He goes by the handle “PUTZ Spec-V,” but Jon Olschewski is no putz. You’re about to read the story of a guy who showed up to watch some rallycross racing in a freshly detailed Nissan Sentra Spec-V, found out he could race it – on dirt – and went for it. Bring on the zipties…
What’s your name, location, and occupation?
Jonathan L. Olschewski (but I go by Jon); Shindand Airbase, Shindand Afghanistan; Aviation Site Safety Inspector, L3 Vertex Aerospace.
What’s your vehicle of choice, how did you come to own it, and how do you use it?
I have been racing a 2003 Nissan Sentra SER Spec-V.
It was actually a coincidence on how I came to own it. I was coming home from a deployment in Afghanistan with my National Guard unit when a friend told me he was selling a car he repaired as an auto salvage. It was a beautiful Sunburst Yellow Spec-V. I had been told about these cars and knew it was a nice out of the box car. Well, I jumped on it and it was waiting for me at the airport. The 6-speed was something to get used to but I loved it.
In the using of the car… It was my daily driver, I was a college student and started delivering pizza. It was stock. Then one day I got run off the road by a drunk driver while making a delivery. She ended up face down in a dried up canal smashed up pretty good. Well, I used the insurance money to do some modifications to her. She was all street and just some basic bolt-ons. I was online and found the Utah SCCA site and saw they had “RallyCross”. I contacted them and the first event of the year was the next week. I drove up to watch (since I didn’t know I could race). Ccan you imagine being at a gravel parking lot just starting to setup the cone course and a shiny and well detailed Yellow Sentra SER, low profile 17” rims pulls up with some college punk hoping out? I was talking to some of the guys and said I just came up to watch. They asked if I wanted to race, I remember they had that tone of “like he would race his shiny car”. I was astounded… I could race. So I did. Man did I suck! But I stuck with it. I haven’t missed a national final and my car went from beautiful street ride to all out gutted rallycross car (not a path I recommend, I have other suggestions for those looking into racing). But that is all she is used for anymore.
You’ve recently hinted on Facebook at a new rallyx car. Why the change? Why this particular car?
Ever since I took my first race car to the extreme I found that the chassis has limits, pretty scary ones actually. I have almost rolled due to suspension issues. The B15 (2002-2006) Nissan Sentra Chassis has an interesting cross member/beam type rear suspension. This is a cheaper way to manufacture a car.
You can make up for this design on asphalt without too much issue. But on the dirt where you need some articulation it makes for some problems. In the stock classes, the Spec-V is a great car, hard to beat if you’re a good driver, but in the mod classes you have some stiff competition. So, with a few close calls and not being able to fix the problem without majorly restructuring the car, I’m going to a different car.
I decided to not totally abandon Nissan. I have really grown to love 2WD driving, but I do have another car for another year down the road that is AWDm but I shall remain 2wd for a good while. A few years back, I was working at a car shop and we had a B13 (1991-1994) Nissan Sentra in the shop along with my car. We looked at a bunch of things on it, including the fully independent rear suspension. The car was 500lbs lighter, a bit shorter height-wise and length, came in a 2 door, which makes it a stiffer chassis also.
Through research I found the B13 Sentra had a solid rally history and was still highly used and successful in stage rally racing, but I had a reservation – I loved my drive train in the Spec-V. That 2.5L was stout, had loads of torque. The 6-speed had nice gears (some would disagree), a stock helical limited-slip differential, and just tore up the course.
Now the 91-94 Sentra SER came stock with the famed and loved SR20… That engine has a cult following, heck it was even name dropped in the original “Fast and Furious” movie. Well, I came up with the crazy idea to put the 2006 Sentra SER Spec-V drivetrain into the 1991 Chassis. While I was at it I had the motor built up too. So it should have almost 100hp more at the wheels than a stock dyno test. We shall see. Finally, this spring, we got that in. So the end result should be a potent 2006 drive system strapped in a car that stock was 500lbs lighter than the original engine’s owner along with a perfect suspension system for it’s dirty deeds.
You’re currently stationed in Afghanistan. How do you get your car/rallyx fix over there?
How? I don’t, really. The roads here are perfect for rally events… My particular base is 95% graded gravel roads. But the speed limit is 30kph. It’s torture, basically. My father mails me all of my car magazines. I pay to have the Utah Rally Group (URG) events filmed and uploaded on the internet so I can try and enjoy the rally scene at home. I spend a lot of time on SpecialStage.com and other racing or car forums working out ideas.
What is it about rallyx that keeps you coming back for more?
It’s cheap and real racing! Rarely does an event go over $100 entry fee. Most are 30-40 dollars. That beats out most other racing fees any day. Then it’s a very safe racing environment. No chance of car contact or hitting a tree. You get to mingle with everyone in the rally community; the newbie to national stage rally champions or stars. I do want to try stage rally someday, but I know that I can rallycross on any budget for the rest of my life. How can you not love this sport?
What do you think about the gap between rallyx and stage rally? How should this be addressed?
I think the gap between the two sports is narrower than most people think, since the rally family is still fairly small in the United States. It’s hard to find a stage rally that I don’t personally know a driver in due to my rallycross ties. The popularity in rally sports in general is lacking. Ken Block and Travis Pastrana have done wonders for making rally more known through the States, but more needs to be done.
I think the new Global RallyCross series is going to help rally explode in North America. The only problem with that series is they have really messed up things for me and SCCA RallyCrossers. RallyCross is a SCCA name and it’s even copy written, but now I have to explain that I don’t have a cage in my car and I don’t jump it or race side by side with other cars. I really wish they would figure out a new name for their new series so that I can continue to call myself a RallyCross Racer without the confusion. But the series itself is putting an American style light on the sport and that can only bleed over both ways to SCCA RallyCross and stage rally events. If that sport gets big then the sponsors will be hitting all of the levels of rally. I think it has been the missing link to help close the gap to allow more people to pursue their lofty goals whatever they may be.
Share a favorite story from your past and a goal for the future.
I sure hope you mean a story from my racing past. I have lots of other funny stories I could share, but I don’t think they would relate.
I threw it in reverse and punched the throttle just long enough to cross the line then mashing the brakes so I wouldn’t hit the back of the finish box.
I raced two seasons in the California Rally Series, RallyCross events. One of their sites is Johnson Valley near Barstow, California. This lake bed is a wonderful racing site. Flat and really hard, but has a surface that still lets you slide, so rutting isn’t an issue. I was still a young buck in the sport. Well, I got lost in some dust during a run and had pretty much destroyed my chances of a good position, so I started pushing it a bit harder than I would. The finish line was just after a long slalom section. The slalom was setup sort of funky so the final cone was off by a few feet. Coming into the whole situation too fast, my back end was flailing all over. I was barely making it through and then, there it was, the final cone, about 3 feet further left than where I had expected it to be.
Foolishly, I tried to get around that cone instead of taking it down and finishing with a 2 second penalty. As my back end swept wide, I tried to catch it and the car rotated hard. I destroyed the cone where it stood with the center of my rocker panel. My car continued the spin causing a huge cloud to be stirred up. As this half spin was slowing down I was now facing the wrong way on the course just in front of the finish line. Before anything could stop, and since I still was sliding with some momentum, I threw it in reverse and punched the throttle just long enough to cross the line then mashing the brakes so I wouldn’t hit the back of the finish box. All of this happened a lot more smoothly then I could have ever imagined. The crowd of CRS racers stood applauding me for my efforts. I was asked shortly after if I had planned that. I guess it looked good. I was just embarrassed I had spun out and was trying to finish as quickly as possible. So far it’s the only event I’ve ever finished in reverse.
Share one of your favorite tips/tricks/ideas.
For racers – Go on ride-alongs as often as possible. And take the faster guys in your car on ride-alongs too.
For organizers – Always have a flying finish then restrict the car later on for control. Trying to stop right after you hit the clock is not part of the rally family in timing systems…
Would you consider yourself a gearhead? What does that mean to you?
I would definitely consider myself a gearhead.
To me it means that I’m out of place if I don’t have a bit of grease under my nails or having slight Cologne of Petrol on a regular basis. It doesn’t matter the make, model, or where it originated. They appreciate what the factory has created or the fellow gearhead has modified. A gearhead is the guy who gets upset when he opens a car magazine and there is a girl sitting in front of the new Z06 corvette. If we wanted a girl magazine we would have bought one! A gearhead is also one that understands the secret language that can only be spoken in sacred tones in garages, shops or the track. But as all gearheads know, you are not a true gearhead if you only talk, you must also do. I have felt my gearhead-hood leave at times when I was away from my cars or had failed to do anything I had been talking about.
Don’t let yourself fall into the same dark paths of running your mouth and never your engine.
What do you enjoy most about being a car/motoring enthusiast?
It has to be the people. There is a brotherhood within these ranks. You always have friends. You can drive anywhere and someone will want to talk or hangout. It is a truly international brotherhood too. I have lived (not just visited but lived) in five different countries in my life. There are gearheads everywhere and they are all willing to be friends once you have established you are a car guy too.
What is the most important quality a gearhead should possess to be successful in life?
A budget! Seriously though, learning to be frugal and not let things get out of hand. Get advice from those who know and take it seriously. Being broke and or modifying your car on a credit card is not a way to live.
Where can people find & connect with you?
www.utahrallygroup.com is a site dedicated to Utah rally events and people. I am a point of contact on that site. But I’m constantly on Facebook or available on SpecialStage.com as “PUTZ Spec-V” which is also my handle on most forums.
Gearbox Magazine would like to thank Jon for taking the time to share such a cool story with us. Gearheads united, right? So the next question is for our readers, have you ever finished a race backwards? Ever seen someone who did? Tell us about it!