This one’s been a long time coming, and I hate that it took me roughly three months to pull a post together about the event we hosted at the end of August. Life’s been busy but as the final weeks of the year pass rapidly by, it’s finally time to talk about the Rainbow Road not-quite-a-Rallycross. Hosted at the end of August, we got 48 drivers to show up to Summit Point Motorsports Park for a weekend of competitive, timed laps on the Shenandoah circuit. Most of the 48, and most of the 40-some others who came to support as their “crew,” identified as part of the LGBTQ automotive enthusiast community.
The Rainbow Road Backstory
Top Gear has influenced a generation (or more) of enthusiasts. The cars, the stunts, the camaraderie, and the challenges all look so damn fun on TV. There’s a certain something about bringing a few cheap, terrible cars together and trying to push them beyond their limits. It’s appealing, it sounds ridiculous, and then… it sounds hard to actually pull off, because it is.
The past few years have seen Out Motorsports plan smaller “cheap car challenges” a lá Top Gear, but with a limited invite list. I’d rent the biggest Airbnb I could find, see what was nearby, and figure out what to do. We started with $1,500 AWD beaters that we took off-roading, then pivoted to taking $1,500 “Grandma cars” to an SCCA Rallycross weekend.
In both cases, invites were limited because of feasible event size. Coordinating 50 people on an off-road trail sounds nightmarish. I could only bring so many to a rallycross hosted by someone else. Some feelings were hurt in the process, others swore they’d come if they knew about the next one, and overall enthusiasm only swelled. We had the diversity of drivers, now we needed the space for a whole lot of inclusion. That’s the point, isn’t it?
I steeled my nerves, grabbed my Visa card, and texted my friend Jon. Jon spends his days as a driving instructor for the State Department, where government employees learn all sorts of defensive techniques, from shooting around corners to – yes – reverse J-turns in Dodge Chargers. In his free time, Jon plans motorsport events that are low-cost and reasonably accessible.
“Hey. I want to rent Summit Point and I need your help to do it.”
This Was Supposed to Be a Rallycross
With Jon’s help, I had initially secured the two rallycross courses on Summit Point’s property. We picked a weekend, chose a challenge theme, and sent out the invites. There was no going back now, and excitement built quickly as interested parties started shopping for “orphaned cars” – makes and models you can’t buy anymore – for $1,500 or less.
Something like ten days before the event, Jon sent me a text. “Urgent. Call me please. About the event.”
I’m still unclear on what actually went down, but due to some something unrelated to us, Summit Point was unable to host any rallycross events for the remainder of 2021. Fortunately, the Shenandoah circuit was available on my weekend and Summit Point leadership graciously offered it up if we were interested. “Think about it, let me know if–” Jon began. “No no no that sounds amazing, wow, what a nightmare, let’s do it, I’ll email everyone.”
And so our rallycross became a paved event with the same sort of format. Cars would launch from a start line and run through roughly half of the circuit one at a time, autocross style, for the best time. We’d flip the course at lunch, and run the second half of the circuit on day two. Easy. At least three drivers scrambled to swap soft rally tires for appropriate rubber, or asked to bring a different car. Nobody backed out.
The $1,500 Cars You Can’t Buy Anymore
My only restrictions for our cheap car challenge were “no convertibles, no body-on-frame SUVs or trucks, must have three-point seatbelts.” Yes, someone asked about bringing a car from the 1940s or thereabouts and I had to list seatbelts as an insurance requirement.
What did manage to show up was an incredible smorgasbord of wonderful, terrible, hooptie-rific vehicles that were never meant to see racetrack time, let alone a replica of the Nürburgring’s Karussell that we ran in reverse. Sitting on the grid, painters-tape numbers affixed to the doors, were perhaps the wildest variety of vehicles I’ve ever seen at a track weekend.
We had everything from an AMC Eagle to a Daewoo Lanos to a Dodge Aries. There was an old cop car with working lights and sirens, a gold Cadillac Fleetwood, a baby-blue Crown Vic that had been driven to Summit Point from Arkansas. We had perhaps the only surviving Eagle Vision ESi and a Chevy Cavalier that looked like it was pulled from a swamp but still ran.
Next to these beautiful shitboxes were another grouping of more, uh, proper track machines. Participating in The Challenge was optional, daily drivers and track cars were welcomed. I may never again see a caged BMW E36 Spec3 racecar share the grid with a hood-less K-Car. It was a beautiful thing to behold.
For whatever reason, I hosted this event in August, which meant aged and overworked parts showed their true colors almost immediately as the cheap, often-frail cars were pushed to the point of terminal understeer and wheels-up Karussel exits. The Crown Vic boiled over, the Vision’s exhaust fell off, a daily-driven BMW Z3 coupe vomited its entire radiator contents out the kidney grills.
The Fleetwood survived most of a day of full-throttle neutral drops before its mighty LT1 V8 seized up entirely. The quaint little Aries broke down and was revived by unplugging the MAP sensor, leading to the 1980s equivalent of limp mode and a bright “POWER LOSS” light on the dash as it was caned around Shenandoah.
Nevertheless, the cars persisted and most of the cheap stuff ran all weekend long. The group sent it and sent it, over and over, hooting and hollering as a spray-painted Saturn came into view exiting a corner keeled over on its bumpstops.
It’s About the People, or the Importance of Hosting a Queer-Focused Track Weekend
Attending your first motorsport event as a driver is intimidating, no matter who you are. You’re hyper-aware of every last detail and wonder how much it matters. You have no idea what you’re doing but don’t want to be “that person” asking a million questions.
Now show up to an event as a queer person. Maybe you’re the appropriate level of tall or short or masculine or feminine to “pass” to the strangers you meet as whatever they expect. Maybe you’re not, because not everyone is afforded such a privilege. The first half will likely do what they can to fit in and divert the conversation when spouses and partners come up, because it’s easier and safer that way. The second half might not even register for the event at all.
Despite “changing times” and whatnot, the stereotype of amateur motorsports continues to be one that largely caters to cisgender straight people. My local NASA paddock is tremendously embracing of everyone, but that doesn’t mean I know more than one or two other queer drivers in a paddock of hundreds – if any at all.
Sometimes you need to see an event hosted by someone like you before you’ll sign up. It’s even more convincing when you know there will be others like you in attendance. And there is gay kickball and gay bocce and gay flag football and gay dodgeball, but there is no “gay racing” or any sort of automotive equivalent. Or at least, there hasn’t been.
We wanted to host this event, this Rainbow Road Rallycross that wasn’t actually a rallycross, because we firmly believe messing around on a track makes you a better driver on the street. And we wanted more LGBTQ people to show up and show out and give it a shot. And they did.
One friend found me on Sunday afternoon and summed it up well. “Pulling in to the paddock yesterday morning with the windows down and hearing Carly Rae Jepsen on the PA system just told me everything about the tone of the event.” Not everyone in attendance was gay or lesbian or trans or on any other part of the rainbowy queer spectrum. We had some cisgender straight folks with us, and given the very public promotion of this as a LGBTQ-focused event, they were as fantastic as you’d expect.
As Evan and Donny puttered up the hill, out of the Shenandoah paddock, I looked around. The last car left was my Cayenne, and we were done. Camaraderie was in abundance throughout the weekend. When something broke, everyone nearby jumped into action to help. Everyone talked to everyone. Track veterans gave advice to the more green drivers. New friendships were made and old ones made a bit stronger. Most importantly, even as some of the cheap cars fell victim, every single person in the paddock was laughing and smiling non-stop.
We’re hosting two of these next year. Stay tuned for dates.