A Look Back At A Jalopnik Reader's First Rally America Championship

This year's Rally American Championship is coming to a close, but Jalopnik reader and Opponaut, Tennisguy187, regales us with a tale of his very first Rally America experience back in 2012. Oh, and the pictures are really cool too (even if he does think he's a bit too awkward next to his idols).

My first experience in the best motorsport in the world*. Now featuring Dusty Ventures!

Reposted for the day crowd. Since the Rally America Championship is coming to a close in a few weeks, (congrats David/Craig!) I thought I would take some time to share my first experience in rally (also, some of you guys wanted to hear it). Let's start from the beginning, or at least as close to the beginning as is relevant. A word of warning- this is a rather long-winded article. Read on at your own risk.

David Higgins/Craig Drew doing what they do best: Going fast.

As far as rallying goes, my interest was sparked by a YouTube video. It was onboard footage from the 2001 Rally GB. The driver: Colin McRae. When I first watched that video, something clicked in my brain. That something gave me an indescribable feeling, a feeling that told me "This is something you will love for the rest of your life." It just felt right. I also knew that I wanted to be a co-driver, almost more than anything in the world.

Jump forward several years, to May of 2012. I had been talking my head off about rallying for the past few months, as I tend to do when I get extremely interested in something. I'm sure that my family, friends, and even my fish had enough of my enthusiastic chattering. Anyways, it was my birthday, and after dinner my dad handed me his iPad, and told me to turn it on. The web browser was open to the New England Forest Rally website. I turned to him, confused by the meaning of this enigmatic action. He told me that we would attend the 2012 NEFR, held in Newry, ME and Errol, NH. I was ecstatic, as my first spectated rally would be one of the most technically-demanding on the Rally America calendar.

The flyer given out by the rally, which now resides on my bedroom wall.

That July, I prepped for the rally. Not entirely knowing what to expect, I brought a camera to record my experience. After a five-odd hour drive, I arrived at the Sunday River resort, which also served as Rally HQ. Inside the lobby I saw posters for the rally on the wall, as well as drivers, co-drivers, crew members, and spectators chatting amongst each other. It was that moment that I finally understood the social aspect of rally. The average Joe talking about his car with a world-class driver? You don't get that in Formula 1.


Sunday River Resort, which is gorgeous. Obviously.

The next morning, I woke up early and got ready for parc expose. I ate breakfast in the resort cafe, right next to the mechanics of Subaru Rally Team USA. No big deal. After breakfast, I left the resort as I chatted with Tingwu Song, the driver of GuiZhou BaiLing Rally Team's #123 Mitsubishi Evo X. Also no big deal.


Tingwu Song/Martin Brady at the 2012 Oregon Trail Rally.

I arrived at the parc expose location well before it started, and I was able to watch the mechanics work their magic on the cars. I stood next to David Higgin's WRX STi as the mechanics tested the engine, revving it up and down. (I recorded the audio with my old phone, but unfortunately that phone fell into a creek and died the next day.) The anti-lag and the raw, mechanical sound of a rally car must be heard in person to fully appreciate. It gave me goosebumps.


Subaru Rally Team USA's morning service area.


Sparco Rally xD service area.

Crazy Leo's service area.


Dillon Van Way's Ford Fiesta

When the parc expose started proper, I was amazed by the aural and visual beauty of the scene that lay before me. A dirt parking lot filled with cars may not seem that exciting to a non-enthusiast, but for a rally fan, it is heaven. Where else do you get to see world-class driving machines up-close? Where else do you get to talk to the drivers and co-drivers? (Besides in the lobby, of course.)


Parc expose at the Sunday River Resort.

The best (or one of the best) part of parc expose? Meeting and socializing with the teams. I got to converse with some of my heroes, including David Higgins, Craig Drew, Antoine L'Estage, and Crazy Leo. It was a very special day for me. I got advice on how to start co-driving, how I can get involved with rallying, and other random conversations. Yes, I was wearing an Angry Birds shirt. Yes, I had a terrible haircut. Yes, I look very awkward.


With Craig Drew. He's a cool guy, and one of my co-driving idols.


With Antoine L'Estage.

Edit: Guys, I found Dusty Ventures...


Craig: "Where did he go? He was right here a second ago..."

After parc expose, it was time to head out for the on-stage action. I screwed up, but I don't remember the exact details of what happened. The gist of it is that I didn't properly study the itinerary for the day, and we were only able to watch one stage worth of racing. That bothered me at first, but I got over it quickly and set out to just enjoy the action from the one stage.


Even though I only got to watch one stage, it was pretty damn amazing. The sound is, as I said earlier, raw and mechanical. The whole experience is extremely visceral, and it stirs the emotions. At least it does to me, as I might be a bit weird. Here are two videos I took of L'Estage and Higgins.

After I watched all the cars (total elapsed time: ~5 minutes) go through the spectator section, I bought a Rally America t-shirt and called it a day. It may not seem like a big deal here, but I simply can't describe how much that day meant to me. It basically solidified my passion for rallying. Did I mention that I want to be a co-driver really badly?


*I may be biased, so don't shout at me.