ELK Charity Challenge: Fun in cars for good causes

Larry Edsall
Special to The Detroit News

It was just about a year ago that I was invited to take part in the inaugural ELK Charity Challenge. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, except for the fact that the event, a week-long auto rally, would support three charities, one of them being Shriners Hospitals for Children.

So at this point you should know that I can walk because of Shriners Hospitals, where I was an in-hospital patient for several months as a toddler — and where I continued to be treated for a congenital hip condition and subsequent hip disease until I no longer could be considered a child.

Because of my status as an automotive journalist and my history with Shriners, I was invited on the rally as a “celebrity” guest. But I was so impressed by what I experienced during that week that this year I’m going on the rally as a paying participant, and I’m writing this to encourage you to do the same because this year the ELK Charity Challenge starts May 21 in Detroit.

ELK is short for Everyone Loves Kids. In addition to Shriners Hospitals, the event raises money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and for Texas EquuSearch, a group with an amazing record for finding missing persons. More than 300 have been reunited with their families, with another 150 or more sets of remains recovered.

The ELK Charity Challenge was launched by a group headed by Craig Corbell and others who had been on various high-speed auto rallies but found something missing. That something was having a mission beyond the fun of spending a week on the road in fast cars with like-minded people.

“The Everyone Loves Kids Charity Challenge is an interactive adventure, pitting philanthropic vehicle enthusiasts against one another in a seven-day journey to give back to America’s future … its children,” the group says on the www.elkcc.org website.

“Each day, participants navigate through numerous challenges and locations testing their dedication, determination and preparation. Every challenge not only provides an opportunity for victory, but also provides a once in a lifetime experience …”

Oh, and that’s navigate at speeds within the legal limit. This is not a speed event, but it is an enjoyable if challenging week-long road trip.

Participants are divided into three teams, each representing one of the charities. Every morning each vehicle — driver and navigator — receives a set of challenges. Actually, it’s only a set of clues. You have to solve those clues to even know the route to each of the destinations where the challenges take place.

Last year my partner was actor Tim Colceri (the door gunner in “Full Metal Jacket”). With help from our Shriners teammates, especially when it came to solving the clues that led to the challenges, we finished first overall in the SUV class in Corbell’s Cadillac Escalade.

The inaugural ELK Charity Challenge began in Santa Barbara, California, and took us to San Francisco and Oakland. Along the way we drove through spectacular scenery, visited amazing museums, wineries, historic missions, an aquarium and a presidential yacht. We rode an old train and got hands-on experience at a space museum and at a dirt-oval race track — you should have seen the Escalade in four-wheel drift!

And each night, in the name of the winning team, a charity received a check for $10,000, and we also helped some local charities in towns along the route.

While details about cities and challenges along the route remain top secret, we have been told that the second ELK Charity Challenge begins in the Detroit and ends the following weekend in Lake Placid, New York, twice the location for Winter Olympic Games.

“Last year was great and we didn’t possibly think we could do better, but we have,” Corbell said. “(Route and challenge planners) Matt (Morak) and Marcus (Juarez) have done a phenomenal job of getting hotels and things to do, including three different track events.

“Any type of experience you could imagine, we’re going to do it.”

For information about registering for the event, visit the www.elkcc.org website. Early entries include teams from eight states, Canada and Costa Rica.

Larry Edsall is a Phoenix-based freelance writer. You can reach him at ledsall@cox.net.