Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Road Rally cranks up the speed

As sheriff watches, drivers take sports cars to the limit

Express Staff Writer

Hal Lundquist gives his Ford GT a final once-over before taking part in the first-ever Sun Valley Road Rally on Saturday morning. A fundraiser for the Blaine County Community Drug Coalition, the rally gave drivers the chance to put their high-performance sports cars to the test along a three-mile stretch on state Highway 75 just north of the SNRA headquarters. Photo by Willy Cook

The anticipation grew steadily, knowing they were coming and waiting for them to appear silently at the top of Phantom Hill.

No, not wolves, but something almost as rare: exotic sports cars being driven without regard to the posted speed limit. Although no citations were issued, the drivers still broke out their wallets, raising nearly $25,000 for the Blaine County Community Drug Coalition.

As soon as a car crested the hill north of Ketchum, an excited stir went through the crowd of about 200 people, out on an early Saturday morning to watch the first-ever Sun Valley Road Rally.

From the spectator section on the east side of state Highway 75 at the southern base of Phantom Hill, the speed seemed surprisingly unremarkable on the downhill approach. But as the cars hit the flat section directly in front of the crowd, there was no mistaking the unusual velocity.

With a roar, the cars hurtled past the dreaded police officer with radar gun in hand, only this time there were no flashing lights.

By the time the final car had raced along the three-mile course, three cars neared the 190 miles-per-hour mark on the radar gun. Even a Toyota Prius—a hybrid sedan not known for its muscle—managed to squeak every bit of power out of its engine to break the 100 mph barrier.

"It was a fantastic event," said Dave Stone, owner of the Sun Valley Auto Club, one of the major sponsors of the rally. "We were safe and everyone had a great time. And, most importantly, we were able to raise a good amount of money for a great cause."

For drivers looking to help the coalition while pushing the limits of their automobiles, the rally cost them $1,500 for one run and $2,500 for two runs on the course.

The drug coalition was founded in 2006 in response to the rising use of methamphetamine among Blaine County youths. Meth is a highly addictive stimulant and physically annihilating drug. The coalition works to improve the health of the community by cutting down on alcohol and drug use by young people.

Coalition Executive Director Terry Basolo said the rally was an important fundraiser, since most of the nonprofit organization's funding comes from government grants, which carry with them restrictions and deadlines for use.


"This gives us some much-needed freedom with operating expenses," Basolo said. "Our first fundraiser, held last year, brought in about $4,000, so I feel like we cranked it up a bit."

The 20 drivers cranked it up as well, putting the pedal to the floor of high-performance sports cars, including a 1956 Ferrari Tour de France, a Bentley Continental, two Dodge Vipers, a range of Porches and three Ford GTs, of which only 4,038 were ever made.

Two Fords and one Porsche managed to tie for the title of fastest car, getting up to 188 mph on a closed course that ran from Cathedral Pines to just north of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area headquarters.

While the crowd applauded as the drivers attempted to best each other, one of the biggest cheers went to Todd Carrier for his environmentally friendly hybrid, which got the highest miles-per-gallon and lowest speed.

After his exhilarating run in which he hit 108 mph in his Prius, Carrier said that while he appreciated the help he received from his friends in raising the entry fee, he thought that it would probably be more fun to run it in someone else's car next year.

Blaine County Sheriff Walt Femling said the event went very well, with no safety issues or complaints from non-participating drivers when the highway was closed for 15-minute stretches.

"We certainly hope it will happen again next year because we've been waiting for a long time for something like the coalition to get off the ground," Femling said. "It's really going to make a difference in our community."

Basolo reiterated Femling's sentiment about bringing the rally back next year, but said the coalition would have to look at the response to the inaugural event.

"Regardless, I'm really thankful for the community support," Basolo said. "Our goal was to create something different from a silent auction or dinner."

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