Get to know Jace Tuttle, one of the more active wheelmen in the Pacific northwest. He’s runs a 92 Mitsubishi Mighty Max and has one hell of a story about the drive home from his first rally.
What’s your name? Where are you located? What do you do for a living?
I’m Jason Tuttle, but everyone calls me Jace. I’m 25 years old and live in a great area for rally up here in the Pacific Northwest, Salem Oregon. I work at a small, very accredited hospital for 4 years now as a cook. But don’t think of me as a ‘lunch lady,’ I volunteer for a couple local Search and Rescue organizations, and am working my associate’s degree in automotive and possibly marketing.
What got you interested in rally?
I use to see the WRC on TV when I was a teenager and was mesmerized. And of course at the same time, I’d find some video games that had rally-ish features. Any game that had me flying down roads between trees was the coolest. A few years later a buddy of mine who I was in an autocross club with mentioned something about going to spectate at Oregon Trail Rally that year. I had no idea that existed here in Oregon. I actually didn’t end up going to my first stage rally until a year after that, where it was Mt. Hood Rally. And for some reason I decided to not be a spectator, but volunteer as marshal. It my was first rally, and I had gone by myself so it was kind of intimidating actually. It was the most fun I’ve had watching cars race ever! My favorite thing about Mt. Hood Rally is not only was it the first rally I went to, It was also the first rally I was a Stage Captain for with the Oregon Rally Group, and it was the first stage rally I competed in!
Tell us about your rally car/truck. How long have you had it?
The rallytruck is a 2wd 1992 Mitsubish Mighty Max. And let me just say that it is the most fun vehicle I’ve ever driven! The MM was taken off the showroom floor and turned into a Rally Truck right away from the hands of Dave Turner. I hear it performed pretty darn good back in its day. Heck, Dave driving and the PNW’s own Ben Bradely co-driving took home the last SCCA RallyTruck Class championship in 1995. It has a Toyota rear end with disc brakes, and some head work. Few random things from other cars here and there, but up front it’s damn near all stock.
My first ‘rally car’ was a free 1986 2wd Honda Civic Wagovan, which I managed 3rd place in class with for the 2009 rallycross season. Only after it caught on fire on course! Also came away with class champion for the 2009 Spring Enduro put on by Siskyou Sports Car Club in Medford, Oregon. It was taken to the wrecking yard in Januray 2010. Now, I’m working towards a new build.
Did you buy your rally car or build it?
What challenges did this cause? What benefits did you realize as a result?
It was a purchase that was likely the greatest thing I’ve ever bought. I had my aspirations of building a Mazda 323 BG chassis as I’m really familiar with them and they just look pretty goofy and cool all together. After lots of research I came to the realization that buying an already prepped rally car was the way to go to start things off. I was drooling over the classifieds in forums for 2 years trying to find something that wasn’t a Frankenstein build or another VW/Subaru.
I noticed the truck for sale from the owner back then and thought it would be the coolest thing! Months had passed, and it was sold. I continued my search, saving my pennies for my Mazda build. The truck later showed back up on the classifieds from the ‘new’ owner and I again was pondering it for quite a while before I decided to sell everything Mazda I had to fund the truck. I was pretty bummed to not be building the Mazda, but glad I finally had a rally car. And it being the truck was the most badass thing!! It was quite a birthday present to myself with help from a friend. I felt like a little kid getting his favorite toy for Christmas. I just wanted to go drive it any chance I had.
Tell us about a time when you stuffed/crashed the rally car (or maybe had a nasty off).
I developed a little reputation doing rallycross events through my first year of owning the truck, just learning to drive it. Being the first time I’ve ever driven a RWD vehicle, let alone something with no weight over the drive wheels, I was ALWAYS spinning. I’m sure I completed 2 or 3 full 360 spins per day. It was so fun!!
As Mt. Hood finally came in 2010, it being the first stage rally I’d compete in, I had my goals to just drive clean and controlled, and just finish. Coming to the finish of the 2nd stage I had gone into one of the last corners a little too quick for my ability and locked up the wheels, going straight into the bushes where the road dropped close to a foot down. I was nervous as I felt we were in a fairly bad spot and wouldn’t get out. Finally after a few cranks and what seemed like eternity sitting there, she fired up and we took off out of the ditch. I’m glad we were in a truck as the ditch felt a little steep and with that much brush, we weren’t sure if a car would have the clearance to get out.
The only other moment we had where I lost control was upsetting the back end coming around a corner going downhill. The momentum carried us around going down the slope sideways, and came to a stop blocking the road. Just threw it in gear and mashed the throttle going back down the right way!
I did manage to catch my 1986 Honda Civic Wagovan on fire at a rallycross in 2009. Blew a hole in the oil pan after landing a ‘yump’ and the fluids ignited. I didn’t realize what the damage was at first. Only a big boom, and the lack of power felt a little worse than usual. I was already running on only 3 cylinders and about 40hp on a good day. I just floored it for about another minute to finish the course and as I came across the finish I caught a LOT of smoke out of the corner of my eye. As I thought, “Oh shit! is that from me, I see 4 guys running at me and yelling ‘fire!.'” Just then the smoke was coming into the cabin of the car and I shut it down. Turned out to be an expensive tow home.
Tell us about a time when you narrowly avoided a DNF. How did you press on regardless?
Sadly, starting only one stage rally, it resulted in a DNF after barely finishing the 3rd stage. It was the infamous Fir Mountain stage. Long, rough, and it was really quite a workout for me. 6 miles from the finish we had come through a rough section and suddenly I lost my power steering and warning lights came on. I felt like we had bent a wheel or gotten a flat as everything seemed to be working fine but my steering. And for that particular section, wheel damage made sense. So we carried on, just being a more careful.
Coming into the final 2 miles I noticed what looked like another car up ahead. As we slowly caught up, it turned out to be another car for sure. Being familiar with the road through the past few years of volunteering, I knew there was nowhere close to get around so we just cruised along behind the SAAB of Cliff Johannsen. Every time we came to a road marshal position I did my best to play a little and get it sideways. It was really exciting coming into the flying finish as I hit it flat out coming around the sweeping corner getting completely sideways, almost not making to the cattle guard where the stop control was. I hear it looked really cool, and that’s all that mattered!
As we were getting our timecard back, steam was pouring out the engine bay and the temp gauge was pegged. Hurried to get out of the control, popped the hood, and just stared… Nothing was broken or burst… Then it hit me… The belts were gone… Not having any spares in the truck, I decided to call it quits, not wanting to damage the motor anymore than I possibly was already. It really sucked to make that decision, being so soon in the rally and all I wanted to do was hit the final flying finish. The smart decision really sucks sometimes.
What’s the most rewarding part of being involved in rally? The most challenging?
Sitting behind the curtain and on the sidelines for a few years, the most rewarding thing was coming across the first flying finish of the first stage of my first rally. Knowing I had finally completed a stage was just amazing. I was SO excited. Pumping my fists while carrying a giant shit-eating grin. And as my co-driver Merrilee Gilley [and I] congratulated each other on a stage finish, it was so much more rewarding than just making the start.
I’d say the most challenging thing would be moving up in volunteer roles. I’ve started from the bottom, and with the ambition of wanting to do so much more and be more involved, I just haven’t had the time or room to put in the effort that I really want. There have been some great mentors helping me along the way. Simon Leavers, Gloria and Randy Hale, the Tabor Family, Mike Nagel, Rich Olmstead, and Ed and Pat Bodnar have all had a hand in teaching me everything there is on how to run a stage rally.
How many events did you enter last year? Is that trending up or down? Why?
I competed in all but 2 rallycross events for my area, did 2 autocrosses, and made the single only stage rally I had planned on. Even that was pushing my luck in the end. It all worked out well though as the reason for not entering more stage rallies was to spend the time in smaller scale events just learning to drive.
How important are car classes? What class/region do you race in? How many competitors in your class at each event?
I’m all for 2 single classes. 2wd and 4wd. Maybe a 3rd for Historic, but that’s just for fun and if there were enough participants and they were complete replicas of their generation (aside from safety). I play with the Pacific Northwest folks, between northern California up into Canada. I have yet to attend Rally Idaho, although I really hope to show up and volunteer there this year. There were 18 2wd cars overall in the 28 car field at Mt. Hood Rally 2010.
When it comes to rallycross, I like where Oregon Rally Group has gone with car classification. They run 9 different classes total, which gives everyone a chance to take home some hardware at the end of the day. I think that’s really cool! It even let me come home with a 4th place overall trophy for Modified 2wd Rear this past year alongside a 3rd place Modified 2wd featuring FWD and RWD. Much better results than I had planned for within the first year driving the truck. Guess it helps bringing up the back of the field consistently!
What do you think about recce vs pacenotes vs blind rally?
I like the idea of recce as it gives the team an idea of what they’re getting into. Pacenotes; well I don’t have experience with them. We ran a route book at Mt. Hood, and only made a few notes on instructions where I need to slow down. As much as I wanted to be like the WRC guys and have instructions hollered out to me with all the numbers and stuff, it was completely unnecessary for a noob. If I were more confident in my driving and was going for a win, it be a regular practice. As far as a blind rally goes, well where does the co-driver come into play at? Drive as you see it is fun, but I feel times would be better and the cars could look cooler for spectators as they prepare themselves for the corners with speed and angle. Regardless, I don’t have really any experience with any of them. Yet!
Spectators: How would you like to see them addressed?
We need more, period, but I feel the average person doesn’t want to sit in the woods waiting for usually 1 car to pass them at a time, and only catch them for a few seconds. Special Stages in an arena type setting would bring more out I’m sure. I’d personally like to work towards some great promotion for events to get spectators interested more. Bring rally cars out to car meets, autocross, drag strips, and just show them off. Tell folks about them. As a competitor, I drove my rally truck to work about 20 miles once a week, along with just cruising around town occasionally. All to get people to see what it is, and quite often ask about what the truck is, and what rally is. It was a lot of fun.
How do you get local gearheads involved in rally?
Aside from driving the rallycar around town and letting people see it in person, I had some posters made at a print shop for less about a dollar a piece and handed them out to automotive shops, the colleges, super markets. Go hang out at the grassroots events and just strike up a conversation about how we all enjoy driving spiritedly on regular roads, and then inform them that rally does just that! I was very pleased to know that I had almost 10 brand new people who I have never met until a particular time come out to volunteer at stage rallies last year. Just by telling them and acting out my lack of driving technique!
What’s one piece of advice you’d give someone looking to get into rally?
Bring a pillow and a sleeping bag, ride with me up to a stage rally and hang out for the weekend. I’ll provide the food, tent, fuel, and introduce you to some of the greatest people around, and you won’t go home disappointed. You’ll come back next time with a friend or two. 100% guaranteed.
What do you see is the most critical issue needing addressed by the rally community today?
How would you address that issue if you were in charge?
It’s always a topic on the online rally forums. Myself, it’s cost, but that pretty much includes everything you can imagine. Anyone can bring a beater car out and trash it. Now you just have to think about safety equipment. That’s the most costly thing involved in a car for me, but I’m not game for taking shortcuts. I’d like to live and tell the story about that awesome crash. Entry fees tend to stack up compared to track days along with having to take care of towing, where you’ll sleep, helping out your friends as they crew for you. It’s just so much. I really feel like I’m way down on the bottom of the folks wanting to rally. I live mostly paycheck by paycheck so saving up just to enter a rally with a $500 entry fee took me quite a few months, and after the event I was still in the hole.
How would I address that… I wouldn’t know where to start. Shoot everyone a text one night and tell them tomorrow night we’re going to have folks with FRS radios out in the sticks and we’ll be racing from one of the mountain to the other. Ya, sure it’s completely illegal and not the safest, but isn’t that how this all got started? No, that’s not how I’d actually go about solving it, but like I said, I wouldn’t know where to start. Rally organizers aren’t making profit so to speak, so it’s really out of their hands. I’ll just keep saving my pennies and hitting the coin return button on all the vending machines I pass by hoping something falls out.
How do you help out at rallies when you aren’t racing?
I do absolutely anything I can to help out the organizers. I was offered more and more responsibility last year as each event came and those are the people the sport needs to keep it alive. I pass down my knowledge as a volunteer to the next person and teach them how do keep things going smoothly. I’ve always wanted to help out a friend in service, but there are regularly some positions that need filling out on the stage or in the shadows and that’s where I’d feel more beneficial.
If you could enter any WRC event, which rally would that be? Why?
I would take any single one of them. I don’t have a favorite. I’d love to drive on the snow, but I’m sure I would suck horribly. Personally, I’d give my left nut to drive the Dakar.
Your favorite Group B car?
Ford RS200, or the Stratos. I have a thing for little cars that my 6’2” body can barely fit in. And they’re loud, fast, and breathe fire! C’mon, they’re epic! Than again, if Group B had lasted longer, rumor is Mazda would have released the Familia Sport-4. I love the Mazda 323, and with Mazda having the 4wd turbo charged version in the WRC, they made a concept of an even more wicked version of the GTR into a widebody! It just looks awesome.
We’ve all got a rally hero. Who’s yours?
My modern hero would be Petter Solberg. He is a great driver, had to deal the running/owning his own WRC program, and his character is great. He carries himself as a fun guy who means business. I love how the guy shows so much emotion. His excitement is contagious, his frustration is livid, his humor is… well remember when he fell off his car showing off? =)
Do you have a local rally club? Tell us about it! (If not, why not?)
We have a couple in the area. Oregon Rally Group is our big organizing group. They put together some of our stage rallies, coordinate the rally cross events, and have a hand with TSD’s. Cascade Sports Car Club is another who deals quite a bit with the TSD rallies, and recently Charles Buren has formed a new club aimed towards stage rally. They’re all full of some of the greatest motor sport people in the Pacific North West.
How often do you get together with other rallyistas to talk shop?
Sadly, not nearly as much as I’d like. Although that is one of my ‘new years resolutions’ =)
Tell us about some people who have made your rally dream a reality.
Merrilee Gilley as my co-driver for Mt. Hood along with Patrick, Joel, Dana, Coy, Mike and Lara for working out the service crew. Todd for giving a hand in so many ways. Tiffany for all the incredible support through the last few years. All those folks who yelled constructive criticism at me while behind the wheel. Our sponsors; Sharky’s Pool and Brew and Capital City Appliance, both from Salem, Oregon.
Thank a volunteer (or group of them) here.
All the volunteers who showed up at Mt. Hood so we can go throw ourselves around for the 3 stages. Without them there wouldn’t be a chance to do that. The Tabor family, and the Hales are a huge part of our volunteer friends. They rock!!
What’s a helpful trick you’ve picked up since you started rallying?
Tire Pressure!!! I was oblivious to just how much it changes things. Thanks Mike!
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned from your time in the rally community?
Just keep an open mind and listen to what others have to say. Every tip and trick are worth trying out.
Is there anything else rally-related you’d like to talk about, but hasn’t been asked?
Well yes, there indeed is. As a matter of fact, it will likely be what makes my first rally stand out from my others more than anything.
After finishing the 3 stages of Mt. Hood, and waiting around for our crew to tow us back to service, all I wanted to do was pack up and head home. I was truly frustrated. Now though, we had another job, and that would be service for Todd as the combo car. Many more hours had gone by, the rally has finished and we’re finally able to pack up and head out. Part of me wanted to hang out for the awards ceremony, but again I just wanted to get home and unpack. Our awesome service crew had packed up and left as they all had different places to be.
After it was dark, I was on my way heading to I-84 with friend and crew worker behind me for our trip back to Portland. So it’s dark, the rain is pouring down and we’re cruising along, than I hear this crazy howling. It’s a tire getting ready to blow on the tow rig. I’m looking for a fair place to pull off on the highway, but the particular section we were in was around a long bend with no shoulder. Too late anyway, about 15 seconds later the front passenger side tire blows apart and is shredding. I got pretty nervous as I wasn’t sure how the truck with trailer would handle in the current conditions.
I finally came to a spot a couple hundred feet further. I was calling Joel, to inform him what had happened. And Merrilee and Todd as they were part of our crew and hanging out at the awards, and then my cell phone dies. Joel and I had a frustrating time in the pouring rain and wind fighting to keep the truck jacked up after it had slipped off the jack already.
Fellow competitor, Michael Colangelo noticed our triangles on the highway, recognized our trucks and stopped to offer assistance. With little he could do to help, aside from brightening my particular grim mood, he continued his trek back to Seattle. Todd and Merrilee showed up to our rescue about an hour or so later and we were finally able to get a spare put on the truck. Again, there was still quite a bit of fighting to accomplish this task. Thanks to the county sheriff who also stopped by for our assistance.
Now with a full rally service crew we were taken care of and on our way back down the highway. Well, along the way, we stopped to help a rally volunteer out who’s vehicle broke down only miles from us. He hopped in with me, and our rally team convoy was heading back to Vancouver. Or so we thought…
Just outside of Troutdale, Oregon in the midst of some horrible rain and winds still, there was something that looked odd up ahead. Dustin (the volunteer) asked if that was a car in the ditch. Squinting through the rain we were trying to make out what actually was a car on it’s side in the grass on the side of the highway. Our convoy stopped to offer aid along with another car of good folks. Turns out a married couple and their young (6-10yrs old) grandchild on their way home from an anniversary had found a puddle of standing water, hydroplaned, losing control and crashing into the ditch, coming to rest on the passenger side down. We helped the them all climb out through the drivers door.
Aside from the women being very shaken up, they all amazingly seemed to be quite alright physically. Merrilee was taking care of the child most of the time who’m looked like she was just so scared, she didn’t know what was going on. Our convoy waited with the family for over 2 hours in the miserable weather for emergency personnel. We kept them warm inside of cars, with our jackets and some food and eventually some of their family members showed up in 2 minivans before the county sheriff finally made it to us.
With the scene finally being tended to, we packed up our triangles, collected our jackets (not before giving the family some un-used parkas, as they were still there) and were on our way home, again. The entire family was very grateful we stopped and offered help. They all seemed very cool now and in much better spirits. On our way home, I mentioned something that seemed to has stuck with me. ‘I can’t complain about my day anymore’. It was right around 1 in the morning the day after running Mt. Hood Rally. Almost 14 full hrs after I had expected to be home the first time from my DNF, we were in Vancouver, Washington where we all just walked in, took a deep breath with a nice sigh of relief, and called it a night.
Heck, when we woke up later in the afternoon, we threw new belts on the rally truck, picked up and replaced the tension belt pulley on the volunteers vehicle, and off I was driving back to Salem. I pulled into my driveway driving the RallyTruck darn near 32 hrs after all I wanted was to be home. Off to bed I went, and thus ended my Mt. Hood Rally 2010 experience. My first stage rally as a competitor.
That’s an epic night on the road. Thank you for sharing your story with the world rally community, Jace. Press on regardless.