How to Organize a Car Rally

Updated February 21, 2017

Car rallies come in many forms, but most are designed to provide entertainment while testing participants' ability to follow directions. There are both large and small rallies ones held around the world, from Italy's infamous Mille Miglia to local rallies around the United States. Running your own event is not difficult: Start small, keep it simple, and soon you'll be an experienced rallymaster.

Create a plan: Give each competing team, consisting of a driver and a navigator, a set of written instructions to follow a predetermined course. Teams then drive the course independently, departing at set intervals, and strive to follow the course exactly. Scattered throughout the route are checkpoints where teams pick up directions to the next stop or have their times charted. Being late--or early--incurs penalty points.

Set up a TSD, or time-speed-distance rally, if you want teams to stay on your prescribed course while they drive exactly at the given speed between checkpoints. The winner covers the course and matches speed requirements with the greatest precision and fewest time penalties.

Opt for a gimmick rally for a low-key, goofy event. At checkpoints teams are given directions designed to test their ability to solve riddles, decipher clues or find obscure items such as the most turkey-shaped signs in a certain area.

Get technical with an economy rally, where the team with the best gas mileage wins, or a shortest-distance rally, where teams travel to marked locations in the fewest miles. Often teams are required to answer questions "What color is the church where Elm meets the railroad tracks?" to prove they made it.

Plan the route using a highly detailed map. Avoid congested areas, and keep in mind that highways are typically free zones with no checkpoints. Pick a relaxing spot for the finish, such as a city park or local restaurant, so teams can exchange war stories and vie for bragging rights while you tally the points.

Drive the route yourself to mark significant landmarks and checkpoints. Bring a partner to take detailed notes that will later aid you when writing riddles and cryptic instructions.

Write route directions. When you reference significant landmarks, don't explicitly name them. For example, rather than "Turn left at the multiplex theater," try "Roger Ebert gives two thumbs up for 'Left turn to Adventure'!"

Go over the course the morning of the rally and post the checkpoint flags, along with the questions and instructions.

Check your stopwatch, recharge your cell phone and hang on to that checkered flag--the rallymaster is ready to roll.


All rallies have traps, or instructions designed to steer you off-course. But fear not--routes are fail-safe. Even if you fail to stay on course, the rallymaster makes sure you'll still find the checkpoint. Many cars are equipped with global-positioning systems (GPSs). Decide if these are to be allowed and instruct people to turn them off if they are not. Checkpoints need to be where drivers can stop easily and safely. They do not, however, need to be staffed provided there is a secure spot to post instructions and questions. Set the cutoff deadlines. If teams can't make all the checkpoints by a prescribed time, they must proceed directly to the finish line. Thomas Bros. Maps ( is a great source for comprehensive street maps.


As the rallymaster, you may be liable if anyone gets hurt. Consult your insurance company or lawyer.

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