We’ve known Dick Moser for a few years now and he’s always impressed us with his insight and down-to-earth manner. He might be the Director of the California Rally Series, and co-driver in one of the most dominating FWD VWs in the United States, but Dick always makes you feel like you belong in the conversation.
What’s your name? Where are you located? What do you do for a living?
Dick Moser. I live in San Francisco and I’m a self-employed consultant managing investment funds.
What got you interested in rally?
After he left professional racing my son Tim wanted to try rallying. I got interested because of the opportunity to co-drive and share the activity with him. I’ve always been an adrenaline junkie anyhow, so it was a good fit.
Tell us about your rally car/truck. How long have you had it?
We have a 1985 VW GTi, our second VW rally car. This one first raced in 2006.
Did you buy your rally car or build it?
With a lot of help, we built it. We had originally bought it to be the donor of a new roof for our previous car, but decided to build instead.
What challenges did this cause? What benefits did you realize as a result?
It was waaaay more expensive and time-consuming than we had planned – about twice the cost and twice the time. That’s especially true when you’re not doing much of the work yourself. We were lucky to have Jon Rood working with us and making sure the details were handled. On the other hand, we built a car that’s about a good a GTi rally car as you can get. All the little things that needed improving in our first car we improved in this one.
Tell us about a time when you stuffed the rally car (or maybe had a nasty off).
Not that we haven’t had some incidents, but we haven’t really “stuffed” or had a really bad off. In 2005 at Prescott we had a lead of almost two minutes in our class going into the last stage. We were pushing it, just having fun seeing how fast we could go. About a mile from the end of the stage we came around a left 4 or 5 a little wide, got on the wrong side of the crown so that we were off-camber and in really loose gravel. We slid off the edge of the road and rolled onto our top. Really frustrating, but I learned a valuable lesson from it. “When you’re upside down, brace yourself before you release your belts.”
What’s the most rewarding part of being involved in rally? The most challenging?
First of all, I love the feeling of being completely in synch with a driver such that my calls, the driver’s driving and the car’s performance are all right on the edge and all perfectly coordinated. Sure, fast is fun, dangerous is exhilarating and winning is a kick, but the best thing is when co-driver, driver and car become one unit. Almost equally rewarding is the comradeship and sense of family in the rally community. I treasure the friends I’ve made through the sport.
How many events did you enter last year? Is that trending up or down? Why?
Only two, and that’s way down from where it has been and from where I’d like it to be. My son’s work made clearing weekends for rally really difficult; our budgets were a bit tight; and although there are a few other drivers with whom I’d co-drive, it’s not quite the same experience. We’re planning either two or three this year, though.
What kind of cash prize structure would entice you to enter more rallies or push the car harder?
If we pushed the car any harder the cash prize would have to be for crashing, not winning! Cash is always a welcome outcome, but I don’t see a circumstance in which rally prize money would reach the point of being a significant incentive. I suppose that if it got up to over $2,000, which is our average cost for a rally, for a class win, it would pull us in for more events. Otherwise it’s nice to win cash but it won’t swing a decision on whether or not to do a rally.
How important are car classes? What class/region do you race in? How many competitors in your class at each event?
How important is hard to say. In general I’d say they’re important in keeping cars of roughly equal capability sorted out. Since we’ve had pretty good luck against all but the best 4WD Open cars, we aren’t terribly hung up about class. Rather, we look to compete against whoever is close to us on-stage. We compete in California Rally Series CRS-2, Rally America G2 and NASA 2WD Open. Number of competitors has been pretty variable in the past few years but generally runs between 5 and 10.
What do you think about recce vs pacenotes vs blind rally?
While the extra time needed for recce can be a problem my favorite mode is recce plus pacenotes. Blind rally with route book has its own unique challenges and satisfactions and I enjoy those, too. Blind with route book is actually harder for the co-driver in my opinion.
Spectators: Dream come true or worst nightmare? Why?
Not exactly a dream come true, but I’d sure like to see a lot more of them, for several reasons. First – let’s be honest about it — it’s an ego trip to think that people are enjoying watching what we love to do and envying us a little bit. Second, one way or another, enough spectators will translate into money for the organizers, better acceptance in the communities and at least a little better chance of carrying some sponsorship. Third, those spectators will occasionally produce a new competitor or a new volunteer, and both are critical to our ongoing health and success as a sport. In the short run more spectators would mean extra effort and expense for the organizers, but in the long run we’d all benefit from having them.
How do you get local gearheads involved in rally?
In a word, expose them to it. Tim and I have made and kept a commitment to bring at least one “gearhead” a season to one or more rallies – as crew, spectator or worker. About one in four gets sufficiently hooked to stay with the sport in some capacity. If every rallyist would make that same commitment we’d have a growing community and a healthier sport. That’s not the only way, of course. We should be publicizing HD Theater’s WRC coverage where and when we can. We should be making rally cars visible in places where gearheads congregate. We should be getting better press coverage for regional events. Too many of us bemoan the smaller fields and the rallies that just don’t make it while we sit back and do nothing about turning things around. California Rally Series has some great, great folks, but we’re far too willing to let the burden of promoting our sport fall on the shoulders of one or two or six people. If we want to grow rally we’re all going to have to commit to doing something about it.
What do you see is the most critical issue needing addressed by the rally community today?
There are two equally critical issues, although one is much longer-term and now as pressing. The more pressing issue is that participation is down. That’s partly because of the economy but it’s also because enthusiasts from the heyday of rallying haven’t been replaced by new rallyists. The longer-term issue, probably more serious but less immediate, is that everything about the sport flies in the face of societal trends. You can debate until you’re blue in the face whether rallying is bad for the land and the environment; the fact is that it looks like it’s bad. Eventually we will be the target of environmental activists. We are already, but only from the fringes. That won’t last. All motorsports will eventually be squarely in the sights of opponents of carbon emissions.
How would you address that issue if you were in charge?
Issue number one has to be addressed by a “grassroots” movement. There is no central body for rallying. One sanctioning body is only interested in promoting its series, not the sport in general. The other doesn’t have the resources to promote anything at scale. Regional organizations like the CRS are similarly resource-limited and focused on supporting existing competitors and organizers. In other words, no one can be “in charge”. That simply means that we ALL have to take charge and individually accept a responsibility for promoting and providing visibility for the sport. Unless we do, we’re going to slowly shrink below the level of economic viability.
Issue number two should be addressed now by the sanctioning bodies, perhaps with a nudge from the body of competitors. We need to start encouraging the use of alternate fuels and alternate power sources. The only place there’s enough money in rallying to make that happen is in the world-level competitions and, maybe in some of the manufacturers. WRC and IRC should care. I’m not sure Ford, Subaru, Skoda, Peugeot, etc. do. I think, though, that one could build an electric rally car that would match or beat today’s cars’ performance.
I’m not sure how we deal with the land-use side of our environmental issue. We’re losing rally venues not because we’re destructive of the land (as in national forests) but because others are and because it’s too much trouble for the bureaucrats to make fine distinctions and to deal with the legal ramifications of those fine distinctions. Maybe we need to elect a rallyista to Congress to carry our brief!
How do you help out at rallies when you aren’t racing?
I volunteer as a worker at as many rallies as I possibly can when I’m not rallying. I got my ham license a few years ago just for that purpose. This year, if I compete in only two rallies, I’ll work at least four more. It’s a great activity in its own right. I’d love to see every rallyist work at least one rally a year. Not only is it a way of giving back to the sport, the experience will broaden one’s appreciation for what goes on outside the rally car and make rallying even more satisfying.
If you could enter any WRC event, which rally would that be? Why?
WRC or not, I’d love to do some of the Irish rallies I’ve watched on YouTube.
Your favorite Group B car?
Has to be a dead even tie between the Audi Quattro and the Lancia Delta S4. Brutal, awesome rally cars, both.
We’ve all got a rally hero. Who’s yours?
“Hero” may be a bit too strong, but there’s no rally driver I respect more than my son, Tim. I know that’s not what your question meant, but I’m too old to have any other kind of hero in sports.
Do you have a local rally club? Tell us about it! (If not, why not?)
I’ve had the privilege of being Director of the California Rally Series for the past several years. It’s not really a “club” but it has been conducting rally championship series for over 35 years. CRS exists to support organizers’ efforts by combining their rallies into championships and by providing them with equipment and some financial support. Its other, equally important, goal is to promote and publicize rally. (We haven’t done very well at that latter task lately, but I hope we’re getting better this year.) CRS rallies are sanctioned by both NASA and Rally America and its rallycrosses are sanctioned by NASA and SCCA. This year we’ll run three championship series: the CRS Rally Championship, the CRS Rallycross Championship and the CRSMoto Championship. We had 145 members last year and have been growing slowly but steadily for the past several years. Our rallies are in California, Nevada, Arizona and Idaho. CRS is about as close to an extended rally “family” as you can get.
How often do you get together with other rallyistas to talk shop?
Pretty often, actually. Not counting rallies and almost daily participation on Special Stage (although both should be counted as “shop talk”), there’s an informal group of Northern California Rallyistas (with a Yahoo group for communication) that meets somewhere in the Bay Area almost once a month for pizza, beer and general rally talk.
Tell us about some people who have made your rally dream a reality.
I’ve never really thought of myself as having a rally dream. I was lucky enough to be able to move into rallying as soon as I decided I wanted to. Besides Tim, who really made my rallying possible and makes it fun and worthwhile, I’ve gotten great help from two other people. We met Tony Chavez at our very first rally, Seed 9, in 2004. He immediately made us feel welcome, answered lots of newbie questions for us and gave us setup and performance tips that gave us a running start. He has remained a great rally friend and a supporter of ours, and he’s one of only two drivers other than Tim with whom I’ve co-driven. The other guy to whom we owe a big debt of thanks is Jon Rood. Jon has repaired, improved and constructed our rally cars for the past 6 years with skill, creativity and patience. He’s never been paid enough for his unstinting support and there’s no way that he could be repaid for his friendship.
Thank a volunteer (or group of them) here.
I’m delighted to do that! The most under-appreciated workers in every rally are the hams who provide rally communications. As competitors we actually see the control workers and even get a chance to tell them “Thanks” for being there for us. We rarely see or hear the hams and rarely have the chance to learn how professionally they conduct themselves, how hard they work or how much they care about our safety and welfare. When a car doesn’t show up at a ham checkpoint when it’s expected, the radio traffic is intense and personal. We couldn’t rally without these guys (and the occasional gal) and we don’t have enough chances to thank them. I wish we could find ways to do more.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned from your time in the rally community?
I’ve been fortunate to be part of or involved in almost every motorsports community in the U.S. over the years – karting, formula racing, stock cars, sports cars, USAC short/dirt track, motorcycles. Not one of them can compare with rallying for friendliness, helpfulness, quality of people, sincerity of friendship and support, lack of personal politics and jealousies. The competition is no less intense than in other motorsports but the atmosphere is unique. I’ve learned that there are common interest which can cross boundaries of distance, political persuasion, ethnics, economics and age to bring people together not only as competitors but, simultaneously, as friends. Ours is a great, great community.