64 SEPTEMBER 2020 scca.comINSIDE SCCA
Sometimes it’s not the RoadRally you remember, it’s the stories. For most,there’s a joy in telling those stories, and onrare occasions, those stories are even writtendown. For the late Bill Laitenberger, enjoymentcame in both the telling and the writing.
Laitenberger was born in Rochester,N. Y., living there until 2005 when hemoved to Arizona with Debbi Segall.
“It was a COCR tradition that thewinner wrote an article for the newsletter,and Bill followed that even after COCRdissolved and we were all Finger LakesRegion members,” Segall recalls.
Segall was his official editor because
spelling and grammar were not his forte,
Segall explains. Following his passing in 2016,
she organized his stories into a 38-page
document entitled “Stories of My Life.”
The stories are about old friends, his first
rally, an RV adventure, “and an unbelievable
ski trip,” she says. The stories are all great, but
“The Car Fire” might be the most memorable.
Laitenberger had organized a winter
rally called SNOW*FLAKE. In rallies, writing
directions to move the control crews from
location to location is hard to execute, and
Laitenberger admitted that “the development
of adequate directions was one area that
was sacrificed on most of my events.”
All was well until he drove past three controls
in very good locations that had no crews.
For the fourth control, the rally routeheaded down Lyons Road. “The road has a90-degree curve left followed by a 90-degreecurve right with a control timing line within50 feet after the second curve,” the storytells. The crew slid off the road backwardattempting to drive uphill toward the control.
“Yup, two rear wheels over the edge of
a steep downhill embankment,” the story
continues. “The car stopped with half the car
hanging off the edge, the front half stuck in
the snow. What a mess was my thought.”
Cars entering the control first asked, “What
happened?” In the third or fourth car, Dan
Thiel’s comment was, “What a lucky situation.”
Thiel explained that most of the night rally cars
had “a macho male driver and male navigator.”
Thiel pointed out that “Every minute, two more
guys arrive.” Fifteen cars and 30 guys later, the
car was very slowly eased back on the road.
Driving to the next control in his favoritecar, a turbo Volvo, Laitenberger checked hismirror to find a cloud of smoke followed bythe dashboard lights flickering off and on.
Getting out of the car at the control,he discovered smoke everywhere and fireleaping from the taillight. The gas tank underthe trunk was three-quarters full and thefire extinguisher was stowed in the trunk.
“Thiel again arrives and commented‘Boy, are you in luck again,’” which didn’tsit well with Laitenberger. Thiel explainedthat all of the rally cars have snow shovels.After five or so teams arrived, there were
10 shovels full of snow standing behind the
car. Laitenberger opened the trunk and,
“Whoosh, in an instant we have four feet
of snow in the trunk and the fire is out.”
Laitenberger had idled the car at the
previous control and the emergency supplies
were stored in the left-hand side wheel
well compartment. There was enough heat
that, at some point, the emergency flares
ignited. The fire then spread to the two
spare tires and all of the trunk wiring.
There were only front “super brightH- 4 conversion lights for the trip home”that included a long talk with the localsheriff. A day later, the investigation by theinsurance adjuster finally concluded withhim agreeing to cover everything excepta badly burned $26 electrical connector.
“A true story with a happy ending,”Laitenberger’s tale concludes. “I have done amuch better job of developing good instructionsto get control crews to the assigned locationbefore the required arrival time for thecourse opening car. Lesson learned.”
(BELOW) Bill Laitenberger zooms alonga RoadRally in his 1986 Volvo. (RIGHT)
Bill works his Zeron rally computer.
Bill Laitenberger’s RoadRally tales tell of curious adventures
from the road | WORDS Rick Beattie | IMAGES Photographers unknown