I won it.
I entered five events….
I DNF’d in two and a half of them.
This is my story. (Cue dramatic CSI theme music)
Before you start saying, “Well, there probably wasn’t much competition then.” You can just stop right there…because you’re right. There wasn’t much. I pretty much was the only Open AWD competitor that entered in five CRS events this year.
But this isn’t about a close point’s battle, or making strategic tire choices, or grabbing that tricky extra dust minute in the time controls. This is about that famous, overused, trite (but true) expression: “To Finish First, First You Must Finish.” This isn’t about anything except me versus myself.
On stage at Gorman Ridge Rally, 2011
2011 was a year of emotional ups and downs…we started out on a high note with a brand new Modena Group-N dogbox transmission from Matt Monson at GT Gears. After some one-on-one instruction up at DirtFish rally school, Lars Wolfe (who also built my rollcage) helped me yank out my OEM gears (with a sheared 2nd gear) and install the complete Modena straight cut kit.
Learning to shift the dogbox on the street was a little tricky, and I definitely zinged a few shifts in the process, but it ran like a dream with a new Carbonetic carbon twin disc clutch. And let me tell you, I felt pretty cool driving up and down my street with that straight cut gear whine….I was straight up legit, yo. Time to go win some rally events….should be easy, now….right?
Apparently I was feeling too good about it all because the Rally Gods knocked me down a few pegs pretty quick, and pretty hard. Our first race was in March at Desert Storm Rally, where I teamed up with Tom Morningstar from www.TheSmokingTire.com who co-drive with me once before in 2010.
Two stages in, with barely four miles on the rally computer odo, we spun a bearing--the worst I ever heard. Not that I’ve heard a lot of spun bearings in my time, but I’ve seen those fun video’s that people post with the tell-tale ‘knock knock knock.’ This sounded more like any angry squirrel was in my #4 cylinder with a 4lbs BFH.
Pulling out the engine at Outfront Motorsports’ driveway, Buena Vista, CA
We packed it up and headed out the very next day to Outfront Motorsports, where the shortblock came from. We pulled the engine right in their shop and left it with them for a tear down and rebuild. Jeremy had it fully assembled and ready to go again in just over two weeks. This one easily lasted the rest of the season, and I got to check out Global Rally Cross @ Irwindale the weekend I picked it up.
Lesson Learned: Shit happens, and that’s racing. Be nice to your sponsors, and they’ll be nice to you when it really matters.
Our next race was in June in Boise, Idaho where I teamed back up with my usual co-driver, Tucker Heiner. Idaho is a long 100+ miles event (and a long 700+ miles tow from NorCal!) with wide, smooth roads. We started out strong for the first few miles until something went through our exhaust and destroyed the turbo. WTF?
On stage at Idaho Rally, 2011
In service we figured out that other than blowing a bit of smoke we could keep going at ZERO psi and so we were able to finish day 1 despite blowing a lot of smoke out our exhaust, while simultaneously asphyxiating the course workers, the competitors directly behind us, and about 1.5M Idaho bugs and mosquitos. We borrowed a stock TD-04 turbo that we swapped out that night. On day 2 the car ran solid, (depending on your definition of ‘solid’) but on the TD-04’s 5psi of wastegate pressure, we we also running pretty slow. We were still in the top ten, and picked up 1st place CRS championship points as we were the only California competitors there.
The turbo issue turned out to be an old exhaust bung plug that worked its way loose and went INTO the exhaust headers…are you friggin’ kidding me? I had replaced the plug earlier thinking it popped OUT, and I even pulled the headers while replacing the plug, but somehow it was sitting inside the turbo when we pulled it out. Awesomeness.
Lesson Learned: Press on Regardless…thinking we were out after day 1, I was ready to pack it up. But Dick Rockrhor (Idaho Rally’s organizer, and my #1 competitor) was the one who offered up the spare turbo and extra garage space to swap it out. We were at his place until 1am, Thanks Dick!
With the TD-04 turbo still locked and loaded, we entered North Nevada Rally in July just outside of Reno. Down on power, I used this as a good practice session for late braking and carrying momentum through every turn. Despite the obvious power disadvantage, we were able to stay within a few seconds of the stage leaders and took 2nd place on Day 1. Day 2 ended abruptly with a DNF on a deceptive blind right corner that put us into a berm and taco’d our control arm and punched through the left rear strut tower.
Lets watch it together:
Lesson Learned: When the organizer supplied stages notes say ‘Deceptive’….take better notes.
NNR Damage: Before
NNR Damage: After
After a few weeks of some fun custom @home fab work, the rear strut tower fixed and reinforced, we headed to Gorman Ridge Rally in Lebec, CA.
Zach Dickenson is my crew chief, and he’s been with me for a while. He’s seen all the car damage I’ve done and torture to my co-drivers that I’ve inflicted, but for some weird reason, he still wanted to get in my co-driver’s seat and try it out. So he jumped in and did pretty well on the first couple stages, but the Rally Gods were still fighting us, as we punched a hole in the transmission sometime on the fourth stage. It turns out that a piece of the front pinion gear broke off, got caught in between the ring gear and the case, and punched a nice hole in the bottom of the case….STILL can’t catch a break. To top it off, were still on the TD-04 turbo and were holding our own in 3rd place when this happened.
Lesson Learned: OK, what the hell is going on here? Seriously? Who breaks pinion teeth, anyways?
We did get lucky with finding a busted donor transmission for a new case and ring/pinion for free (thanks to Alex Rademacher!)…and by the very next weekend, we were ready to race again.
Last stop, Prescott Rally in Prescott, AZ; one of my favorite events both for the great roads, beautiful Arizona landscape, and the Prescott Brewery. With all of our previous mechanical failures and general ‘bad luck’, my only strategy was to take it easy on the car and just finish the god-damned race. I had the turbo finally replaced (Thanks to BLOUCH Turbo) and we were back up approx 300wtq at only 15psi, but I didn’t plan on using all that power. Our main competition (Dick Rockrhor) wasn’t able to make this event, so from a championship points standpoint, all I had to do was put in a top 5 finish and that would give me the lead.
On stage at Prescott Rally, 2011
Tom Morningstar co-drove again and he brought the Smoking Tire crew along; they put together a pretty good episode covering our adventure together for the weekend:
Even with a few hiccups (a worn shifter cup bushing allowed the shifter to pop out twice on stage) we ran a nearly flawless race and ended up fourth place overall for the weekend. This put us at the top of the CRS series for the year, and it was REALLY nice to not have anything major to fix on the car!
Lesson Learned: So THAT’s what they mean by, ‘To finish first, first you must finish!’
It took an entire season, but I think we finally ironed out all the gremlins, personal demons and ‘bad luck’ for hopefully quite a while. Since October, I’ve been on a rally hiatus, taking a little time off for the sake of my sanity. It was a rough year, and ‘winning’ the CRS championship certainly made it all worthwhile, but I was mentally on the edge there for a bit. Towing to Prescott, all I could think about was ‘what if…what if…what if.’ It took quite a bit of mental work to keep it together on stage. Rally definitely tests you, it will mess with your head and it doesn’t take much to pack it up and head home (if it were easy, everyone would do it, right?). And it takes a LOT of energy to come home from a 700 mile tow, unpack, and then start fixing everything all over again knowing full well that you might wreck again at your next race in just a few weeks.
This year was all about me versus myself, and I crushed myself pretty good.
BUT with the new year starting, I’m getting excited to start the next season….upgrading to E85, a Global Rally Cross event (Vegas, baby, Vegas!), and another year of CRS rally events….time to do it all over again!
Special Thanks To:
- Krista Canfield
- Tucker Heiner
- Zach Dickenson
- Lars Wolfe
- Jason Powers
- Gleb Serbin
- Matt, Tom and Thad at TheSmokingTire.com
Special Thanks to Sponsors:
- Miles, Ryan and Jerob at Fine Line Imports
- Jeremy at Outfront Motorsports
- Kiyo at Carbonetic
- Matt at GT Gears