He showed up to his first rally in a CRX without a skid plate, which then died on transit to the first stage, but John Cassidy refused to give up on his rally dream. He’s been back many times since, depending upon his car and team to make things happen. John took a little time out from prep work to be interviewed by Rally Gearbox Magazine. REAL PEOPLE. REAL RALLY. What’s your name? Where are you located? What do you do for a living?
John Cassidy IV. I live in Bangor, Maine and have worked as a Physician Assistant in Primary Care for nearly 20 years. I currently provide medical care in a clinic for homeless patients. I’ve been married to a VERY tolerant and fantastic woman for the past 21 years and have two teenage boys, John V and Cullen.
What got you interested in rally?
I first saw rallying on ESPN-2 in the late 90’s (you thought I was going to say ESPN-8, The Ocho, didn’t you!?). I was transfixed. Turns out it was the Maine Forest Rally, part of the the then SCCA ProRally series. Carl Merrill won it, and he was a fellow Mainer! I thought it was the coolest thing I had ever seen. I sold my motorcycle (one of my prize possessions at that time) and bought and built a Honda CRX. It was the days before rallyists were connected much via the internet (or maybe it was just me), and it was a lot of guessing. I showed up at my first event, the 1999 Maine Forest Rally, without a skidplate. Mercifully, the car died on the transit to the first stage. That was the first year that Pat Richard, Ramana Lageman and few others started rallying as well.
Tell us about your rally car. How long have you had it?
My current car, is nicknamed T-4. She’s a 2003 WRX with a 2007 front end conversion. All my Subarus have been Silver and have been named, “Steel Tulip.” Contrary to its name, T-4 is our third Silver Subaru. The nickname T-3 was taken by son when he painted a remote control car to look like my rally car. We’ve had T-4 for the past 4 years and she’s still going strong. The front end conversion was necessary after we hit a fairly large tree head-on at about 60mph at the Team O’Neil Rally. It was the first time I’ve gone to the hospital for a check-over after an off. We hit the tree directly on the crankshaft pulley, pushing the entire drivetrain back about 5 inches. Everything needed to be replaced; engine, transmission, subframes, etc. etc. Amazingly, the front fenders weren’t damaged and the windshield didn’t even crack. The car is VERY strong. The video is on our Youtube channel. You can watch both headlights pop out the front of the car and fly down the road!
Did you buy your rally car or build it?
What challenges did this cause? What benefits did you realize as a result?
My first Subaru was bought from a local wholesale lot and I had someone fabricate a cage for it. Although I knew a bit about car prep, it was still a pretty humble car. It was a 1.8L AWD 4 door Impreza L sedan with 110bhp (not at the wheels). The second Subaru I bought was already done. I bought it out of Chicago, and it had a JDM WRX motor in it.
Our current car was bought in New England from someone that damaged the transmission. We bought a Custom Cages kit from the UK and installed it ourselves, building the complete car. Building a car from scratch is extremely time consuming, but if you know how you want a car built (and can’t afford to pay someone else to do it), it’s what you need to do. Building a car makes you intimately familiar with all the systems in the car, which is important. It also allows you to integrate features/ideas that you’ve seen in other well built cars.
Cost savings was significant as I have a very talented group of friends that volunteer to help the team out on weekends and any other time their free.
Tell us about a time when you stuffed the rally car (or maybe had a nasty off).
I’ve had three significant offs. The O’Neil off I mentioned above. Broke my tailbone and bruised my elbow pretty bad. Kids-wear your HANS! I had an off at the inaugural Targa Newfoundland. We had a route book with a note that read as a right turn over a crest, so I positioned the car on the right side of the blind crest. Turns out it was a crest INTO a right turn. Both my right wheels were in the gravel shoulder and the rear of the car got light and we spun, nearly whacking the cliff face. I think that was the only time we were seen on the Targa Newfoundland television program! The other off that is memorable is one we had at Corona Rally Mexico in 2006. We had rented a fairly slow (but really fun) Peugeot 206XS and were competing in if for the first time. I carried a bit too much speed into a right hand turn and slid wide, hitting a tree with the front of the car. The impact wasn’t bad, but the fact that there was a serious drop on the other side of that tree made it a fairly big pucker moment! I’m lucky to say we’ve not had many serious offs in the last 11 years of competing.
What’s the most rewarding part of being involved in rally? The most challenging?
Great questions! Most rewarding is pushing my personal limits beyond where I think they exist and challenging my co-driver and crew to do the same. Rallying is multifaceted: us versus the car, us versus the weather, us versus other competitors, us versus our ourselves, etc., etc. If you’re not challenged by rally in some way, then you’re probably watching it on the HD Channel! The most rewarding aspects are the friendships we’ve developed and the adventures we’ve had. The rally community is incredibly small. To have names like Sprongl, Richard, L’estage, Mirra, Block, Choiniere, Buffum and so many others in my address book on my laptop, and knowing that we’re all very supportive of each other is a very cool thing. Paul Choiniere needed a HANS for X-Games a couple years ago and rang me up to borrow mine. Stuff like that happens a lot. Hanging out with Marcus Gronholm, Mikko Hirvonnin at Rally Mexico was really cool too.
How many events did you enter last year? Is that trending up or down? Why?
I think we did 4 or 5 events last year. Trending down because of the economy. Rallying costs remain fixed and high (unless you’re breaking a lot of stuff or crashing, and then they go up). With the economy in the hopper, it was hard to justify traveling as much as we had in years past. Being in the extreme Eastern US, we find that we have more Canadian events accessible to us within a reasonable drive time. Cost to compete are also generally lower in Canada and the events are fantastic. The outlook for this season is a bit brighter-we’ve laid out a schedule that includes 2-3 US events and 2-3 Canadian events.
What kind of cash prize structure would entice you to enter more rallies or push the car harder?
The Canadian Rally Championship has been far more innovative and aggressive at supporting their competitors than the US. Both Mitsubishi and Subaru have significant contingencies in place that benefit drivers of any of the vehicle’s product, not just a specific classed vechicle. Tow funds are very important and helpful. Our fixed costs; tow fuel, hotels, food, entry and recce day are where we need the help. At one point, Canada had an agreement with a rail transport company to get cars across the continent, which was great-until they put our car on the wrong train. We enjoy Canada [and] not because we pay less to race than we do in the US. A big thanks to Subaru Canada and Mitsubishi Canada for their support of the series.
Should rallies be run as for-profit corporations?
Absolutely. Rallying is a sport. I’m the rally organizer’s customer. They need to advertise, plan, obtain road permissions, recruit volunteers. Last year the organizers of the New England Forest Rally worked hard to get the grassroots competitors back out on the stages with reduced entry fees and other incentives. Organizers need to be dynamic, innovative and above all, know who their customers are. If I don’t enjoy an event, I’ll likely not spend my money at the event or in that town again. The events we’ll attend this year are either important for Championship consideration or simply because we love that event.
How important are car classes? What class/region do you race in? How many competitors in your class at each event?
We’ve raced in the Open Class for many years in the Eastern Region. We’ve been the Eastern Regional Open Class Champions for the last three years. I’d prefer to race in the SP class currently, and our car is eligible EXCEPT that it’s had the nose conversion. It’s a shame, because we’re stuck in a no-man’s land. Our engine is smaller than most Open Class competitors, so it’s hard to compete with them. Open Class ends up being cheaper for us to run due to the flexibility of the rules. On event, there are usually 8-10 Open cars racing.
What do you think about recce vs pacenotes?
If Recce’s available, we’ll do it. We were early adopters and have a lot of experience with making our own notes. We can drive faster and safer on notes than we can with a route book or supplied notes. The extra time is well worth it to me – I enjoy the event much more and am less likely to damage the car. It takes the driver/co-driver interaction to a higher level because we’re engaged constantly.
Spectators: Dream come true or worst nightmare? Why?
Dream come true! Come to Canada and see the bonfires at night and hear the cowbells and air horns. You’d think you were at a European event. From my perspective, the more folks that see rally the better. There’s nothing like seeing a rally car at speed in the woods in person. Rally spectating is hard work and most spectators are knowledgeable and safe. The larger the group, the more likely you’ll have someone a bit rowdy. In Canada, I find that spectators often police each other. If a fire breathing rally car passes in the woods and there’s no one to see that spectacle, that would be a shame.
How do you get local gearheads involved in rally?
They usually find me. We’re very active in social networking and try and keep our team and brand relevant locally, as well as in the rally community. All of our crew are local. Friends-of-friends or folks that e-mailed me out of the blue asking to help. I always give them the disclaimer that once they attend a rally, they won’t be able to stop! We have two drivers in the team and three co-drivers currently. LDR’s reach has extended to other teams and I like to think that we give folks opportunity to progress in the sport.
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?
Entries and promotion of grassroots rallying. We need more people like me in the sport. The bread-and-butter racer. I’ve been in the sport for the long haul. I got involved at the grassroots level. Cost was not prohibitive and I had a great time. I learned and grew within the sport, gradually progressing to faster gear. I think we need a spec series and Ford may be in the best position to do this with the new Fiesta coming out. They have a complete progression of cars for rallyists in Europe, and hopefully soon here in the US. From my experience with the Peugeot 206 Cup car in Mexico, I know how much fun it is to flog a slow(er) car, competing with a bunch of folks in identical cars.
How do you help out at rallies when you aren’t racing?
I’m always racing when I’m at a rally. I don’t feel I’ve done everything I can do from inside the car yet. I’ve spent the last two years working on fitness and it’s showing in our results. A third Regional Championship and 5th Overall at New England Forest Rally 2008 show that we’re getting quicker.
If you could enter any WRC event, which rally would that be? Why?
Corona Rally Mexico with Rally Ireland. Corona Rally Mexico because we’ve run it and had a fantastic experience. Great organization and amazing fans! Rally Ireland because I’m sure I know it would be crazy to race on tarmac on those squiggly roads with the rock walls on either side!
Your favorite Group B car?
Peugeot 205 T16. An obscene, cartoonish car with one of the biggest wings I’ve ever seen! I’ve always wanted to drive a Group B car. One of the short wheelbase, rear/mid engine cars would be nuts!
We’ve all got a rally hero. Who’s yours?
Colin McRae. So dynamic and emotional. Pick the car up by the scruff of the neck and make it do what he wanted it to do. We all miss him. Petter Solberg is my other hero. He was coming up around the same time I was and I met him at Rally Mexico. What he’s achieved running as a privateer is phenomenal and I don’t think he’s gotten enough credit.
Do you have a local rally club? Tell us about it! (If not, why not?)
Nope. LDR kind of is the local rally club. There are no other rallies in Maine besides the New England Forest Rally. Many of the LDR team race Rally-X across New England.
How often do you get together with other rallyistas to talk shop?
Due to our remote location from other rally shops/teams, we only converse over the internet. If the internet went down, that would be a very bad Force Majeure!
Tell us about some people who have made your rally dream a reality.
A couple of people made my rally dream a reality. Carl Merrill, even though I never met him before his untimely passing. Seeing him on TV all those years ago got me hooked. Terry Epp during his time as CARS president welcomed us to our first CARS rally, Rallye Baie des Chaleurs, making sure he found us and welcomed us personally to the event. Something I won’t forgot despite the passing of time.
My family and the LDR crew have made the dream a reality, though. When I mention rallying in a place like Mexico, Calfornia or Newfoundland, the crew just asks, “When!?” No hesitation. Dave Getchell has been in integral part of the team for many of our recent years and we’ve been able to do together, what neither of us could do individually.
Thank a volunteer (or group of them) here.
I need to thank all the competitors and organizers. Without them, we’d have no quality events and I’d have no role models. Subaru Canada and Subaru USA rally teams and the Mitsubishi US team all set the bar higher for those of us racing. We soaked as much of that up as we could and integrated some of the practices of a larger team into ours. Tom McGeer, Pat Richard, Frank Sprongl, Paul Choiniere, John Buffum, Sylvain Erickson and ACP all were folks that I watched and tried to emulate.
I have to thank the LDR crew, which consists of a core group of car/engineering fanatics, with some other folks moving in and out. Without their support, the car would never leave the jack stands and I couldn’t look nearly as sexy as the car makes me!
My wife, who tells me to go faster and supports me, despite the time that rally takes away from family. When we’re in rally prep mode and the shop lights are on late at night, she’s gracious enough to gift me the time and space needed to make things happen.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned from your time in the rally community?
Rally is a microcosm for life. Control what you can and the rest will be what it’s going to be. Rally is a fantastic lesson in where your control ends and fate (or whatever you want to call it) begins. At an event where we had gone out due to a mechanical issue, a spectator came up to me in the service area expressing his condolences. I told him that a bad day rallying was better than a good day at work. He replied that I must have a crappy job. I told him that he obviously had never rallied…..Enough said.