Who would have known you could run a car on a few bits of string?
Day one of the 100 acre wood rally started pleasant with a long cruise from Salem to the park expose through the hills and windy roads of Missouri. We met up with our friends Brian and Garrett at Potosi Lions Park to talk to fans and mentally prepare for the rally that would start soon. We launched into the Super Special stage that circled the remaining cars in the park expose with the plan to put on a show but not take any risk that would damage the car. We emerged 8th in overall 2wd after the stage and made our way to the woods were the real race would begin. This wasn’t our day however as 1.6 miles into stage 2 a loose engine pulley began to wobble causing the serpentine belt to be ejected from the car. Our time card was taken and we were out of the weekend national and Friday regional race. Still stuck on stage we decided we would do whatever it takes to restart the rally and gain some miles and experience before day 2. With my co driver Logan being an Engineer by profession and extremely good at his trait, it didn’t take him long to realize the 550 Para cord in the tool bag would function as a serpentine belt. It wasn’t perfect and slipped a lot, but the fix got us back to the start of the stage where our service crew would meet us with the proper parts to fix the car.
After a few minutes of wrenching and about 40 minutes of driving on the edge of the legal speed limit, we arrived at the service park. With a new time card in hand the 2010 Focus RC was back in the race, however, with a less than desirable road position. The sun when down and the light pods warmed up before the start of stage 6. It wasn’t more than a few miles into the stage when I began to see clouds of dust being illuminated by 3 red lights. I pressed on determined to regain as many road positions as possible and soon passed what would be the only car I overtake the rest of the evening on stage. The dust that lingered over the very wide fast and flowing roads forced me to take caution and focus on finishing the rally so that I may press on the following day.
We finished the day and the team preceded back the Williams’ home to begin a late night of inspecting and replacing parts on the car to insure we would have no mishaps on the final day of the rally. I would like to have complained about not getting much sleep before driving at dangerous speeds but no such thought could come to my mind as we were in a garage next to the Kyle and Zach Williams whom were up all night rebuilding their Ford Festiva which had rolled on stage 6 and required the brutal cannibalism of a parts car to restart the rally.
The vital mistake was made of relaxing and forgetting about the car that was 17 seconds behind.
The whole team was groggy from only a few hours sleep and knowing that park expose was only 5 minutes away gave us reason to take our time becoming up and about. The car was fully functional and ready to race, but the knowledge that two of my shocks had blown seals was weighing on my decision on how to drive that day. I wanted to push for a win, as it is what I came to do. However, I also have a responsibility to Rally Ready to finish the event and show that our instructors practice intelligence, not just speed. That’s a fancy way of saying Dave called and told me not to do anything stupid, which is an order I would eventually ignore.
Several energy drinks, two egg sandwiches, and one park expose later I was being counted down by Miss Salem to start the rally. I put on a small show by bouncing off the launch control like most drivers and began the long drive to the first stage of the day. I started stage 10 with the plan to drive conservative and I stuck to that finishing in 6th place, 15 seconds off the top 3 group 2 drivers. Stage 11 was cancelled and I took it as a blessing as it short version of the day’s very rough stage 15, which would be torment for my depleting shocks. However, the reduction in the day’s miles hurt my confidence that I could climb on the podium through attrition and smart driving alone. Stage 12 went without incident and stage 13 was an absolute blast! I did not intend to push but the extremely fast and technical stage was just too good to not drive ditch to ditch. Well it came to my surprise in service that my stage time was only 5th fastest in G2. I was very irritated at this point, not only was my best efforts still off the pace, stage 14 was cancelled! There was only 28 miles left in the rally. I should have taken comfort knowing I climbed to 4th and was promoted to 3rd place in group 2 by the retirement of Erik Hill and my day was going significantly better than that of my friend Brian Maskrey whom crashed on stage 13, but I was not happy. There was a big gap between myself and Mike Erikson in 2nd and I knew I couldn’t win this race but I was going to do everything I could to show everyone I was in the fight.
I Attacked stage 15 with very fast and irresponsible driving. I was still slowed significantly by nearly every major dip and water crossing because of my dying suspension and the sight of a broken car after each one would put me in check. There were so many cars off with “OK” signs displayed to include... Shawn Macdonald. The leading driver in group 2 was out! I knew if I just played it smart I would secure 2nd place. Well 17 seconds isn’t that big of a gap right?.. So ignoring the orders to make smart decisions I decided it was time to push limits and took the advice that I give to students at the school time and time again, “don’t lift.” I drove more aggressively than I ever had attacking the stages as if my car wasn’t handling more and more loosely with each ounce of shock oil lost. There were several scary moments to include one were I remember seeing spectators take off running when it seemed as though I was about to fly strait into the crowd after the car snapped from over into under-steer. I wasn’t deterred from my goal and continued to press on. The rally would finish with Logan and I laughing and celebrating all the way back to the park ferme no longer caring about where we would place in the rally as the last few stages were incredible and made the whole trip to Missouri worth it.
We popped open several beers and enjoyed some great BBQ as the results were posted well before I took notice, as I still hadn’t cared to seek them out. With no expectations I approached the results board and ran my finger from the bottom up till I found my name. We had done it, we won group 2 by 20 seconds! It turns out we were leading the class since the end of stage 15. A talk with Mike Erikson would reveal that after he saw Macdonald on the side of the road on that rough stage, he concluded the win was his and coasted to the finish. He made the vital mistake of relaxing and forgetting about the car that was 17 seconds behind.