Within the United States, the sport of rally racing is a special niche. It's a style of racing that doesn't fulfill most Americans' need for constant stimulant...yet somehow they find cars driving in a circle for too many hours entertaining. Regardless, this humble sport of rally is growing in popularity in the U.S. This growth comes partly from grassroots events, like the RallySprint put on by Northwest Rally Association and SCCA.
The Northwest Rally Association was founded by Kito Brielmaier and Katie Lobkovich. Both avid rally fans and racers themselves, they sought to build rally as a sport and community in the Pacific Northwest and beyond. Kito heard about rally sprints long ago and decided to bring it back as a series existing in the middle ground between rallycross and full stage rally. These sprints are a great way for drivers to race at higher speeds and complexities without having to make the big (expensive) leap into full stage rally. Over 450 people attend Kito & Katies frist event, with attendees enduring the best weather the northwest had to offer...meaning torrential downpours, wind and bitter temperatures. Thankfully, coming into their second year, spectators and drivers were greeted with crisp air and beautiful sunshine. In the foothills of the cascades at the iconic DirtFish Rally School compound, the stage was set for fun and "dirty" race day!
DirtFish Rally School was built on the boneyard of an old lumber mill. If you have ever watched Twin Peaks, you might recognize the iconic smoke stack and police station. These iconic landmarks are now home to DirtFish's main office and classrooms. Kito and DirtFish worked out two approximately 3.5 mile long courses to run for the morning and afternoon sessions. Both provided a mixture of fast straights and flowing tight corners perfect for every rally driver's pendulum fantasies.
In classic rally fashion, the paddock area was full of Subaru Imprezas old and new, from barely modified to fully built. I was happy to see a few BMW E36 M3s and an old school Volvo 240 show up to represent the rear wheel drive heritage in rally. My good friend and former DirtFish student, Kevin Walsh, made his debut rally appearance in his new purchased Evil Bikes open class Subaru STI. As owner of Evil Bikes, he has grown one of the hottest bike companies in the industry and now he's trying out this racing with 4 wheels thing instead of just 2. I was very excited to see if any of the skills I taught him had stuck. Among all the great rally cars though, I think the crowd favorite was not a car but a baby goat, aka the Rally Goat. More cameras were pointed at it than any other car in the paddock.
As a spectator at rally events, even smaller ones like this rally sprint, there is a lot of down time between cars racing by you. Some may find that boring. But, I find it exhilarating for a few reasons. Firstly, the anticipation of the approaching rally car is exciting. The sounds of the gravel spray and engine roar cutting through the trees and landscape in the distance definitely makes your senses tingle. Secondly, as a photographer, it gives me plenty of time to rapidly run from spot to spot getting the best shooting location I can for capturing the approaching gravel machine gun. As an fun bonus, these events provide intense cardio from chasing after the cars for the best shot.
As the racing got underway -it was fun to watch all the different driving styles. Some cars drove tight and tidy whilst others were loud and aggressive. The instructor in me knew the tidier ones would be faster but the more aggressive drivers provided better photos. What a catch 22! One of my personal favorite drivers to watch was Dave Hintz in his blue 1999 BMW M3. The sound of that straight six pierced through the woods as he piloted it from one drift to the next effortlessly linking corners together. He ended up with a time amongst the fastest of the all wheel drive cars. It's not about what you drive but how you drive. Nevertheless, the sound of burping rumbling boxer engines racing never ceases to make me giggle like a kid, especially with the snap, crackle, and pop of back fire. The open class 2015 Subaru STI, piloted by James Rimmer, flew the flag of DirtFish high and fast. Being the son of DirtFish's owner, James was on his home turf and he put on a show for all the fans throwing the car fast and sideways into all the corners. His speed and capabilities in that car were ferocious, especially since he had some recent practice with it in the Canadian Rally Championship. He would have come away with the overall win had it not been for a few exuberant moments that resulted in a few course cone casualties docking his time.
When the dust eventually settled on a full day of sideways rally action the winners were:
Kevin Wahl - 2002 Subaru WRX
Andy Sharples - 2000 Subaru WRX
James Rimmer - 2015 Subaru STI
Open Lites AWD:
Andy Miller - 2000 Subaru Impreza 2.5RS
Tony Torchia - 2003 Subaru Impreza
Brian Jeide - 2002 Subaru Impreza
Dave Hintz - 1999 BMW M3
Michael Cadwell - 1994 BMW 325is
Chris Kobayashi - 2000 Ford Focus
Personally, I love seeing DirtFish host events like this since a majority of the time the compound is used solely for school classes. To have such a world class place like DirtFish be a part of this grassroots events makes me excited for the future of rally in the U.S.
I'm excited to see this series grow in the years to come!