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Did you ever want to rally, but didn’t have a rally car in the garage? This was my problem prior to the Baie Des Chaleurs rallye in Quebec this year-sort of. See, I sold Fireball and was holding him until his new owner could pick him up. The mailing came for the Baie rallye and we really wanted to go-problem was, Fireball was no longer mine! So, I e-mailed his new owner and offered to rent Fireball for the event. He replied that it was cool to take Fireball North for a romp and we were on!

Rallying in Canada, specifically the province of Quebec, is very attractive to us as we are less than ten hours away from most of the five events that make up the Coupe De Quebec. The exchange rate is very favorable, with fuel being the only expensive consumable. But most of all, the Canadian rally community is extremely friendly and inviting! The events that we have attended are the best organized we’ve entered to date.

Enough gushing about the Great White North. We were on a mission-this was Fireball’s last spin with Maygen and myself in the seats and we wanted to show well. We entered the National event so that we could get some more seat time and experience with a longer format rallye. We had everything packed and somehow tricked Dave Getchell, Matt Robinson, Eric Wages and Margaret Michaels into coming along for the craziness that is a rally weekend.
We arrived and registered. All without incident except a flat tire on the trailer. A bad omen. The crew found the dryest section in the service area and up went the tent next to the trailer. We teched the car and put him in parc ferme until the start of the event. Slowly, other teams trickled in and techhed, the Subaru Canada team setting up shop with their three service trucks right behind ours.

Friday night’s stages were just that, night stages. We were starting close to the back of the pack and knew it’d be dark by the time we got to the stages. Lights were a necessity. I was nervous on the transit to the first stage. This was Maygen’s first experience with the Canadian timing system, and I realized that I didn’t own Fireball anymore and any mistakes could prove costly!

The stages were dark and slippery as it was raining. I was trying to put some of my newly acquired driving skills( to use and we were making our way. I always feel quicker at night and our first stage time was respectable. From then on, things got darker for the Last Ditch team...

Maygen experienced her first episode of car sickness during the night stages. We stopped multiple times on the stage, loosing time. I was pretty laissez-faire about it, as there was no way I could will Maygen to feel better. We soldiered on through the night. At first service, Dave and Matt found that we had a tire going down. We changed it out, got Maygen some dramamine and plastic bags and headed back out for three more stages.

Despite her best efforts, the dramamine was not to remain in Maygen’s stomach. Nor anything else. By the end of the night, she was nearly incoherent and obviously dehydrated(note to self: hydrate before an event as well as during!). We finished the night in one piece and Maygen went back to the hotel to get some rest in preparation for the full day on Saturday.

Dave, Matt and Eric gleefully showed me the cause of our puncture-a nearly four inch bolt they said was lodged in the tire. It had to be removed with a socket! We also nearly lost the exhaust from the cat back, and found that we were missing one of the two bolts that held it to the header. The crew thought about where to find a bolt and then thought it would be appropriate to punish the bolt that punctured one of our perfectly fine tires by making it part of the exhaust system. We had no nut for it, though, but a quick trip next door to the Subaru Canada Team provided a suitable nut, after Subaru crew members said, “that looks like one of our bolts!”

Exhaust back in place, we were ready for the second day. Before we left for the motel, Dave, Matt and I walked around the service area viewing all the figures huddled around and under cars at 2 AM, trying their best to get their respective car back on the road. One team was rebuilding an alternator, one a rear differential and one team was stipping suspension parts off a street car!

Saturday AM and none of us were feeling very rested. We headed back to New Richmond for the start and poured ourselves back into Fireball. The first stage was long and flowing, with chicanes made of “fun noodles,” to slow the cars on the stage. Fireball didn’t need much slowing!

We arrived in service and replaced on tire that was leaking a bit. We drove to the separate fueling area and as we were leaving, Dave ran over with the lug wrench from the car toolkit. Not wanting to accept the tool outside service for fear of a penalty, we refused it and headed out. Mental note to self...never enter a rally stage without a lugnut wrench!

We came around a corner on one of the day’s stages and saw a triangle and the Subaru Canada WRX wagon on the inside of the turn, quite crumpled. I lost concentration and slid wide, striking a tree on the outside of the turn with Maygen’s door. Water showered the car from the wet leaves. Maygen and I quickly asked if the other was ok, and down the stage we motored.

My butt told me something was amiss. There was a slight vagueness to the steering and the steering wheel was cocked to the right. Oh-oh. Try not to think about it. Keep driving. Save the car...

We completed the stage and knew we had a flat on the left front. I told Maygen to run and find a lug wrench while I jacked the car. She ran down to the control area and when she didn’t show after awhile, I ran up to an older woman who was parked at the end of the stage. The control worker yelled to her in French, telling her I needed a lug wrench and she happily obliged. We got the front changed and then I realized I still heard a hissing-this from the left rear. One spare and two tires down. Not good.

We returned the lug wrench and hopped in the car for the transit. I thought maybe the leak was slow. No such luck. The car handled worse and worse as we progressed. I saw Tim Penasack coming from behind and yelled to him for his lug wrench. He stopped and frantically tossed it to me. I got back in the car and thought to myself that I didn’t need a wrench because I didn’t have another spare! Talk about brain fade! We travelled a bit more and the tire was clearly flat and starting to make it difficult to drive the car. We pulled over and I attempted to use the can of, “Fix-A-Flat.” That’s when I realized that it wasn’t a can of, “Fix-A-Hole.” We had an inch long gash in the sidewall.

We drove on, finally spotting a service station. Maygen recognized the guy as a spectator from one of the spectators, and we pulled in. We tried to air the tire, but it would hold none. He attempted to plug the tire, but each time we put air in, they would fly out. Downhearted, but thankful for the attempt, we motored on. The tire started to shed. We stopped and I cut the tread off the sidewalls with my seatbelt cutter and we continued on the rim/sidewalls. The smoke and noise was disconcerting.
Then, a vision! A black Honda Civic hatchback passed us and everyone inside waved! I honked and motioned for them to stop and they did. They all piled out and I asked the driver if they had a spare tire?! She didn’t speak English, but knew that I wanted a pneu! She popped the hatch and I raided the boot like it was an ice cream freezer on a hot day.

We put the donut spare on the rear and were able to drive the final 15km back to service. We were the object of many stares and laughs as we drove in on a donut spare!

Serice wasn’t pretty. The exhaust was still on, but the right control arm was bent and the swaybar bolt missing. The punctured tire was removed and a new spare placed inside. The left rear tire got replaced, but we found that the lugnuts were difficult to remove-most likely from driving on the rim and the heat it generated. We put a new wheel on, but the lugnuts would not snug. Three were pretty tight, but one was not. We made the decision to press on.

We knew that there were only three Group 2 cars left in the rally, and if we finished the event, we’d be on the podium. This knowledge made us want to press on.

The last few stages were a few that were repeated. Camp Brulee was run twice for the last two stages of the day. It was a combination of other stages we had run the night before. Little did we know that there was a large jump at the end! Maygen called the jump and I looked down the road and thought, “I wonder why all those spectators are there?” It wasn’t long before the answer was apparent. We crested the hill, and all the road noise was gone, only the spectators cheers and hollers audible. Then, bam! Back to earth and into the finish.

We went back to run the stage the second time, and knew that there were now only two Group 2 cars left in the event. I told the crew that we were going to save the car and make the finish. Matt said, “Now’s the time to get out there and spank it!” Despite trying to keep the speed down, the stage was just too much fun, and we were a minute faster the second time through. We knew the jump was coming and deciided to punch it! The car tilted in air, and crowd roared! Very cool!

At the time control, a spectator came to my window speaking French to me, obviously excited. I explained I didn’t speak French and he asked me, “spin wheels for me please when you go!?” Not one to disappoint, we left the contol with some throttle, much to the delight of the spectator and his friends.

We returned home to Maine Sunday night to turn Fireball over to his owner, Dan Rogers. We went through a damage list and loaded his truck with parts and body panels. He and his father left for Carolina that night. We were all surprised at the hole Fireball’s parting left in our collective consciousness.

My son had named Fireball, and I had started rallying with the car. Friends, family and internet rallyists began to recognize the name. Everyone seemed to connect with the car’s personality. I am sure that Fireball will enjoying rallying in his new home-Iceland!

Baie Des Chaleurs 2002 was a major chapter in the history of Last Ditch Racing. It was our first National Event and our first time holding National level licenses. It was the last race for Fireball, and despite finishing last, we put Fireball on the podium with a second place in Group 2!

So, as we close one chapter, we open the next almost simultaneously. Our new car, a Subaru Impreza that we’ll run in the PGT class, will be finished soon, and we will attempt to run our home event, the Maine Forest Rally. Hope to see you all there!
Cheers! John Cassidy

Photo by Matt Robinson(as well as some others above). He's the sexy guy draped acrosss my hood in the picture above! :-) All photos copyright the respective photographer.

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