Monday, January 2, 2012

2011 Year in Review: My Championship Season of DNFs

This year I competed in the 2011 California Rally Series (CRS) in the Open AWD Class.

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 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!


Profit! (wait…what?)

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

Special Thanks to Sponsors:

  • Miles, Ryan and Jerob at Fine Line Imports
  • Jeremy at Outfront Motorsports
  • Kiyo at Carbonetic
  • Matt at GT Gears

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

DirtFish Dogbox

They may be bright orange on the outside, but underneath, its all VTSC modifed (Click for full size) PHOTO: Gene Thompson

After blowing up 2nd gear at Gorman Ridge Rally earlier this year, its time for a new transmission. Through some searching, networking, and a little sponsorship wheeling and dealing, I'll be installing a brand new Modena 5speed dogbox (with Group N ratios) in the rally car this January.

Its pretty exciting and overwhelming at the same time....going from a stock synchro transmission to a top-of-the-line, world class Modena dogbox. Super cool? Yes. Over my head? Definitely! (but hey, that's how I rolllllllllll)

I needed some seat time/professional tips, and fast. Enter DirtFish Rally School.

Quite the quiver of cars....I took the one in the middle. (click for full size) PHOTO: Gene Thompson

After reading a few initial and very positive reviews of the DirtFish rally school up in Snoqualmie, WA ( and hearing a rumor that they had a few cars with dogbox transmissions, I decided to send Greg Lund and email and see what my options were. I didn't make it easy on Greg...."I don't have $1000 and I don't even have a full day, I'm just up for the weekend visiting friends, so maybe I have a few hours tops....whatchya got?" Greg was happy to accommodate and set me up with a short 1 on 1 training session with Forest Duplessis and a bright orange Group N STI from Vermont Sports Car.

The other reviews can be found here:
DirtyImpreza Review

Forest and I started up with a quick tour of their office facilities (which consisted of us drooling over the Colin McRae WRC Ford Focus engine bay for a few minutes) and then a few minutes of classroom time. Basic up and down shifting of a dogbox is pretty straightforward, but I was more interested in how to quickly and efficiently downshift a few gears from a fast straight into a right 3 or left 2 without blowing the whole thing up....uh....again.

Going through the basics of up shifting and downshifting was easy enough, with just a few caveats and little bit of adjusting my current driving style. Up shifting is a breeze...and I do mean easy. You still use the clutch to lengthen the life of the dog rings, but you just jab at it quickly, and its disgustingly fast and smooth; it took me a few times to realize that I actually shifted gears. I kept waiting for the all familiar synchros meshing feeling, only to find that the car was already in gear and pushing up the the time I realized I was actually in second, it was time for 3rd.

PHOTO: Gene Thompson

Downshifting is a little different. Forest demonstrated that under hard braking, its even easier.

Yes, I said easier.

With the transmission decelerating almost as quickly as the engine, once you let up off the gas and get hard on the brake (enter: LOTS of left foot braking) its just a matter of flicking the shifter down one gear....then another, and then its just a question of how low do you want to go?

And did I mention this part was all without the clutch? (I was literally giggling like a little girl once I got the hang of it. Like a
little girl.)

Once we got straight line shifting down, it was time to move to a more practical situation...pulling all the way to 4th gear and then shutting it down and throwing it into a tight corner. DirtFish has several areas to play in, but we mostly stayed in one area and just did loop after loop after loop. The stage notes would have looked something like:

START dip 250 R3 into L1 hairpin, NC 50 L4 250 dip L3 NC into R2 FINISH

Oh yeah, the 'dips' were full of water! (click for full size) PHOTO: Gene Thompson

This is where things got harder. First, while I already use LFB when necessary in a corner, it hasn't been my main method of getting on the brake, so I had to fight the instinct of getting off the gas with my right and going directly to the brake pedal, and the same with my left foot getting on the clutch when I want to downshift.

With the dogbox and trail braking, you can literally stand on the brake with your left foot (yes, brake booster is deleted), late, late, brake....and then get the car turning while you're still trail braking and then getting back on the gas as the car is turned and hitting your apex. Oh yeah, and you're clutchless downshifting the whole time you're on the brake (giggle).

THAT sequence of events, all the while getting used to using my left foot for the brake and not the clutch, was a little more difficult to master, and this is where Forest's teaching skills and patience really came into play. He was great....seriously....I used to teach little 3 and 4 year old kids how to ski, and people always seemed impressed by that, but even I know that teaching an adult male, who thinks he knows something about driving, how to drive a car a certain way, and make him repeat it, over and over and over again....(without anyone getting pissed off) that's impressive.

I think we took that loop probably about thirty five times or so, and after each one, Forest was like....'good....again.' 'Do it again.' 'Stop, do it a little different, OK? Now again.'

Did I do that?
PHOTO: Gene Thompson

About the time I started feeling a little guilty about destroying a full set of their rally tires, we looked at the clock and realized 90 minutes had already gone by and it was time to head back to the garage. They didn't even make me hose off the car or fix the bumper!

I went home with a big ass smile on my face and a new confidence about where this transmission project will take me next year. With a lot more practice and a little bit of patience on the first few stages, 2011 is going to be a fun season.


Monday, July 5, 2010

Some Time Off and Engine Build #2

We've had some time off since Desert Storm Rally back in March. In April we headed down to Ridgecrest, CA for 'High Desert Trails Rally', which is a 30 mile rally on a short but very fun stretch of private land.

After three of the six scheduled stages we discovered quite a bit of oil going though the engine and coming out the back. A blown turbo seal? Heads? or possibly a blown piston or ring. Well, we weren't sure but we weren't going to risk it either. We shut down right then and there and withdrew from HDT.

Follow up compression and leak down tests weren't terrible, but weren't all that great either. The engine hasn't been pulled as of July 4th, but all signs point toward a potential cracked ring land in one of the cylinders. We'll find out soon enough as I'm pulling the engine in the next week.

After a bit of research, a new shortblock will be ordered soon, and we're going to have some CNC headwork done so that the WRX heads will mate up better with an STI shortblock and proper STI pistons for the correct compression ratio (w/o the old 'thicker headgasket' trick).

While the engine is pulled, we will also be doing some front end reinforcement work to delete a bit of damage taken on at Desert Storm. Front bumper replacement, subframe delete and radiator support will be redesigned with some burly tubular construction.

Unless there are other unforeseen issues, we plan on being race-ready again for Gorman Ridge Rally ( at the end of August. See you there!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

UP2MTNS Debuts in 2010 at Desert Storm Rally with!

A little late (Desert Storm was 1.5 weeks ago), but I was specifically waiting for the first (of two) episodes of Desert Storm coverage on, and its finally out!

DS was a great rally that took a full five days of towing out to Blythe, CA...then some car work, recce, racing, and towing back to San Francisco. The first issue came about when we were having some tuning issues a week before. It turns the car had a loose coil pack connection (easily fixed) but also an exhaust leak from our GrimmSpeed uppipe. True to their high levels of customer service, GrimmSpeed expedited a replacement part to arrive just before I hit the road for Blythe (Wednesday night).

Picking up my Crew Chief, Zach Dickenson in California City, we arrived at Blythe at 4pm on Thursday which gave us enough time to swap out the uppipe and still pass tech that night.

The following Friday was a full day of recce with Tom Morningstar (co-driver) and Matt Farah, both from And here is their newest video:

Racing starting early Saturday morning, and will some small technical difficulties on the organizers part, stage one (a long fast stage) was canceled and we quickly moved on to Stage two...Tom and I started out slow as we got to know each other over the intercom and slowly picked up speed throughout the day. Unfortunately a small off put us up and over a berm on the last stage and that through us out of contention for day 1.

Day two started with a bang as we actually won the first two stages, which were quick with some VERY rough spots (see videos below). This was a nice surprise as we were in the pack leading professional driver Lauchlin O'Sullivan and fellow regional competitor Keith Jackson. The lead was short lived as they caught up on the third stage, both longer and much faster, and their experience at those speeds took control.

Sunday, Stage 10

Sunday, Stage 11

Sunday, Stage 13

We had to slow down a bit on the last stage as we had just busted a front axle on Stage 14 and had to take it easy...the 20kg center diff did a good job of keeping power down, and our 3WD Subaru was more like a RWD Ford Escort!

We finished 3rd OA for the day, a respectable finish for our rookie team, last minute fixes, and missing ANOTHER bumper!!

Photo: Aaron Stump

Big thanks go out to Miles at Fine Line Imports, the Grimmspeed Team, Lars Wolfe for some last minute emergency suspension welding, and Odi at Feal Suspension for rebuilding a great set of inserts that took at beating!!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Ready for Desert Storm, and Sponsors Come Up BIG!

Its Tuesday night, March 9th...Desert Storm Rally ( is this week and I did most of my packing tonight.

We have a long list of things that still need to get done, and a short list of things to be delivered EXCITED!!

One of those shipments is a few new LASSA Rally Tyres from is excited to enter into a 'reseller' partnership with Rally-Tire; you can now order directly from us for your LASSA rally tires needs. We're excited to be a part of bringing LASSA products to the USA; we already have several CA based rally teams running LASSA's at Desert Storm and other CRS rallies this year.

This past weekened I took the car up to Tahoe and did a little testing over by BoomTown, just inbetween Truckee and Reno. I discovered an exhaust leak in my Grimmspeed uppipe, which was one of the problems my tuner was having turning up the boost the previous week. I emailed Justin Grimm, and by 11am Monday morning Pacific time, I had and email back saying they would not only replace the part, but ship it 2nd day so I would have it in time for this about customer service and living up to their sponsorship. THANKS GRIMMSPEED!!!

We'll also debut the new Carbon Creations carbon fiber hood! From, Ryan Li (President) donated one of their STI carbon fiber hoods to replace the previous worn-out hood last fall....after Seed 9 and a lot of pre-work this winter, we've finally got this installed and ready for rally action.

Also, special thanks to Odi at Feal Suspension for getting all four of our DMS inserts rebuilt last month, and to Lars Wolfe (, who helped out with a last-minute emergency when something 'snapped' on re-installation, and instead of having to buy brand new inserts, his crazy TIG skills saved the day (uhh....saved the YEAR!) also came on board as a sponsor earlier this year; Lars is working on upgrading our rear R160 diff with a new carbon LSD, and that will be installed in time for High Desert Trail Rally. A transmission upgrade is in our future, and we'll be sure to run a Carbonetic front LSD in that new transmission.

Looks for video updates this weekend from in Desert Storm's Park Expose and hopefully in service as well!

Rally on!!