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There is a point in H G Wells’ War of the Worlds where the author highlights that, as Martians land on Hersall Common, the normal activities of life continue in the nearby town, the people being unaware of the disaster that was about to befall them. On reflection, the rally community seemed to be in the same situation exactly ten years ago.
Of course there was no Martian invasion in 2001 – I think you would heard about it - however what we did have was the foot and mouth epidemic that exploded on to an unsuspecting populace in late February.
On Saturday 17th I attended the first running of Telford AC’s Winter Stages at Sweet Lamb and that night I was a Steward on the Rali Bro Caron at Lampeter. I had no idea at the time but that was to be the last rally I was to attend for over seven months.
The following day the first outbreak of foot and mouth was reported. By the end of that week there were cases as far apart as Northumberland and the Isle of Wight. That weekend the Moorland and Meadows Rally went ahead as scheduled in Derbyshire, the only added precaution being that cars had to drive through a disinfectant bath as they left the Start. It was to be the last road rally to run until September and ironically it was stopped at Petrol due to snow.
The enormity of the situation still hadn’t been appreciated. At the beginning of the next week the discussion was still about whether the Gremlin, scheduled for the following Saturday, would take place. At mid-week, with foot and mouth cases throughout Wales, the Gremlin was postponed.
At this stage the expectation was that the crisis would be over within six weeks. As a result the Gremlin was rescheduled for the end of May, as was the Greenleaves. These proved to be false hopes as the countryside virtually shut down.
The MSA didn’t issue any permits for road rallies until the Autumn, with the Bullnose in the Oxfordshire re-launching the season on 8th September. Three weeks later I marshalled on Telford AC’s aptly named About Time Too Rally, which used a carefully planned route avoiding previously infected spots.
In Wales and Northern England, despite the lifting of restrictions by the MSA, clubs were reluctant to return to the lanes. They didn’t want to damage their relationship with farmers in areas that had been hardest hit by the epidemic. The only road rally to run in the Principality during the rest of 2001 was Harlech & DMC’s half night novice rally, Rali Goffa James Trenholme, in December.
In general it was felt that the situation was still too delicate to risk the possibility of upsetting the local inhabitants and that it would be best to put the year behind us and to start 2002 with a clean slate.
The whole experience of 2001 shows how totally reliant the sport is on the goodwill of the locals through whose backyard events pass. Rallying closed down almost immediately after the outbreak took hold but it was months after the last reported case that it restarted.