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Novice or Nervous

So you're planning to attend your first TSD road rally and you want that first event to be a success. If you think success means winning the rally, you can forget that right now. There's not much we can tell you here that's going to make that happen. If, on the other hand, your idea of success is getting through the event with a little less stress and a bit more fun, then you're already on the right road.  Read on and learn to navigate the fun and sometimes devious route of TSD rally.

The route is out there...

What is a Road Rally

Event Styles – road rallies fall into one of three categories:

Timed – Scoring is based on correct arrival time at checkpoints, with penalties for early or late arrival. Checkpoint locations may be known or unknown. Events are held on open public roads. Examples: TSD (time -speed-distance), Monte Carlo, Tour (TSD with no traps), Course (TSD with traps).

Gimmick – Scoring is usually based on completing an answer sheet with information found along the route. A specific maximum amount of time or completion by a specific time of day may be specified. Events are held on open public roads. Examples: A&B, Course Marker, Photo, Map Clue, Poker Run, Hare and Hound.

Performance – Racing against the clock. Scoring is based on fastest time over a closed course. Cars need to be race prepared with rollcage, harnesses, helmets, fire extinguisher, competition license, etc. Examples: Rally Cross, Club Rally, Pro Rally.

There are many regional variations of these basic forms. Some rallies are timed in seconds; some in hundredths of a minute. Some events specify average speeds, while others specify the exact time of day you are expected to arrive at identified locations. Route instructions may be written out plainly in words in sentences, cryptically encoded in abbreviations and defined terms, drawn in diagrams and pictographs, or your route may be highlighted on a map or indicated by splotches of white lime along the side of the road.

Although there are many types of events calling themselves road rally, there are a few things they all have in common:

  • An entry team consisting of a vehicle, a driver, and a navigator
  • A start location, a route, and an ending location
  • Rules of the game and route instructions

  • This guide is primarily focused on TSD road rally, a game of precise timekeeping and navigational course following, as offered by the Cascade Sports Car Club Geargrinders.

    The Rally Team

    "I said, four point three miles!"

    "No, you said for point three miles!"
    Communication is key to team success.

    The Rally Team

    Once you've decided to run a road rally, you'll need a partner and a vehicle. Who will drive? Who will navigate? Should your spouse be your partner? Do you tend to get car sick when reading in the car? How do you react to stress? Can you quickly build consensus in a crisis? Can you maintain effective communication amid chaos?  As in any good marriage, a driver / navigator relationship improves with effort, respect, and courtesy.

    Don't forget your third member - the car.

    Prepare your vehicle

    Fill the car with gas and oil. Check the tires. Clean the windows and headlights. The vehicle must be street legal and insured. Expect some sort of tech inspection to verify this. 

    Gather your equipment

    The navigator will need a clipboard, some writing utensils, a small roll of masking tape, a flashlight for reading inside the car at night, and a watch that tells time to the second. Don't set the watch yet, wait until you get there.

    At The Start

    Ok, your car is ready, you've got your rally partner, now what?

    At The Start

    Be early – Try to arrive at the start location a few minutes prior to the opening of registration as there will be a lot to do to get ready before your out time actually arrives.

    Register for the event - Your vehicle may be required to pass a technical inspection to verify safety.

    Contestants often compare notes prior to the start.

    Set your watch - Official time should be available at registration.

    Read the rules - The event General Instructions contain the basic rules by which the event will be conducted. Be sure to read the glossary terms! (Try to obtain and review the rules before the day of the event.)

    Examine the route instructions - Read through the route instructions as much as your remaining time permits.

    Attend the contestants meeting - The meeting that is occasionally conducted just prior to first car out will cover topics the organizers feel are important, from an overview of the event to actual route instruction and course changes You will want to pay attention.

    Drive to the out marker - Arrive one minute before your start time. If your car has a trip odometer, set it to zero. Depart at your out time by following the route instructions.


    They usually arrive unannounced along your route.


    As you drive the rally route, you'll encounter checkpoints where the exact time that you pass the checkpoint sign will be recorded. The checkpoint sign marks the end of one timed section of the event – one leg.

    Usually you will pull over after passing the checkpoint sign to exchange information with the checkpoint crew. (Sometimes an event will have passage controls, where you just drive by the checkpoint and continue.) Note the time you crossed the line, and compare it to your assigned in time. Carefully read any information provided at the checkpoint. Time yourself out from the outmarker at your assigned out time.

    At a Do-It-Yourself Checkpoint (DIYC), the end of the timed leg is at the sign referenced by a DIYC route instruction. Note the precise time you arrived at the referenced DIYC reference. Record that time as your end time for the leg just completed. Assign your own out time according to the event rules, e.g. exactly 2 minutes after your in time.

    Continue to part 2