Teams competing in a national auto rally will start their engines during a stop in Downtown Bay City

A traffic jam may plague Downtown Bay City next week, but it’s all for a good cause when Rally North America brings some 75 cars here for a fund-raising scavenger hunt.

The trip starts Sun., July 18 in Eau Claire, Wisc. The 1,300-mile route takes them through Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and across the Great Lakes Bay Region before ending in Holland on the West Side of the state. Along the way, the teams will raise about $175,000 for Multiple Sclerosis research.

On Thurs., July 22, the cars gather in Downtown Bay City to complete a series of tasks to earn points. The tasks are top secret until that morning.

Tony Intrieri, Operations Manager for Rally North America, and along with his friend Scott Spielman started the rally in 2009 with 12 teams, and a fundraising total of $17,000. Today the pair fills a limit of 80 teams and has raised over $1.6 million.

Intrieri says the starting line for Wed., July 21 is in Sault Ste. Marie and the finish line is in Downtown Bay City. It’s not just a race for speed, though. Teams collect points for stops they visit along the journey. For example, he says teams can earn 200 points for a video of them swimming in one of the Great Lakes – “And they have to go all the way in,” which means if they’re going into Lake Superior, they don’t get the points for just dipping their toes in the water.

The winning car crosses the finish line during the 2014 event.While the drivers know their starting and finishing lines for each of the five days, they don’t know where any of the challenges until they line up each morning.

“There might be six hours between the start and the finish, but they’ll have eight hours to get there because there is ancillary list of tasks that they can do to gain extra points. There will be things that are indicative of the area we’re going to be in.”

He can’t reveal the challenges they’ll face here, but two years ago, the rally took drivers along the East Coast. In New Jersey, so drivers had to get a plate of Gabbagool, which is slang for Capicola. Capicola is a traditional Italian cold cut made from pork shoulder or neck.

“And if they were able to get a video of themselves eating that entire plate of Gabbagool, it was an additional 100 points. When we were in West Virginia, if they could get a group of four or more people to sing the chorus of ‘Country Roads,’ that would be an extra 100 points for them.”

At the end of the day, the points are tallied, and teams place first, second, and third. That doesn’t help them in the lineup for the next morning, though.

“Since it’s a scavenger hunt format, we let them leave two or three at a time,” he says, and that’s based on who raises the most money.

To enter the road rally, teams must raise a minimum amount. Everyone tries to raise more, though, to get the best spot at the starting line. A week before the rally, the total pledged stands at about $127,000 but Intrieri expects that number to push upward to $175,000 by the Fri., July 16 deadline.

Come downtown between 7:30 and 9 a.m. on Thurs., July 22, and you’ll see who won the right to start first. Intrieri says North Water Street between Fifth Street and Center Avenue will look like a traffic jam as the teams learn the day’s challenges. While they’re here, the teams will visit the USS Edson and other local points of interest.

Unlike other traffic jams, this one will likely involve costumes.

Even though the rally isn’t a race or a competition, necessarily, Intrieri says there are a few traditions that have evolved over the years, including a costume competition.

“We never know what we’re going to see until we get there on Sunday,” he says. “Some teams felt they had to be in costume 24/7, then they started adding props and music to the mix,” which he says becomes interesting when the theme is “Jurassic Park. “They had all the props, a velociraptor costume, and the guns.” The next day, they were dressed as other characters from the movies.

Intrieri says every year is different, as is the location of the rally, but more often than not the participants are the same. He says 70% of the teams come back every year, and the event sells out within a month of registration opening. He doesn’t know what draws people in, other than their love for automotive touring and a wish to support a good cause.

Rally North America supports one of four different charities. This year funds raised will go to Race to Erase MS and the Center Without Walls Program. Other charities the group supports include Hope for The Warriors, Concerns of Police Survivors (COPS), and Camp Sunshine.

“The trick of it is to find an organization that is going to do well with the money we raise and understands our event,” Intrieri says. “There are some charities that do well with the money and that we want to work with, but they can’t wrap their head around what we do.”

Although there are other road rallies that raise money for charities, Intrieri says Rally North America is different in that it stays off the interstates.

“When I go on a road trip, I hardly ever take the interstate,” he says. “When you stick to the interstates you go from Point A to Point B, so we wanted to make the part to get there different. Really, the path to get there is the most interesting part.”
Each year they choose an area of the country that has places that are “scenic, historic, and have some sort of relevance.”

Teams will head out from Bay City on their way to the finish line in Holland, where they will drive the pedestrian walkway in Windmill Park and take laps at the GingerMan Raceway.
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