For 10 days, I spent a LOT of time in a car, in fact 90% of it was spent in a car, either traveling somewhere to practice driving in a car, or traveling to race in a car, and then racing in said car.
While I didn’t track every mile to the number (you know, trips back and forth to the shop, fuel stations, grocery, you know- adulting outside of travel and racing cars LOL), here is what I could gather based on what I do know and what Google Maps confirms→
Thursday 7/ 11 MI-NC 715 Miles
Friday 7/12 NC-FL 560 Miles
Saturday 7/13 Practice at the FIRM 9a-4p in car all day FUN Miles
Sunday 7/14 FL-NC 560 Miles
Monday 7/15 OMG what is some rest and car prep?
Tuesday & Wednesday 7/16-17 NC-ME ~1,025 Miles
Thursday 7/18 RECCE ALL the miles! ~300ish? Miles I know I had to fill up my fuel tank once.
Friday & Saturday 7/19-20 Race Days ~450 calculated event miles (+ travel to and from cabin etc…???)
Sunday 7/21 ME-MI 785 Miles
Total Traceable Miles Estimate: ~4,395 in 10 days.
It was fast and furious, and resulted in a very pleasant surprise for Sarah and I. After working, I began to embark on my next adventure, making the 12 hour trek down to North Carolina from Michigan with my 2010 “Basic” Impreza 2.5i named Iridescent. Iridescent serves as my daily beater and now our RECCE car. She has been nothing but a nightmare and carries a bit of Sassy’s DNA. 3 Months after purchasing her, I had to replace the engine, and the trip down to NC also included getting her transmission replaced, along with some suspension TLC (which is also to be continued).
I arrived at my destination in NC safely at about 2am. After a few hours of sleep, the next task began. Iridescent was dropped off at Southern States Subaru in Raleigh, NC for some much needed repairs. (MASSIVE shoutout to Matt W. and Chuck for taking excellent care of the car and me!) Not only did Iridescent get a transmission swap, she was fully checked over, and also upgraded with a new Whiteline front sway bar and end links thanks to my partner at Whiteline (y’all are THE best!). Once I replace her front control arms, she will be fitted with Whiteline bushings and ball joints in the upcoming weeks. She is slowly becoming appropriately prepared for RECCE and long road trips. (Her Primitive skid plate from RalliTek, unfortunately, did not arrive in time for NEFR, but will be ready for install for Ojibwe next month!)
After taking care of things with Iridescent, NSR Lead Crew member Mike Butler and I made our way to the shop to pick up Stitch and embark on another road trip. We traveled approximately 8 hours down to Gainesville, FL for a few hours of rest before heading to the Florida International Rally and Motorsports Park (FIRM) in Starke, FL for some one on one training in the rally car with instructor Bryn. My Crew Chief Ryan Davis, and our friend Addi trickled in early Saturday morning.
NEWS FLASH- The FIRM and I recently partnered and will be working together for the remainder of the 2019 season, and I am SO excited to share more about my experience with the facility and staff. It was an AMAZING experience and I cannot wait to see what the season brings. More to come in another blog on that!
Saturday, I spent all day being critiqued, getting feedback, learning and practicing new skills and perfecting old skills. I was SO nervous at first and had no idea what to expect, but Bryn is absolutely phenomenal and I cannot wait to go back for more training. We started out in one of the schools Blob Eye WRX’s (which had A/C!). We began on the go-kart track, assessing my steering inputs, hand placement and turning approaches. After a few runs and adjustments, we went onto the skid pad to see what kind of car control I had in a slide, as well as my approach to pendulum turns, slaloms and hairpins. Bryn asked for my input on things I wanted to work on, and I mentioned I was rusty with hairpins and using my new hydraulic handbrake. We have been having issues on and off with it since we built the car, so I never really had access to it, so most of my hairpin skills returned to my original clutch kicking and using momentum and weight transfer to get the car around a tight turn. I explained I wanted to build my confidence with speed, committing to corners and just overall improving my driving.
Shortly after that, we got in Stitch and did a run through of their 3 stages. One was a narrow and twisty forest stage, the other was wide and sandy and very similar stages from Sandblast, and the third was a combination of the two. We spent a lot of time on the stages practicing hairpins from both right and left entry, increasing speed and maintaining car control and using left foot braking. I may or may not have lost my bumper while training (LOL!).
At the end of the day, we did a bunch of transitions from gravel to tarmac and multi-surface exchanges, running a variety of loops around the entire facility. We went onto, across and inside the track, on the skid pad, back into the forest and back onto the track. Each pass was a surprise to me as Bryn navigated me around the facility. I pushed the car and myself outside my comfort zone and left feeling more confident and prepared to get behind the wheel that next weekend at the 2019 New England Forest Rally.
The next day, we made the 8 hour drive back to NC in the scoldering southern heat and humidity, making it feel like we were driving with the heat blasting in the middle of the equator. Mike and I took a much needed break and enjoyed some lunch and ice cream to cool down, midway through the trip. Monday, I was able to recoup a little before we made our way back down to TurboTime to finalize prep and repairs from testing on Saturday. We merely finished everything on Stitch minus some repairs to the underbody protection, bumper bands, wheel/tire swapping and cleaning.
Tuesday, the Michigan crew (Justin, Tamika and Sarah) trickled in. Mike and I collected them from the airport, went and picked up Iridescent, loaded up the cars and made our way to the shop, where NSR photographer and person towing us up to Maine, Austin Mottinger of All Stone Media was waiting.
That night, we buttoned everything up on Stitch, got the truck and cars loaded and left the shop at 1am. Before we could even get out of Raleigh, we ran into some trailer issues, which we were able to get sorted and finally get back on the road come 3.30am.
After the gang got some naps in, we had a dance party and 20 hours later, we finally arrived in Maine where we had to connect with NSR teammates Matt and Lori to gather our books for the event. I took some time to lock myself in the room editing the Jemba for Sarah to call on RECCE, (she is used to writing her own, and as she is still just getting started and we have not done RECCE the way she was taught, I decided to try a different approach at NEFR, editing the Jemba the way I wanted it called for her to read and then I would give her changes as we made our 1 pass).
After approximately 2.5-3 hours of sleep, Sarah and I were awake again to start our task of completing RECCE. We managed to make it to and through all of the stages, with adjustments to our notes. We made it back in time to register, hook up with our team and get Stitch out to Shakedown for one run in and one run out. The car felt good on shakedown, and Sarah was acquainted with calling notes quickly. The only downside was that the setting sun left us absolutely blinded for a chunk of the run, which was intimidating and slightly frustrating. After a quick shakedown, Sarah was shuttled off to her Novice class, and the rest of us headed back to the house for dinner and prep for race day. Sarah returned shortly after, where we worked on notes together.
Thursday night finally provided a fair amount of sleep before the actual race days began. The sun made a strong presence all weekend, making sure we were all heated up like roasted potatoes. Not only was the New England Forest a battle of attrition on stage, keeping hydrated and cooled down proved to be another challenge. Day 1 went fairly smoothly with just 4 stages, one of which was run twice. We managed to shave off 17 seconds on the second pass of Concord Pond, with many areas I felt I could have pushed the car further. NEFR served as our first event back in the car together after a 4 month break, and it took us a little bit to get a good rhythm again. At the end of the day, we did discover the bottom ears of the Ksports had bent, and the car appeared to look to track slightly to the left. My CEL also returned for a visit, which we had to sort out a new coil pack for service on Day 2. We knew going into the race on Saturday, that we would have to be conscious about our approach on stage.
Day 2 presented us with the rougher stages, including Sturtevant Pond and Aziscohos. Even the new stage Morton Cutoff, had a rough patch of really deep holes that we should have noted better in RECCE, because at speed, the caution over bumps left us bottoming out the car so hard that our tailbones hurt afterwards. Services went flawlessly, and the car was maintained by the crew, allowing us to get back to the time control without issue. We did have a surprise coming into the final service, while we awaited our minute, we took some time to stretch and get out of the hot car with others. Of course, just as we needed to jump in and drive into the control, Stitch just out right decided he would not turn over. This resulted in Sarah and I getting out and pushing him into the control, with the help of one other female (#GirlPower!) Knowing how we have some wiring and switches setup, once we were officially checked into service, our crew chief Ryan checked things over and found some wires were pulled loose from the rough stages and Sarah's co driver bag/limited in car office space. Once that was readjusted, we started the car right up and drove to our spot.
The day was spent dodging massive rocks and holes, avoiding going too wide or cutting more corners that were lined with tire destroying rocks, surprise boulders and downed tree trunks. Staying mid on the road was often the safest way through a corner, despite it perhaps not always being the fastest. Yet, by the end of the rally, multiple cars were left completely totaled, or damaged in some way. Sarah and I had our first little off due a note error. What was written as a L5>4lg was actually a L3> at speed, so the first pass we came in hot. The loose gravel in the corner sucked us to the outside, and the more I tried to throttle out, the more the back end got pulled to the outside of the turn. I changed tactics and luckily I got the car to come to a stop before we went too far off the edge of the turn. Within moments, we were back on the road and navigating to the end.
There were only a few areas Sarah got lost in her notes, which gave us some good feedback on how to address the next event. The car handled quite well, though we did have a moment where the trans got locked out in neutral while flying down a straight, I went to shift and it refused. Stuck in neutral I fought to get the car in gear, but it was not until we came to a complete stop on stage that it would get itself back into a gear. My heart sunk for a moment thinking our rally may have just ended, but we were able to continue without any other issues with the transmission. Towards the end of the day, my brake pedal stiffened up leaving me with no responsive brakes momentarily on stage (also pretty terrifying!) in a faster section. We chalk this up to all the heat and left foot braking and need to upgraded pads. Minus the bent suspension, we kept both bumpers and all 4 mudflaps on the car, all 4 tires inflated and made our way to the finish quite unscathed.
My plan for the weekend was to drive smart, conserve my Ksport suspension and get Sarah some more seat time and experience reading notes and get us to the finish in one piece.
Our approach proved successful as we found ourselves pleasantly surprised to be standing on the 1st place podium in National NA4WD, and 15th overall in Nationals! It felt good to stand up there, spraying champagne and hearing everyone screaming for us when they announced our names. My crew was proud, and after everything we have been through over the last several years, if that is the only moment we get like that, it makes everything worth the fight.
Special thanks to the organizers, sponsors, volunteers and fans for making these events possible!
An even bigger thanks to my 2019 partners, new and old, that have supported us in a multitude of ways this season to get us to this point: Link ECU, TurboTime, Whiteline, The FIRM, BRAID Wheels USA, Team Illuminata Motorsport, Turtle Gloves, DCCDPro.com, 5 Star Window Tinting & Design, Rocky Mountain Autosport.
And the biggest thanks to my crew who have all sacrificed their own time, money and sanity to continue to help me live my dream and support me in any way that they can. You all braved the unforgiving heat at NEFR, kept the car ready to be on the stages at all times and gave us such love and encouragement that this rally is one that I will carry with me forever.
Sarah- thank you for agreeing to embark on this wild journey with me and sit shotgun while we tear down the forest roads (shoutout to your husband for letting me steal you for weeks on end!).
Tamika- you are the best team manager a girl could ever ask for. It’s an honor to have one of my longest life friends officially part of the rally family. You are killin’ it out there!
Ryan- my crew chief, the brains behind the build. You were the best risk I could have taken. Thank you for believing in me and for building a car that I can push myself in and grow with. As stressful as life can be at times, we have all created something that brings smiles for miles and provides a sanctuary from the daily chaos. Thank you for letting me take the boy for a ride all weekend, I think he may have had a little something to do with our finish. ;)
Mike- You have loyally stayed along for the ride over the years, sacrificed so much of your own time and sanity between jobs to travel and support me and make sure Stitch is running at his best. This car is “us” and encompasses so much of this life’s challenge and beauty and I cannot thank you enough for keeping me balanced and level headed this last event. I love you!
Bryan- 10+ years and you are still putting up with my crap. :P Thank you for being flexible this event and for taking care of Ryan’s travel to and from the airport. Thank you for being the organized one that helped the rest of the gang in line and for your level of professionalism and dedication to the team. I wish you could be at every event with us! Justin- It was excellent having you back! And what a way to return! It meant more than I can express to have you there for our first ARA podium. Thank you for making the crazy journey with this team over the years and for making our team and Stitch a priority. What you have given will never go taken for granted and I appreciate all of your hard work. Stina & Woody- It was a pleasure having you two join us for your first go round in rally, and we are excited to see what the future holds for this team! Thank you for your amazing support, the beautiful footage and flexibility to help the rest of the team in any and every way you were asked. You two are a godsend and we are thankful to have you joining us!
Austin- Thank you for taking the risk and jumping onto our team. Thank you for coming all the way up from Florida and towing the car all the way to the great northeast! You are such a kind person and you are wicked talented behind that camera! I am so glad we crossed paths at Hyperfest and that we could introduce you to the amazing sport of rally! It means a lot to have someone like you able to help capture our team interactions, the crew’s hard work and our work on stage. I hope you will join us again this season when you aren’t busy shooting Formula D!
YOU ARE ALL SO AMAZING! WE DID IT!!! Thank you from the bottom of my heart for never giving up on me, for helping me through my good and bad times and for keeping the dream alive! I love you all!