It might not be the real thing but what a fantastic idea from Highland Car Club regarding the virtual Rallython. We are all desperate for a smile these days, so I for one can’t wait to hear from the former stars about their experiences on the event. For me the event (the real one) conjures up some great memories, most of them alcohol-fuelled. I started going to the Snowman in the early ‘80s and it is a favourite of mine.
It has that ‘first event of the season’ feel about it, the cars are all finely fettled and the paint is still fresh. There is always a large migration from all over Scotland to come to Inverness, which really is bizarre as if truth be told it is bloody freezing.
Some stand out moments for me would be Heggie in the Quattro in ‘87, he just tore the place up. Colin McRae in his Nova, also in ‘87, different class. I remember him coming down a twisty section in Ord Hill and he was sideways everywhere, one could have been forgiven for thinking the wee Vauxhall had two rear punctures, but it didn’t, it was just that man McRae’s style.
I do remember sleeping in the Ladbroke Hotel the night before the Snowman in 1987, it must have been at least -10, so I stuck the engine on for a heat in the night and was greeted with about six different carloads telling me in no uncertain terms what they would do to me if I did not shut that f**** engine off! Even competitors slept in the car park on the Snowman before the rigours of a tough day in the woods; a hardy bunch us Scots!
A more embarrassing recollection was back in ‘94. I had one of the first Subaru 555 coats. It cost a bloody fortune at the time and I was quite proud of my new acquisition, especially as nobody else seemed to have one. After a day slogging through the woods, it was party time in Inverness, a staple requirement to round off the Snowman weekend. We soon got tanked up and arrived at a nightclub. My mate Mike was quite rightly keen to hand his jacket over to the cloakroom attendant, not I! A freezing homeless man on the street who would have lived if I’d given him my coat had NO chance of getting my beautiful en-vogue rally coat, never mind someone who could lose it in a cloakroom. No, I was wearing that coat all night and to bed. Soon, Mike and I shimmered over to a couple of local girls for a dance, this was totally Del Boy and Trigger stuff.
Incredibly a couple of local girls danced with us. This was new territory for me (usually such an act required a balaclava, a hammer and a van). After a couple of dances the sweat was absolutely pouring off me, this bloody coat, I was sweating like a fat kid walking past a McDonalds. The young lass asked me if I was local, for some crazy reason I said I was up competing at the Snowman Rally. The lie mushroomed as I then told her I finished second overall. When she asked me my name I replied - Murray Gillanders. “Oh, wait there, my uncle finished fourth or fifth I think, there he is there, I will go and get him”! S@&$! I was about to lose face faster than the A Team in a maze so me and Mike bolted out of there faster than he could say “why are you sweating so much?”.
There was the time we travelled up in a Mk3 Escort (a horrible pale blue number) and we decided to take bikes up on the back with a posh new bike rack that were all the rage. We were still so rough from the previous night that we didn't secure them correctly and they fell off up past Aviemore on the A9!
I remember drinking very late in the Ladbroke Hotel in the company of some of the top seeds who’s start time was eight hours later and so the whisky kept flowing. The next day said drivers were as fresh as a daisy and tore up the stages whilst I was being sick all over the Highlands. Pentti Airikkala returning to the event to run as Course Car was another that will live long in the memory.
A competitor’s car broke down after the Flying Finish one year and coasted down the track towards the main road where the navigator hopped into a car then arrived at the next time control on foot, timecards in hand, ready to hand them in after jumping out the said car at the back of the rally queue. To our man’s surprise he received a time so carried on and did the same at the finish and received a good haul of class points whilst his mount for the day was still sitting with steam coming out of it in the last stage some 15 miles away. Cheating or gamesmanship, or just accepting good fortune? I will go for the latter.
Of course, there is the scenery aspect, the run up the A9 is truly beautiful, and when the event heads down the Great Glen towards Fort Augustus I defy anyone to tell me there is a more picturesque setting in the sport. The locals embrace the sport as do the local radio stations and newspapers. I have to admit, in my opinion, the North of Scotland really is the beating heart of Scottish rallying. The spectators come out in their thousands. I remember leaving a stage once and had to drive past the spectator entrance, it was like a football stadium emptying. You can mention the Snowman Rally to anyone in Inverness and they know about it, I do think some organises could learn a thing or two from this event. And the people; a fantastic, knowledgeable bunch, hard as nails, I’ve seen them in the forests wearing nothing more than a pair of speedos and a pair of Adidas Samba trainers, and that was just the local police!
But what about the Car Club? Highland CC must be the bravest, perhaps craziest organisers in the British Isles. I mean, seriously, who in their right mind would organise a forest rally in February in the north of Scotland? Can you imagine the stress leading up to the start of the event every single year wondering if the weather will hold up? It is testimony to HCC that very few events have been cancelled in the last 66 years, cap doffed. The Snowman Rally really is synonymous with the best of Scottish rallying.