Saturday, June 15, 2013

STPR memories from a suitcase

By Marilyn Randall and MaryAnne Curry Shults

The “Asaph Picnic Area” is one of the most popular spectator viewing locations for the fans of the STPR Rally. With its fast, sweeping hard-packed road surfaces and sudden sharp turn over a narrow bridge across a creek, a rally team could literally find themselves in some not-so-hot water with a only a minimal loss of concentration.
In 1998, the bridge did not have the side reinforcements
it has today. A slight miscalculation could mean a dip
in the creek. Photo by Jerry Winker/

Paramedic and former STPR volunteer Mike James recollects one such incident at Asaph with clarity.

“It was sometime in the ‘90s when a rally car got airborne and landed upside down in the creek,” he recalled. “The water was over the drivers’ heads and there wasn't enough time to wait for the ambulance to respond, so we took all the help we could get from the spectators who came to their aid.”

Mike fondly remembers the quick actions of the stunned spectators.

“These people held the car high enough out of the water, so the drivers’ could breathe until the car was stabilized and they were able to be stabilized,” he said. “Fortunately, neither of the competitors were seriously hurt, thanks to the quick thinking my crew and the fans who helped.”

Standing at the Asaph Picnic Area spectator area on Saturday, June 1, 2013, the second day of the Waste Management Susquehannock Trail Performance Rally, presented by Citizens and Northern Bank, Mike James nostalgically recalled his decades of working as an emergency medical volunteer at this rally, based only minutes from the small borough of Westfield, Pa., he calls his hometown.

Mike James and his son Derek. After finding a suitcase
of his father's STPR memorabilia, Derek took photos to share on the
STPR Facebook Page. Photo by Marilyn Randall
However, the last few years, he’d watched as a spectator. A kidney transplant two years earlier, the organ donated by his best friend and fellow EMT Darren Hunt, had saved his life, but prevented him from volunteering.

If he was going to watch and not work, he wanted to be close to the location where he worked all those years, and on that Saturday morning the first official spectator location, aptly named was his first choice.

Tucked inside the lush, green, rolling hills of north-central Pennsylvania, the Tioga State Forest is protected by a canopy of trees covering an active ecosystem that is wide awake the last weekend in May. The only sounds are chirping insects and birds and the chatter of rally fans anticipating the first telltale sign of a turbocharged engine whistling in the distance as the rally competitors fly down the flowing curves of the first half of the Phasa Run, Stage 6 of the STPR Rally.

This spectator area is a 30-minute drive from Wellsboro, Pa., at the junction of three roads in a valley. The rally cars approach from the west down a sweeping downhill Left Asaph Run. The STPR Spectator Guide describes the approach as a series of left turns with the fan-favorite left over the bridge, followed by a 90-degree left where the rally course begins to ascend up Right Asaph Run. However, history has shown that just a slight miscalculation could mean two-wheels off the bridge, or worse.

Some of the contents of the suitcase.
View more images on the STPR Facebook Page.
Photo courtesy of Derek James.
Mike’s son Derek, 17, shares his father’s passion for STPR and rally racing. When he found a suitcase full of memorabilia he got out his cell phone and started snapping images of bumper stickers and route books to post on the STPR’s Facebook Page. The memories flooded back, even though he was only a toddler for his first event.

“My favorite memory is of the water crossing,” recollected the high school sophomore. “I was a big fan of Paul Choiniere and the all-wheel-drive Hyundai Tiburon… today you don’t see to many of those.”

Derek said he lives right “over the hill from Asaph,” yet trying to explain to his local friends exactly what STPR is about required getting stuck on the road (closed to the public during the event) in the winter in his Mini Cooper.

* * *

Mike James joined both the Sports Car Club of America and the STPR Medical team in 1985 when he returned from the Army. He continued to be co-medical coordinator with Joe Bergen, handling both recruitment and work on “Medic Two” pairing with Dr. Skip Clark, the STPR rally physician.

“I remember when the competitors would drive by and toss lollipops to the volunteers,” Mike James said. “Back in the day, John Buffum took the time to teach a class to the Wellsboro locals describing what performance rallying is all about.”

During his years of working the rally, Mike was instrumental in recruiting fire and medical personnel from neighboring areas surrounding Wellsboro. He held classes at these fire districts to educate the volunteer workers on what a rally was all about, and how to respond to an incident. He implemented the rally safety plan for each stage, making sure there were both medical personnel and a radio operator who, when an incident with injuries was reported on a stage, were the first people to go in to evaluate the injured drivers, and called for further medical assistance if necessary.

Beginning in the mid 1980s, two rapid response vehicles with advanced life support and the rally physician were added to the medical plan. Mike was driver of “Medic Two”, which was a SUV type vehicle which belonged to Wellsboro Soldiers and Hospital. With Dr. Clark, this vehicle was staged in areas along the transit route of the rally, ready to rapidly respond to any incident which needed more definitive care than could be administered by the first responders on each stage.

Mike’s older son Matt, 22, is also infatuated with rally racing, according to his younger brother.
“Matt was going to co-drive for [Wellsboro’s] Tony Esposito; we're all disappointed he’s not competing this year [at STPR] and are impressed with his Open [class] car,” Derek James said. “We follow Rally America team by team, garage by garage.”

Even though this family patriarch’s participation in STPR is now limited, Mike James looks forward to late spring when STPR comes to Wellsboro and hopes to someday return to an active role as not only a volunteer but also part of the organizing committee.

One thing is for certain—the James family exemplifies the awareness that STPR would not exist if not for the support of the Wellsboro-area residents and businesses. For 37 years, they have welcomed the rally with open arms and open hearts.