Recent Photos
lastditchracing's items Go to lastditchracing's photostream

Onto the Podium from Back of the Pack

posted in Co-Driver by Dave Getchell


A Maine Yankee crew grows up (sort of) at Quebec's Rallye Baie des Chaleurs

Where else but Canada could a rally team finish dead last but still win prize $$$ ?

The Bangor, Maine-based Last Ditch Racing Team is just back from Rallye Baie des Chaleurs in Quebec, running its first national rally after years of paying dues in regional events. Running with the big dogs is a real eye-opener and true experiential education in the world of rally. Despite finishing dead last on the road, we take second in Group 2--thanks to an amazingly durable little red Honda named Fireball, a relentlessly determined driver and co-driver, and a service crew that would make that old TV-show improviser MacGuyver proud.
After the first few stages, Last Ditch driver John Cassidy and co-driver Maygen McCarty report that the roads are a combination of wide-open fast gravel, slippery mud, and many dips and jumps--quite unforgiving. The rough Canadian forest roads prove really hard on the hardware, as out of 53 starters, only 24 cars gimp to the finish. Even coming in last is a real achievement in "Fireball," a 15-year-old Honda CRX running against hordes of barking turbo-amped Scoobies, evil winged Evos and hardcore Volks G2-wagens.

Keeping the car together proves the rally's real challenge: Each time Fireball rolls into service, he needs something (more likely several things) fixed. This is not to mention the usual gas, oil and fresh tires. Roads are covered with sharp flint stones, so we shred beaucoup tires: 4 flats total, 2 on one stage where we carry only 1 spare. The car limps along at 40 mph on a smoking-hot rim (tire itself is long gone) until John and Maygen flag down a Honda full of French girls and sign-language them into forking over their temporary spare. Fireball rolls into service, just 3 minutes shy of being time-barred, on the now-immortal "rally donut." The Last Ditch service crew goes bonkers.

On the night stages, motion sickness threatens to KO co-driver Maygen. She toughs it out, expelling noxious fluids into "airsick sacks" (aka plastic shopping bags). She emerges ashen-faced from the car at 2 am, somehow still able to tell an "easy left" from a "jump over crest into hard 90 right with double caution" past 2000 rabid spectators.

Later, an excursion into a field tears the front bumper half off, which we fix with duct tape, which also aims one of the crunched headlights. Then Fireball kisses a tree while avoiding one of the factory Subarus sitting on its roof in the middle of the road. The offending spruce rearranges the front fender (more duct tape) and bashes in the co-driver's door, which we decide to do nothing about whatsoever. Landing on a rock after a jump rips the exhaust partially off, which we cobble back together with baling wire, hose clamps and a long bolt scavenged out of the brand-new Kumho that it had punctured. We scrounge a nut for that 3-inch Grade 8 bolt from the Subaru Canada guys, who say, "Hey, that looks like it's off one of ours!" How's that for justice--one of their cars puts us off, while another one gives us the part we need to keep going.

Later, another field excursion blows our back bumper partially off--we repair it with sheetrock screws and a couple well-placed whacks with the big ball-peen. About 1 am on the last night, Fireball slides off the road and smacks something hard in the ditch, bending the front suspension so the tire is rubbing in the wheel well. The car comes in with the right front wheel at a crazy angle; we're sure we we're screwed with that! No spare control arm (well, we DO have a spare, but it's back in Maine) and besides, the part is designed to bend not break. So we inspect the wounded bits (basically OK, though the front swaybar is sheared off--a minor detail at that point) and send them back out into the night. MacGuyver would approve for sure.

Halfway through the last day, one of the crew scrawls "STILL ALIVE" on Fireball's mud-spattered back window, and the crowd really warms up to our battered little survivor.

Later at the finish area, while the winning WRX and Evo crews douse each other with champagne for the TV cameras, the crowds of true rally fans descend on the remaining cars. We entertain numerous questions about our unconventional little rice-mobile, and pose for photos of drivers and service crew beside the beat-up old Honda. Now THAT's satisfying.

Rally crowds in Canada are amazing--several thousand spectators for some stages, complete with bilingual announcers, concession stands, and individual team cheering sections. Rally cars race thru the countryside and small towns, where everybody--I mean everybody--turns out to watch. There's nothing quite like it in the States. It's absolutely fanatical and senseless and more damn fun than anything else you can do in a car with your clothes still on.

There's lots to learn, and lots to be scared of. You're always working to keep safe, but at some point you just have to suck it up, roar back out, and simply do the best you can...until you absolutely, positively run out of juice.

Kind of like life, eh?

Leave a comment