This year, I was told that I was missed. What transpired afterwards was a spiral into the healthcare vacuum.
Last year, George Torline made his debut at the Midwest Automotive Media Association Rally at Road America. He was representing this website yielding a series of videos from our regional media confab.
Where was I? Oh yeah, I was working my day job making sure that the largest issue of the year went from proof to the printers. I did not want to rankle anyone at the magazine by “not doing my job.”
You know, being a member of MAMA is part of my job. Being on top of my day job’s duties is also part of my job.
This year, I was told that I was missed. What transpired afterwards was a spiral into the healthcare vacuum. Three hospitalizations, a few surgeries, and a few other challenges later, George and I arrived at the Osthoff Resort in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin to fulfill our membership in MAMA and participate in this year’s Rally.
He drove the V&R Machine from the northern office, while I leaped ahead in the Mazda CX-9 that was just reviewed by us. I can’t speak for George’s journey, but I was glad that my morning calendar was either cancelled or rescheduled. That gave me time to concentrate on the long drive from the southern office through Chippewa Falls, Wausau, and down through Oshkosh towards Road America and Elkhart Lake.
One thing was on the back of my mind: The same scenario is in play again. The largest issue of the year is again coming through final proofing before being sent to the printers. That means I have to be on high alert for e-mails on my work account as I drove through Wisconsin. One key tweak was added, along with confirming a photo credit – minor things, perhaps.
Ideally, I needed to get my head in the game. To be a part of MAMA and not at the receiving end of drama from outside the media association. I had that happen to me with a previous day job while settling in at a MAMA Rally one year. It’s never pretty.
Coming into Elkhart Lake, I had no agenda. George, on the other hand, planned and plotted through the vehicle list and other media opportunities. After all, he’s half of V&R these days…
This year, I was prepared. I had my rollator, backpack with laptop, headphones in case I am pulled into a Zoom call, and my clothes. Years of business travel teaches you to be prepared. Except, I forgot to pack a jacket. The weather can be interesting at a MAMA Rally.
The drive out to Elkhart Lake yielded a mix of stops to fulfill my duties at the magazine and to simply pace myself. The result was an earlier arrival than usual. It also yielded the earliest I was able to check into the shared two-bedroom suite where George and I called our home office through Thursday morning.
Then, the Rally began.
After completing the only Zoom call of the week, George and I dove into the Rally. Of course, the Lake Street Café was the traditional first stop to welcome us to the gig. I was upright, but heeded caution to my friends and colleagues that while I was indeed standing on my own power, it was only a temporary situation.
Wednesday was our biggest day. You had the track at Road America, street drives, and off-roading. Thursday was a split of street drives and autocross on the karting course. Nothing out of the ordinary. You also had the meals, sponsored by an automaker or, in the case of this year, a battery technology start-up.
On Wednesday afternoon, some folks went on to do some karting, others took on the four-mile track by foot or bike for a spot of fitness. A media association confab is not just about making news and relating impressions of certain vehicles. Rather, it is about networking, connecting, and creating long-term working relationships through multiple opportunities.
While during the program, George and I did our best to do solo and collaborative content that will appear soon. Not sure what to expect, but think of along the lines of what George yielded from last year’s rally.
Let’s briefly talk about the vehicles we drove at this year’s MAMA Rally…
George took a 2023 Volkswagen Golf R 20th Anniversary Edition onto the four-mile-plus track. Even with the manual gearbox, he reported that it drove just like his Mk 7.5 Golf R – and the Mk 7 before that. I am certain he will have a video of that experience to explain further. Hopefully, he did…
Last month, I drove a Lucid Air Grand Touring around the parking lot of Oakbrook Mall, where the luxury EV start-up had their showroom in Chicago’s West Burbs. They brought out two Air sedans for the MAMA Rally – a first time entry that a start-up company has done so. George drove the 2023 Grand Touring and found the brakes to be pretty weak on it. Everything was good, by the way.
He also took a 2023 Kia EV6 GT for a run. I believe George liked it. On the other hand, he also wished that the 2023 Acura Integra A-Spec with the manual gearbox had more performance overall. When I drove one briefly near Chicago last month, I thought it was OK with the CVT.
Then, George commandeered the new BMW M2 with a manual gearbox. It reminded him of the Nissan Z he drove at last year’s Rally. George felt that the BMW was more linear in terms of performance compared to the Z's peakiness. Speaking of Nissan, George sampled the all-wheel drive version of the Ariya electric crossover/SUV. He said he liked it. Nissan has a good EV product on their hands, for sure.
Both George and I drove two versions of the same – or similar vehicles – at the Rally. Oddly enough, we had different opinions of each version. For example, George drove the 2024 Mercedes-Benz GLE 450 and found it be quite nice and luxurious. On the other hand, I found the 2024 AMG GLE 53 to be overly complicated and not all that engaging. We can agree that we had different expectations based on each model's mission.
When it came to the latest Stellantis compact SUVs, George wondered if the 2024 Dodge Hornet R/T had more power to offer and wished for more response right off the bat. I found the 2024 Alfa Romeo Tonale Veloce to be true to its heritage with a different kind of performance delivery. It proves to show that we don’t often agree on everything – and that’s a good thing.
We both attempted to do videos on a couple of vehicles together. Lexus brought out a 2023 RC F Track Edition, which I was happy to rock on the streets around Road America. I guess I wanted to just drive one of my favorite vehicles as intended, but not with the threat of law enforcement in the area. I also didn’t think the video was crisp for production standards. I’m sure George could salvage something.
The next day, I was in a better mood to jointly do a video on the 2023 Toyota Prius Prime XSE with George. Since I drove the regular hybrid the month before, it was his turn to take the wheel of the plug-in version. While we evaluated the driving experience, I pointed out some of the practical things that made this fifth-generation model – the second-generation of the plug-in Prime – different than previous iterations.
On my end, I found myself taking on one of the off-road courses in a few vehicles. This included two vehicles we previously reviewed – the 2023 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV SEL Premium and 2023 Mazda CX-50 Merdian Edition. The plug-in Outlander surprised me of its ability to take on the greenlane course, which also included a very tight and rutted section. All you have to do is to put the Outlander PHEV into Mud mode and work the throttle and put the Super All-Wheel Control system to work.
The CX-50 should’ve been tested off road when I had it last year. Following the greenlane path, the Mazda proved to be very poised once you put it into Off-Road mode. Very impressed, indeed!
In the 2023 Chevrolet Colorado Trail Boss Crew Cab, I ended up deviating from the course to tackle one of those hills on the more hardcore course. First off, the Colorado itself is very improved all around in many aspects. Secondly, it’s one tough truck – especially with the 2.7-liter turbocharged engine powering this four-wheel drive rig. And, lastly, the mid-size pickup truck segment just got more interesting.
I save the best of last. Rolls-Royce brought a 2022 Ghost Black Badge sedan in a gray exterior color, combined with an orange and black interior. You can debate the color combination, but it is the driving experience that what makes a Rolls-Royce what it is – absolutely sublime.
The combination of all of the above is a summary that reflects this return to the media association’s premier event for its members. I wish I could go deeper on any of the above, but I believe that the video content coming from George would be more effective in telling the story.
On a personal level, being there was important in its own way. While people saw me “improve” by using a rollator or standing up instead of rolling around in an electric scooter was indeed a step. However, I told many of my colleagues that while I was OK…it was “for now.”
And, for now, that Rally was a good one.
DISCLAIMER: All travel was by Victory & Reseda. All logistics were provided by the Midwest Automotive Media Association and its sponsors
All photos by Randy Stern and George Torline