The months of preparation were over. No more expensive repairs to the E30. The weeks, days and hours of weather reporting (obsessing) were done. It was the start of the third Coastal Range Rally. For the four of us at DWA!, It was a huge relief to just get going and run the event. The planning stages are worrisome because we all want one thing: to put on a truly great event. And this year was our biggest and most ambitious rally yet. Over 90 cars and 100 people. It’s a little like throwing 3 weddings in a row. Outdoor weddings. While moving locations, constantly. Getting back to weather for a moment, once we were within the 14-day NOAA window, I checked the forecast for our most treacherous stages of the rally: one big snowflake. Turns out one of the coldest storm systems of this mild California winter was dropping down from Canada (blame Canada?) over the next 10 days and was making for unsettled weather patterns and shifting forecasts. Especially at areas over 6000 feet, which was where we intended to go.
Back to Day 1. On a frosty, clear morning, we rolled into the town of San Juan Bautista and gathered the crew. And what a crew it was. Lane and I looked at each other and both thought, WHOA. We wrapped up the drivers meeting and hit it. Well, Bryan with his ZRnone Corvette was busy swapping out his 1 day old alternator, but he got going shortly after and (spoiler alert) finished the rally. The first stoplight hosted the coolest traffic jam in California, without a doubt. We went south and regrouped at the crossroads, our killer rolling car show continued. I jumped out early on the road to Parkfield and was promptly passed at speed by Ruben’s 964, Travis in his E39 M5 and Ryan in his E46 M3- all completely expected. When I approached the tarmac rally section up and over the Coastal Range, I was all alone. Glorious. The minor remnants of snow served as just enough reminder of how cold it really was, especially in the shade and the remaining dirt section was a cool down into lunch and the wonderful people of Parkfield Cafe. They even serenaded us with an Irish acapella during our sirloin burgers.
After lunch I ran with a much faster crew and was “forced” to lead even after trying to let the Boxster, Cayman and the Evo pass. The E30 held it’s own for a while and I had some fun along the open ranch roads leading into Paso Robles. Ran to Staples for name tags and sharpies...oh, and binder clips. My front right mud flap lost its fender clip (again) so binder clip to the rescue. This, by the way, was my largest repair on the rally. We recorded a podcast, went to dinner and sang happy birthday to Bryan. Good times had by all!
Day 2- very cold morning in Paso Robles. I followed Derek in his white 308 GT4 Dino through the roller coaster section south with Jeff and his E30 rally car in my rear view mirror. Really good. Our next regroup is always a great sight- 90 cars in one of the most remote parts of Central California. Drones were flying, high fives were being handed out, good vibes by all. We mashed along the straight dirt road and took some pics. Phil in the 356 cabriolet blasted past us. He actually had it right- a quicker pace was better over the gravel. Up and over the San Andreas Fault into our fuel stop- one of the best sections of road around. A soft window targa followed me into town as I tried to catch Dan’s MR2 and the NSX of Bring a Trailer- we had grins from ear to ear. We turned into town just in time to see a big rig without trailer, skid off the road and crash, rear wheels sticking up in the air behind a massive cloud of dust. The driver was fine but we couldn’t come up with a reason as to why he lost control. Perhaps the sight of a silver NSX? Moving on.
After fuel, I chased the rally E30 and the perfectly modded Volvo 142 up to 6,000 feet and it was incredible. The road, the vistas, and mainly the company ahead made it one of the best sections of the rally. We played around with Paul and his Tortuga 911 until he blasted ahead. What a road- and fortunately clear of melting snow, just some gravel here and there.
After lunch I sat in the Sharkwerks Lotus Europa before getting back in the E30 and pushing further south, over the Grapevine and onto even more insanely entertaining roads. Another roller coaster section, this time following the trio of Datsun Z’s and Eric’s orange monster directly ahead. The noises that thing makes. Pressing on, through the remote and empty canyons, I was chased by the black M-Coupe as we navigated our way west towards another regroup overlooking Lake Castaic. Perfect.
Once in Ventura, we had motel parking lot beers and rehashed the day- one of my favorite parts of these events.
Day 3- I had Ronnie, our hard working cameraman, with me for the day and we cruised along Emma Woods, Rincon and the Channel Islands. Crystal clear morning. We could see the scars of the Thomas fire now and even palm trees on the ocean side of 101 were torched. Only mud remains along the base of the overpass in Montecito as a reminder of the massive landslide that occurred there last month. Our group descended on Santa Barbara cars and coffee and then moved into the Santa Ynez valley. One last technical and challenging section before our final regroup and end of the rally at Jocko’s steakhouse. We stopped along the road several times to get some shots of passing rally goers. Love hearing the exhaust notes echoing along the canyons and oak trees long before (and after) seeing the cars fly by.
With a smooth, sweeping section on our way to town and the final stop of the 2018 Coastal Range Rally, I had a few moments to reflect. What we wanted most of all, is to create an event that people truly enjoy. Something we would enjoy. I realize that many who joined us don’t take frequent trips like this. Taking time away from real life and going the long way for 3 days. The sacrifices made just to arrive at the starting line and the dedication to make it to the end- it meant a lot to see so many folks with us at the final lunch.
If you’re reading this and think anyone can do it- pull off a "rally"- you are correct. Anyone can analyze maps and choose an interesting route with the ideal distances between motels, fuel and food. The roads aren’t private or secret. You can book restaurants and pick menus. You can pre-run 1000 miles of potential routes, while leaning on 80 years of combined backroad knowledge. You can create a guide book with route notes, turn by turn directions and sweet hand drawn maps (by yours truly). You can find great sponsors, create killer graphics, get shirts made and assemble goodie bags. You can hire cameramen and invite media to attend. You can even nail the weather, just like we did, with pure luck. And (most importantly) maybe you actually know 100 people who'd be willing to come along. And maybe (hopefully) those people have interesting cars to bring, too. And even if you succeed at all of this, the one item you may struggle with is gathering a group of people like this. People who truly get it...this unique and genuine car scene we are all into. It is possible but it will not be easy and there are absolutely no shortcuts to achieving this. And it’s these very awesome people, and those we have yet to meet, that continue to motivate us and have DWA! busy already planning the next Coastal Range Rally.
Words by Warren Madsen. Photography by Lane Skelton and Matt Brown