Thursday, August 31, 2006

The art and science of rally

While some racers I know don’t see rallying as a motor sport, there is no denying the scientific aspect of the sport. We measure a route more precisely than most road engineers know how to do. We drive a car through varying conditions exactly at a set speed to arrive at an unknown location at exactly the correct calculated time.

All very scientific.

Even in trap rallies we rely on logic to determine the correct execution of the trapped instructions. If the generals are correctly worded and the conditions are correctly established there can be only one correct method of executing the route instructions.

So where is the art? The art is in winning a rally.

To be a winner you first have to think like one. If you are convinced that something will go wrong during a rally to ruin your score, then you will find that thing.
I still remember the time I spent preparing myself before my first national win. Before that I had always had the feeling that I was not good enough to win. There were so many people out there with more experience.

I put all that out of my mind a focused my thoughts on getting as many zeros as possible. The result was a score of 11 on a National Touring rally and gong home with a trophy.
Remember that even in rallying, what your think about expands. Don’t dwell on mistakes or potential problems. Prepare for them. Stay focuses on your goal of getting as low a score as you can.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

CompuRally - the early days

As I have mentioned before, CompuRally started out on a TI-55 calculator. It later evolved to an HP 41c and later to the 41CX with the time chip.

As Jeff and I learned more about industrial controls from automating our process at Westvaco, we decided to upgrade to computer data acquisition.

We found a card that would count pulses for an IBM clone computer. I built an encoder in the brake rotor of my Datsun 510 by drilling holes and using a proximity sensor to generate pulses. The card in the computer did the counting. The Compurally software written in BASIC did the math and displayed the result on a 7 inch monitor mounted where the glove box should have been in my 510.

The desktop computer ran off an inverter and was mounted to the cargo area floor of my 510 wagon. We had long cables to connect the keyboard and monitor.

As good engineers we tried to think of every thing that might go wrong with the set up and plan for the contingencies.

We tested everything we could think of and when the system seemed bulletproof, we headed to Atlanta to give it a go against Ken and Robert's Zeron computer.

In the back of my mind I was still thinking that somethiong would go wrong with our hacked together system. But we had tested everything we could think of. What could possible go wrong?

While running the odometer calibration leg, we drove under so low hanging power transmission wires. Just as we drove under the wires, the computer rebooted, loosing all our calibration data.

At first we did not associate the wires with the reboot, but after the computer rebooted for the third time in the exact same spot we decided it must be something in the wires. Who would have thought that the power would set up enough resonance to reboot our computer in the car?

After that rally we added shielding to the long cables and never had another reboot. The later version for our laptop computer eliminated the trouble altogether.

Sometimes I wish I was not so good at manifesting problems to correct. To read more about the dark side of manifesting your fears click here.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Reading the Generals

Every rally will have a set of General instructions. These are commonly known as "The Generals."

Reading and knowing the general instructions is the key to getting good score, staying on course and possibly winning the rally.

The General instructions will tell you things like what the penalty scale is, where signs might be located,how and when to execute the instructions and what to do at intersections where you have no instructions.

If you happen to attend a Rally without written general instructions, ask a lot of questions to find out what the un written rules are for that club.

When running a trap rally, the generals will be the key to setting up most of the traps.

Begin by looking for strange definitions. For example, one rally I ran defined a bridge as crossing water. In the rally we crossed what looked like a bridge but it was over a train track instead so for the purpose of the rally, it was not a bridge.

Another common trick is to define where signs can be found. For example signs on the left of the road may not exist for the purpose of the rally. Or even more common is that signs painted on vehicles do not exist. The rally master may reference a really big sign painted on a truck but since a truck is a vehicle, you can't use it in the rally.

In the Rally in Bell Buckle we ended up second instead of winning due to my not reading the generals carefully. I made a simple mistake that cost me a few points moving me from first to second.

Always read the generals.