Chandigarh, March 20 - It made a modest beginning in 1981 with mopeds, scooters and motorcycles competing for honours on Chandigarh's roads. After giving big names to the national car rallying circuit, as the St. John's Old Boys' Association (SJOBA) Rally gets down to its 25th edition this weekend, it has certainly come of age.
From being just a once-a-year weekend adventure for motorists, the SJOBA Rally is today a completely professional event and is a listed event among top motor rallies in the country.
National car rally champion Hari Singh and other leading names on the circuit like Sunny Sidhu, Suresh Rana, Bitto Mann, Manik Rekhy, Karan Jung and others owe it to the SJOBA Rally for giving them their first big break in the field.
The importance of the SJOBA Rally can be seen from the fact that the Indian Army sends its team for the event, as do several corporates.
Old-timers recall that the SJOBA Rally was born in 1981 as the old boys of the school wanted to do something different.
'Suggestions were sought on what the old boys should do. Some suggested a veterans' sports meet, some a cricket match, another even suggested a fishing contest. But then, after much haggling and deliberation, what finally became the object of everyone's dreams was the 1981 scooter and mobike open rally which happened to be the brainchild of the then secretary, Ranjit Sarin,' SJOBA president Shivneet Singh said.
Pooling in their resources, SJOBA members did everything - from recceing of roads to logistics to fine-tuning of the event to getting necessary permissions - to make a success of the rally over the years.
Since 1981, this event has been held every year save a few years when the rally had to be called off as a result of militancy in Punjab. In fact, in 1983, SJOBA was forced to have only a moped rally due to the terrorism problem.
The 25th Thunderbolt Sub-Himalayan Open Rally from March 23 to 25 will take the rallyists on a new route, say rally organisers. The rally has a prize money of Rs.200,000 this time.
'The 25th edition of the rally is going to be even more exciting and challenging this year because of the new route planned for it,' Shivneet Singh said.
The main rally (March 24-25) will be preceded by a skill race in an open ground at Chandigarh's Sector 34 on March 23.
'The rallyists will pass through six competitive stages to reach Shimla through exciting tracks and then drive back through a new route,' clerk-of-course S.P.S. Ghai said.
'For the last three months, teams of SJOBA volunteers have been criss-crossing the mountains, mapping every bend, every detail of the new route. It is only after complete verification of the safety aspects that the new route has been finalised. Safety standards have always been a priority at SJOBA,' deputy clerk-of-course Nagendra Singh said.
Besides GPS locators, the rally will have first intervention vehicles, ambulances, marshals and doctors. SJOBA will utilise the services of in-house ham radio operators to ensure faster communications.
The police and other authorities in Chandigarh, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Punjab will monitor the rally.
'Each participant is treated like a member of the SJOBA family and provided with excellent food and lodging during the event. SJOBA's hospitality and professionalism are undeniably the best in the country with a squad of over 100 marshals who ensure that all participants go back with memories that they will cherish forever and come back for more each year,' Shivneet Singh added.
(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at email@example.com)