SCOTTSBLUFF — As the first official timed day of the Sugar Valley Rally got underway Saturday, the vehicles made their way out of Fremont Motors in Scottsbluff down Highway 26 toward Mitchell.
The official start line for stage one was on the east edge of Mitchell down Cook Oil Road. As the vehicles accelerated down the road, the drivers and navigators cheered each other on and were full of smiles to get the rally underway. The cars cruised over the rolling hills down county roads in Scotts Bluff, Sioux and Box Butte counties underneath a sunny sky on what was practically a perfect day. The fields of crop land led the way into Hemingford, which was the first break.
PHOTOS: Finer details of the Sugar Valley Rally cars
After parking, several rally members leaned into the engine compartment of a 1956 Teal Ford Thunderbird to help address an issue.
When driver Marty Widener was making his way into Hemingford, he and his navigator Lori Stromberg heard a clacking noise under the hood.
“We could hear it,” Stromberg said. “We just kept thinking we were getting close enough we’d stop then and check it out.”
With the help of Scott Miller, who is driving a 1955 Chevrolet BelAir Convertible, Widener took off the valve covers to reveal the rocker shaft was split. The shaft pivots on a spring in the engine to let pressure from the gas and exhaust move through the motor.
“I think it’s a big deal,” Stromberg said. “We can’t move it.”
While the motor would still operate, it would not run well and could cause further damage.
As Stromberg watched Widener and Miller problem-solve their situation, she said during the practice leg Friday, they got their first ace, which put them in first place in the unlimited class. But with the shaft broke, the rest of the stage was over.
As the rest of the rally group headed east out of Hemingford, the ‘56 Thunderbird waited for a tow. While it seemed like they were out of the race as the cars drove past Chimney Rock after stopping at the Chimney Rock Villa home in Bayard, a teal T-bird headed toward the line and flipped around in line. The drivers started honking their car horns and waving. Widener and Stromberg were back in it.
“He was just flying to get to Bayard,” Stromberg said. “We knew who we were supposed to be behind, so we flipped a U-ey.”
After spending four hours in the garage installing a new rocker shaft, Widener rallied back to the line and finished the final leg of the first stage.
As they pulled into Gering’s Fresh Foods, they were smiling and grateful they did not receive a "DNF" — did not finish.
While the first stage did not go as anticipated, they continued the rally with positive attitudes and a story to last a lifetime.