It is Sunday afternoon and Jerry Meyer, a chemical engineer for Du Pont, a metal sculptor, skier, sailor, backpacker, golfer and Porsche fanatic—he is president-elect of the Porsche Club of America's 230-member Chicago Region—is deep in one of his favorite hobbies. In this TSD (time, speed, distance) rally a driver and a navigator must follow a series of instructions over a given distance, proceeding at given average speeds that constantly change and, using that familiar eighth-grade math formula D=RT, compute elapsed time. The rally is divided into legs that terminate at manned checkpoints. Waiting officials, who know the predetermined arrival time of each team, subtract points according to the amount of time a car is early or late. The team with a score closest to perfect wins, and any rallyist receiving a citation from the law is automatically disqualified. At the moment Jerry Meyer is behind his correct time because, for a brief period earlier in the rally, he got lost.
"Helga, you have to get me on time," Jerry says. "I'm trying, Jerry," his wife replies, "but these speed changes keep fouling me up." "Here," Jerry shouts, "let me do it." And as the Porsche barrels down the highway he begins making calculations with the slide rule while steering with his knees. "You have to go right at that Y, Jerry," Helga says. But all he can do is mumble since he's got the slide rule between his teeth as he saws away at the steering wheel once again. The turn negotiated, he spits out the slide rule and resumes calculations, all the while gunning the engine, downshifting, upshifting and providing a running account of rallying, the internal workings of his car, the state of the economy and how, for an upcoming crafts fair, he intends to use old exhaust valves and pieces of timing chain in his sculptures.
Give Meyer a trumpet and he will accompany himself at the same time, although it has been a while since he led his own dance band. And do not worry about a breakdown sidelining the Porsche; Meyer could fix a blown transmission with a can opener. In the past year, between ski trips, a canoeing expedition, backpacking in Colorado and a week of scuba diving and fishing in Florida off an oceangoing sloop he and Helga chartered with some friends, Meyer rebuilt four or five Porsche engines, a number of VW's and his furnace. He installed a sauna in his cellar, ran a couple of drivers' schools for the SCCA and about once a month indulged himself in a rally.
You can look it up. It is all there in the calendar the Meyers keep, detailing these and all other events and activities they somehow manage to attend. The calendar is in the bookcase, next to the sculptured lamp that Meyer made and the passport photos he took himself, in color. ("Nothing says you can't take your own passport pictures and nothing says they can't be in color," Meyer claims.) It isn't that he can't afford to have things done for him, it is just that things seem to come out better if he does them himself.
Meyer, 34, is a senior supervisor of production at Du Pont's East Chicago ( Ind.) plant. "I got my personality, at least the I-can-do-it-myself part, from my mother," he says. "When I was just a little kid I remember her telling my father a couple of times how she wanted a larger kitchen. One day my dad took me fishing, and when we got home there was an enormous pile of plaster in the front yard. My mother had torn down one of the kitchen walls while we were gone. 'I sure hope that isn't a load-bearing wall,' my father said. My mother just stood there and smiled. And that's how she got her bigger kitchen."
Meyer, a native of Cincinnati, told the story a couple of evenings before the rally while sitting in his den, a warm, lived-in room full of wind chimes, mobiles, rocks from Colorado and his sculptures. Helga's framed needlepoint renditions of Porsches at speed hung on two of the walls, and in front of the bookcase sat the "stuff-box." A stuff-box holds paraphernalia related to an upcoming weekend's activities. It now contained two Meylan 400 stopwatches and a set of rally tables designed by Meyer.
The Meyers live in Munster, Ind., a quiet suburb of Chicago, where on Friday nights before high school football games the trees in front of varsity players' homes are draped by the cheerleaders with reams of bathroom tissue—getting T.P.'d, they call it. At the edge of his lawn Meyer has embedded two monstrous old gears to keep cars off the grass, another example of his creativity that thrives on recycling discarded material. It also has produced such sculpture as workmen swinging picks, shovels made from old spark plugs and valve guides and a living-room lamp built from the remains of a fire escape.
It comes as no surprise that Meyer places his personal stamp on all his cars. Engineers buy Porsches because Porsches are reputed to be the most precisely designed cars in the world; overdesigned, many car enthusiasts insist. Doctors and lawyers buy Porsches because engineers tell them the car is the most highly refined performance vehicle available. But Jerry Meyer, engineer, lifelong car nut and avowed champion of the marque, took his brand-new $10,500 Porsche Targa, which had been specially assembled for him at the factory, and proceeded to alter the entire suspension system because he wasn't satisfied with the car's handling characteristics. He did the job in his garage—cutting, fitting and repositioning vital parts on an automobile whose owners have apoplexy when it is time just to change the oil. For Meyer the task was as simple as ripping down a kitchen wall, even though, like serious rallyists in general and Porsche owners in particular, Meyer treats his car with surgical fastidiousness. To move it from the garage to the driveway for a washing, for example, he rolls rather than drives the 911, believing that to run the engine for only a few seconds would cause a buildup of condensation, resulting in a rusted-out exhaust system.
Now Meyer guns the Porsche up to nearly 100 mph. "It seems as though the different legs of this rally were laid out by different cars with different odometers," he says, "because our O.D. factor keeps changing and I'll be damned if we can get on time." An O.D. factor is the difference between a rally car's odometer over a given distance and that of the car laying out the rally. At the rally's start, all cars run an introductory "odometer leg," during which they measure this difference and figure it into subsequent calculations, which, at least theoretically, is not very difficult. If, for example, you must travel at 50 mph for five miles, then at 30 mph for eight miles and finally at 40 mph for seven miles, it is not too hard to compute your correct elapsed time for the entire 20 miles. But try this: 5.4 miles at 37 mph, then 3.2 miles at 48.5 mph, followed by 6.6 miles at 51.5 mph. Got it down? Now throw in a garbage truck that cuts you off at an intersection and which you must follow at 15 mph for half a mile, a stop sign where you encounter a 12-car wedding party causing a delay of 45 seconds and an ambiguous direction for a right turn where there are two possible roads to take, resulting in a 30-second delay while you argue with your companion.
If you are cool, and running in the equipped class with a $1,000 computer under the dashboard flashing readouts based on corrections fed in by your navigator, or a Curta calculator, a device resembling a pepper mill into which you put the speed factor (so many minutes per mile) and receive an accurate time, then you've got nothing to worry about except getting lost. However, if you are running in the unequipped class, like Jerry Meyer—who would sooner bring his Porsche to the corner gas station for a tune-up than run a rally equipped—you are in trouble. All you have in the front seat are a stopwatch, a slide rule and homemade rally tables giving the number of minutes required to go a certain distance. There also is your navigator's mathematical expertise to rely on. By the middle of a rally it may be questionable, owing to the fact that navigators are too busy during a rally to look up; after several dozen high-speed corners they tend to become queasy.