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Such troubles do not fit into the Meyer system of rally. His system allows Helga, boggled as she is by the three factors warring in her head—the changing mileage, the alternations of average speed and the time they haven't as yet made up—to lean over and give her husband a kiss. It allows Meyer at least a measure of satisfaction in being late, because being late means he can work out the 911 to make up time. And even if they don't win this rally, they will enjoy an afternoon of highly technical perambulation and can look forward to dinner with their Porsche Club friends, which for Meyer is the purpose of it all.
For many competitors, this is not the case. At the Mercedes garage in Barrington, Ill. where the rally started, there had been considerable psyching as Porsche owners eyed each other warily over steaming cups of coffee. Some feigned ignorance, others feigned hangovers, as they prepared to do battle in spit-shined machines worth as much as $25,000. Nor was Meyer always this calm; he admits that he once would have done anything to win.
"I'm a competitive person in a competitive society and although I don't like it, I've come to accept it," he says. "I compete on the job and I compete at my leisure activities. Whatever I'm doing, I want to do it well, but now I try to achieve some sort of balance. When Helga and I began rallying in 1966, we were competitive as hell. I'd found a hobby that demanded skills for which I'd been trained, which I liked. And at the same time it allowed me to pursue my interest in cars without the expense or the time involvement of racing. We worked our way up from beginners to experts and won the Chicago Region Porsche Club Rally Championship in 1969. But rally stopped being fun because we were just in it to win. We started fighting and worrying all the time about who would show up at a rally to challenge us. Finally I said, 'This isn't enjoyable anymore, and if a hobby isn't enjoyable, then it's time to get another hobby.' So we backed off and now, even though we try to do well, we're only in it for fun. If I got involved in the SCCA national rally series the fun would disappear, plus I would have to give up other things like sailing or skiing or backpacking, and I don't want to do that. But I'll keep on rallying on the club level, maybe run an event a month, and throw in a gymkhana here and there because I really enjoy driving the Porsche hard and because I'll always be into cars."
A quick trip to Meyer's garage, outfitted like a miniature NASCAR shop, eliminates any doubts about his devotion to the automobile. Next to Bismark III sits Bismark II, a 1967 Porsche 912. Bismark I, another 912, was demolished by a trailer truck a couple of years back. The crash won Meyer a lifetime membership in the National Safety Council's Kangaroo Club for people whose lives have been saved by seat belts. In the driveway rest Ziegfried, a Volkswagen beetle; Bruenhilda, a Kharmann-Ghia; and The Art-full Dodger, a fully carpeted, paneled and stereo-ed 1974 Dodge van used primarily for ski trips and camping. But Meyer's sense of devotion does not end with internal combustion engines.
The Du Pont plant in East Chicago where Meyer works looms above the colorless landscape with no pretense to architectural beauty. A network of railroad tracks bedded in black dirt angles among the somber buildings, and an acrid blend of chemical smells hovers in the air. It is the kind of place that the typically ambitious young engineer would view as a stepping-stone to a future amid plush corporate surroundings. Not Jerry Meyer. He believes in roots and enjoys his work, finding it a challenge to his creative and organizational skills. "I've seen a lot of men come through here who are just putting in their time...paying their dues before they move on to another plant," he says. "They aren't interested in doing a job. They see their entire lives with that kind of vision and never really devote themselves to anything. And you know something, they never really enjoy themselves either."
By registering early, Meyer had been able to select his position in the rally and had naturally chosen to be the lead car. "If you're car No. 1, you're never tempted to follow anyone else," he says. Even though he and Helga were late they still arrived at each checkpoint ahead of any other team, but Meyer declined to protest the fluctuating O.D. factor. In the old days he would have been hopping up and down outside the Porsche like a runaway jack-hammer. "I've seen rallies where four out of five legs get thrown out by the protests," Meyer says. "Picayune stuff like that kills the sport, and you have no idea how detailed rallyists can be. In an SCCA national rally you'll be told the size of the tire on the car laying out the course and whether it was cold or warm, because a tire's circumference changes with its temperature. You know what information like that is good for? To drive you nuts, that's what."
There is something in the nature of TSD adherents that dotes on minutiae and technical nuance to the point of loading the sport with chicanery and weird variations. Meyer remembers one rally he ran that included the following instruction: Every time you see the word creek spelled out, increase the average speed 10%, but every time creek is abbreviated, decrease average speed 10%. "You're going along at 50 mph and you see creek spelled out, so you increase to 55," he says. "Then you see cr. and nine out of 10 people decreased to 50 rather than 49.5." When he was asked how one managed to drive at 49.5 miles an hour, Meyer just chuckled.
The set of directions in this particular Porsche Club rally were graphic illustrations called "tulip instructions," which the navigator had to translate into English for the driver. For example, a symbol like the one shown here means to make the first right after the railroad tracks. Serious TSD rallyists don't like tulip instructions and would rather contend with more meaningful directives like the "main road rule," meaning on a highway with a bend to the left and a straight-ahead fork you take the bend. Or the "as-straight-as-possible rule," whereby given the same alternatives, you follow the fork. Pro rallyists, who bludgeon high-performance vehicles over animal trails, logging roads and dried-out riverbeds in events like the Safari in East Africa and the Press On Regardless in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, think TSD rallyists are in the same league as card-catalog librarians and would rather demolish their cars without the benefit of any directions at all. But both share a curious relationship to the terrain over which they travel; they regard the world outside their cars as an obstacle to be overcome, never as a system to which they belong.
At a quiet crossroads on the rally route, several children kick a soccer ball in a lot full of leaves. An old man wearing a Stetson hat, an "open road" model, walks his horse inside a rickety corral beside a weathered frame farmhouse where, in the front yard, an Edsel is for sale. A girl, perhaps 11, swings on a piece of 2 x 10 suspended from a tree by two lengths of rusty chain. The scene is frozen for an instant, then disappears with a frantic whine of gears into a valley flanked by plowed fields as, one by one, in Porsches of every vintage and color, the rallyists pass. Oblivious of their surroundings, aware of nothing but the translation of words into course changes and alternations of speed, they impose an overlay of calculations on the countryside and thus remove it from sight. They could be anywhere on earth as long as a left turn appears in 4.7 miles. They are engaged in a ritual of precision, in harmony with nature only when they are not lost and are on time. They have no desire to distill, from the landscape that races by, images of a country Sunday afternoon.
A few get lost. One destroys his transmission and scatters clutch parts over half an acre of potatoes. Several navigators become ill, but eventually they all rendezvous at a restaurant, a replica of a Bavarian beer garden complete with statued lawns, a duck-filled pond and a banquet hall for the Porsche Club dinner, an event that concludes each of the club's rallies. The official scorer is nowhere to be found so, true to form, Jerry Meyer sits down and goes to work. "If I don't do it, the guy will show up and have to read score sheets instead of having dinner," he says, without rancor, happy to be among friends, sipping vodka gimlets and discussing the pitfalls of the rally course. He and Helga have finished fifth overall, but he doesn't care. During the meal he shuttles among a couple that shares another of his new interests, CB radios, a woman who, like him, will exhibit at next week's crafts show and a man who wants some help with an engine rebuild. Plans must be made. Since Thursday night he has attended a concert of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, organized and overseen a party for Du Pont employees and run this rally, but he shows no signs of slowing down.