Desert Storm was a car rally staged in the Arizona desert between March 3 and 6, 2011. I volunteered as a member of the media team to photograph the event. They stationed me at a what they called the “Arizona turnaround.” This was where the cars finished stage 3, turned around and went back the other way.
The entire event was held in a place where the military tests things that go boom to make sure they… go boom. Go too far off the path and you were faced with a sign warning you about unexploded ordinance, but you usually had to wander a little farther if you wanted to discreetly relieve yourself. So you had to make peace with the thought that you might be taking a leak on an old artillery shell.
For the uninitiated, rally is a form of motor sport where cars run against the clock on (mostly) dirt roads. It’s not “racing” like you think of NASCAR, but it is a true test of driving skill. The driver has to navigate a course he or she has only seen once before, if that. The co-driver has to keep the driver up to speed on what’s next, reading from notes in a car that is sometimes going over 100 miles per hour along some pretty bumpy roads. The bond between driver and co-driver has to be one of absolute trust.
The event was a tough one. Out of 11 entries, only nine survived a preliminary event prior to the start of the actual rally. By the end of the first day, only four were still running. The course was a real car breaker. A co-driver friend of mine insists that, “Courses don’t break cars, drivers do.” Maybe, but this course seemed more than eager to help.
My own fallibility came into play on the first day, when there was a couple of hours between the time the cars left the turnaround and when they would be back for a second pass. The rally headquarters was actually over the state line in Blythe, CA. Of course, that put the course and the headquarters in different time zones and the event was run on California time. I was told that cars would return around 12:30pm. Of course that was 12:30pm PST. My iPhone didn’t know any better and had switched over to Mountain time as soon as I passed over the state line. So I blithely went out into the desert to find my spot at 12:30pm Mountain time, or 11:30am PST, a hour before I needed to.
Needless to say, I got to spend a peaceful hour communing with nature (and unexploded ordinance) before the cars started rolling through. It’s time like this when you have to learn to enjoy watching paint dry.