Star Photo by Vince Fedoroff
PILGRIMAGE BY PACKARD – Lennox McNeely (left) and James Walters are seen Thursday afternoon after pulling into the Yukon Transportation Museum checkpoint of the Around the World in 80 Days vintage car ralley. The duo, travelling in Walters’ 1938 Packard Touring Sedan, are the only Canadians in the odyssey, and are first in their catagory. The drivers left Whitehorse at 7:00 this morning bound for Watson Lake via the South Canol Road.

Rally drivers enjoy respite here
by Carmel Ecker

There was no big hurrah, no fanfare, just a quick exit from the Yukon Transportation Museum beginning at 7 :00 sharp this morning as 40 classic cars began yet another section of their journey around the world in 80 days.

Beginning with the vintageant category, cars left in pairs exactly one minute apart, on their way to the next checkpoint in Watson Lake.

Lennox McNeely and James Walters pulled their seat belts over their shoulders – airplane pilot-style – and led the pack with their 1938 Packard Super 8, the sole Canadian-driven entry in the ’round-the-world rally.

Today is day 46 of the exhausting rally, which has taken drivers and navigators through Europe, China and is now seeing them through North America.

The rally began at the London Tower Bridge on May 1. It moved through to Beijing, where the remaining 40 of 101 cars continued on by airplane to Anchorage, the start of the North American leg of the tour.

The cars were airlifted in the Anatov, the world’s biggest cargo plane, which was loaded almost to its maximum of 100 tonnes with 43 cars on its two decks.

The rally will continue through Canada and the U.S. until drivers reach New York, when they will be flown to Africa, from where they will make their way back to London.

In an interview Thursday after the team came in from Dawson City, Walters recalled the good and bad things he’s experienced on the road so far.

“You wouldn’t believe how difficult it is to get ice in China,” he said. Because no one uses ice there, everyone thought the ralliers were crazy for wanting ice in their drinks.

Despite that trouble, Walters said he loved the many shops that filled the back streets of Chinese towns.

Managing to pick up silk pyjamas for $8 and a silk dressing gown for $10, Walters talked about dealing with sellers.

“They love to haggle,” he said of the shopkeepers. They don’t respect you if you don’t haggle, but if you do, you become their great friend.

While the shopping was good, some of the accommodations that were arranged for participants didn’t quite meet western standards.

In one hotel in Georgia, Walters said, describing some of the typical accommodations, there were live wires hanging out of their sockets. Each floor had a desk at either end of the hall from which guards monitored each driver’s movements.

With all of the scenery on his journey, Walters has taken 24 rolls of film, so far, and he’s just over half-way back to London, England.

New Zealand driver Christine Jones might agree on the excessive use of film on the trip. Kurgistan was “a real gem,” she said, comparing it to the B.C. Rockies.

However, unlike the Rockies, there aren’t many tourists in the old Russian republic.

Jones is half of the only all-girl team, which is driving a 1960 Rover 80. Like co-pilot Phillippa McLachlan, Jones dismantled her own Rover at home to prepare for any mechanical problems they may have to fix on the road.

As for the car they’re driving in the rally, “We bought it, had it stripped to the chassi, shot-glassed it and put it together piece by piece,” said Jones.

The whole thing was a two-year project.

And it’s been “so far so good” on the road, according to Jones. Besides having to replace a fuel pump and the brakes, they’ve had almost no mechanical problems.

“It’s ready for the rally,” she said.

There’s a great bunch of people on the tour, “a good mix.” There’s competition, she admitted, but if someone breaks down on the road, the next car always stops to help.

The Canadian team is in first place in the vintageant car category, and it doesn’t look like they’ll be giving it up soon.

But there’s something more important than being first in the Classic Rally Association’s year 2000 car rally: money. Not for themselves, but for two charities: Camp Shawnigan and Casa Guatemala.

Camp Shawnigan is a B.C. Lions Club Easter Seals camp 39 km north of Victoria. It gives disabled children from all over Vancouver Island free, week-long sessions where they can practice things like arts and crafts, sports and other outdoor activities.

Walters said he decided to use the race to raise money for the camp because he wanted to give something back to the community.

“I enjoyed camping a lot when I was a kid,” said Walters, and he wants other kids to have that experience.

Because the Lions Club donates 100 per cent of the money it raises to charity, he said, he’s glad to help them out.

Casa Guatemala, the team’s other charity, is a little more complicated endeavour.

What started out as a financial donation for McNeely has grown into a full-scale project to restore an orphanage that was destroyed by an earthquake in 1996.

McNeely got involved with the charity before the quake when his nephew, David McKenzie, suggested it would be a good project to support.

Shortly after McNeely sent $10,000, 90 per cent of the orphanage was shaken to the ground by a 6.7 quake on the Richter scale. Because everyone was outside eating breakfast, no one was hurt in the building’s collapse.

The refuge for more than 150 abandoned and malnourished children depends totally on private donations, as it receives no government aid, and has as many as 20 volunteers at a time, teaching and caring for the children.

Currently, McKenzie and fellow carpenter Mark Kerschbaumer are helping to rebuild the orphanage’s buildings. A Dutch design engineer helped ensure the buildings will be more structurally sound so it’s less likely to collapse in another tremblor.

Several teams in the race are raising money for different charities. Among them is one from Britain and France, and its members are not at all concerned about winning the rally.

Changing drivers and arriving late at checkpoints have cost the team so much time that it’s dead last, but that doesn’t bother British navigator Andrew Powell.

“We’ve managed to be completely last, which is great. I think there’s a prize for that,” he said.

Because the first half of the trip from London to Beijing took a toll on the Cordon Bleu, one of only 34 1964 Facel Vega 6s ever made, the team had to stay in Anchorage an extra day to make badly-needed repairs.

While his team’s standings in the rally aren’t a big deal, what does concern Powell is raising money for Chearish Fund, a fund to support two hospices in England.

Driving two cars, the Cordon Bleu and Cordon Rouge, a team of six drivers is striving to get people to give to the fund. It was thought up by a 13-year-old London girl named Chearish who has had a debilitating cancer since she was seven years old.

The two hospices, Helen House and soon-to-be constructed Douglas House, need about £3000 (UK Sterling) per day to operate.

Charities aside, the rally cars were raring to go this morning on their way to New York before heading over the Atlantic Ocean.

Walters is definitely not about to take second place in this rally if he can help it.

“We want to win this thing for Canada,” he said.

Dozens of admirers milled around the cars parked outside the sun-splashed Gold Rush Inn Thursday evening.

Among the anecodotes exchanged was the 1955 Chevrolet that blew a rear end between Dawson and Whitehorse. Amazingly, a replacement was swiftly located and installed in the inn’s parking lot.

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