When Rally Sweep Gets Swept

What happens when the rescuers need rescuing?

Justin Hughes

My wife and I drove the lead vehicle of the sweep team at this past weekend's Empire State Performance Rally. Throughout the first eight stages, our team had rendered assistance to numerous competitors who had fallen by the wayside. But when a tire pressure warning appeared on the dashboard, and minutes later our Ford Flex wasn't handling quite right, we found ourselves with a flat tire. We were supposed to be leading the team that helps stricken competitors, but a punctured sidewall from ESPR's rough rally stages had taken us out, too.

Fortunately, the remaining sweep vehicles were on the scene quickly. We had a temporary spare to put on, which we couldn't continue to run the rally on, but could at least get ourselves off the stage. But when the team began pulling tools out of the Flex we discovered that the jack had gone missing. I had replaced the liftgate earlier this year after an accident involving a loose trailer ramming into it and must have forgotten to put it back in. Unfortunately, neither of the other sweep vehicles had a jack that would work with the Flex, either.

Special Stage 10 was a repeat of Special Stage 8, and at this point the course opening cars for stage 10 had arrived on the scene. Once we realized this wasn't going to be a quick easy swap, they found us a safe place to pull off the road so that the final stage of the day could run without further delay. That was more important than putting us back on the road immediately, so we pulled off and waited.

Admittedly, we did have a front row seat to watch rally cars go by, a view we never get as a support vehicle running behind the competitors. But I was more interested in getting the Flex mobile again. I checked the pressure in the spare tire and inflated it to the recommended 60 pounds per square inch from 20 while we waited. The spare looked like it had never been used, and lost air over years sitting underneath the back floor.

With no cellular service, I had only our amateur radio to rely on for communication with the outside world. As Special Stage 10 finished, I picked up the microphone and politely reiterated our need for a jack that would work with the Flex. The net already had a plan to send us help. Once we knew we were clear of competitors we moved the Flex back onto the dirt roadway to jack it up on hard packed dirt instead of the softer dirt where we had parked. 

The rest of the sweep team went by with apologetic looks on their faces. Soon a Subaru Outback pulled up, and its jack worked perfectly with the Flex. We had the fully inflated temporary spare tire on just before the stage captain arrived to check on us, making sure no one was left behind. Many thanks to everyone who helped or tried to help. It's somewhat embarrassing for us, as rally volunteers, to need assistance ourselves, but the rough roads of ESPR can strike anyone at any time, no matter how slow you're driving.

Now that we weren't working as sweep, there was no need to push our pace. This was good because I was extremely concerned about the narrow, high-pressure spare tire getting a puncture now that we had no backup. But we made it back to pavement and returned to rally headquarters without incident. We could no longer sweep, but we knew we were leaving competent people to pick up our slack. It was time to focus on us and the 220 miles between us and home.