Thursday, May 21, 2015

Rally with a View Rolls Along the Coast

Cynthia Howard’s 1958 Porsche 356 Speedster... the real thing is a rare treat
Rally Wrapup - PDFYou may have seen mention of the Rally 4 Kids in last week’s Montecito Miscellany – and several times in my columns. The event supporting the United Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Barbara County was run for the second time, this year with modifications to leave the results less to chance.

The organizers, including Diana Starr Langley and Monte Wilson, invited me to participate, and I was accompanied by my lovely navigator and girlfriend, Liz Baker. The initial plan was to pilot my Porsche Speedster replica, but for the sake of comfort – we would be on the road for close to five hours – we chose my 2002 911 coupe.

The route began from Summerland software outfit QAD, which offered an excellent starting point, not only for the location, but also for the views. A brief peek inside the building displayed impressive vistas overlooking the hills and made me want to take up a career in software development.

After a brief photo-op, we set off along the back roads toward Carpinteria, where we hit our first stop, the local Boys & Girls Club. We were given a chance to hit six free throws in the gym, where our combined skill resulted in precisely one made shot, though that wasn’t far below the average. Along the way we were answering trivia questions, and one of the first involved a racetrack that used to be nearby. It turns out the Carp Thunderbowl was a dirt track whose fate was sealed by the Highway 101 expansion project. The freeway didn’t actually go through the track’s property. Rather, as it passed nearby, the Thunderbowl was used as a depository for all the excavation dirt.

Our journey continued up the 150 toward Ojai, a great driving road, replete with tight switchbacks and marvelous views. We were given strict orders that the rally was not a race – our driver’s licenses were even officially sealed in an envelope so that a traffic stop would result not only in some unpleasantness from Johnny Law, but also in disqualification. But for some reason my right foot was a bit itchy on this stretch, so we may have done it a bit more “efficiently.”

We next gathered at the Ojai Valley Museum, where we got to some trivia and learned that the original name of the town was actually Nordhoff.

From there, we ran down to Oxnard, with a stop at the Painted Cabernet. We were told to snap a pic of our car before going in, so you can imagine what we’d be painting. The results were predictably varied, with efforts that ranged from kindergarten finger-painting to MOMA-worthy. Luckily, Liz’s art-major background saved our effort from falling into the former category, and our collaboration will no doubt be lauded in the motoring art world for years to come.

Also in Oxnard, we dropped by a Go-Kart track run by Jim Hall Kart Racing School – Jim was a rally participant as well. We got a chance to post the fastest lap time, a competition in which I placed seventh overall. I’m fairly competitive, but I had little cause to argue that I had a slow kart, since I jumped into it right after David Green jumped out, having set the pole for the day.

Our final driving stint was toward Malibu along the PCH, and then up Mulholland Drive. Again, this famous road offered some incredible opportunities for spirited driving, with a full dose of exhilaration priming us for lunch at the Calamigos Ranch.

We gathered at the Malibu Café, an open-air venue that feels almost like a mini-amusement park, a great place for families to gather. We took our time having some cocktails and listening to the band before heading back down toward the PCH for the ride home. 
The afternoon was a nice leisurely amble, since we just needed to end up at the Nesbitt Estate by the late afternoon to line up our cars at the event-ending gala. We managed to get through the day of driving with just one instance of raised voices, a pretty good result for an affair such as this.

At the gala, there were live and silent auction items, as well as the typical paddle raise, run by Boys & Girls Clubs of America board member Jeff Henley. He challenged participants, if they had any doubt about the value of their donations, to head to a club location and see for themselves where their money goes. So, I decided to take him up on this.

This past week, I went to visit United Boys & Girls Clubs CEO Michael Baker at the Westside Santa Barbara location. This is the area of town where he says the need is greatest for the services that his clubs provide. Naturally, Santa Barbara is an expensive place to live, and many of the low-income families in town, especially in this neighborhood, share houses with other families.

There can be as many as three or four families in one house, he says, but though some families are dealing with adult challenges that life has put in their way, he asks, “What does that have to do with a 6-year-old?” Kids, in his opinion, should always have access to the safe surroundings of a place like the Boys & Girls Club.

Because there are many families near the poverty line in this area, Baker says that 97 percent of the kids here are on the subsidized school lunch program. The clubs supplement that assistance with dinners, and they serve around 200 meals per night, a program underwritten by the Santa Barbara School District.

The game room of the Santa Barbara Westside Boys & Girls Club
When I visited, there were kids playing soccer in the gym, and pool and foosball in the game room. We went upstairs to the room dedicated for younger kids, where they were learning some hip-hop dance from a local volunteer. We saw the art studio where kids were practicing their yarn work, and then we went into the Musicbox.

Amazingly, the club is equipped with its own fully functional recording studio, courtesy of nonprofit Notes for Notes, which operates in clubs here and in L.A. and Nashville.

“The days of the school music program are gone,” says Baker, noting that La Cumbre Junior High has been bringing students to the Musicbox to replace some of the programs that used to be on offer.

Baker and I talked about his goals for the club, particularly the ability to be open for more hours. They’re currently open from 2 to 6 pm during weekdays, and they do have Saturday hours as well. He’d like to be able to extend that to 8 pm, and also to be open all week.

His leadership at the clubs here has tried to focus the staff on being “relentless in finding kids that need our services,” he says. He also wants to make sure that the staff of the clubs is familiar with all of the agencies in town to be able to help connect families in need.

My visit to the club impressed with the scope of their programs and the level of participation. It’s been great to be involved with the rally, and now that I’ve seen the organization in action, that sentiment was reinforced.
The event itself was certainly worthy of the money that was raised, with drivers and navigators having a blast.

Chris Eberz and Lark Cobb won the Rally 4 Kids
Chris Eberz and Lark Cobb, a charmingly enthusiastic couple who are regulars at Cars & Coffee, were declared the winners, and they had nothing but glowing praise for the event, particularly the format that included a great mixture of skills and trivia, along with the driving. 

“It was one of the funnest days I’ve actually had rallying,” says Eberz, and given his extensive rally experience, who could argue with that?


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