December 2003     

A Rally Glossary


Article by John Meader.
From Sports Car Magazine FEBRUARY 1961
transcribed by Bill Jonesi

IN RALLYING, as it has evolved in this country, the course is of the essence. Off-course travel is severely penalized by the scoring system. A lost car is sorely tempted to drive at illegally high speeds - if not dangerous - during an attempt to recover. The right of all of us to use public highways for our sport demands a keen sense of public responsibility. This right may easily come into question if abused. The course must be the same for all, and the course directions should have the same, evident, unmistakable meaning to all competitors. The route instructions are the very heart, core and framework of the rules of the game.

These are the basic reasons why good rallies exhibit three noteworthy characteristics: evidence of a sincere desire on the part of the organizers to keep all cars on course; a clear and consistent writing of the itinerary; a careful checking of the course under rally conditions. Precise writing requires the definition of any terms not used in their ordinary common-sense meaning.

There has been a recent tendency on the part of some rally organizers to withhold official mileage information over long sections of the course, and to complicate navigational problems by requiring unnecessarily frequent speed changes at factitious locations. This vogue has increased the difficulty of writing watertight route instructions. It has also had the effect of shifting much of the burden of accurate course-finding to the driver's side of the cockpit. Many successful rally pairs carry the route type script on the dash where the driver can read it. From the viewpoint of safety this is undesirable.

It is also rather frequent practice nowadays to put check points in "trap" locations, with the contestants afforded no early warning for an off-course condition, much less an opportunity for legal recovery. In these circumstances the course directions become highly critical. An ambiguity known in the trade as a "cook" - may scatter the fleet and turn a good sport into a guessing game, quite aside from increasing the danger element.

Last year a serious effort was made to analyze all of the route instructions used in three important rallies -numbering nearly one thousand items - with the object of finding out whether they contained any logical flaws. From the experience of running these courses, the exact meaning of the instructions was clear in retrospect. Direct knowledge of some of the difficulties encountered by several contestants was sharpened by scrutiny of the scores.

When all of the terms used were classified and tabulated it appeared - as might have been expected - that a small percentage of them occurred with relatively high frequency, as "Stop", "Change Average Speed", etc. (Strangely, there were significantly more right turns than left). But there seemed to be a correlation between off course incidents and a certain few rather special terms.

The next step was to consult the definitions given in the general regulations of the rallies for possible clues to unusual meanings. A number of questions were cleared up in this way, but some of the definitions given were found to contain subtle ambiguities which did not become apparent until the actual course was run.

At this point a thorough going job was done of attempting to write authentic definitions of all of the hundreds of terms found, not only in the route instructions themselves but also in the general instructions if they had any bearing on the course-finding problem. The source consulted was impeccable - Webster's New International Dictionary (Unabridged) - but the attempt ended in abject failure. Either the dictionary failed to provide anything but a labored explanation of a perfectly obvious meaning, or it contributed little or nothing to correspond with the actual meaning. There was, of course, a middle ground where the rally meaning was found among the more obscure uses of a word, but, in general, the rallymaster's definitions were better than Webster's.

It was clear, then, that many rally terms are essentially technical, forming a vocabulary special to the sport. But a problem remained. Quite a few terms seemed to lack any uniform definition, some special definitions given were faulty (too vague or mutually inconsistent), and some with no discernible flaw were persistent troublemakers!

In order to keep the work going, and to bring other talents to bear on a task which was rapidly proving too much for an amateur lexicographer, a glossary of 90 rally terms was prepared and circulated among a score of experienced competitors and organizers, and their comments solicited. Their help is gratefully acknowledged, for it has permitted a decent refinement of the first crude effort.

The list of suggested definitions presented herewith omits about one-half of those drafted in the original compilation, leaving only those words and phrases where there seemed to be some hope of finding general acceptance, or of contributing to a more widespread understanding.

The terms are classified, for easy reference, as general terms (which pervade the route instructions proper), action words and phrases, and locating devices. In the last section no attempt has been made to define landmarks such as signs (where the only precise definition may be the legend), for these are cited in great variety and usually require individual description.

Much of the confusion which has occurred in actual rallies seems to be traceable to a lack of understanding of the terms "Y", "T" and "Triangle". Special attention is accordingly invited to these definitions. They are somewhat narrower than they might be made if experience had not shown these terms to be "accident-prone."

All language has to be considered in its context, and rally terms are no exception. There appear to be six unwritten rules which usually go without saying:

  1. Each instruction must be executed at the first opportunity to do so.
  2. Route instructions, usually numbered, must be executed in the order given.
  3. It is a logical corollary of #2 that each course instruction must be completed before the next one can apply. This rule does not govern average speed requirements, which may be ordered anywhere and persist until changed.
  4. When directed onto a numbered highway or named street, the contestant is required to follow it even if it turns, without further word, until he is taken off it or the next turning direction can be executed.
  5. Cars should not turn onto gravel or dirt roads unless specifically ordered to do so. (However, the fact that one way of a crossing road or a fork is dirt does not mean that the intersection is not a crossroads or a "Y" if in all common sense it is).
  6. Highway patterns are always described as they appear when viewed from a car moving along the course in the proper direction. Thus, a "Y" or a "T" pattern is always regarded as approached from the bottom of the symbol.
It seems appropriate here to discuss the meaning of the phrase "...and follow", often included in a route instruction and occasionally a source of confusion. For example, take the instruction "Left onto U.S. 25 and follow". In view of unwritten rule #4 (above), the "and follow" phrase may seem redundant, but if merely advisory it would be set off in brackets. Standing out in the open it will be taken by most rallyists as intended to indicate that there will be at least one turn to make or to avoid, without further word, before the next instruction applies. The situation is now ambiguous if there is any doubt about the point where the next instruction becomes effective. The next instruction, let us say, is "Right (bear right, of course) at Y". There are several reasonable inferences: (a) that there will be at least one opportunity to stray from U.S. 25 before the right at "Y" can be executed; (b) that, if the next intersection is a "Y" and 25 goes left at that point, it is not the "Y" specified in the next instruction (for, if it were, the instruction would read "Right at Y, leaving U.S. 25); and (c) that, if a second, but unmarked "Y" is then encountered, the road right will have to be 25, the turn must be taken, and the succeeding instruction (that same "Right at Y"!) may be in force, even though it might seem superficially that it has already been executed. The possibilities of confusion have now amounted to an alarming probability, creating what may be a misleading situation. It results, of course, from lack of definition of the action point, coupled perhaps with careless use of the "and follow" phrase, or neglect to note where the course left the numbered route.

Logical pitfalls of this sort can be avoided easily if the rallymaster really intends to keep his cars on course. An official mileage or an appropriate landmark would have left no doubt of the location of the "Y" in the example cited.

It would be premature and probably unwise to suggest that these (or any other) definitions should have official sponsorship. The writing of a clear itinerary is difficult at best, without restriction of content, diction or style. Although their techniques differ, rallymasters do a wonderful job of providing excellent sport. They know that the problem is to get the cars onto the intended road. The way it is done is immaterial so long as it is successful. After all, as one correspondent puts it, if an organizer means to be tricky he can warp a formal glossary to his purpose and then argue pretty convincingly that he was technically right.

What we have finally tried to do is to report the usual meanings of a few rally terms, concentrating on those which, experience has shown, have occasionally been a source of uncertainty, at least to novices.

A Rallyist's Vocabulary
Suggested Definitions of Some Technical Rally Terms

General Terms

Rally - An organized automobile - run conducted in compliance with applicable motor vehicle laws, designed to test the driving and navigational skills of the contestants. The contestants start from a given point at fixed intervals, with the object of following a prescribed course at specified legal and safe speeds without deviating from scheduled times of arrival at predetermined points along the course unknown to the contestants.

Navigation - The dual task of finding the way described in the route instructions, while calculating to make good the prescribed average speeds.

Average Speed - The established average speed which contestants are expected to make good over the course, or a part of it.

Section - Any specified part of a rally course, especially the part from a starting point to the last control before official mileage reverts to zero.

Leg - A part of a rally course extending from one timing control to the next.

General Regulations - The rules governing a rally, except the route instructions.

Route Instructions - The written itinerary of a rally course, including average speeds required from place-to-place, issued to each contestant shortly before his starting time. Instructions are usually numbered consecutively. Route directions must be followed in the order given.

Time - Civil time as broadcast by WWV and CHU, expressed in hours, minutes and seconds. Local time may be specified, however, in the general regulations. Time used to control departure and to record actual arrival times of contestants is taken from watches synchronized with radio time signals.

Elapsed Time - Official elapsed time is the amount of time required at average speed or speeds to run apart of the course, plus time allowed for transit zones and pauses. The elapsed time of a contestant is the time actually taken.

Time-of-Day - Civil time, or local time.

Time Out - The time specified for departure from the start or from a control point or stop.

Time In - The actual time of arrival at a control point as determined by the official timer.

Distance - The length of a rally course, or a part of it. Always expressed in statute miles, measured by a calibrated odometer. Control points and official mileages are fixed within 0.01 mile.

Control - A check point or timing station, located at a place on the course unknown in advance to the contestants.

Open Control - A check point where each contestant is required to stop. An open control always marks the end of one scoring leg and usually the beginning of another.

Open Nonstop Control - A timing station visible to contestants, who do not stop but are made aware of the official mileage at the control.

Free Zone - A section of the course assured free of any timing control.

Transit Zone - A section of the course having no stated average speed, therefore free of any timing control, but having a time allowed for passage and a measure of its length.

Action Words and Phrases Terms Implying No Change of Direction
Change Average Speed To - Change an established average speed as may be ordered. The speed change point must be defined.

Pause - To delay a stated time at a named point or during passage of a specified distance. The pause time is added to the time required at average speed to traverse the specified distance, which is a free zone.

Cross - Go straight across. To cross a divided highway is to cross both halves of it.

Straight - Go straight ahead. Sometimes used to take the rally course off a numbered road which turns away, or to indicate the proper course through a complex intersection.

Pick Up - (v.t.) To go straight onto. To leave one route for another designated route by going straight or nearly so.

Leave - Depart from, especially with a route number to cancel an obligation to follow the route.

Keep - A warning term, used to indicate the proper lane to travel on a multi-lane highway, as in preparation for a turn.

Confirm - Identify a confirming landmark as a assurance that the car is on course. Informative rather than mandatory; usually in parentheses after an instruction.

Turning Instructions and Terms
Follow, Stay On - To follow a publicly numbered or named route, even if it turns, until directed onto another route (usually at next instruction).

Turn - To make a change of course or direction as may be specified; otherwise, a 90-degree turn, or nearly so. Omitted as obvious when context is clear, as "Right at STOP (sign)."

Right, Left - Turn in the direction indicated; if not otherwise specified, a turn of approximately 90 degrees.

Bear Right, Bear Left - Turn in the direction indicated, substantially less than 90 degrees.

Acute Right, Acute Left - Turn, substantially more than 90 degrees, in the direction indicated.

Hairpin Turn - A turn of approximately 180 degrees.

U-Turn - To reverse course by turning about in the road. Often prohibited by law.

Bend, Curve - Turn in the direction indicated; the turn may be safely taken at rally speed.

Sharp - Describing a turn which may be taken safely only at a substantial reduction of rally speed. (Ambiguous if used to describe the angle of a turn; prefer acute.)

Locating Devices

Mileages and Time

Official Mileage - The distance from the start of a section to a point along the course, given within 0.01 mile.

Approximate Mileage - An official mileage rounded off to the nearest 0.1 mile.

Official Time (at a point) - Official elapsed time. The official mileage at the point may be inferred. There is no official time at a point within a transit zone or free zone.

Highway Signs and Markers
Highway Marker - A plate or sign - usually at eye level on the right side of the road-placed, maintained and protected by public authority to facilitate or to control highway travel. Includes speed limit signs, curve warning signs, STOP signs, etc.

Route Sign - A highway marker showing the number or name of a highway, often indicating its direction.

Highway Direction Sign - A highway marker, usually a signpost, indicating the direction of and (often) the distance to a named place or other highway.

Traffic Light - A signal light used on highways, especially at an intersection, to regulate the movement of traffic. A traffic light may occasionally be set to operate as a blinker, but is usually fixed, alternating red and green, indicating stop and go, respectively.

Blinker - A kind of warning signal, as at a highway or railway crossing, consisting of a light, usually red or yellow, that flickers or blinks.

Highway Patterns and Structures

Next Turn - At the next intersection permitting a turn as specified. Unless otherwise directed, a turning instruction should be executed at the first opportunity. The general instructions should make clear, however, whether it is permissible to enter unpaved roads.

Y - A symbol representing a fork in the road, always approached from the bottom of the Y, the roads diverging about equally from straight ahead, both turns being substantially less than 90 degrees. Identification may require further information, as a landmark or mileage.

T - A symbol representing a road which ends, requiring a right or left turn, the choice being substantially equal, the crossing road being straight and making an angle of approximately 90 degrees with the ending road.

Triangle - A small, untraveled, inverted delta or triangle formed at a T by the ending road bearing left and right. If the triangle is of substantial size the diverging road pattern may more properly be called a Y. Identification may require further information, as a landmark or mileage.

YT - A symbol indicating a T preceded by a triangle (q.v.).

Main Road - A manifestly superior road; i.e., wider, better paved, more heavily traveled. Occasionally protected by a traffic light, STOP sign or "Yield Right of Way" sign. Sometimes suggested by the presence of a central painted line, curve-warning arrow, etc.; usually requires further description.

Intersection - A junction. Any meeting or crossing of two or more roads; more precisely, the area common to meeting or crossing road surfaces. Pavement - Any obvious type of hard road surfacing, as cement, brick, etc.

Concrete (Road) - A road paved with concrete, without other surfacing, usually white.

Black Top (Road) - A paved road surfaced with any of several types of asphaltic or bituminous material, usually black.

Unpaved (Road) - A road obviously not provided with a hard surface, but of broken stone, gravel or dirt.

Divided Highway - A highway with a division strip or guard rail separating the two ways of travel.

Lane - A longitudinal division of a wide highway, often marked by painted lines.

Traffic Circle - A roundabout, usually at a complex or heavily traveled intersection, where entering cars must turn right and circulate to the left, turning right again to leave the circle.

Crossroads - A place where one road crosses another at grade, the intersection of two roads making a "four corners" pattern, the crossing roads being at right angles, or nearly so.

Angled Crossroads - The intersection of two crossing roads noticeably not at right angles to one another.

Transcribed by Bill Jonesi

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