They say that there are two kinds of people in rally. Those who have rolled and those who will. Tom Burress of Demon Rally is the former.
What’s your name? Where are you located? What do you do for a living?
My name is Tom Burress, I am located in Seattle, WA. I work as a police officer.
What got you interested in rally?
I got interested in rally by accident really. I first saw rally racing on Speedvision, you know, before the current Speed Chanel took over and turned an amazingly diverse channel into yet another opiate for the NASCAR masses, but thats another story. I first saw WRC footage in 1998, I was in College and was amazed by the speed and dedication of drivers like Tommi Makkinen, Colin Mcrae, and Richard Burns. I had no idea racing like this even existed in the US until I stumbled across a local Volkswagen fanatic and started blabbing about WRC footage. We traveled to the SCCA sanctioned Wild West rally in 1999, I was awestruck, competition at the top of the field was professional, drivers like Mark Lovell and Mark Higgins were in battle in dueling Subaru and Mitsubishi rivalry respectively.
The one thing that blew my mind was the middle of the pack. Here I saw the Pacific Northwest’s weekend warriors of rally, Nate Tennis, John Lane, Derek Bottles and even Scott Fuller in his 100K+ SBG F2 MKIII VW Golf Kit Car with 200 Naturally Aspirated Horsepower and sequential dog box all thundered through the forest scenery at an amazing pace for what appeared to be a low-dollar investment. I thought to myself, I have to go do this.
Tell us about your rally car/truck. How long have you had it?
My current rally car is a 1985 Volkswagen Golf GTi. The car was originally prepared for rallying by Cascade Autosport as a Group 2 top contender. Now the car is being transformed into a fire breathing turbocharged Group 5 monster. I have had this race car for two years now.
Did you buy your rally car or build it?
I bought this rally car initially, but we have rebuilt the car twice to our strict specifications.
What challenges did this cause? What benefits did you realize as a result?
I have always been very thrifty as a rally competitor by necessity; we race on a budget. Purchasing a new rally car after we rolled our first rally car in 2008 was hard on us financially and kept us out of racing for over a year until we completed the new car to include our better components. While it kept us out of racing for a year, building the car how we wanted it to be built will help us to compete at a higher level and with more reliability without having to go into debt. During the down time, I was fortunate enough to make several new connections and increase our ability to compete at a higher level through sponsorship.
Tell us about a time when you stuffed the rally car (or maybe had a nasty off).
Our biggest crash was when we took the bunny for a roll. It was the second stage of the 2008 Wild West Rally in Pomeroy, WA, we had already taken the first stage over John Lane and his fire breathing Volvo and we were in the rally lead, hoping to keep it that way. We were doing about 65-75 mph, got out of shape on a down hill right 4 (a fairly high speed corner), then over corrected and got sideways a bit early for the apex of the next corner, an up hill left 4….full throttle, opposite lock, berm on the inside of the turn so it wasn’t a good place to cut, and we just barely had the wrong line. I was looking at the next corner when we nicked the driver’s front first on the berm, that sent us into a spin, tagged the right front, dug into the berm, and kicked the car over passenger side first, and really taking me for a ride on the roll…only one roll with a pretty hard upside down smack, just straight on to the top front of the cage and onto the main hoop. With the remaining momentum we spun on the top directly into the center of the road about 150 yards up hill . We were out right away, to start getting the rest of the field slowed down to get around the car as it was blocking the stage almost completely.
What’s the most rewarding part of being involved in rally? The most challenging?
The most rewarding part of rally for me is the satisfaction of team competition. I have a dedicated group of sponsors, partners, close friends and family members who all support my efforts in racing. This support is a driving factor in my racing endeavors. While I feel good about my driving at an event when we do well, I am incredibly proud of the team and how everything comes together for us when we do well at an event. The most challenging part of rallying for me is making it to an event. While we are a small team, we operate very professionally. Once we have completed an event we develop newer stronger parts for the car every event. The car is torn down after the event to tackle any issues and to check, repair and maintain the car’s preparation level. All of this work takes a lot of time out of my schedule. This work on top of my day job and my part time job maintaining sponsorship, means that it is a lot of work to try and get the car to an event with enough money to run at the highest level that we can afford to run.
How many events did you enter last year? Is that trending up or down?
Last year we entered one event, the Wild West Rally in Pomeroy, WA. While that is a significant drop from our previous years, building a car up slows funding and the ability to be ready for events. I think we should be able to make at least 3 times that many events if not more this year.
What kind of cash prize structure would entice you to enter more rallies or push the car harder?
The cash prize structure doesn’t do much for me actually, I am all about the competition. While, of course, if we started seeing a number of events on the west coast with top 2 wheel drive prizes in the range of $1000 I would be more apt to make those events as the competition would increase at those events.
How important are car classes? What class/region do you race in? How many competitors in your class at each event?
I think a few car classes are important as it tends to level the playing field for competitors. I now race in Group 5 in the Pacific Northwest Region for the most part. Generally we see a total of 4-8 competitors per event in group 5 and around 10-20 two wheel drive competitors per event.
What do you think about recce vs pacenotes vs blind rally?
For me, recce is luxury. While I would enjoy the ability to run recce, as a budget minded competitor it makes no sense for me to pay for that portion of the event. For the most part if I see an event with recce I am going to tend to stay away from it as costs for all competitors will increase due to the increased costs to run an event. While the cost is one thing, the time is another. I would enjoy the safety factor that recce brings to rally, but I just don’t see how it can work for the average competitor. For the most part pacenotes are good, but once again you are increasing speed and driving blind still, because you still don’t have all the information about the road in front of you and what you cant see. I really am Spoiled in the Pacific Northwest because of the tulips we get from Ron Barker. Ron’s tulips are some of the best out there, he understands where to mark corners and which cautions to mark to keep a driver in check. I personally prefer blind rallies over notes or recce as it evens the playing field and puts a lot more power in the hands of the driver as to how to interpret the road in front of you. No matter what the event offers, I am always going to push to the limits of my abilities with the information that I have in front of me.
Spectators: Dream come true or worst nightmare? Why?
Without spectators we wouldn’t have rallies. I love spectators, they are fans of events and rallying, they drive the rally machine and create sponsorship interest. On the side of the road they are all good if they can understand the dynamics of the event, or are properly marshaled. In a litigious society they can be a nightmare for organizers and insurance companies. There will always be accidents and mistakes, with preparation and planning we can avoid the worst and deal with the rest.
How do you get local gearheads involved in rally?
Without local gearheads I wouldn’t have much of a team. Luckily, I have always had a good group of friends to help power the rally team. I have a very strong public appearance for the team due to marketing and publicity. I do my best to reach out to Volkswagen aficionados by a strong internet campaign and good connections with local business that support Volkswagen gearheads. Many times we have fans that come out to rally events to spectate and meet the team while we are racing. While this is great we also try to get out into the community and go to car shows and other local car events to raise awareness and promote rally in the community.
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?
I think one of the biggest issues the rally community faces is how to retain a core contingent of budget minded racers despite being in an economic downturn. If I were in charge I would ensure that this group of loyal rallyists were never overlooked. Supporting Max Attack! creates value and drive for competitors, it builds a national championship with cash payouts, and provides a marketable tool for the everyday competitor as well as a marketable tool for sanctioning bodies. I would build Max Attack! into a more diverse and marketable product, and use the format for the Super Production class competitors as well as two wheel drive and run the series together. Developing Max Attack! into a fully sponsored support series would be the one thing I would strive for, a real corporate sponsorship for Max Attack would create an inherently valuable tool for marketing rally in the united states for our core rally group. Max Attack! is the best thing to happen to rallying in the United States since I have been involved in rallying, and the dedicated people who support the series deserve all of our thanks.
How do you help out at rallies when you aren’t racing?
When I can’t make an event with a race car I volunteer as a corner marshall or start control volunteer. At Oregon Trail in 2008 I was able to donate some time to the Max Attack! series and had a blast interviewing drivers and telling the Max Attack story through Rally America’s on site publishing and web streaming. I like to get out and help out at my local events when I have the opportunity to.
If you could enter any WRC event, which rally would that be?
I would love to enter Rally Finland. My brother took me to Rally Finland last year and I had an awesome time. The event is run on a smooth tacky surface and the roads are very fast and have a ton of character and history behind them. They ran the Group F competitors after the WRC competitors last year, not sure which event I would rather run in….both looked like a good time, group F looked like home with more spunk. Either way It would be a lot of fun to compare stage times to some of the world’s greatest drivers, just to tell my friends how many minutes I finished behind them!
Your favorite Group B car?
Ahh group B, I was five when they started running them, but I was always impressed by Audi’s Sport Quattro S1….nothing like 600HP in a shortened shell coupled with all wheel drive and the sound of five cylinders running at 8000RPM.
We’ve all got a rally hero. Who’s yours?
While Colin McRae was spectacular and impressive, character has always impressed me and Marcus Gronholm has a lot of it. While not a man of many words when things were good, when things were bad, Marcus was always spouting off. My favorite times watching Marcus was when he was struggling with the Peugeot 307 WRC car. The car was breaking down constantly, a rock bashed through the floor board and hit his co-driver, He yelled at the team boss about the car’s gearing, and finally when the car let him down again closing in on the final event of the season, he retired and went to the local pub for a beer, all of it was caught on tape….now that is character. No Gronholm, No Party.
Do you have a local rally club? Tell us about it! (If not, why not?)
I meet up with a lot of the locals folks that frequent the Rally Anarchy forum, its not a club per se, but a support group for the addiction. We meet once every month or so to get each other motivated to build our cars, to bounce ideas off one another and to create a group of folks that want to improve our racing community.
Tell us about some people who have made your rally dream a reality.
I have a great relationship with the owner of Fine Tuning, Chris Delong. Chris has supported our rallying efforts from day one, without Fine Tuning we certainly would not be able to compete at the level we get to compete at. Fine Tuning is THE German automotive tuning solution for the greater Seattle Area and beyond. They offer only the finest in not only OEM, but aftermarket tuning parts for your early and late model Volkswagen, Audi, BMW, Porsche, and Mercedes Benz.
CTS Turbo and RP Turbos have just recently come on board with the team, but their help has been instrumental in developing a new more aggressive group 5 rally car for the team, CTS Turbo is dedicated to providing the highest quality turbocharging components at competitive prices. CTS turbo employs specialists that know everything about forced induction, their employee’s expertise combined with CTS’s huge variety of both stock replacement and quality aftermarket turbo charging equipment makes CTS your one stop shop for installing, repairing or improving your forced induction power-train.
Meister Gauge Faces was started back in ‘97 by owner Dave Meister. Dave has been instrumental in taking care of our vinyl needs. They pride themselves in quality and service to ensure that the gauges you choose are exactly what you want. Their gauge faces are guaranteed not to fade. The process they use maximizes your gauge face potential for whatever your mind can imagine. From simple white faces to complex patterns, designs, and even photographs… They can do it!
Ian at Product Apparel has helped us a ton by providing the best shirts at the right prices, they only use the highest quality shirts and do all the printing and embroidery by hand, the right way. All of their designs are created by people, not machines. They’re not here to tell you how cool they are, or who they know. They’re just here to make some quality shirts, hoodies, and accessories for you to wear. They love music, art, and pop culture, and hope it shows.
Vedran and Ethan at SpitfireEFI have made our switch to EFI a joy instead of a pain, they have been tuning and installing engine management systems on cars local to Northwest Washington since 2004. Their experience with standalone fuel management stems from a variety of successful projects, and they are always looking for the next challenge! Whether you’re looking to tune up your daily driver, or your heart pumps 104 octane race fuel, SpitfireEFI can provide you with the engine management solution to fit your needs.
Brendan Porter at Ralley Tuned is a one man machine. Brendan has vast knowledge about the megasquirt programmable fuel injection and ignition system as well as nearly every other stand alone engine management system on the market. Ralley Tuned offers services ranging from custom wiring harnesses to custom fabrication and components to tuning and design. Ralley Tuned offers quality work at reasonable prices. Look nowhere else for your engine management tuning and installation.
Jake McMguire of JRM Fabrication offers the best in custom high performance Design and Tuning. JRM has the ability to design and manufacture small runs of one off parts as well as tune engine managements to your specifications. From intake to exhaust JRM can do it all.
John Vandlandingham of JVAB Imports is a talented machinist and design specialist. JVAB specializes in custom suspension components and adjustable coilovers for both street and competition. JVAB also specializes in engine machine work and assembly along with custom engine components. JVAB imports has the ability to import build or design nearly any custom component for your vehicle at competitive prices.
All of these companies and individuals have gone above and beyond to help us succeed as a rally team, they are great companies backed by great individuals.
Thank a volunteer (or group of them) here.
I would like to thank Jake Himes and Eric Burmeister for continuing Jakes amazing vision with the Max Attack program, it is one of the most important racing series that is actually attainable by the average grassroots competitor. I’d also like to thank everyone who makes the Max Attack series happen, it takes a talented and dedicated group of people to make something that big come together and remain viable.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned from your time in the rally community?
I’ve learned that rallying isn’t just racing, its well beyond that for the average competitor. I’ve gained lifelong friends and partnerships, learned more about myself as a person, dedicated myself to nearly impossible goals and succeeded far beyond I thought I ever would. The satisfaction of competing is great, but seeing your project start from the ground up and including and organizing all of the efforts needed to make it happen is incredibly satisfying. Rallying for me has been a life experience, a lesson is an understatement.