CHESTERVILLE -- In a white-knuckle ride over the Rock, Kees van Winden and his teammate placed first in their class during the 2008 Targa Newfoundland last month.
Behind the wheel of his vintage 1966 NSU TT German sports sedan for five consecutive 8-hour days (Sept. 15-19 inclusive), the local tractor-repair shop co-owner from Hallville ate up the twisting 2,200-km route, including about 400 km of flat-out rally competition over paved roads temporarily closed to the public.
Approximately 70 sports cars of all stripes and from as far away as New Zealand -- in a total of eight classes -- made their way through such places as Placentia, Bobby's Cove, Clarenville and Marystown. Sticking to the eastern portion of the island of Newfoundland, the rugged route began and ended in the provincial capital, St. John's.
"The fastest we had it going was 175 km/h," says van Winden, 42, recalling how he and navigator Kurtis McPhee, 34, of Long Sault, finished in top position among the handful of cars entered in the Class 4 modified small classic category good for 39th spot overall.
Seated at the lunch table at KNR Repair on County Rd. 43, he smiles while speaking of the "amazing experience" with just a hint of a Dutch accent. "There was no speed limit, but you could not average more than 130 km/h," he says of the rally format.
"There were lots of crests, lots of tight corners, and some scary situations for sure," van Winden adds, recounting a near miss with a telephone pole. "We actually got airborne once, and the landing was not pretty."
He adds, "There were quite a few teams that wrecked their cars."
Sections of the rally that went through towns and villages were the most exciting and challenging. "I had a sweat on ... We were going between houses and picket fences, where you wouldn't have been able to fit more than a wheelbarrow beside us."
The competing cars took off in 30-second increments at the beginning of each of 40 individual rally stages along the entire route. Teams were scored or penalized based on their adherence to strict time and distance requirements. Riding shotgun, navigators advised their drivers on each coming twist and turn, using a route book provided by the organizers. The better the driver and the teamwork with his navigator, the closer they could get to the optimum number of kilometres travelled on that section.
"In a 40 km stage, we were off 200 metres," van Winden points out as an example.
While he and McPhee didn't complete every single stage (because of mechanical issues in one instance), they still surpassed the 75 per cent completion benchmark required to receive the official 2008 Newfoundland "Targa" medal.
Although the event wasn't a race, overtaking was permitted during the rally when circumstances permitted. "We did catch up to a Corvette, and we passed him the one time," says the driver, a 10-year veteran of dirt-track racing in Cornwall and Brockville, though he retired from that hobby last year.
Motorsports is something of a tradition for the van Winden family. Kees's father, Bas, also drove an NSU TT in European targas, before he and the family emigrated out of Holland to set up a Dundas County dairy farm in 1978.
The son credits his father with inspiring him to enter Targa Newfoundland, owned and operated by Newfoundland International Motorsports Limited and one of only three internationally recognized targa rallys in the world today.
And it was only natural that he use the same rare model of car, now recognized as part of the heritage of the modern Audi company.
He had actually purchased one seven years earlier, but managed to find a better '66 TT in Niagara-on-the-Lake last year. Several months went into preparing the old car, which features a high-performance rear-mounted air-cooled engine covered by a hood that's designed to be propped open while driving in warm temperatures. The car also features a front-mounted oil cooler.
During the targa, the elder van Winden and his wife, Joke, followed their son in an RV. His uncle, Manus of Holland, Bas's brother, also formed part of the van Winden backup crew, driving a pickup truck and trailer big enough to carry the car if necessary. The truck also toted a couple of barrels of high-octane racing fuel to keep the NSU happy.
And while the van Windens no longer count themselves as dairy farmers, the dairy industry played an important role in supporting their effort.
The Dairy Farmers of Ontario -- the agency's milk logo prominently displayed on the hood of the white car -- were a major sponsor. Other local sponsors included Sybrenson Farms, Zollinger Farms, VanAdrichem Farms, Thurler Farms, KNR Repair and Morewood Tire.
Still, Kees van Winden estimates his own participation costs at $20,000. And there's no prize money to be won anyway, he explains, as the event is all about the experience of driving.
Rally competitors also participated in several car shows along the route, and the event wrapped up with a swanky black-tie awards ceremony in St. John's.
It was the seventh annual edition of the Targa, and manufacturers like Subaru and Mitsubishi were on the ground with official teams competing in the event.
Van Winden hopes to experience it all again.
"I'd love to go back, and I'm going to go again, because we have something to prove," he says.