Every year Corky Coker of Coker Tire Company in Chattanooga, Tennessee is gracious enough to hold a fun event in September known as the Coker Tire Challenge. It starts at the Coker Tire headquarters in downtown Chattanooga and takes the drivers, navigators, Sweep crews, as well as the Checkpoint crews all over the place from Middle Tennessee to Alabama and Georgia. You just never know where the Rally Master will take you!
This year was my third year to work the Coker Tire Challenge held in Chattanooga, Tennessee. My first year was in 2008 and I returned in 2011 after working The Great Race that summer. This year was about the same, work The Great Race 2012 this past summer and then two months later work the Coker Tire Challenge.
The more I work both events the more comfortable I get being around the drivers, navigators, support crews, other volunteers and staff of Coker Tire. That has been a major plus for me to socialize with other people while building my confidence.
From Friday morning through Sunday afternoon I am busy working as a checkpoint crew person. First thing Friday, Saturday and Sunday morning I am up before the roosters crow to get watches set using the Universal Coordinated Time using a time cube. Then for about an hour or so we are on the road heading towards our checkpoint(s) for the day. Friday we had two checkpoints, Saturday we had two with the last one being a double (cars come by in both directions) and Sunday we had just one.
It never fails that we will have at least one person stop and ask us what is going on or what is The Great Race (since our checkpoint sign says The Great Race). Every once in awhile we’ll have someone who would like to hang around and watch the cars go by as we take their times.
Friday evening after we finished our checkpoints our destination was the Mountain Valley Farm, where the Cokers reside. Since we were the first ones in (as requested by the Rally Master, John Classen) we helped with score cards, handing out Ace Stickers, and do some collating when new score cards are handed to us by the scoring crew. After we finished those duties we were invited up to the home of Corky & Teresa Coker to have dinner (catered by Sticky Fingers, yum!). It’s always a nice way to end the day especially since I was starving! Of course, I wasn’t about to climb that huge hill to get there so I went to the “bus stop” where Hal (Corky’s right hand helper/worker) drives a vintage Yellowstone Park bus. I have to give it to Hal since the bus obviously doesn’t have power steering and he obviously has to be in shape to steer that thing.
Saturday our first checkpoint was at an old abandoned store that probably closed in the early 90’s since one of the gas pumps read gas $1.19. As I recall as a “new” driver in 1993 that gas was about that price a gallon. We met a few of the locals who were rightfully curious what we were doing sitting in the parking lot with a sign across the road and a big green dot painted in the center of the road. About the time we had about 7 or 8 cars left they showed back up to enjoy watching the cars go by as I took their times.
After having lunch at the Hardee’s on 411 in Benton, we headed to our next checkpoint which was inadvertently changed so we had to move down the road. This checkpoint was an adventure and a half since I had cars coming from both directions about half way through our time there! At one time I nearly had two vehicles crossing the green dot at the same time and two more behind them… Thankfully one of the drivers slowed down a hair which allowed me to get everyone’s times. Needless to say my heart was definitely racing after that one.
Sunday’s checkpoint was by far the most peaceful one. We were situated on a windy road that ran parallel to the Tennessee River. It was mostly quiet (something I rarely have with three kids). Got through the last checkpoint with a breeze although I was quite exhausted particularly since I had to wake up at 4:50 AM to make sure I got ready and arrived at Coker Tire by 6:15 AM. Once the sweep crew and the sweep truck came by we headed towards Coker Tire. The road got narrow and slightly hairy for the sweep truck a couple of times. Very interesting to watch how the sweep truck driver handled the tight squeezes. I know I could never be that talented!
When we finally arrived back to Coker Tire headquarters reality set in that the event was over with when it was time to turn in our equipment, sign and supply box. It felt as if it had just started and suddenly ended. After enjoying a nice meal it was time to announce the winners of the 2012 Coker Tire Challenge. Most of the cars that won I was not surprised, especially when the Jason’s won-they were the Grand Champion winners of this years Great Race.
Since John and his wife Rachel had to leave quickly to get to Atlanta to fly back to Burbank, CA, Janice and I helped make sure the drivers received their score cards, ACE stickers if they made any Ace’s today and an overall score/time sheet. We managed to give all but two of the score cards out which I think is pretty good.
I enjoyed getting to interact with some of the drivers and navigators more this time around. I know I will be more prepared to dive in to my duties as a checkpoint worker for The Great Race as well as work with the drivers and navigators. It is important to me that I get to know them and vice versa.
The highlights of the event was that I got teased by one of the cars’ drivers “Tom” would joke with me about yelling “MARK” as his vehicle crossed my checkpoint. So, I started yelling “TOM” as he crossed my checkpoints so I started getting thumbs up. Next, I made a major boo boo by calling car “69” a car when it is a truck. So at the last checkpoint of the event I yelled “TRUCK” instead of “MARK.” Yes, the driver Jim and his navigator got a huge kick out of it! Then as we were heading home and on Main Street I notice a Coker Tire badge and sunglasses laying in the middle of the road. Janice turns around and parks in the median while I get out and wait for traffic to pass through. Luckily no one ran over the sunglasses before then. I quickly picked them up got back in and read the name: Chad Caldwell and his sunglasses? Ray Ban’s! So we headed back to Coker Tire hoping to find Corky, which we did as he was locking the gates. I sure hope someone calls Chad to let him know his sunglasses were safe and sound.
I am glad I did one good deed for the event and the day!