Emme Hall has been “doinking around in the desert” since she was 8 or 9 years old. Today, she reviews new cars for Roadfly and races class 5 out in the desert. Are you living your dream?
What’s your name/location and what do you do for a living?
My name is Emme Hall. I’m originally from CA [California], but I currently live in Washington, DC. I am the Costume Manager/Design Assistant at Ford’s Theatre. Yes, that Ford’s Theatre. I also review cars for Roadfly. We have the 4th largest car review channel on Youtube. My dad and I have recently teamed up to form Hall Ass Racing.
What originally attracted you to baja? How did you get started?
I was always a desert kid. My dad started going down to Mexico with a pal of his in the 1970s. He brought me along when I was 8 or 9. He raced the SCORE series in the 1990s. They never won class, but in baja, just finishing middle of the pack is an accomplishment! So I was always into off roading, but not necessarily racing competitively. It’s only been in the past few years that I’ve been actively pursuing racing, as opposed to just doinking around the desert.
Tell us about your race vehicle. Did you buy or build it?
We currently have a class 5 unlimited baja bug that we bought from Go Baja Riding. Since then it’s gotten a few new motors, and we just dropped a new bus transmission in it.
What challenges did this cause? What benefits did you realize as a result?
The biggest problem with this current car is that it’s really a pre-runner. To be competitive in this class we’d need a much better suspension package and a better transmission than what we currently run. We’re pretty scrappy though. That car can scratch its way up most anything.
Dad has a soft spot for the baja and really wants to keep it as a pre-runner that he can use in Mexico as well as in Colorado, where he lives in the summer. So, we are currently looking for a class 12 or 2 seater 1600 car for future campaigns.
Why did you pick this particular class?
We’d like a class 12 or 2 seater 1600 car because they are slightly less expensive to prep and you are required to run an air cooled engine, which we are familiar with already. I’d prefer a 12 car since you get more horsepower.
Tell us about your nastiest off.
Tell us about a time you narrowly avoided a DNF. How did you press on regardless?
I blew the motor pre-running at last year’s Powder Puff. Now before everyone gets all, “It’s just a bunch of chicks,” let me tell you that the ladies in that race are in it to win it and they take no prisoners. The race raises money for Cedar Sinai Breast Cancer Research Center, and routinely brings in over $100,000. You can go to http://moreracing.net/powderpuff2010/ to read about last year’s race.
Anyway, the day before the race I was out with my driving coach and mechanic, Jimmy. The oil light came on just as we were heading back into the pit and we knew it wasn’t good. The crew immediately jumped all over the car, in full on diagnosis mode. All I could do was pace back and forth and look over their shoulders and pester them with, “Hey what’s going on? Can you fix it? How much longer? What can I do to help?” They eventually sent me away.
Around 10:30 that night I got a call. Dad said, “Situation is terminal. We are not running.” I pretty much died. It’s very frustrating to have to depend on the mechanics on the team. But then, around 4:30 I got another call from Dad, “Get your ass back to the pits. We’re going.” Turns out someone had a pal who had an 1835cc engine in a sand rail and lived about an hour and a half away. So Dad and Jimmy hopped in the truck and the rest of the crew pulled the engine in the baja. They woke up this total stranger at 1am, pulled his engine, and brought it back to Barstow. The only thing they couldn’t reinstall was the power steering, so I ran the whole race, about 120 miles or so, without it.
We also lost 2nd gear on the last lap. I knew that might happen, since we were debating replacing it before the race or trying to eke out one more go. So I did the last 10 miles or so going from 1st to 3rd, 1st to 3rd, 1st to 3rd. And after all that, I still got 2nd in class. The first in class car had at least $80,000 in it and we were held together with duct tape and a prayer.
What keeps you involved in baja?
It’s when I’m happiest. The challenge of it is amazing, and I feel invincible when I succeed. The people of Mexico are so warm and welcoming. When I am in baja, nothing else matters. All the stupid stuff I worry about at home isn’t important. Nobody cares about what I wear or how I look, and as a female in her late 30s, that’s refreshing (but I will state for the record that I am Hott For My Age) I just feel at home in baja. Plus, I love Diet Coke in a glass bottle, and that’s hard to find in the States.
What keeps you from being more involved?
Location, location, location. I really love my job, and it’s rare to make a decent living in theatre. I’m really lucky. Ford’s also lets me work in Santa Cruz in the summer, so it really is a dream job. I have been offered full time work in California, but at a significant pay cut. While I’m not all about money, I do have some student loans to pay down. In the next few years I will have them to a place where I can consider a lower paying job. Until then, I’m rocking the east coast. I’d welcome a sponsorship meeting with Virgin America to discuss flying me back and forth a few times a month! I’ll fly standby… I don’t care.
How many events did you enter last year? Is that trending up or down? Why?
Well, Hall Ass Racing is a new team. Last year we did a few casual trips, one exploring the west coast of baja near Tortuga Bay for 7 days, the other out and around in Stoddard Valley, CA. Our only official entry was in the Powder Puff. It’s definitely trending up, however. We ran the NORRA Mexican 1000 this year in the class 5 baja, but our goal is to have the new car by August. We will be able to enter a few of the events in California and Nevada with lower entry fees, like Jim Graham of Desert Dingo Racing, I will co-drive at the VORRA USA 500 in July in their class 11 bug.
Spectators: What do you think?
I just wish people would be smart. There is often a lot of alcohol out amongst the spectators, and while most people understand their limits, some don’t and that’s when trouble can start. But to move spectators completely away from the course, that would just take away such a unique aspect of off-roading. If you’ve never hauled ass down a dirt road with people on side, all cheering you on, well then you haven’t lived.
How do you get people involved in baja?
Most people I talk to about it, especially out here in DC, just don’t get it. They think it’s like Rally Cross, that Mexico is just rife with banditos ready to shoot you between the eyes as soon as look at you. I also don’t understand why there aren’t more women in this sport. Even though we get about 200 entries in the Powder Puff each year, many of them are wives, girlfriends, or sisters of racers and they do the Powder Puff as a lark. It doesn’t take upper body strength to drive a car (well, unless you lose power steering!). All it takes is guts and a sense of adventure and without even opening my address book I can think of 10 other women that fit the bill. But for some reason, whether it’s being intimidated by the guys or feeling like they need to be a master mechanic to drive or navigate, women are rare in the sport.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give someone looking to get into baja?
It sounds corny, but you have to have a Nike mindset and just do it. No excuses. If you want it badly enough, you’ll find a way. Don’t have a car? See if you can rent one. There are teams out there that can’t afford to race right now but don’t want to sell. Ask them if you can rent their car for a season. No mechanical skills? Hey, you don’t have to be an engine builder. I know enough to talk the lingo with Dad and our mechanics, but I’d be hard pressed to rebuild a carburetor. Just find someone who can. People think that racing in baja is amazing and if you look around you can find someone to partner with.
What’s the biggest problem with baja today and how would you solve it?
Aside from all the paving of the roads going on? Mexico is just getting such a bad rap right now, with the violence that is happening in certain parts. Legalizing pot might make a difference, but I’m not really qualified to speak about public policy.
If you could enter any motorsport event, anywhere in the world, which would it be, and why?
Well, I need a ton more seat time and experience, but I’d love to do Dakar. And anything with The Adventurists. Running a 1.0 liter or smaller car from the UK to Mongolia sounds like a killer fun time. I’m also very interested in running the Gazelle race in Morocco. It’s an all female, 9 day rally and GPS is strictly verboten. You use old skool maps and a compass.
Three cars: You get to race one, daily drive one, and restore one. Go.
Racing: I’d love to take a class 1 car to a podium finish. Daily Drive: Tesla Roadster, hands down. It’s impractical and I love it. Restore: 1973 VW Thing. I had one in college and loved it more than life itself.
We’ve all got a racing hero. Who’s yours?
Well, Speed Racer, of course.
Do you have a local car club? Tell us about it!
I’ve started autocrossing my daily driver, a 2001 Miata, with SCCA. It’s pretty difficult and I actually learn more about myself psychologically every time I take a run than I do about running autocross. I know that sounds weird, but I seem to have a lot of focus problems in autox, that I don’t have at all when on the dirt. So it’s been a good exercise in getting out of my head for 50 or 60 seconds.
How often do you get together with other baja folks to talk shop?
Since I’m in DC, not much. But I do Skype a lot with other racers, and every time I go to CA it’s for some kind of off road event. I usually have some kind of ridiculous hair color, so it’s a good ice breaker and I meet a lot of people that way.
Tell us about some people who have made your dream a reality.
Jim Graham at Desert Dingo Racing has helped me a lot with social media and with advice on how to get my name out there. He’s kind of a PR god. He also listens to my bullshit and then calls me out on it, which is nice.
This year I did get a few sponsors. Roadfly gave me the time off and helps me promote my Twitter and Facebook Fan pages. Off Road Vixens has send me some great t-shirts and hoodies to wear while tearing it up, and the Waterfront Tavern in San Diego gave us some money for logistics and has offered us the use of their rental condo on the beach whenever we need to organize the team before races.
What’s a helpful trick or time-saver you’ve picked up since you started racing?
Get out of your head. When you’re driving, don’t dwell on your mistakes. Just shake it off and keep going. You can yell at yourself at the finish line.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned from your time in the baja community?
Most people are willing to help, so be nice and pay it forward.
Where can gearheads interested in baja racing find and connect with you online?
I’ve got a blog at www.hallassracing.com, facebook is www.facebook.com/EmmeHall, I tweet with username @hallassracing, and you can check out my car reviews at http://www.roadfly.com/car-review-videos
One final picture and note: Emme tells us that’s “Gustavo Vildosola. He and his son won the Baja 1000 in 2010. The first Mexican team to do so. Meeting him was an honor since I got all teary eyed when I saw all the pics and video of them at the finish line. Viva Mexico!!!”