The Saving Grace of Rally
What a weekend! I have to say I've been going about 110mph (mentally speaking that is) for the past 3 weeks, and the adventures, trials and opportunities keep coming at me like a tsunami.
This past weekend I competed in my first stage rally since the rebuild of Stitch; “Stitch 2.0” as fans have been referring to him. I enjoyed the chance to spend some short time home over Memorial Day weekend; but even with some days off, I have yet to really find some down time.
So perhaps before I divulge all the details of my experience this past weekend at STPR I should realistically bring everyone back to 2 weeks ago. On 14 May 2018, my dear Uncle Walt had a major stroke and was found the following day and rushed to hospital. When my mum called to tell me what had happened, my instincts told me at 79 years of age, the future was bleak. My family promised to keep me informed as I was due to travel to North Carolina that weekend.
Thursday morning, after approximately 3 hours of sleep I awoke and headed out to the airport where I boarded the first available flight to Charlotte. Shortly after landing I was greeted by recently recruited teammate Ryan Holzbaur and taken to the Subaru dealer where NSR member Ian Kessler’s 2002 WRX sat. My plan for the day was to drive the 2.5 hours out to TurboTime where Stitch is housed to help in final preparations for the NASA RallySprint during Hyperfest 2018, held at Virginia International Raceway (VIR). But my trip to Apex, NC would be cut short as I received word that anyone that wanted to say goodbye to my uncle should make arrangements and do so quickly. I immediately called my crew chief Ryan Davis, who reassured me that everything that needed to be handled would be and that everyone supported me in whatever way was needed.
I hoped for the best and drove myself back to the airport, where I held my breath and anxiously awaited to find out if there were going to be any available seats on the small flight to my family who were in Kentucky. While exercising my patience in such an urgent situation, I encountered two wonderful women who offered to give me a ride to hospital from the airport. While it was unknown if I would make the fight or not, one of them even offered to give me her seat if I could not get on the flight. Their gesture of such selfless kindness brought me to tears. Luck was on my side, because last minute I was given a seat on the plane to Lexington.
True to their word, I was given a ride to hospital where Uncle Walt was located. Because much of my immediate family is in Michigan, I knew it in my heart that I had to say goodbye for all of us. During those 3.5 hours with my family, we reminisced about times with Uncle Walt. We laughed, we prayed and we cried, all while supporting one another. Uncle Walt was taken off life support while I was there, but surely cotinued to fight like hell after.
When it was time to leave for another flight back to NC, I gave him one last hug, kissed his forehead and told him how much we all loved him, and that it was okay if he was too tired to fight. I reminded him my Gramps would be waiting for him so they could youthfully play some good old fashioned country music once again. I told him the race that I was competing in at Hyperfest that weekend would be for him. And what do you know it? He made it through the race.
Upon my return to NC, I was given a first class seat where I snuggled up in a blanket and listened to music waiting for the moment when I could safely return to the car where I could simply be alone to process my day.
My drive to Raleigh resulted in some very memorable moments and what felt like “visits”, or maybe just a few reminders from both my Gramps and Marker. I took a few minutes to myself as I lost my composure. After a very long day, I finally made it into a bed where I could rest my weary head and try to mentally prepare for the next 3 days that awaited me. That morning, I met up with my crew chief for some final prep to the car and for a quick test drive. From there, TurboTime employee and good friend of mine, Katie Larsen followed me as I drove Stitch out to VIR.
There, we met up with Ryan (Holzbaur) and NSR member Justin Robinson. We also met up with Villa Cseh and Louie Jonas of Jonas Racing; as Villa was co driving for me that weekend. We all made it to registration and then sorted out where our vendor spot was for Hyperfest. NASA Racing donated a vendor area in a prime spot for us to host Stitch and “Noburu” (that's Holzbaur’s rally car- a 2000 Subaru Impreza RS), as we raised awareness for Lupus and Cystic Fibrosis with sponsor Restoration Race Works, Inc of Raleigh. (These are the guys that took on the huge project of cutting out Stitch's old cage, and rebuilding a new and improved design). It took the entire slew of us to figure out how to sort the giant 10x20 tent that was designed especially for service with Stitch from Link ECU (It is gorgeous!). Eventually we managed, with the help of another gentleman from a booth across from us. I suppose our struggle was real (real apparent! ha!).
Day 1 of Hyperfest (Friday) resulted in flash floods, standing in rain puddles, getting completely soaked and shutting down our vendor booth early. But the rain did not put a damper on anyone’s attitudes and we successfully celebrated raising awareness. Prior to the rain, we set up in a prime location (HUGE thanks to Chris Cobetto of NASA Racing for donating a vendor spot to us). We had two long tables decked out in purple tablecloths with checkered flag table skirts. The tables were filled with items like cowbells, pens, stress balls, necklaces, rings, little bears, beach balls, stickers, giveaway buckets and more items supporting Lupus and CF with purple ribbons as decor. The team proudly rocked their #RaceForACure team shirts all weekend. Justin and Ryan even sported mine and Villa’s purple tutus at one point! Goodness do I love my team!
Day 2 was all about the spectators and fans. Because of the rain and flooding, the original course provided for rally rides was moved to the grass parking lot, which soon became a muddy mess. Here, we gave various people rides in the rally cars, going as sideways as we could through the mud. I have to say, the smiles on their faces at the end of the ride reminded me what this is all about. What rally is all about.
Rally is about the community, the bonds people create, the friendships that end up lasting a lifetime, the comradery and passion for racing. Of course, Stitch was covered in mud, making the brand new livery almost obsolete. Villa and I drove Stitch down to our booth covered in mud and let him sit out for a bit to show those attending Hyperfest what rally cars are all about. Afterwards, Justin took the lead in giving Stitch a bath, which made for some awesome videos. After swapping tyres out for the tarmac the following day, and spending over an hour power washing the car, we were ready for Day 3.
The following day was beautiful. The rain had finally subsided, and the group of us attending the NASA RallySprint took to the full course at 8am. We managed to get in about 7 laps, I believe. That was the first time I had ever driven on a track (minus a short lap back at the Olympus Rally in 2012), and consecutively for approximately 25 minutes at that! I can say the idea of using the whole track is foreign to me, and a completely different driving experience than I have ever had. While I enjoyed it, I have to say it just was not really my kind of racing. Shortly after, we all lined up to run a RECCE lap of the Patriot Course. THAT was was more up my alley. I really enjoyed the elevation changes and technical corners of the course. Stitch enjoyed getting a little sideways on the tarmac and Villa and I had a riot working together.
The day continued with the team watching some drifting together. Rosco, from RRW, took me around the full course in his Z1 Camaro! Let me say that was AWESOME, and wow - can that man drive! What an experience to be on course during wheel to wheel racing, hitting the S curves at 100mph and taking hair pins bumper to bumper. It certainly was a great way to end the event.
That evening Justin, Ryan H. and I headed back to the rental cabin to clean things up and get packed up to head back south. We all enjoyed some down time recapping the event and having a good time hanging out on the porch overlooking the water before we split ways. Afterwards, Justin joined me as I drove Stitch back towards his home base. Unfortunately for us, our flights home turned red, making it impossible to fly home (oh the life of a non-rev).
When the night had finally come to an end, the sun set upon the horizon and we returned to Raleigh, I had gotten the dreaded message that I had anxiously awaited. Uncle Walt had passed. I took a deep breath as the pain sheared through my chest at the loss. The moment I spoke the words aloud, was the moment the grief I had been neglecting all weekend finally came in like an ocean wave. After getting some much needed rest, I awoke to another rough bout of news, hearing that my paternal grandfather was continuing rehabilitation as he was very weak and struggling from Dementia. At 89 years old, I have to say I am impressed with his will to continue to fight, but it does not make the heartache of those who love him the most, like the Skelly matriach who has been married to him for
almost 65 years.
After trying to wrap my head around everything that was slowly falling apart around me, Justin and I made our way over to 5 Star Design (window and tinting graphics), to finally meet the guys behind the art of printing and installing the new livery on the car. I have to say, owner Dave is one hell of a guy. He understood my struggles, appreciated my strength and encouraged me in just a moments time. We discussed plans to change up a few things with the livery come fall/winter during down time, and Stitch got another bath while we were there. I am so thankful to work with such a standup group of people in all aspects from my crew (my rally brothers) to the employees at Link ECU, TurboTime, Whiteline, DDCDPro, 5Star, RRW, Turtle Gloves, TIM, Ksport, BridgeMoto and RMA etc...
Later that day Justin and I worked our way back to TurboTime to drop off Stitch and reclaim the Bugeye, and then drove the 2.5 hours back to meet up with Ryan H, who then took us to CLT airport to pickup a rental car. From there, we embarked on a 10.5 hour drive back to MI through the night. We made it to the DTW airport to return the car where Ian then collected us and brought us home. The rest of the day was a bit of a rollercoaster primarily filled with crying and sleeping.
That following week was a blur of emotions, as I sifted through a new patient visit for Lupus, prepping for STPR, attending family get togethers, oh and throwing in another road trip to Kentucky on top of it all. (And let me tell you trying out new doctors is no easy feat and is mentally exhausting! And perhaps a little bit physically when they take 12 vials of blood for testing purposes!)
So my week actually looked like this in a snippet:
Wednesday Work 13 hours, sleep 3 hours
Thursday Up at 3am - airport, Detroit, MI to Charlotte, NC, Charlotte to Lexingon, KY, hospital visit 3 hours, Fly KY-NC, drive 2.5 hours to Raleigh. Get to sleep after 1am
Friday- Drive to VIR, Setup for vendor booth all day
Saturday - Rally Rides, Wash car
Sunday - VIR Track and Patriot Course, drive back to NC, Uncle Walt Passed
Monday - Finally got a little rest, visit TurboTime crew, drive 2.5 hours to Charlotte, drop off the WRX, get a rental car and drive through the night back to MI
Tuesday - Home at 1230pm (I ended up sleeping most of the day)
Wednesday - Day of Dr Appts, Child Care Training
Thursday- Work 12 hours
Friday - Drive to KY with aunt, arrive 3am
Saturday - Visit with family, run around with Uncle Walts Pup, drive back home to MI, arrive 2am to find out my WRX is dead, try to get it going with no luck (bad alternator) get home/to bed at 3am
Sunday - Family gathering, prep for STPR trip
Monday - Finish packing
Tuesday - Get dropped off at the airport, find out flight is canceled, wait to be collected, then return home.
Wednesday - Up at 3am to fly out again to NC. Get collected and drive (well ride) 10 hours to PA, only to get lost for 1.5 hours trying to locate the cabin in the dark.
Thursday - Sleep 3 hours then up before 5am to get Jess and start RECCE, RECCE for majority of the day, testing
Friday - Race Day 1
Saturday - Race Day 2
Sunday - Drive 9 hours back to NC
Monday - (I actually slept!) Fly back to MI.
Tuesday - Return to work, and get back to archery lessons.
I realize my life is a crazy mess - but it is mine nonetheless, and when I really step back to examine what I accomplish on a daily basis and how much I manage I surprise myself. And I also appreciate myself and my resilience. According to my fitbit, I have been averaging about 6 hours of sleep a night. But regardless of the chaos, lack of sleep, constant moving…. It keeps me sane because most of the movement is for rally. Rally is filled with people that become family; people that give you a reason to push through the trials and tribulations of life. I sure do love my rally family. Rally is challenging, but provides a constant and perfect opportunity for growth. It gives me a purpose, a chance and in all the mess of life, it has been my saving grace.
Stay tuned for an upcoming recap of STPR shortly!