The clock is counting down from ten. Your co-driver is gripping tightly to his notes. The road ahead is ripe with fresh gravel ruts from the rally cars before you. It's your first rally stage. Are you prepared? Jeff, Jackson and Payton Gray were more than prepared for their first rally this past month at the Ojibwe Forest Rally in Detroit Lakes, MN.
Here's their unique experience not just learning the skills to partake in the greatest adrenaline thrill ride on the planet, but also the camaraderie between friends, co-workers, and family that rally racing presents.
Jeff Gray and his son Payton have been fans of rallying for a while. They visited a rally school in Washington state two years ago for a 2-day class where they got their first taste of the sport. When they returned to Texas, they knew they liked rallying but didn't know where to start. Fast forward two years to X-Games Austin. Jeff, Payton and Payton's younger brother Jackson stopped by the Rally Ready Driving School booth. We talked Rally. All three of them signed up for our July class. On one end of the spectrum, Jeff and Payton had high expectations from their previous rally experience. Jackson, meanwhile, didn't know much about the sport and had never driven a manual transmission. As an instructor that can be quite a gap to bridge.
Right out of the gate, Payton and Jeff were learning at a quick pace. Their previous rally school experience gave them an advantage but didn't leave them confident in their left-foot braking. Our unique approach and curriculum pushed them far beyond where they had left off. And the amount of seat time at Rally Ready (drive until your arms turn into jello and your calf can't press the pedal anymore) left them with a true muscle memory skill set.
The youngest, Jackson, had the additional task of learning how to work a clutch. After just a few minutes, his left foot danced from clutch to brake just like his dad and brother. In fact, he was the fastest of the three at times! (Payton and Jeff might disagree.)
By the end of the class, the three were so hooked on rally, they set their sights on the next level. We discussed some options and decided the best option would be arrive-and-drive. Danny Grant and 2WD Rally America superstar Chris Duplessis recently launched their new business, Kitty Smiles Rally Adventure (www.kittysmiles.com) offering reliable, affordable rally car rentals to adventurous new drivers. Jeff rented both of the team's Ford Fiesta rally cars. Next event on the calendar was the Ojibwe Forest Rally some three weeks away. They signed up.
The week before Ojibwe Forest Rally, Jeff, Payton and Jackson returned to Rally Ready for some advanced training to prepare for their first rally. In an effort to ease the stress, the unknowns and pitfalls of a first rally, we put together a unique co-driving lesson, paired with a mock rally.
First, we found a twisty public road and made stage notes much like the ones you would read at a Rally America event. We had everyone read and listen to them as both co-driver and driver. Regardless of which job you plan on doing in your rally career, it is tremendously important for a new driver to understand just how difficult the co-drivers job can be. It is up to each to keep one another safe. It is of paramount importance that driver and co-driver understand just how difficult it is to both read stage notes and drive with them.
Once stage notes had become comfortable and everyone was on point with the pace, inflection, and timing required of professional co-driving, we headed back to the Rally Ready track where we had a mock rally set up. Each driver received a time card and was sent through a stage where they encountered all of the signage and controls they would experience in a real rally. This process helped them became comfortable with not just the rally control signage but driving at speed with notes, as well. To finish the day, everyone took a handful of laps in a variety of different cars reading and listening to notes while being coached on rhythm and enunciation by veteran co-driver and Rally Ready co-founder, Rob Amato. By the end of the day, the three of them were completely comfortable heading into their first rally.
August 21, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota: Ojibwe Forest Rally. Jeff drove car #571 with his son Jackson co-driving. Payton drove #129 with Danny Grant co-driving. Right out of the gate, their stage times were quick, competitive and they kept the cars in one piece for the entire rally. Jackson, in his debut co-driving, didn't get a single time penalty and surprised many veteran co-drivers with some of his advanced co-driver tricks that we prepared him for.
At one service, Payton's orange car came over the crest down the highway with the hazards on. "Uh oh," we thought, "There must have been an incident."
As the car came into view, we noticed that the hazards were on because he had a car in tow. Payton approached the service park and put his hands out the window signaling to the car behind him to brake. It was a ton of fun to watch him getting his first taste of competitive camaraderie and especially using a skill he learned at Rally Ready— how to tow and be towed.
And how did they do? On their first rally Jeff and Jackson made podium, taking 3rd in 2wd, with Payton just a couple spots behind. The cars came home undamaged and the drivers and co-drivers had an exceptional first rally. In fact, they had so much fun that they plan to enter their own rally cars in the full Rally America 2015 National Championship calendar!
We'd like to thank the Gray family for choosing us as their team for real-world rally training. We'd also like to thank Kitty Smiles Rally Adventure for providing safe, reliable and affordable rentals for them to start their career in. If you are interested in getting started in the sport, check out the variety of class offerings we have from a 2.5 hour clinic all the way up to our 3-day Rally Ready University and private rally training. Compare us to the other programs out there and you'll see the difference is clear. There's only one place to become Rally Ready.