By Robert Guinness
The Moss Motoring Challenge has been a joy for many—and not just for the participants. Over the past eight years I have ventured out into the back roads of America looking for the unusual, the beautiful, and forgotten history as my take on the Challenge. As I traveled in my MGA through towns whose population often dipped below three figures, I was struck by how many people stopped what they were doing to look up and stare at the strange and rare vehicle motoring past them. Each time I would notice them, I received what is the true prize of the Moss Motoring Challenge: their wide-eyed smiles with the spark of nostalgia and joy.
These folks would never have seen an MGA in the wild if not for the Motoring Challenge. And in exchange, they shared with me their treasures: astounding folk art, known as “road side oddities” to outsiders; obscure history, and pride of place just waiting to be discovered. Without the Challenge, I would never have seen the coffee mug tree outside of Yale, Illinois; nor the Hula Hoop Tree outside of Amber, Iowa; nor the twilight zone gas station in Clarence, Missouri. More importantly, I would never have spoken to the people who constructed these wonders and discovered the rich stories behind them. For example, if you drove by, you would be struck at the sheer weirdness of a huge dead tree covered with thousands of colorful hula hoops. But if you stopped in an MGA to admire it, the locals who stopped to look at the car would tell you that some of the hula hoops were thrown into the tree to honor those who survived, or succumbed, to cancer. You would also learn that an anonymous artist leaves painted rocks for visitors to take home. I can imagine someone saddened by illness looking down and seeing these beautiful tokens of love, and taking that love with them when they left.
Interstates are evil thieves of the soul. Back roads offer unending epiphanies. Winding through the mountains of West Virginia, stopping in small towns, or cruising along the flats of the Mississippi River bottoms heading to the next Challenge point is glorious. The Challenge keeps you vigilant for “targets of opportunity” to score unplanned points. Simply by looking where you would never have looked before, you discover wonderful vistas and interesting details. Aged mansions and vacant town squares; vibrant local festivals, and wonderful local food. Have you ever attended the annual “Testicle Festival” in Olean, MO? Perhaps you simply haven’t looked. But while looking for these unexpected treats, I have experienced some inner epiphanies as well. Traveling at dawn with no one else on a road through lush farmland and hills while listening to the hum of the engine and tunes from my youth, I have had time to reflect on what is important in my life and the life of my community. It truly is “zen” and the best therapy one can imagine. You do not experience these things at car shows (although I love the comradery of shows). You experience these things when you drive, especially when you drive outside of familiar places and longer distances. As one of my favorite musicians sings, “It’s no matter. No distance. It’s the ride.”
It has also nudged my son to serve as navigator on some long trips. Some Challenge excursions present challenges other than gathering points. These cars do breakdown – often in the most remote part of the trip. Ask my son why he refuses to go in my car without a knife hidden in his boot, or why the words “Hickman Kentucky” sends shivers down his spine. Buy me a beer, and I will tell you the tale of New Years Eve in the mountains of Tennessee. But each of these adventures have left me with wonderful stories to tell. It has also made me into quite a McGyver of roadside repairs.
A 1960 MGA and a 1956 human body have their limitations. There are corners of North America I can’t visit too easily. That’s where the Moss Motoring Challenge Facebook Group comes in. If you haven’t scrolled through those Facebook pages you have really missed a wealth of creativity, laughs, and photos of exquisite cars and beautiful scenery. This virtual community is yet another one of the unexpected benefits of the Challenge. It allows you to travel across North America through the eyes of the other Challenge enthusiasts—from the Canadian Maritime Provinces to sunny L.A, in modern Miatas and vintage TR3s, and joyous selfies and picturesque landscapes. When work gets too stressful, just scrolling through the Facebook Group entries and seeing other folks enjoying their cars and their own adventures, brings a smile to my face. I will never listen to the song “Roundabout” by Yes without picturing Matthew Maguire hopping into his splendid Miata. When I compose my own photos and Facebook entries, I try to create something that takes the viewer out of the ordinary or brighten the worst moment of their day.
I and all those who participated in the Challenge are very thankful for Moss’ generosity in creating the Challenge. Moss has sponsored it for eight years. 2020 was the last year for the Challenge, and the pandemic made it harder to stray far from home. But more gems and adventures lay before those who take up their own personal motoring challenge. Perhaps one more road trip to see the pit where the “man who shot the man who shot Lincoln” went to live out the remainder of his life in insanity, or the World’s largest Ball of Twine in Cawker City, Kansas, so you can spend the night in a reconverted 1920s gas station. And who knows what you will find on the way, or who you will make smile—or who will make you smile. Thanks Moss for the gift of adventure and the joy of discovery. And thanks for keeping our cars on the road! MM