Rally fans love watching cars drift and fly down dirt roads at speeds well beyond any posted limits. When pushing that hard, mistakes and mechanical failures will inevitably happen. This can lead to a simple breakdown, or a spectacular crash like this.
First and foremost, as wild as this crash was, driver Jeff Berlin and co-driver Zachary Skipper walked away completely unharmed, thanks to the extensive safety equipment required for rally. The car, obviously, didn’t fare so well. So what happens after the video ends? My wife and I were part of the sweep team at the Empire State Performance Rally this past weekend where this crash took place, and we handled this incident personally. Here’s what happened next.
Help Each Other Out
There were at least two videographers at the scene of the crash. It happened close to a spectator area. Naturally, as decent human beings, they ran to make sure the car’s occupants were all right. They were, and quickly set up the required warning triangles on the road to warn approaching competitors of their wreck. They also displayed the “OK” sign they are provided in the road book as a fast confirmation to other competitors that they were unharmed. (If there had been injuries, they would’ve shown a red cross instead. The stage would stop running, and the ambulance waiting at the starting line would respond.) If the car was safely off the road, such as a mechanical failure where they pulled over at a safe location, this is all that would happen. Other competitors behind them would know they were there, did not require assistance, and carefully speed on by. But the twice smashed car was blocking the road.
The cars that started behind them started to arrive on the scene about a minute later. Stage marshals and spectators up the road warned approaching cars that there was a problem ahead and to slow down so nobody added to the carnage. Since the road was completely blocked, they all helped push the wrecked car off the road so that they and other competitors could get through to the finish. The extra time this took got wiped out by the timing and scoring people afterward. Helping competitors in need is more important than the competition itself, and although rally is full of time penalties, they don’t get penalized for situations like this.
Meanwhile, the amateur radio operator stationed at the spectator area reported the situation to net control. Aside from their fellow competitors, ham radio is their lifeline. This is how the ambulance would have been dispatched to the scene if it was needed. In this case, everyone listening to the radio learned what had happened, that the occupants were OK, and that we could finish running the stage, but the sweep team would have to move the crashed car afterward. That’s where we came in.
The Sweep Team
Despite being the weekend before Halloween, we weren’t flying broomsticks wearing pointy hats or chasing the Golden Snitch. We were a team of four off-road vehicles (we had a Toyota 4Runner for the occasion - full review coming soon) tasked with cleaning up the mess that sometimes remains after a stage. The sweep captain, Ron, took the lead with his Jeep Wrangler. This was the Checkered Flag car, indicating that the stage was complete. Two sweep trucks followed him. Sweep 1 was Bill and his modified Toyota Tacoma. Our stock 4Runner was Sweep 2. At the end of the line was Data Sweep, another Tacoma. His job was to pick up not cars, but timing data from the start and finish of each stage for scoring purposes. All of the event results and data you see on the NASA Rally Sport web site went through them to get there.
About a minute after the final competitor started their run, we would begin to drive through the stage ourselves. Our pace was brisk, but rally officials restricted us to a top speed of 40mph. This was no fast run like we did in the Mustang at Black River Stages last year, or the Penalty Box Jeep Compass the year before. Ron, in the lead, would stop for each disabled car he found, then radio back to the rest of us that they were OK where they were, or dispatch one of us to drop out of formation to help move the car while he moved on to assess the rest of the stage.