Alex Rademacher shares an interesting story with us. It’s the story of a rallyista out to run as many events as he possibly can, taking unpaid time off from work to compete, and actually driving his rally car to and from events all over the place. Who says you need a tow rig, right Alex?
What’s your name? Where are you located? What do you do for a living?
My Name is John Patrick-Alexander Rademacher. I go by Alex which seems to confuse people. Usually when I show my drivers license or sign a check I get asked who John is.
I grew up in Midland, Michigan, but I moved to Stateline, NV about 12 years ago. Stateline is the Nevada side of South Lake Tahoe. I do web & database programming for an insurance company. My job is enjoyable but very tame, which leaves me needing to fill my desire for adrenaline rushes.
What got you interested in rally?
Snowboarding. No really! I moved to Lake Tahoe in ’98. When I saw the mountains I just knew I had to find a way to stay to do some snowboarding. I quickly learned that 2wd cars have a harder time in the snow, and the California transportation authorities will force you to put snow chains on your car if there’s even a few snow flakes in the air.
This lead me to get my first Subaru – a 96 1.8L AWD – which did great in the snow, but I couldn’t pass all the SUVs who would pass me on the uphill and then proceed to drive 15 mph around the corners. So I thought I’d solve the problem by getting a WRX, which I bought about a month after the STi came out in the USA. Shortly after paying off my WRX, I started seeing an STi in the same parking lot where I worked at the time and this dove me crazy so eventually I had to buy one [an STi] myself. Shortly after that, I found the car was scary fast and I did some Google searching for a driving school. I found an autocross school and a CRS (California Rally Series) rally school.
I thought, “What the heck is rally?” Their school ad show some pictures of Subarus sliding around and I thought it looked similar to goofing off in the ski resort parking lots, which looked very fun. Michel Hoche-Mong, Peter Soper , Mike Gibeault, Mike Malsed and others were teaching us at this school. After learning about rally and hearing some of their stories I was hooked instantly! I had brought a snowboard buddy with me who took the navigator classes. We made a deal that I would pay for his class and, if by some chance we ended up doing rally, he would pay for his safety gear, seat and belts, and navigate for me. Getting into full stage [rally] became my goal in 2006.
Tell us about your rally car.
Betsy is a 1993 front wheel drive Subaru Impreza. It’s the same green color as my first Impreza, but it has 4 doors. I was looking at the 07 Rally-America rules and novice licenses and determined that if I wanted to start off in an Impreza, a FWD 1.8L was my only option so that’s what I bought.
How long have you had it?
I bought Betsy in the summer of 2007, cost me $780 and a lot of gas to tow it from San Francisco back to Tahoe. The clutch was toast along with the flywheel, pressure plate, and the power steering pump. For a salvage title, and a rare find, it was in good shape.
Did you buy your rally car or build it?
Built it, even while I was starting to get it running. I rent an apartment so a friend of mine was nice enough to let me use his garage for about 4 months as I tried to do a simple clutch replacement.
What benefits did you realize as a result?
Well, at the time, the only wrenching I had ever done in my life was an oil change, so I really needed to gain some mechanical experience to have any chance of doing a transit fix, or even being able to tell crew what issues I was having on stage.
Every time I got frustrated with the needed repairs, I would switch gears and start removing interior, sound deadening tar, hood release latches, you name it. I actually had the car fairly well prepared for a cage before the transmission was ever taken out. Now I can actually change brake pads, shoes, struts, top hats, adjust my alignment, take off exhaust.
Now I have a basic level of car understanding and maintenance know how, not to mention I got familiar with problem areas for my car – fuel pumps seem to die on it, steering racks end up leaking. It also let me slowly finance my build. I bought all of the roll cage metal and then waited for my welder friend to have some free time. Shortly after I got my tax refund, my friend was told by his boss he had to take 2 weeks off unpaid as their shop wasn’t doing well, but he was allowed to use the shop for personal projects, and so I paid him to make my cage – a win-win for both of us. Many months after that I bought my seats and belts, then later yet for the last bits of safety gear.
Tell us about a time when you stuffed the rally car (or maybe had a nasty off).
My worst off so far has been at Gorman in ’09. I was catching a competitor who was in front of me and I got really excited. We were about a 1/2 mile from the timing control and for some reason I really wanted to be on the same minute as him so I started pushing harder.
The last corner was a L3<>2+ I had caught up enough to be blinded by the dust and failed to interpret the note correctly. All of a sudden the dust cleared and I saw there was no way I was making the rest of the turn!
I went off straight and over a small berm, made a bit of a turn to get back on the road, and drove up to the timing control dragging something. I didn’t think it was anything major. I had a peek at what it was. It was my skid plate. The impact was too much for the rear bolts holding it in and they got torn out. I was able to take some bolts holding on the trunk lid, but my skid plate went back to the dragging position halfway through the next stage, which was distracting.
I had two minor offs after that (plowing into a berm and grabbing reverse) I then took off my skid plate and ran the rest of Gorman with out it. Considering I had used metal tape and glue to stop an oil plan leak, I really wasn’t thinking I would finish that rally, but somehow Betsy kept moving forward!
Do you really drive to events?
Yes. After doing two rallies and looking at a lengthy Visa bill from towing fuel costs, I started calling up U-haul and doing some math. Turns out if I drove to events and assumed I would need to be towed home every third rally I would still save a little bit of money driving to events. My rally car gets 30-35 mpg depending on cargo and elevation.
The first event I tried this was High Desert Trails in Ridgecrest. I had driven down there for a rallycross a few months earlier so I didn’t see an issue with it. I figured even if I broke on stage there would be a chance I could fix my car to be drivable for the trip home. Everything ended up fine though!
With that having worked out for me and wanting to do Idaho, I decided to try driving to a rally again. I couldn’t find any friends who could afford the time off of work and I don’t own a tow vehicle or trailer, so my options seemed to be drive to the event or don’t go. Who skips an event when they have time off of work and the entry fee? Not ME! So I drove out there I asked another team to carry my spare tire (singular) and gas cans for me. Worked out great as I bent a rim horribly but used the one spare they carried for me! It seemed like we had the largest applause at the awards ceremony, winning production class and coming in 16th overall!
Before Gorman, I had secured a tow vehicle, but I couldn’t find a trailer to use, so I decided “Why rent a trailer in Tahoe when I can drive down and rent one on the way back [if I needed]?” The car was drive able so I never had to.
Skip forward to High Desert Trails 2010! Now that I’ve driven to a few rallies and to Ridgecrest and back about four or five times it doesn’t seem like a big deal. Tom was willing to tow me down, but I had to work Friday. We wouldn’t be able to load up until 3pm if he waited for me and I didn’t want to load it up in the parking lot where I work.
If I keep driving to events, eventually I’ll have to rent a U-haul, but I’ve already saved over $800 not towing, so the U-haul rental is basically paid for.
What’s the most rewarding part of being involved in rally?
The thrill of being on stage is amazing! Driving flat out on fun twisty roads you’ve never seen before is quite the rush. I often catch myself with a big smile on my face as I’m applying the throttle in a corner!
The most challenging?
Affording the next event, and doing proper upkeep. The entry fees themselves are very reasonable, but the cost of towing your rally car to the event, getting hotel, food for crew, and then buying replacement parts you broke and maybe paying for a mechanic to fix it really adds up. This has caused me to take some extreme measures to keep rallying. I’ve driven to four events so far and I drove home from five.
[Editor’s Note: We don’t even know how that’s possible, but it sounds damn impressive!]
How many events did you enter last year?
Last year I was able to attend four – High Desert Trails, Idaho Rally, Gorman Ridge Rally, and Prescott Rally!
Is that trending up or down?
Moving on up for the 2010! I’m planning on doing six this season.
Desert Storm and High Desert Trails are already in the books! Up next is the North Nevada Rally, then Idaho, Gorman, and Prescott with the chance of a seventh if my boss lets me take some unpaid days off in December to travel up to Canada for the Big White Winter Rally!
What kind of cash prize structure would entice you to enter more rallies or push the car harder?
A start fund would be the most enticing. I think a start fund is way more enticing for the lower budget/mid- to back-pack teams. The Max Attack and Clone Attack prize structures drive me to push harder. I had the Storm Attack prize in my head during parts of the Desert Storm Rally, especially on Day 2, where I was not as concerned about the points for the championship. I kept thinking how an extra $100 would really help out, so I tried to balance pushing hard with not breaking anything and finishing.
Should rallies be run as for-profit corporations?
I think as non-profit corporations. Rally right now is a hobby in the USA and I think running events as a group of privateers getting together to race makes a lot of sense. I’d love for TV coverage, no entry fees, and cash prizes going deep into the field! We would need a lot of sponsorship dollars or revenue from viewers [for that]. It could happen, but not overnight. If running rallies for profit in the end gives the competitor a better product, I’m keen on things going that route instead.
How important are car classes?
Classes are always an important part of racing. Racers want to feel they have a chance to win, and it makes for better spectating if there are groups of cars with about the same speed. The low traction of dirt and gravel roads helps to equalize cars of different capabilities to some degree, but only so much. When the traction is low enough drive train layout is a good separator! As grip levels increase car differences start to become a bigger factor. Also how twisty the roads are, and how hilly. Getting a class win and a trophy can help a lot getting sponsors, and it helps you to get crew members too.
What class/region do you race in?
USRC Production, CRS P-stock! I’m in the southwest region.
How many competitors in your class at each event?
It varies but about three to five.
Spectators: Dream come true or worst nightmare? Why?
Both. They were part of my rally fantasy, until I saw a group hanging around on the outside of a high speed turn.
I was concerned about where they were and slowed down a little bit, partly due to lack of experience. I definitely don’t want to ever slide into a spectator.
How do you get local gearheads involved in rally?
Driving my rally car around town, and talking to them when they come up to me. I get asked a lot if I actually race “that thing” and quickly followed up by what is rally. Some of the people you talk to get really excited when they learn what rally is and what we do!
I met my Crew Chief through a co-worker. As he learned about rally he wanted to come out and help crew at a race! Shortly after that he was hooked. Also using the regional sections internet forums is a good way to find gearheads to get involved!
What do you see is the most critical issue needing addressed by the rally community today?
In the southwest keeping our roads open! There’s always something going on that seems to threaten a road from staying open. Getting permits can be difficult too in some areas.
Turn out is also an issue probably just due to the downswing in the economy. Some new safety requirements came into affect at the exact same time and probably served as a double whammy.
How do you help out at rallies when you aren’t racing?
At the end of last year I lost my job and wasn’t able to sign up for Seed 9, but I was able to drive down and volunteer. I knew I was helping my fellow rally drivers have some fun. It was a real eye opening experience as to just how much work there is getting an event to run!
Your favorite Group B car?
Quattro S4, it really has it all. High HP, low weight, AWD and it sounds just so cool!
We’ve all got a rally hero. Who’s yours?
Petter Solberg. WRC Champion, but no one will sponsor him this year? Think he was privateer last year. I love how he just HAS to rally and somehow funds it all himself! Simply amazing, and looking at WRC Mexico, he has the talent
to win it all. It’s actually upsetting to think about too long, how could he be soo good, and not be offered a ride?
Do you have a local rally club? Tell us about it! (If not, why not?) Rally Club?
Yes. Tahoe Motor Sports is a car club for me and about a dozen of my friends in Tahoe. We all like rally and cars in general. We do a lot of dirt drives in the summer and a few snow drives in the winter.
Also Dirty Impreza is a nationwide (worldwide) rally club, but its so large that it takes time to get to know the members and even longer to eventually meet them. I love to see how enthusiastic they are.
Tell us about some people who have made your rally dream a reality.
I have a lot of GREAT friends in the Tahoe area who enabled me to get started! Chris Black (who used to be a sponsored late model driver) took me down to pick up my rally car with his truck and trailer. Well his truck died on the way up so he called his wife to use her truck to finish the tow. From there my car sat in Gabe’s garage for several months.
He would come out and give me some advice on what to do next. And about when I was ready to give up he and Ansel yanked out the transmission in about 20 minutes. Ansel White helped me with a full brake service, steering rack replacement, made my cage for me and helped me out with late repairs/upgrades on a few occasions. Like about two days before we left for Prescott in 2008 I realized I would need driving lights. I went down to Summit Racing and bought the cheapest KCs they had and Ansel made me a light bar literally 6 hours before he had to wake up to tow to Prescott using his dad’s truck!
Since then Tom has taken over the repairs of Betsy and as chief of crew. Both Tom and Ansel have trailers and trucks with out them I’d be driving to 100% of my events instead of 50%. Nick has created all the graphics for me , usually on horribly short notice. I’ve bought him sushi once or twice, but he’s basically working for free.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned from your time in the rally community?
My first rally was North Nevada Rally in 2008. Chrissie Beavis had a heater core give out, dumping hot coolant into the cabin, but she pressed on and made it back to service where she was able to get it fixed up. Then she lost a rear wheel and had to put her navigator on the hood to get weight off the rear of the car. But she managed to pull into the final MTC!
So press on regardless!
We came into !! 4L/Crest o.c. into 3R+ n.c
Well I never lifted or braked for the 4 left (this is where I ran out of talent). I just tried throwing it in. As I passed the apex, I could tell I was in serious trouble. My car was tracking out much too fast and this is where I ran out of road. I turned the wheel back to the right so we wouldn’t roll down the hill side.
We crashed back onto the roadway right where the “no cut” feature of the 3 right was. We slid across the roadway and hit hard into the hillside that the road has been cut into. 45 to Zero in a blink of an eye. Somehow we ended up on our side…
They got the car back on all fours, changed a tire, and ended up setting 3rd fastest time on the following stage! (We bet he drove the car home, too.)