Recognizing the importance of a building year

**October 2007. Rallycross Nationals, Hastings, NE. A woman with a 2006 Subaru STI and used snow tires purchased from a guy off the Nebraska-Subaru forum, completely stock setup.

If you had told me back in October 2007 that I would one day be able to run a full stage rally in an open car that I would build with just some hobbiest friends, I would tell you “You are crazy, there is no way I could afford it.”

**November 2008. Attended Team Oneil Rally School thanks to the SCCA Rallycross Program.

If asked me after attending the Rally school if I would one day rally in a full open car, I would say “Yes, but when I have $100k to invest, since that is the number Tim Oneil told me I would have to have to be successful.”

Something happened between November 2008 and July 2010. Drive overcame reason, and I priced out a few things on I could afford to rally. I could do it! I don’t know what Tim was smoking.. it doesn’t take $100k to rally.. I can buy a G2 car for under $10k.

**July 2010. Purchased a G2 1992 Nissan Sentra that had been sitting in a barn for 2 years, beat up and tattered. Price… $2500. No seats, no belts, but it did have a terrortrip [terratrip] and a few very basic spares. Unfortunately, it also had a cracked transmission case, some wiring ghosts, but a solid motor.

November 2010. Nocona Rally Stomp. My first Rally America event. 2nd Place overall. Not bad. Event was a cross between Rally and Rallycross. Good jumping off spot.

Here is where it gets interesting. So now I have a false sense of confidence that this $2500 car will make it. I have so much to learn.

**February 2011 – 100 Acre Wood. My first National Rally-America event. I make it through the first day, and everything was going well until, well.. the bermuda triangle. We make it out with some help, continue on, and finish the day. Great crew working hard overnight to put the door back on the car, and off we start the second day. Then… electrical ghosts come back to haunt us. The car shuts down for unknown reasons on the Potosi SS, the second time through. Drat! I am addicted at this point. How can I make this work? I need to know my car, inside and out. I was working with an unfamiliar platform, and while I credit the FWD in helping improve my skills as a driver, I need that familiarity in platform in order to make things work, and make it more affordable.

**2002 Subaru WRX. Purchased from a friend in January 2011. No rust, great shell. Good engine. Well-kept. Hmmm… So many ideas. Let’s put a cage in it! Caged at Izzy’s Custom Cages in St. Louis, Missouri. Now, lets run it in a stage rally! Not yet… Pikes Peak must come first. We have to prove ourselves before Rally America will let us run an open vehicle in stage rally.

**Pikes Peak. Learned so much with Pikes Peak. First, I learned that having a crew that you can trust is one of the most important things you can have, and you MUST have motorsports enthusiasts willing to go the extra mile. Partnering with trustworthy and honest businesses is also essential. Partnerships that follow through, not letting friendship get in the way of business, all of these things equate to success in motorsports. I was blinded by the thrill of the sport and this lead to catastrophe at Pikes Peak. I was distracted, trying to focus on driving, but still having to tend to details of the car to ensure it was at least functioning for one of the most physically grueling races in the world, on both car and driver. As such, I did not make it to the top. I did not deserve to make it to the top. I was an amateur. Not anymore.

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The 2002 WRX sits for 3 months. Catastrophic engine failure @ mile 10 of Pikes (threw rod #3 right through the block… not enough cooling on the engine and head-gasket failure). What do I do now? I had some time to think. [And, in the meantime, win a National Championship in SCCA, be the first woman to trophy at the National Rallycross Championship, and the only woman to ever trophy in both in the history of SCCA. Couldn't sit around and not drive! Hop in a different car and keep doing what makes you happy.]

#1. Build an engine that will last. Put it in a chassis that will take it. Spare very little expense when building it. Avoid shortcuts. Make sure you can trust the work done, and make sure it is done by a professional who cares about motorsports. This is where Pat Lipsinic comes in. Traveled all the way to Tulsa, several weekends in Oklahoma City, and with a mechanic that also specializes in small aircraft engines. His work was meticulous, and the engine purrs with the ferocity of a mountain lion. He put it as his top priority, and anytime you can have someone put your project as top priority, you have that much better chance at success.

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#2. Figure out a way to make it to the events. This a business, make it grow, come up with a business plan. Partner with organizations, people. Provide your partners a service and access to a market that they would not otherwise have. Get the seat time needed to be successful. Attended SEMA and PRI, and gained a wealth of knowledge from other professionals in the industry. Be able to build the car as much as you can yourself, and recognize the limits of your own mechanical abilities. Get professional help when needed, and make sure you can afford to do what you set out to do. Work within a realistic budget.

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#3. Find a reliable crew to travel with you. Chris Gervais, my designated type-A, obnoxiously friendly, meticulous, hyper crew chief, ensures that everything is done, our team finishing the rally becomes his top priority and he keeps everyone in line. Of course, there are still issues that arise with any business (personality conflicts, etc). The main thing is that when everything shakes out, you are still racing, the car is working, and you can represent your partners and team to the best of your ability. I’ve found great success with my Crew Chief thus far, and success with some of our volunteer crews. The main thing is, I can say I know the traits that make a good crew now, what works, what doesn’t. It just takes a series of events and making mistakes to figure it all out. That is what 2011 was for.

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2011 was our novice year. That was the year for mistakes. And yes, mistakes were made, but we learned from them. Most people would jump in now and say “Hey, let’s do the entire National Series as a national competitor.” I’m not going to make the mistake of going without a building year. I need seat time, and I need to make sure I have a car to do it in. I will make sure our team is ready for the entire National Series, with full backing and a driver that can keep that backing in place with top finishes.

**2012. So far, two completed National events. No crashes for our team, and between myself and my crew chief, a fully functioning car that can compete. Myself, now with the basic mechanical skills needed to save expenses and build a reliable vehicle. Now, the rest of 2012 will be on building the business relationships needed to continue to be a success, as well as the events needed to build my skills as a professional driver and professional team owner/manager. With the help of our national partners COBB Tuning, Garrett Turbo, EBC Brakes, Hella, ACT Clutch, Deatschwerks, Vorshlag and my engine builder LMSports, as well as a trustworthy crew, we will make 2012 an exceptional team building year. Tim Oneil was right, it does take almost $100k to rally with a successful team, but the returns are priceless.

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1 comment for “Recognizing the importance of a building year

  1. September 8, 2012 at 10:31 pm

    What amazed me the most, boeynd the amazing skill and huge brass balls of the driver, is how familiar the course felt after playing DiRT. It makes me want to re-create the video in DiRT and put them side-by-side. Unfortunately, I have no skill in such things.

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