Rally Utah Canceled – WTF

I’m still not clear on exactly what happened at Rally Utah that caused the event to be canceled the day before the rally started. The official press release says that there were no permits(for road closure) but implies the city was to blame for not issuing them.

“Due to governmental agencies reportedly not receiving land use permits and other required permissions filed by representatives from the city of Cedar City, Iron County and the Iron County Sheriff, the event chairs and organizers, Pat and Denise McMahon were forced to cancel the entire rally event.”

Apparently the teams started recce and some of the landowners weren’t happy when they found out race cars would be running on their public roads. I also heard that the road closure signs only went up the day before reecho or two days before the event so the locals really had no idea what was going on. This caused the event to cancel two stages before recce was even over. But it grew from there and an emergency meeting was called to discuss the rally:

“McMahons were summoned to an emergency meeting held early yesterday afternoon at the office of the Iron County Commission. In attendance were local officials and agencies including representatives from Iron County Commission, the National Forest Service, Cedar City police, and the BLM. All claimed they had no prior notice of the event, nor had they seen a filing of the required permit.”

At that point it appeared that there was nothing that could be done. They had no permits and none of the officials knew about the rally. On top of that, some locals didn’t want the event running on their local roads so the rally was canceled.

rally utah canceled

My understanding is that road closure permits are not a notification document but rather a permit that needs approval. Meaning it should be a signed document. If the government agencies never received the permit request than it implies they were never approved. It’s difficult for me to imagine holding a rally and not having the approved permits in hand. It would seem to be one of the only things you actually need to hold a rally. Well I guess you need insurance and competitors but the road closure permits pretty much have to come first.

The press release continues with “All local parties had commitments to secure the required permits from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Forest Service (USFS), Iron County, as well as private land owners and homeowners associations.” I can only assume the commitments were verbal. Which seems odd because the permits are written and it sounds like the  commitments were verbal. 

What The F happened?

It’s hard to say. It sounds like the Sanctioning Body and the Event Organizers were comfortable moving forward on a verbal commitment without the signed or approved permits in hand. So whether the town said they had the permits or the approvals it was clearly a mistake for the Sanctioning Body or the Organizer to not see the officially approved permits. I think it would be similar to talking to your insurance company and having them say don’t worry you’re covered without sending you a copy of the actual policy.

How did this slip by the Event Organizers and the Sanctioning Body?

Probably because the Sanctioning Body and the Organizers are the same people. In the case of Rally Utah, the Sanctioning Body is the Organizers HP Rally Group and the Event Organizers were Denise and Pat McMahon. When you look on the Organizers HP Rally Group, you find that the President of the is Denise McMahon and the Competition Director of the Sanctioning Body is Pat McMahon. The same two people that organized the rally which means there was no check and balance to ensure all paperwork is in place.

We might question the need for a Sanctioning Body, but I would have a hard time believing that NASA Rally Sport or even Rally America would allow an Organizer to move forward with an event without seeing copies of the permits. That’s the check and balance.

Now what happens?

Its hard to say. It would appear per the supplemental regulations that the entry fees should be refunded to the competitors. “If the competition weekend is canceled before competition starts. All monies will be refunded in a timely manner.” The problem is that typically most of the cash is spent before the competition begins. Insurance, hotels, banquet hall and catering for the awards party, t-shirts, road books, etc. And it would appear that the sponsors need to get their cash back as well. This could be a huge financial mess.

It should be noted that Denise and Pat McMahon have been organizing rallies for 15 years and there have been two rallies(Desert Storm and Mendocino) under the newly formed HP Rally Organizers that ran earlier this year. Both of those rallies went off without a problem and I heard the Mendocino Rally was awesome. So they aren’t new to the sport and they had the best intentions. But in my opinion, someone dropped the ball by not seeing at least copies of the permits before allowing competitors to come to the event. I’ve never hosted a rally, but my friends have. I know its a TON of work so I can see how this might happen. But then I think of all the money spent by the competitors just to get there and the time they took off work and all the other considerations and the mistake seems like a pretty large one. 

I’m sure we’ll hear more about this going forward but if I have something wrong or am missing facts that I should know about, please send me an email and I’ll make the correction. Bill at Buildraceparty.

Bill Caswell is a self-taught racing driver, mechanic, and fabricator, and rose to internet fame taking a $500 Craigslist BMW to a World Rally Championship event in Mexico in March of 2010. His exploits have featured in places like ESPN Magazine, Grassroots Motorsports, NPR Radio, Wired.com and Jalopnik.com. A lifelong fan of rally and motorsport, Caswell famously believes nothing to be impossible.