LEWISTON — The drive from Simard-Payne Memorial Park to New Brunswick’s Market Square Boardwalk is a pretty straightforward 274 miles — about four-and-a-half hours, if you stick to the speed limit.
But for the drivers in a charity road rally that runs through Maine on Thursday, their path will be anything but straightforward. In fact, they are likely to criss-cross their route a couple of times, making at least five stops along the way to pick up clues.
And they have to stick to the speed limit.
“We have rules in place — if anyone gets a ticket from law enforcement, it’s a disqualification from the whole event,” Tony Intrieri, event organizer for Rally North America, said. “If anyone is filmed driving in a way we deem to be a reckless manner, that’s also a disqualification.”
It’s the final day in the Rally New England 2013, scheduled to kick off in Ithaca, N.Y., on Tuesday. Drivers will spend the day winding their way around upstate New York, stopping in Rutland, Vt., for the night.
Competitors are scheduled to race from Rutland to Camp Sunshine in Casco on Wednesday, and will start fresh Thursday morning at 7:30 a.m. at Lewiston’s Simard Payne Park. They’ll wind up in New Brunswick sometime Thursday afternoon.
Racers know where they’ll start each day, and their daily destination. What they won’t know is their route or the stops along the way. They’ll get a clue at each stop about where to go next and will have to figure out the next stage’s destination and fastest way to get there on their own.
It’s more fun than competitive; the winners only walk away with bragging rights.
“At the beginning of the day, 90 percent of them start out and they’re all competitive,” Intrieri said. “And then they get lost. They take a wrong turn or decide they’re hungry and get something to eat. So by the end of the day, you really only have about 15 cars still in the mix. The rest of them just become tourists.”
The event is a charity fundraiser for Camp Sunshine, a Sebago Lake camp for families of children with life-threatening diseases. Every dollar the racers raise goes to help send a child to Camp Sunshine.
“Our goal is to raise $80,000 for Camp Sunshine, and we’re getting close,” he said.
It’s the fourth year for Rally North America, but the first time the event has come to New England.
“We have a core group that comes back year in and year out,” Intrieri said. “We have teams from the Midwest, from the South, from Florida. Some of them may know part of the area, but not all of them. You’ll see cars rolling out, going every which way.”
There are teams with drivers and navigators in the same car and teams with solo drivers — but friends and family members back home are in constant contact via cell phone, offering advice and Googling routes and clues.
Each team pays a $225 registration fee, plus all the costs for cars, their fuel and nightly hotel rooms. There are a couple of semi-professional drivers but most are talented amateurs.
“These are all automotive enthusiasts, and the one commonality is that they like a little bit of adventure,” Intrieri said. “They like the camaraderie of being with other automotive enthusiasts and having an opportunity to see the country.”
There are 78 teams expected at the New England rally. The cars range from burly muscle cars to vintage rides, Intrieri said.
“It’s all makes, all models, all ages,” he said. “We have a lot of newer muscle cars. But there’s also a team in a 1966 Mustang. We have a guy driving an old Volkswagen from Oregon.”
The cars will be on display Wednesday night at Club Texas on Center Street in Auburn and then Thursday morning in Simard-Payne Memorial Park, before they take off.
“They are pretty loud, so they get a lot of attention,” Intrieri said. “And if you get just about any car and cover it with stickers and signs, its going to look like a race car.”