finished the leg without having to take any evasive action and set up the time allowance for the start of the 2nd leg. (Turns out we scored a 1 on that leg!)

Just as the GTO was about to leave a yellow 1971 Corvette came roaring through the start and jumped right in front of the GTO. He missed the first instruction (a right turn at the light) then realized it too late and made the turn to end up behind the GTO and in front of us! We already had too little space between us and the GTO. Now we have to deal with this knucklehead!

Sure enough as the sun rises in the east, the Corvette is running slow so we start closing the gap. Now we have to decide another course of action. We determined that if we end up on his fiberglass ass, we’ll take a time delay. But then I though of a different solution. We had a stop coming up! 

At the stops, the instructions are written with a 15 second pause (which you adjust based on your car’s performance chart.) We passed the Corvette at the stop while he paused and didn’t take our full pause (Yes, we stopped!) That means we were now about 6 seconds early, so we had to shave time off. So we slowed down long enough to eat up those 6 seconds. That maneuver caused the Corvette to end up right on our back bumper! Ha!

Some where along the way the GTO missed or made a wrong turn because now they were coming up fast and looking to get past us. We let them by while maintaining our speed and waved them “good luck!” Then our troubles began.

The next instruction was just a left turn, but the hint stated “1st paved road – look sharp.” What looked us like a gravel path was actually the road! As we were trying to discern if this is right we could see farther up the road it was paved. I slammed on the brakes, threw the car into a left power slide, turned almost 180 degrees (avoiding going into the farmer’s field!) and had gravel flying as the wheels spun trying to dig in to get back up the road. 

We made it! But we had no idea how much time was lost on that whole episode. We’ll worry about that later. The next instruction was exactly the same left turn with a hint reading “1st road-look sharp (this road is paved.)” But we were still interpreting it as “1st paved road.” I actually saw the GTO turn left and saw the huge cloud of dust behind her so we knew that can’t be the right road! We went by the road, never to see another road on the left before we came to a stop sign. That was a sure sign we missed the turn because the next instruction was exactly like the current instruction with the same hint, and no stop sign indicated.

A quick U-turn and we were headed back to that “paved” road (confusing the line of racers who were coming in the direction we had just reversed!) We knew we needed to catch the GTO and position ourselves the proper distance between us. 

We flew through the next instructions, ignoring all speed and timing exercises till we had the GTO in sight. Then we timed the distance between us to make sure we were pretty close to where we thought we should be and finished out the leg without further incident. (We ended up scoring a 31 on that leg!)

We made our way to Murfreesboro, TN where we met our friend Ben and his beautiful family. They came all the way from Nashville just to see us! It was great to spend some time with them, though we had to rush off to the next start.

The next couple of legs found us making some unforced

errors that required us adjusting and even hacking off one of the cars 3 minutes ahead of us! We ended the day with a lap around the NCM Motorsprts Racetrack and a wonderful dinner in Bowling Green, KY.

Now it’s off to Stage 4!

One problem solved, now on to the next ones!

Posted on June 25, 2017

Who knew?
After 2 days of confounding the experts (and ourselves) we figured out why we weren’t able to successfully calibrate the speedometer. It was the stopwatch. Once we sorted that out, we were spot on with our calibration! Now, the rest of the rally is on us and how we perform. The car will do what we ask it to do – we just have to give it the right parameters.

The day started bright and early in Tifton, GA and we got the car packed, checked all the fluids, belts, and tires and were heading out of the parking lot to go pick up the day’s instructions. Before we got to the exit we spied a beautiful white Ford Ranchero coming in the driveway. We both stopped and the driver, Steve, asked if he could get a picture of our cars together. He had heard there was another Ranchero in town and he wanted to come see it. He recently completed rebuilding the engine on his 1964 Ranchero and it is a beautiful restoration of a unique vehicle. It was so nice of him to seek us out and it was great to trade stories!

Then it was on to Stage 2 (Day 2) of the Great Race! We sorted out our speedometer problem with an assist from Alan and Helen who paced us through the calibration run to confirm we finally were on the money. We still weren’t sure it was perfect, but it was so close compared to the previous days we decided to run with it. 

The day started as pretty overcast and humid in Tifton with what looked to be a good chance of rain before reaching the final destination in Chattanooga, TN. The farther north we went,the less humid it got! And though we did encounter a few sprinkles, there was no rain to speak of. In fact, the day turned out to be just gorgeous! It was a great day driving through some of the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, and finally into some of the mountains on the way to our lunch stop in Newnan, GA and then on to the overnight in Chattanooga. The Coker Tire team did an awesome job setting us up for the night! The food was excellent, the entertainment was great, and the museum was a marvel to see.

Today’s stage was completed in 5 legs. We had a pretty good day, but nowhere near as good as we can do. We did a great 1st leg, but we think we need to make some adjustments to how we make our starts and stops to reduce the amount of time lost. We had one unforced error in handling a slow vehicle in front of us, but turned it into a learning opportunity – which paid off in a later stage! We were able to recover the time lost when a slow truck with a trailer pulled out in front of us.

While our scores were disappointing overall (and we did have a couple of good legs, but still late to the checkpoints by a few seconds each leg) we were pleased with how our performance throughout the day was crisp and well coordinated (except for the one problem.) Tomorrow we fine tune. We’ll confirm the speedo, and if that checks out OK we’ll move to refine our start/stop procedure.

One step at a time!

BTW, Remember these? 

Welcome To The Dixie Highway!

Posted on June 24, 2017

OK, I think we’ve got this figured out!

The official start of the Great Race was an amazing spectacular coordinated with The Historic Main Street Cruise in Jacksonville. If you are a car lover, the fantastic cars that came out to see the equally incredible Great Race cars was enough to have you drooling! Jacksonville put on a terrific show!

However, the temperature and humidity were something else! It took over 2 hours to get the cars through the start and the high heat and humidity was a shocker for a lot of the teams. But once we were under way the muscle memory kicks in and we’re right back in the groove!

Our calibration run was more of the same as the day before – still trying to dial in the
speedometer. We decide to do it through brute force and change the factor after each interval of timing on the run. Stopping on the shoulder of I-95 is not for the faint of heart! With traffic whizzing by at over 70 mph, you need to keep your wits about you. Especially when trying to re-enter the traffic flow! But we finally were able to get the speedometer to match what we think is a reasonable timing with the official speed. (We would later find that while close, we need to tweak it just a little bit more!)

Stage 1 consisted of 6 legs which starts us following the old Dixie Highway from Jacksonville, FL to Tifton, GA. The Dixie highway is really just a name given to the route followed from the south to the midwest United States. Though initially conceived as a single route, it was ultimately defined as a network or roads marked by a “DH” marker. Our route from Florida to Georgia covered some spectacular countryside with some long, flat, and straight extended runs at 50 and 45 mph. Arriving in Tifton was great – and the welcome and the food was unbelievable! The folks in Tifton certainly know how to make you feel welcome – and the dinner was by far among the best we’ve ever had in any Great Race town!

Four of the six legs were very technical, requiring conscientious attention to detail and flawless execution of instructions. We did very well on those legs with a couple of 1s and 7s (late.) On the legs with the extended periods at 50 mph and 45 mph we were significantly late to the checkpoints, indicating that there is still too much of a factor dialed in to our speedometer.

But we’re close! We’ve dialed a new factor in and tomorrow we think we’ll be back to our old form! We actually had an excellent day working together as a team and are really thrilled at how well we are solving problems and working out solutions. The first challenge was on the start where a couple of rally cars were involved in a traffic incident with a local car that caused significant delays for several teams. We were able to handle the crisis well and managed to get started almost on time.

We also executed the rest of the rally instructions almost perfectly. We were able to make up all the time lost during each of the maneuvers and we thing our scores would be significantly better if our timing on the speedo was correct.

One really bright note for the day: Helen and Alan have achieved 3 aces so far! They’re off to a great start and have set the bar for us!

OMG! Why Isn’t This Working???

Posted on June 23, 2017

It’s The Math, Stupid!

There’s definitely something going wrong. For some reason, no matter what we do we are always coming trough the calibration run early. That means to compensate, we should increase the factor on the speedometer by some number (determined by a pretty simple formula.) But by now we’ve increased our factor by so much we’re running real slow compared to the real speed we should be going. In checking with our stock speedometer we’re at least 5 mph slower than we should be going. That was confirmed when the 1930 Ford Model A passed us on the calibration section of the Hagerty Trophy Run this morning!

Either there is a problem with the speedometer or my calculations are way off. I’ll go with option #2 and guess I’m doing something wrong in my calculation. To double check, I thought I’d try the second, more precise but harder calculation (that I triple checked with a calculator back in the room later.) Amazingly, it says I should decrease the factor, even though we’re completing the course early! That can’t be right. (Or so I thought!)

So we decided to go with the increased factor as the original calculation prescribed, just to see what would happen. After all, how bad could it be? Well, when the expert team 2 minutes behind us caught up to us we knew we were in deep trouble! And when the team 3 minutes behind us caught up we figured it was time for drastic measures!

We ditched the rally speedometer and used the car’s stock speedometer for the last leg of the Trophy Run. We know the car’s speedometer is a little fast so if the last leg’s score is close to the official time or a little early, we know the rally speedometer is definitely off and we’re not as crazy as we think.

Our hunch paid off. The last leg, using the stock speedometer, turned out to be 31 seconds early and the previous legs (on the rally speedometer) were all late (though not as late as I expected, but still pretty bad.) It turns out the calculation I did by hand (and verified with the calculator) actually came up with a factor that we believe will give us a fairly accurate reading. We’re going with that number! And we’re sticking with it.

None of the experts we talked to this evening can understand why we are getting the results we’re getting. The most likely explanation is there is something odd going on in the electronics of the speedometer. All I know is, we’re going with the setting we have! We’ll see how close it comes tomorrow.

Lauren was bummed that we didn’t have a good showing in the Trophy Run. But on the bright side, we stayed on course, managed all the technical aspects of the instructions with no trouble, made no mistakes, communicated well, and had an overall great run! Except for the time…

Saturday morning brings the official start of The Great Race! It’s going to be a fun ride!

It’s All Coming Back!

Posted on June 22, 2017

Learning What You Think You Know

 The first full day at the Great Race was spent reacquainting ourselves with the tools, the language, and techniques we’ll be using for the next 10 days. But most important – and the most fun – is reacquainting with all the old friends from previous rallys! It really is like a family reunion! Helen and Alan were just where we knew we would find them the minute we got checked in at the Hyatt the night before, and it was great seeing our buddies from around the country and hoisting a few pints together.

We found the Ranchero in it’s spot in the garage adjacent to the hotel, among a great array of spectacular vehicles from just about every automotive era of the first 70 years of 20th century. (And some really interesting entries! Yes, Jake and Elwood are in the house!)

After attending “Rookie School” led by our mentor Bill Croker (who couldn’t use a refresher!) we set out to calibrate the speedometer on the measured course laid out by the rallymaster. This is where we try to adjust the Ranchero’s speedometer to be as close to the official timing as determined in the rally instructions. But what it is really is an exercise in basic arithmetic and the ensuing frustration that subject has always held for yours truly! I was never a wizard at multiplication and long division!
To set your speedometer correctly you must follow the course at the precise speed stated (50 mph) and determine the difference in time between the official time and the time it actually takes you to complete the course. Then you need to calculate the “factor” to adjust your speedometer (a 4 digit number that you enter in the back of the device.) To do this, you must convert the times to seconds, determine the differential, divide the actual time by the correct time and then multiply the result by the current factor to get the new factor. (Actual Time / Correct Time) X Current Factor = New Factor. If you’re early. If you’re slower than the correct time, reverse the dividend and divisor! This is all done with no calculator, just pen and paper! (There is an easier method, but it is less accurate and still requires some tricky multiplication.)
After 3 runs, I think we’ve gotten the number right. It’s hard to get a consistent reading since the the temperature has been so high, the air pressure in the tires changes their diameter enough to cause significant variance. It was also very draining on the driver and navigator since there is no air conditioning! We’ll take one more run in the morning!


After the calibration runs we got the Ranchero officially registered, inspected, and outfitted with the car number and sponsor stickers.
Friday morning is the mandatory meeting for the race participants, support teams, officials, and sponsors. Then it’s on to the Hagerty Trophy Run, the 4 hour warmup rally before the main event on Saturday. While called a “warmup” for the main event, doing well in the Trophy Run is highly prized (It’s a real competitive bunch,) so no slacking! This run is also used as a tie breaker in the unlikely event of a tie in the official rally (which actually happened last year!)


The Ranchero: On The Way To JAX!

Posted on June 18, 2017

The First Step

The Ranchero is on the road – but going the easy way! The car was picked up on Friday by Henry and Cindy of Reliable Carriers in their beautiful rig. We’ve used Reliable to ship our vehicles for several years and have never been disappointed. If you’ve ever shipped a car or truck you’re probably familiar with the vast number of options to get your car from Point A to Point B – many of them fraught with uncertainty and varying degrees of dismay.

None of that with these guys! They know cars and all the different issues with all the various marques, frames, axels, wheels, and every issue that can arise when transporting antique, classic, and everyday vehicles. And the vehicles have always been delivered to the final destination on time. That’s a major issue! Every year there are teams freaked the day before the Great Race because their carrier is delayed and they don’t have a clue where their car is or if it will be delivered in time. Who needs that?

The biggest challenge getting the Ranchero shipped is finding a spot in a congested urban area where a truck with an 85 foot trailer can (legally) go and not obstruct traffic or knock down overhead power, telephone, and cable lines. (All of which have happened coming into our neighborhood.) The main road coming into our neighborhood has a weight restriction of 5 tons so I had to find a spot on a truck route that would be a minimal disruption to traffic. I figured out a route and Henry and Cindy were able to navigate through White Plains to a spot about 1 mile from home where we were able to load the Ranchero with no problems.

I have a GPS tracker on the car and it’s showing the car is located in South Carolina already. Should be in Jacksonville in plenty of time for us to pick it up on Wednesday!

Stay tuned!


Getting Ready for the 2017 Great Race!

Posted on June 13, 2017

Tick Tock! Its Almost Time!

 The Hemmings Motor News Great Race presented by Hagerty will travel the historic Dixie Highway for the 2017 event. The Dixie Highway, which is actually a network of highways, stretches from Florida to Michigan, making its way through Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Indiana along the way. We start in Jacksonville, FL on June and cross the finish line in Traverse City, MI on July 2. It’s gonna be great!

Team “Altered States” has been busy over the past few months getting prepared for the rally, making sure the 1965 Ford Ranchero Deluxe is in good shape for the event, developing a new set of performance charts, and picking up spare parts and supplies. Somehow, the end is never in sight! There’s always more to do or something else to get.

So What Is The Great Race?
Lots of folks have asked that question! The Great Race is precision driving, timing, and endurance road rally for classic and antique vehicles. Each year since 1983 the rally has traveled a different route, covering all parts of the USA. Typically covering 1,500 – 2,000 miles in the 9-day event, participants are treated to most scenic and spectacular parts of the country, all while following cryptic instructions to stay on course and on time! There are no calculators, maps, GPS, or phones allowed – only a speedometer, a clock, a stopwatch, and paper and pen!

The Rallymaster has calculated the precise time that it takes to cross each checkpoint in the rally. If you cross a checkpoint early or late, you are penalized one point for every second. A score of 0 on a leg (an “Ace”) is highly prized! Multiple Aces are not uncommon for experienced rallyers, but consistent 1s and 2s will keep you in the top tier.

At the official start time, cars set out on the first leg of the stage one minute apart, based on the assigned start position. If the official start time is 8:50 AM and your assigned start position is 97, your start time is 97 minutes after the official time, i.e, 10:27 AM. All your instructions are based on that time.Drivers must drive at the precise speeds and times indicated in the instructions based on the navigators’ precision calculations. In this example, start at the “Guernsey 24” sign at 50 mph. The next instruction (28) is a right turn onto Grayrocks Rd where you change speed to 15 mph for 48 seconds, then go to 50 mph. Instruction 29 is read as “Go straight at the Speed Limit 45 sign and, at the sign, change your speed to 35 mph for 16 minutes, 48 seconds, then change speed to 40 mph.”

Of course, you can’t instantly change speeds so you must know how much time you loose going from 0 to 50 mph and 35 to 40 mph etc. So you must make up those seconds lost! That’s where the navigator’s calculations must be swift. We’ve built performance charts with the time cost for speed changes at different speeds, but it’s figuring out how to make up that time before a checkpoint that is vital!

Clarity in communication is absolutely critical! It’s easy to get lost and even easier to compound any error by not having a game plan on how you will react in a crisis. And everyone makes mistakes! What separates the experts from the rest is they know how to recover from those mistakes.

Why Would Anyone Do This???


It is a fabulous way to see this great county! You go places that are off the beaten path and see some of the most spectacular terrain on the planet. The entire experience is about the people and, of course, the cars. The people you meet and get to know and love come from all walks of life, from every socioeconomic level, and from several countries and cultures. And everyone loves the cars! It’s a rolling car show and a huge party every day with friends old and new.


Oh. Did I mention this is a serious competition? You can certainly do it just for the fun of it, but for most of the teams the objective is to win! (At least to make a good showing!) And while everyone is in head-to-head competition, we all help each other. The rally organizers, expert rallyers, veterans, rookies, all work together to figure out what works or doesn’t work. Everyone helps as much as possible when a car breaks down. You’re never on your own!


We Hope You’ll Follow Along!

We’re going to do our best to keep track of our progress and the whole adventure here and on Facebook! We’d love to hear from everyone as we go, so feel free to ask questions, comment, or editorialize!

Lastly, as part of this years Great Race we are partnering with the Vintage Car Rally Association (VCRA) to raise funds in the effort to address the need for research and treatment of autism. Please join the cause by clicking here: VCRA Race For Autism.