Driven again to race across the world Marylander set for reprise of '68

April 11, 1993|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Staff Writer

Sidney Dickson is a bear of a man who can't quite get hi mind to stay focused on everyday life. Life, for this Marylander, is to be lived, not watched. So, on Saturday, he will ease his ample body behind the wheel of a red, white and blue 1968 Rambler American, press the gas pedal with his size-13 1/2 shoe and set off to race halfway around the world.

In 30 days.

From London to Sydney, Australia, he will rumble in the 25th anniversary run of the 10,000-mile London-Sydney Marathon.

The last time Mr. Dickson decided to do this, the world was an easier place on which to race. Yes, there was a last time. It was the only time such a race has been staged.

Twenty-five years ago, he was the lone American among 97 entries. When it was over, the little Rambler American and its 29-year-old driver were among the 57 finishers, winding up ninth among unsponsored entries, 46th overall.

On that trip, there were no bombs in Bombay, no race riots in Delhi, no closed borders in Iran. There was no ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia.

"The world was a fairly friendly place," Mr. Dickson says, munching a salad recently along the St. Michael's waterfront. "We raced through Bulgaria in the rain, through the desert in Australia, and people all along the way lined the route. We raced through parts of the world that still used ox carts, and our biggest fears were being hit with stones or hitting a pedestrian."

Mr. Dickson is 6 feet 1 and a rumpled 240 pounds. At 53, he has gray hair mingling with brown, and all of it is in disarray. He is a tree mover by trade. He moves full-grown beauties to golf courses, housing developments or corporate parks, "because they have such a hard time getting around by themselves."

Mr. Dickson claims former Vice President Aaron Burr as a relative and blames him for his wanderlust.

"Most people remember Burr for shooting Alexander Hamilton," he says. "But, before that, in the pre-1800s, he traveled and explored the West. Think how hard that was."

War has made it necessary to change the 25-year-old route of the race. The former Yugoslavia will be bypassed. Political instability in Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and northern India has caused the organizing committee to plan an airlift from Ankara, Turkey, to Delhi, India, for the final leg of the Asian route to Bombay.

There will be two airlifts on this trip; the second will be from Bombay to Perth, Australia. Both will be handled by Russian Antonov aircraft that will carry the 55 cars.

The world and its wars seem to have little impact on this race and its entrants. There are 105 of them, including 25 of the original competitors, entered in the required vintage 1968 cars. Andrew Cowan, a Scotsman who won in a Hillman Hunter, will be among them.

From time to time while race promoter Nick Brittan was putting the route together, he got caught up in what he calls "several little wars" in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Erzincan, Turkey. When he went to Iran to complete plans, he found getting in easy enough, but he couldn't get out for three days.

"It got so, that by the end of my routing, I was allergic to the sound of gunfire," he says. "And I kept having recurring nightmares that all 15 countries [the race goes through] are in process of declaring war on [the] country next door. I awake each time to discover this is only half-true."

In 1968, the event was a non-stop run, except for the 10-day trip across the Indian Ocean from Bombay to Perth. This time there will be stops every night. But it's no vacation.

"More like hitting your head against a radiator, but it sure feels good when you stop," says Mr. Dickson, whose navigator on the trip is Sue Loweree, a sometime actress and folk singer and longtime girlfriend. "Stopping means more worries. Stopping means worrying about the food, the water, the car. You don't want to get sick, and you don't want anyone helping themselves to pieces of your car."

Mr. Dickson, who has needed every minute of the past 18 months to get his car ready, says he probably will become very close to his car on this trip, as they sleep together most nights. "I hate cars," he says as he runs his hand gently across the Rambler's fender. "They reek. They stink. You have to depend on all these other Mr. Magoos to make them work."

But he mortgaged his 37-acre farm on the Miles River, sold a number of duck decoys he has hand-carved, sold furniture out of his home and is offering to sell an antique English muzzle-loading gun. All of it in an effort to raise the money necessary to make this trip.

The entry fee was $18,000, and the overhauling of the car, getting it to London and back from Australia and everything else, he says, has sent the total cost toward $60,000. All for 30 days abroad.

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