After quite a few years absence from many of the events local to me, including both SCCA Rallycross events, as well as the Sno*Drift Rally, I made a return this past January. On Sarah’s birthday, nonetheless, we celebrated by heading out to a local rallycross. It would be Sarah’s first time riding in the rally car, seeing what it’s like with me behind the wheel, and being in a car sliding through the mud. She arrived with her awesome husband Mike, meeting myself and NSR teammate Ian Kessler, who was returning to the rallycross scene after a long absence as well. He was competing in his new 1995 Legacy (with a whopping original 35,000 miles)!
Sarah greeted us with smiles as we kicked off the start to the day. Whilst I had been battling a pretty bad infection, I was grateful to the event organizers for allowing me to work at the gate and not have to run around the field collecting cones. We decided that given the cold weather and mass amounts of what would become a soupy muddy mess, that we would run with our snow tires. Competition started with the RWD guys, and moved up to AWD, which was our class. We ran a parade lap to gain an idea of what the course looked like, and how little traction we would experience.
The track was created in the grassy field at the Calhoun County Fairgrounds, which is honestly one of my favorite places to throw the car around. We battled the search for traction all day, and became familiar with how the car would behave in the cold weather. Admittingly so, I was truly hoping for a snowy event to help get me reacquainted with winter driving prior to Sno*Drift that was to follow after a couple of weeks, I still enjoyed having the opportunity to show Sarah how fun rallycross was and what it felt like to be in a car during a controlled slide.
We made it through the day unscathed and with zero penalties (or what should have been). There was a run with cones already down that were called in on my car. Despite video evidence that I never hit a cone, timing refused to watch the footage and change the penalty. I was feeling a bit frustrated at the lack of care towards my inquiry, but ultimately was not too concerned as we weren’t going to placement or even points. Ultimately, we were just going to get some practice and time in the car together. Ian did an excellent job throwing around the automatic Legacy and killed it on course as usual! It was great seeing him back in his element.
The next day, we lucked out with some sunshine and I was fortunate to have Ian as he was the one to do all of the freezing cold washing of the car. Bundled up, we took the car to the wash bay, sprayed out the wheels, underbody and every spot we could find mud. It took us a couple of hours, but Stitch was far cleaner for when the crew would arrive two weeks later. Those next couple of weeks, we spent time preparing for the Sno*Drift Rally which took place up in Atlanta, MI. (THANK YOU IAN!!)
Sno*Drift is the location of the very first rally I ever spectated back in 2006, and would be the same event where I would debut and start all of my rally adventures. The last time I competed at Sno*Drift was in 2015, with Ian in the co-driver’s seat. A lot of my original followers/fans/support come from the Sno*Drift area and it was pretty exciting to be able to return to show them the new car and have their support to kick off the season.
The rally is quite nostalgic for me, and it brought back a lot of good memories. It was the last place I saw and hugged Marker. The place where it all began with my sister co-driving for me. Prepping Stitch in my one car garage and having everyone crash overnight at my place prior to departure for the rally was all too familiar and brought me back to 2012. Ryan and Mike managed to make the last flight into Detroit, prior to the entire airport shutting down due to heavy winter storms. I collected them up from the airport after class, and the following day we all coordinated and met at my place to load up the service truck, rally car and recce car for departure.
The day started out in a very common Michigan winter fashion. My bootcamp was canceled due to weather, which in turn meant the little one I nanny for would also have a snow day. This put my time frame much later that originally scheduled. AND… the airport was still closed! So, it turned out, my co-driver, Amy Feistel, would delayed due to continued winter storms as well. Luckily, she arrived in time, and we were able to get to the AirBnB with time to spare.
The event was fast and furious and one of THE coldest rallies any of us have ever attended, with a record all time low of -25 degrees Fahrenheit. RECCE went fairly smoothly, and I enjoyed working with Amy again! We reviewed our notes, in car videos and got ourselves sorted and prepared for the upcoming race days. Tamika and Sarah watched intently, and gave it their all, preparing meals and food for everyone, and keeping the crew on time and in order. (Nice work ladies and welcome to the rally life!)
Day 1 was primarily run during the night, which made for a rough evening in service. Cars struggled to start as they sat in Parc Expose with their light pods and bars installed. On SS1, many cars were already off and stuck in snow banks. On one particular corner, we came around a left handed corner, where one 2WD car was stuck in the snow on the right hand with 1 triangle out and hardly a warning, and another Subaru stopped in the apex of the following corner. The co-driver was just getting back into the car. Amy honked the horn to let us pass as we knew time was ticking and the next car would only be approximately 60 seconds behind us. Instead of scooting out of the way, the driver took off rather immediately, frustrating Amy and I, as we knew the safety of her co-driver was jeopardized as there was no way she could have buckled herself back in within the amount of time they sat there. We kept up for awhile, but decided to back off as we knew this rally would be one of attrition.
The rest of the stages passed us by, with more cars off in the snow and smashed into trees. We took our time working our way through the winter night and back into service. Which was another adventure. We had forgotten the top to our tent, tools were freezing, and our jack decided to stop working. Our converter broke, the battery charger failed, and even the propane began to freeze! The crew managed to get a service completed despite the cold and chaos. Amy and I jumped into the car, and as we went to leave our service space, we realized our rear brakes had froze up. We tried driving off, but only managed to get a few hundred feet away near check in, which the tarp stuck underneath our tires. We managed to make it to the regroup control within the allotted 10 minute window and continue on stage. We survived day 1 and decided to come up with a plan for day 2. I was SUPER grateful for the DCCD and controller, which allowed me to experiment and find maximum traction on the snow and ice covered roads. I was also pleasantly pleased with the budget friendly Sumitomo winter tires I purchased last minute on advice from a rally pal (Thanks Dan!).
Parc Expose found most of the teams huddling in the little building to stay warm before heading off to the stages. We were all bundled up in winter coats, hats, gloves, boots and scarves and had our own systems when getting ready to switch to driver and co-driver mode. I think the experience of parc expose suffered because of such cold temperatures, but it was still awesome to see media and fans out there to support everyone racing. I was also very pleased and excited to spend some time with one of my best friends (Ronnie Bunker), who used to spectate Sno*Drift with me years ago. He was there spectating and it was awesome to have him cheering me on, especially after talking about competing for so many years before.
The crew kept the old faithful automatic Legacy of Ian’s running all day, allowing members to take turns warming up, and keeping tools and the jack inside the car to ensure nothing froze again. Luckily, the sun was shining, though it failed to provide much warmth for anyone. The crew enjoyed down time together bonding and playing in the snow, making snow angels and turning Sarah into a snow mermaid. She molded right into the team as if she had always been there and it was awesome to see everyone getting along so well.
The stages were a bit icy, but the snowfall from the night before gave us an opportunity to find traction where we needed it. We escaped day 2 without many issues, and left foot braking managed to keep the brakes warm enough on stage to avoid issues we had during day 1. We only got stuck once, and the exciting part was after we nose dived into the snow bank on a R2, before we could even get out of the car, there were several spectators that ran over to Stitch to push us out. It was awesome! I have only ever seen that happen in videos, and to have the help of those spectators was wicked cool. So to all of you who pushed us out so quickly-THANK YOU! Services went flawlessly, despite the brakes still trying to freeze if the car sat too long. We made it through day 2 stages and completed the rally with success!
Our original goal was to be able to drive Stitch 2.5 hours to the event, race 2 days in the blistering winter conditions, and drive him back home unscathed so that the following weekend I could drive him the 12 hours back south to North Carolina. And that is just what we did. I believe we finished 5th in class (Nationally ranked) and 11th overall in National scoring. This was my first time competing as a National competitor and it was pretty cool.
I do want to give a MASSIVE shoutout to the regional guys who kicked so many of our bottoms out there on stage and that were not recognized. One team being Fervor Rally Sport, some of the very first NSR crew members that helped me get my start 8 years ago! Jacob Bryant and Steven Stewart placed 5th overall for the rally! It’s always awesome seeing the grassroots teams doing so well! CONGRATS to y’all!
The next day, we loaded all the cars up, headed home and got everyone off to the airport so they could leave behind the sub zero temps. That following weekend, I embarked on my own journey to return Stitch back to the shop and get him prepped for his next adventure at the Sandblast Rally.