The Continual Beginner


Team O’Neil Rally School – Fall of 2008

At the SCCA Rallycross National Championship back in 2007, I was fortunate enough to win a 4 day rally school up at Team O’neil. So here I am, in 2008, flying up to Team O’neil to learn how to drive even faster in the dirt. Note, still doing the balancing act of learning two forms of Motorsport (Autox and Rallyx), and now I'm about to add speed and throw full stage rally into the mix. The school was my gateway into rally, and the rush of adrenaline I got from it sent me into a complete tailspin. I had to have more, I had to do it. Not only that, but with so few female drivers in the mix I felt more compelled to get involved.

Now starts the downhill slide of not having enough money and having all the ambition in the world. It's a dangerous combination. OF COURSE I'm going to be sold on rally, that's part of the message from the school. Like HPDE is to Road Racing, Rally School is to Stage Rally. Hard on the body, hard on the car, and hard on the soul, and hardest on the pocketbook. From here I was searching for used rally cars that I could use to gain coefficients towards an open license, and picked up a vehicle with a storied history (A Nissan Sentra SE-R B13 whose previous owner had passed from cancer after winning seasons, and was rotting away in a barn). The right price but sketchy condition for someone who knew very little and with limited fabrication skills.

So here I am, a beginner again, but this time I'm driving at the limit on open roads with no run-off. My ambition and youth (and ADD) shut down that 'fear' portion of the brain quite well, maybe too well. As I reflect upon my start in rally I think “Man, they must have thought I was completely insane to jump right in”. Strangely enough, rally was the first time I felt I was where I belonged in motorsports. I felt calm and whole. The backroads of Missouri for 100 Acre Wood felt like the roads growing up. I felt at one with the car, understanding it slightly more at the limit than if I had just jumped straight into rally and skipped rallyx and autox. The adrenaline surge actually had a calming effect as everything else in the world melted away and I only had to focus on the ‘now’.


Running an Open-Class Subaru WRX through the woods of Missouri the following year, moving up from the SE-R. Photo by Tim Williams.

I sought out the best co-drivers I could find. Adam Kneipp and Krista Skucas both had large doses of experience with fast, talented drivers, and became not only my navigators, but my coaches. I've learned being a continual beginner is one has to take instruction without taking it as criticism. I was eager for it, and they dished it out without pause.


Photo by Alex Wong – Emotive Image

So I was set, except I wasn’t. There's no seat-time for rally. The only way to get seat time is to do it, or to live close to a school that will let you run continuously. For me, I only had the choice of competition for seat time. The expense of that built into entry fees, team travel, team hotel, food, gas, parts, repairs and spares for every event.

Strained at work, strained at home, and continuing to feel my unrealized potential weighing heavily, I became closer friends with those who knew how to repair AND were willing to teach me when I learned that there were those who were willing to turn my ignorance into their opportunity. I was taken advantage of at one shop due to ignorance and I vowed never again. Started leveraging the local auto hobby shop and using their lifts whenever possible. Began doing more extensive research into all aspects of repair for the vehicles I was running. Learned who to trust, and who not to. As a driver, this was slowly killing me, but at no point did I feel that it was too much. At least, not yet.


Pausing for a quick moment after tech inspection for the 2011 PPIHC.

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