For most regional rallyists, just getting to the rally is a race in itself. The prep starts months, or even years, before rolling into Parc Exposé. Often, regional teams load their cars on their tow rigs still smouldering from a long night of last-minute welds, or the paint is still wet from a quick body spray. Some even drive their competition cars to the rally because a service truck and trailer aren’t in the budget. Regardless, all have crossed fingers when their rig lines up for scrutineering for that first time. I know from experience. I’ve never wanted to pass a test so badly in my life.
But why do we do it? Why punish ourselves getting ready for this thing called rally? Why, after a full-time job, do we come home, say hi to our families and promptly disappear into the garage? Because the exhaust needs updating. The oil needs to be changed. The new clutch hasn’t come in yet and we have to chase it down. The brakes are wrong. The new-to-us seats we bought online don’t quite fit yet. The suspension is all over the place. The entire car needs to be rewired after one… stupid… mistake.
But why do we do all that?
To scream through the woods at Ludicrous Speed without getting arrested and without getting swamped in a pond or being sucked into the Tractor Beam of a magnetic pine tree. That’s why we do it. We want to finish the most grueling race we’ll most likely ever encounter at our grassroots level. We’re scrappy. And tenacious. We want to cross that final time control under our own power.
When the prep is finally ‘done’ and tech is a memory, Parc Exposé opens and suddenly, even at our seemingly entry level, we’re the Mayors of Rally Village. Spectators swarm from all over to watch the New England Forest Rally (NEFR). Seven-year-old kids ask for autographs. There are lights, music, vendors, event sponsors, mountains and rally cars. The vibe is infectious. It’s a two-day long parade. Only our parade travels down Main Street at 100+ mph.
Five… four… three… two… one…
Then, the true spectacle begins. The volunteer workers have taken their positions far off in the woods (without them, there would be no rally… really). We leave Exposé and head down the road a little to the first hot stage and blaze through the empty parking lots of Sunday River Ski Resort. How cool is that? We blow by the Sno-Cat shed that served as tech inspection and we head off to Concord Pond, perhaps the most exciting stage of the entire NEFR.
Tiptoeing on a tightrope
All the nerves, jitters and anxiety get flushed out of our systems with that first mashing of the gas. Adrenaline floods in and we’re off into the unknown. Trees fly by and gravel sprays the underside of the car. The car gets light, suddenly loose, then you snap it back and whew(!), thankfully, no big moments. No offs. It’s like tiptoeing on a tightrope for eight hours straight. Even though the roads are closed to local traffic during the event, driving 80 mph on a road that has a posted speed limit of 25, speaks to our innate lust for lawlessness.
We’re all crazy
In a recent conversation I had with Canadian rallyist Ferdinand Trauttmansdorff, co-pilot of Martin Walter’s 2WD Nissan 240SX, about why we rally, he had this to say about his most recent rally experience: “I couldn’t see a thing because it was raining so hard and all the windows fogged up. Martin had the defroster full hot, blowing full blast. Couldn’t breathe because of the gasoline and exhaust fumes that always fill the car. I had sweat rolling down my face. It was a sauna in there and I was puking my guts out. I just wanna die. Shoot me now! End of the weekend we’re on the podium spraying champagne. Damn that was fun! Can’t wait to do it again! We’re all crazy.”
Boston-based regional competitor and rally roll cage builder Bill Doyle, of Cage This, had this to say about why he embarks on such rally craziness: “The overall spirit of the rallies is bad-ass and easy to get addicted to. The adrenaline rush is always a plus, especially for an adrenaline junkie like me. The whole superhero vibe that the spectators give to every rally team can’t be recreated any place else. Then there’s the team who’s trying to kick your ass and help you fix your car at the same time.”
Bill uses parts he builds himself and from UUC Motorwerks.
Like any adrenaline addict, all it usually takes is a little taste and that’s that. Neal Liddle, of Coventry, RI, said that he got hit hard: “I became a rally fiend around the time I entered college. I had been watching highlights of the 1999/2000 seasons of WRC and that was all it took.”
A few years later, Neal found a dusty Subaru next to a barn and starting building. He gathered a few friends – fellow addicts – and went to town. He also gathered a few sponsors too, Perry Tuning, West Coast Roasting and Advanced Driving & Security.
So there are just a few reasons why some of us rally. You can talk to these teams and more at this year’s New England Forest Rally. See you there!