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Rallying is perhaps the most exhilarating sport of them all, but beneath the adrenalin, the high-speed slides and the big jumps, there are times when it sucks! Really, I’ve done plenty of rallies over a 30 year period, and sometimes I’ve felt like it would be more enjoyable to punch myself in the face. I’ve won rallies, championships and even had a couple of ‘works’ drives in factory supported media cars, but I’ve also experienced some of the sports really low points. Fortunately for me, most only produced mental anguish, but still, at the time it felt like the world wanted to swallow me up. Back in the 1990s club events were held exclusively at night. This meant rally cars were fitted with massive Cibie Super Oscar driving lights across the front, and cars required bigger alternators to keep them beaming.
That was all good and well most of the time, but when the battery died, you were quickly up that well-known creek.
On once such occasion in the Whroo Forest in central Victoria, our electrical problems were the final straw that broke the camel’s back. I’d discovered a broken engine mount on my car before leaving home, which was hastily replaced. In the rally our mechanical Halda tripmeter stopped working, shortly before the intercom failed. When fuel problems and a dead battery finally saw us grind to a halt, we were left totally in the dark and with nothing ahead of us but the ‘walk of shame’ – a 4 kilometre slog to the finish control.

Rallying at night, RallySport Mag's Peter Whitten has his eyes on the target. Photos: Spook Photographics

Another ‘memorable’ occasion was when I was out checking roads for an upcoming rally that I was directing. These Saturday afternoons were joyous occasions in a young man’s life. These were the days long before mobile phones, and armed with nothing but a sandwich and a can of Coke, I’d head off into the forest looking to find the perfect route for my event. Most of the time things went without a hitch, but on several trips punctured tyres resulted in driving around the forest like a cat on a hot tin roof, praying you avoided any more rocks with your name on them. My worst experience had nothing to do with tyres though. In fact, there was nothing wrong with the car … it was just the route that I had chosen.
This ‘new’ road I’d found was a ripper, twisting and turning its way over an undulating range that would provide the competitors with just about everything. But then it went over the crest of a hill and I saw nothing but horror.
Halfway down a steep hill was the biggest gum tree you’ve ever seen. It was a thing of beauty, but unfortunately it had fallen over, and was now totally blocking the road. There was no way around it, under it or over it. Even if I’d had a chainsaw, which I didn’t, I would still never have cut through it.

Checking out rally roads on a Saturday afternoon is great fun, but it can have its challenges ..... Photo: Matt Whitten

My worst nightmare followed when the 4WD Subaru wagon I was driving would not reverse back up the hill from where I’d come. The road was simply too steep. And too narrow to turn around as well. I was stuck. Today, I’d jump on the mobile phone and ring for help, but as I said, this is mid-1990s.
It was time for the ‘walk of shame’ once again.
And walk I did. Nine kilometres to be exact. Up hills, through the forest, down grotty tracks, over creeks and finally onto a main gravel road the led out of the forest and towards civilisation. Eventually, and exhaustedly, I reached a farm house and found a welcoming owner who allowed me to use her telephone and call for help. Hours later, with the car recovered, I was back home and wondering if it had all been worth it? Of course it had been. The following weekend I was back at it, with renewed enthusiasm and knowing full well which road I WASN’T going to be using in my upcoming event …..

A forest road on a Saturday afternoon. What could possibly go wrong? Photo: Matt Whitten

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Author

Peter Whitten

Peter has been the editor of RallySport Magazine since its inception in 1989, in both printed and online form. He is a long-time competitor, event organiser and official, as well as working in the media. In 2020 he received a Motorsport Australia 'Media Service Award'.
Peter has been the editor of RallySport Magazine since its inception in 1989, in both printed and online form. He is a long-time competitor, event organiser and official, as well as working in the media. In 2020 he received a Motorsport Australia 'Media Service Award'.