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targa journal: day one

In the 13th year of Targa Newfoundland, competitor Miles Markovic is writing a daily journal for The Globe and Mail as he and teammate Mark Bovey take on the race in a pickup truck. There are 45 competitors racing through 40 stages and three prologues. Photos by Harshad Patil.

So many have thought about racing a pickup truck, but very few ever actually do.

Targa Newfoundland is part street race, part rally race, part insanity -- and pure adrenaline for fans and competitors. Imagine going to remote communities in one of the most picturesque communities off the East Coast. Imagine little villages with majestic vistas, ocean shores, cliffs and rolling hills. Then take all the roads in those amazing communities, block them off and send 45 race-prepped, high-performance cars across them as fast as they can go.

An hour before the start of the stage, people in those communities are driving on those roads. They agree to block off their driveways, cut off their streets and allow us to completely disregard all signs and rules of the road for an entire hour, then to pack up our stuff and do it again in another community down the road. We do that for five days straight.

Occasionally a rally car will lose it and land in someone’s living room or backyard. But that’s risk of racing in Targa. The atmosphere is beyond electric. The stages are lined with more than 150,000 to watch these amazing pieces of machinery compete on the their roads . It is nothing short of epic and a true bucket list item for anyone with a driver’s licence and a love of fast.

It’s time to introduce you to our vehicle, believed to be the only pickup truck to ever compete in Targa Newfoundland. It started life as a 1971 GMC farm truck 26 years ago. Mark Bovey’s dad gave it to him and they did its first restoration when he was 14 years old. For the next 26 years, father and son have taken it drag racing, land speed racing, auto crossing and track racing.

Inside Targa Truck lives the fiery heart of a V8 LSX race block putting down 600 horsepower. It’s The suspension is stockish – aside from sitting a little lower and revalved shocks. It has Willwood brakes on it that could stop a 50-foot rig. It’s caged. It’s has a fire suppression. It’s harnessed. It’s badass awesome with two shakes of Tabasco sauce and the roar of an angry T-Rex. This ’71 GMC pickup is sure to be a crowd pleaser.

Targa Truck was scheduled to arrive last Wednesday. It didn’t. Driver and co-driver did. There was a shipping issue. Thursday was the Targa School. Being Targa newbies the school was a good idea. But with no Targa Truck, what are we supposed to do?

We started by calling every rental company in town and they were all out of cars. Kept calling, kept begging and bammo. We found a silver 2011 Toyota Corolla with dings on every fender and over 67,000 kilometres on it. If Targa Truck is about power and brute force, then this Corolla is for someone who has given up on any kind of amusement or joy of sitting behind the wheel.

Hey, if life tosses you a lobster, slap on a bib and dip it in butter. A quick stop to a craft store and a bottle of watercolour paint later and lame Corolla is now a Targa Truck Stunt Double. A big black truck was painted along the sides, along with sponsor names. Instantly this cardboard box of an economy car had personality and a fire in its belly. And, we were able to find it in the parking lot.

The Targa Truck Stunt Double reported for Targa school duty. The first thing that happens when we sit down in the conference room to start your higher education in racing, is you’re given a warning. We’re warned that Targa racing is very addictive. Is it ever!

Then you’re warned about Targa being dangerous. Turns out, driving fast down unknown roads in changing conditions is dangerous. Seems obvious no?

The first day was a great introduction into the sport by very passionate people. Then it’s followed by lessons in navigating.

The organizers clearly love this event. The East Coasters are incredibly hospitable and welcoming. And they’re full of amazing stories from previous year’s Targas. Part of me thinks that they only reason they host run a Targa is to refuel the story chest so they have something to talk about over beer and cod.

Saturday is meet the press and fan day. All the Targa cars are loaded into a hockey arena and people come back to meet and chat with the drivers and kick tires of the cars. Targa Truck finally arrived early afternoon. So excited. Pull it off the car carrier and into the arena to finish up some of the work that needed to be done on it.

We have a lot to do and are three days behind on prepping the car, so we are also the last ones out of the arena, at 1:30 a.m. aTarga Truck has everything it needs done. We calibrate the odometer on our trip computer to Targa spec and call it a night.

Sunday: prologue day. Bright and early the Targa cars line the arena and make the trek down to The Keg on the water. We have a brief driver’s meeting and parade to the first stage. We are greeted by an amazing reception when we arrive and get briefed on the day’s activities.

The first stage of the prologue you can see all the drivers are pure nerves. But they suck it up and line up one by one at the stage. Then the stage light goes green and we all remember why it is we’re here. The line between man and machine blurs. Roads are our racetracks today. Suddenly all the stresses of getting there and getting the car ready disappear. The truck becomes a second skin. With a roar off the line, Targa Truck made itself known that it was here to compete. This is the addiction the organizers spoke of.

On the first stage, we kept it pretty smooth testing out the new navigation equipment and listening and feeling very carefully for anything that may have been missed. Nothing. Targa Truck is perfect. The second stage we open up the throttle a bit more and start pushing a little harder.

Targa Truck crossed the finish line with the same angry roar that it had started the stage in. Fans lining the finish line all cheered as Targa Truck used sheer brute force and intimidation to make it’s around the last corning and across the line.

Targa Truck has officially popped its Targa cherry. Five more days and 38 more stages to run.

Miles Markovic is a freelance copywriter. Mark Bovey is an art director and designer. More information is available at