Grand Junction couple accomplishes goal of rally race in Newfoundland

JANEL, LEFT, AND KEITH TANNER STAND PROUDLY next to their 1994 Mazda Miata after finishing the Targa Newfoundland race.

Janel Tanner, right, gives directions to her husband Keith during the Targa Newfoundland, which they said was an exhilarating experience.

The week Keith and Janel Tanner experienced in northeast Canada would easily make most car lovers jealous.

The Grand Junction couple spent the third week in September racing across Newfoundland, Canada, in the seventh annual Targa Newfoundland.

Targa Newfoundland is a rally race that breaks down into 37 stages. The Tanners raced their 1994 Mazda Miata and finished 16th out of 40 teams.

“It was exhilarating having the opportunity to go flat-out and drive,” Keith said. “It was like nothing else I have ever done before.”

Although the race lasted one week, the buildup to the race was more than two years in the making for the Tanners, beginning with constructing the Miata.


Keith is very involved with Miatas. He works as a technician for Flyin’ Miata, a local car modification company. Keith began building the Miata from the frame up, with the goal being to create the perfect car for a Targa race.

“The race was the culmination of two years of hard work,” Keith said. “It was very fulfilling to see it come through like it did.”

The Tanners were originally scheduled to attend the 2007 Targa, but legal problems postponed that plan. Keith is originally from Canada and was in America on a working visa. When the Tanner’s got married in May of 2007, the marriage canceled Keith a visa and he basically was told he was allowed to leave the United States, but couldn’t return.

The Tanners were able to get Keith’s green card, but the paperwork put a year delay on the race, which in retrospect was a blessing in disguise.

“Honestly, we both agreed that not going last year was a really good thing,” Janel said. “It gave Keith an extra year to make any fixes or changes and get it exactly the way he wanted it.”

As the race approached, the couple prepared by spending time at the Grand Junction Motor Speedway working on their teamwork skills. Although the pair had driven together in race situations, this was the first time for either in a rally-style race.

Both are big fans of the World Rally Championships and Janel said they expected the Targa to be similar to that.

“We would go to track days, which really helped because we were able to get the car exactly the way we wanted it,” Janel said. “But there is not really anywhere in town where you can have a set of directions and tell someone where to drive, so we didn’t know what to expect.”

THE Race

The Targa Newfoundland attracts drivers from all over the world for the more than-1,300-mile course.

The Tanners were in the modified small engine class, and although the class contained only one other car, a 1996 Honda Civic, they got to race alongside everything from 1959 Mini Coopers to a 2009 Lotus.

The Targa was broken up into five legs, with each leg having five to nine individual stages, ranging from more than a mile to about 18 miles, with speeds reaching more than 100 miles per hour.

The terrain of the stages varied from back-country roads to subdivisions.

“They would just close their towns down for us, and they were excited about it,” Janel said. “What kind of opportunity do you have to race four to five times the speed limit through a subdivision?”

Keith and Janel worked as a team, with Keith doing the driving and Janel giving the directions from her guide book, which provided her all the directions on a particular stage.

Both said there was a large amount of teamwork involved in getting through the courses.

“There was the sense of teamwork because there is no way you can drive that fast without teamwork,” Keith said. “I had to have faith and trust in her that I could go full throttle until braking and making a hard turn and I wasn’t going the wrong way.”

They were in pressure situations trying to make a certain time and pushing the Miata to speeds of more than 100 miles per hour. Janel said after the first day, they both understood the way to work together.

“The first day was a big adjustment because he was going fast and I didn’t want to tell him he was going in the wrong direction and he didn’t want me to tell him he was going in the wrong direction,” Janel said. “So we really had to trust each other. I had trust that he knows how to drive and he had trust in me being organized and telling him the right way to go.”

If the team didn’t make the Targa time for a stage, they were given penalty points. The winner of the Targa was the team with the fewest amount of penalty points.

The Tanners and the Miata performed well, surviving 13-hour days in the car, either racing or traveling to the stages.

Both said they were impressed with how the car held up throughout the race.

“I don’t think we realized how fortunate we were until halfway through the race,” Keith said. “To have the car
come through like that was fulfilling.” 

did that just happen? 

The Targa Newfoundland is a surreal experience, having the opportunity to drive some of the most unique roads in some of the most scenic places in the world.

“The race is like nothing else in the world,” Keith said. “You don’t have a lot time to look at the scenery when you are just tearing along, but one stage was right on the edge of the ocean and it was like a mirror, just gorgeous.”

The Tanners found a way to take in the aesthetic beauty by traveling to the start of the stages early.

“We were able to enjoy a couple of sunrises,” Janel said. “I got to see some moose crossing the road, which I thought was exciting.”

Each Targa leg ended with a car show as all the drivers drove into the various towns and parked their vehicles at a hockey or curling arena. For Keith, it was an opportunity to be able to interact with car enthusiasts from different parts of the world.

When the race finished in St. Johns, the Tanners completed their own goals for the race.

Simply put, they finished.

“I am still having all the daydreams, just running it back through my head,” Keith said from Quebec on his way back to Grand Junction. “What made it special was the fact it was the two of us.”


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