Remember the Central Crown rally? That run in September where teams drove from the Twin Cities to Chicago for charity? Two veterans of that rally were inspired by their experience to do the same thing – in the winter.
The Polar Run kicked off on a Friday – a work day for most people. Organizers Matt Smith and Hayley Lynn Noll thought they were not going to get a huge crowd to run in it. Maybe ten entrants? Fifteen. No. Matt and Hayley got 37 entrants for the run from Stillwater to Lutsen along some backroads – and a few frozen lakes.
This inaugural rally was also for a cause – the Ronald McDonald House, Upper Midwest Chapter. What made this run special was the fact that a representative from RMH was there to see the rally launch. Manager of Community Fundraisers, Terra Peterson, was not just there to witness the start of the run, but to collect donations from the participants. I felt bad for her, as the organization's Nissan Cube was filling up to is maximum capacity.
The rally entrants also did some volunteering at Ronald McDonald House, as they served Sunday brunch at one of the homes the weekend prior to the start. This is the kind of charity a participant would want to be a part of, as it helps to see what the benefactor does for its clients. It shows where the money goes.
The start was a parking lot just north of Stillwater, a few blocks from the St. Croix River. First, there was a pre-rally breakfast. There a couple, but a few ended up joining me at the Perkins on Minnesota Highway 36. The others were at Oasis Diner, just south of downtown Stillwater. Well, you can't be perfect in impromptu planning.
I saw a lot of the Central Crown vets at out launch spot in Stillwater. Photographer Alex Bellus brought his wife and a friend along in his Subaru WRX – which seemed to be the rally car of choice in this group. Rather, a few generations of Subaru Imprezas and WRXs – and a couple of Legacies.
One of the Southwest Sunday Cruise crew joined in the rally – in a Subaru, of course! Grant joined his buddy Chase as Team Frozen 5 Speed Immanuel. It was good to see SWSC representing!- even at 7:30 in the morning on a cold Friday.
Aside from the Subarus, Audis, BMWs and all-wheel drive Infinitis made up the bulk of the rally cast. On one hand, the Audi contingent included Team That One Family – a father and his two sons – in a current generation A4 quattro. I always look for heroes in every event and they became mine. Why? Considering the theme of a few commercials during the last Super Bowl, fatherhood is huge these days.
This rally became a study of two different 3-Series coupes. Erik had his Team Hoonicorn E30 325i with extensive engine modifications. It looked like it would be invincible – exposed intercooler and all. Though it lacked xDrive, it made up for it with winter rubber. Brandon's Team ///Meyer had his Central Crown vet runner – an E90 328i xDrive coupe. Knowing what xDrive is capable of, it would be a push to bet on either one. Both teams can drive their Bimmers like heck.
Then, there's the two G35 sedans – Team Rushing's G35x and Adam's rear-driver. These two Infinitis proved one thing – you can have a hell of a lot of fun in them on any road surface! And, yes, that includes snow.
There were the vehicles that you wondered if they would conquer the route in some way, shape and form. Central Crown organizer Adam brought together a team of four in a Ford Excursion. For those of us who forget what one was – think F-Series Super Duty-based Chevrolet Suburban fighter. A few upgrades and modifications were made to what Smith dubbed the "Sexcursion," except for the tires and wheels. More interestingly, Adam did not get this with the PowerStroke diesel. This one had the V10 instead – not exactly the most fuel efficient vehicle among this lot. Believe me, this is the kind of vehicle one must see in person to believe.
Team Oh S*** ran in the Central Crown with his Playboy Energy Drink sponsored blue Ford Mustang GT. He brought it back to The Polar Run. One might think that with rear drive, Team Oh S***'s Dan would have gone a different route. I joked with him that we might have to inspect the tires to make sure he is indeed running the right ones for the rally. Team Oh S*** had all-season Falken Ziex tires. The Mustang shod with the Falkens actually worked out, as he was the first to arrive in Lutsen.
Trucks became a prominent contingent of the rally. In all, Ford had the edge with two F-150s, an F-Series Super Duty and a GMC Sierra. The Super Duty became the rally's savior by being able to pull almost every entrant out of precarious situations. In other words, if there was snow – someone would end up stuck in it.
To round out the rest of the entrants, there was the Honda Fit of Team Pinoy, the Iowa-tagged Ford Focus of Team Lost Focus, Ben Huang's Volvo XC60, the Volkswagen GTI of Team Licky Bobby, the Mazdaspeed3 of Team Ramrod, Team ImportedBlizzard's Toyota 4Runner Limited, the Hyundai Tiburon of Team SuperSkeeters and the red Volkswagen Jetta of Team Droxr.
At this point, this piece would almost sound like Brock Yates' recount of the 1973 Cannonball Run in Car and Driver. Though I would think Mr. Yates did not have The Polar Run in mind. I also doubt if anyone would show up in a modified 1973 Dodge Challenger provided partly by the Chrysler Corporation (driven by Yates, BTW) to join in the fun to Lutsen. Matt did eye the 2015 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited I was reviewing that week with some humor. I had to be good to the big crossover…seriously…
Cutting to the chase, these teams went through a total of ten stages with three checkpoints. Each stage was given a navigational coordinate for a task. Tasks range from doing donuts on frozen lakes to taking a photo in front of something fun. Points were awarded upon completion of these tasks. The team with the most points win.
The big trophy winner was Team All We'll Drive – Tony and Diego in their Subaru WRX. Actual scoring and results were not available to V&R at posting.
As for the rest of run – there was a lot I probably would not want to mention on here. Not because of the level of fun these entrants had – it was because I was not there all along. Sure, I could have met them at one of the stage stops – an easy hop on Interstate 35 northbound. Yet, I had to some work to do…and Team Oh S*** would have beaten me to it anyway.
The rally was far from over on Friday night. The next day, some went on to take to the slopes. Others were anxious to get back into their vehicles – and do more cruising. It goes to show you that the driving never stops. Hot tubs, suites and restaurants can wait. Or, could they? There's always time for hot tubs, suites and meals! Remember that, Carmmunity!
If that does not tell you what The Polar Run was all about, then one might consider running next year. You might want to download Jerry Reed's "Eastbound and Down" into your iPhones and Android devices for inspiration. A little snow won't hurt it…
All photos by Randy Stern