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Globe Drive Targa Newfoundland: Dodging lawns, mailboxes, backyards and picket fences

Targa Newfoundland is part street race, part rally race, part insanity. It's a five-day event that begins and ends in St. John's, with competitors racing through 40 stages and three prologues in small communities in eastern Newfoundland.

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. Photos by Harshad Patil.

Planning ahead for a sunny day, I put on sunscreen – but put on too much and looked like an albino for two full stages. I even posed for some pictures with some fans who were too polite to say anything. Can’t wait to get tagged in pictures wearing white clown face paint.

The first stage was Plate Cove West. It’s the shortest stage with only two left turns and a massive drop into a radiator cruncher. On the map it seemed so simple enough with just two right turns, so I told Mark he could do this one without me navigating. But then I’d need to walk to the other side of the stage, and why ride when you can shotgun Targa Truck! We took it really slow through a steep downhill, deciding to keep our rad and subframe for at least another day.

Next up was short commute to Open Hall. We followed purpose-built Porsche 911 Targa that has participated in the last seven Targas and was piloted by a driver who has competed in all 13. Behind us was an awesome Can Am Mustang. Our ride, a vehicle built to be a farm truck, was sandwiched between some serious race-bred machinery.

The starting line was on a steep uphill, so it was tricky to get the power down. We locked up the wheels for the first time since starting Targa on Monday. At Tickle Cove we had our second wheel lock up, but that was slowing for a gravel obstacle so doesn’t really count.

With lockups out of the way, Targa Truck just kept on trucking, powering through stages and delighting fans of all ages. At the Keels stage, Targa Truck hit a milestone of 200,000 miles. Go Targa Truck, go! And then we hit Bonavista and fell in love with the place. So much to look at while you’re racing through town, and at lunch I had three bowls of amazing home cooked beef barley soup. And the fans were incredible. The number of people asking questions and saying we are running the most amazing car is astonishing.

Then there was the Bonavista course itself. It was like an autocross through a town, but instead of dodging pylons, we dodged lawns, mailboxes, backyards, houses and picket fences. There were so many reference points for turns, I started adding some of them to my instructions. Turn easy left at the girl with the pink shirt. Cut through this nice family’s backyard alley. Hard left at the ATM then easy crest by the sandwich shop. Mark and I motored through the entire course, giggling most of the way.

Words can’t describe how much fun the rest of the day was. We really came together as a driving team. We did Trinity North twice and had a blast both times, waving to the fans who lined the streets between calls.

When the day was done and we headed back to Clarenville, until I got us lost. I really felt like I was getting the hang of this navigating thing too. We pulled over and tried to figure out where we were and before we knew it we were surrounded by people pulling over to check out the truck. A wrong turn turned into a 40 minute social with some new best friends.

We came to Newfoundland as strangers and were welcomed with open arms. We tear through their streets and communities with near-reckless abandon, ignoring every rule of the road on these closed courses and then they thank us for coming and ask us to come again. It’s unbelievable. Please don’t pinch me, I don’t want to wake up from this dream.

We parked at the Clarrenville Events Centre and found that the organizers had a cake with “Happy 200,000 miles (320,000 km) Targa Truck” waiting for us. We even lit candles. Then we signed Targa Truck T-shirts (which was pretty awesome) and heard some great stories about reactions to the Targa Truck on course.

We tightened a loose u-bolt on the rear suspension and flushed the truck’s brake fluid before calling it a day. Mark’s father came to town and they enjoyed a father and son pizza.

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