Jack Szanto’s family doesn’t completely understand his rally “addiction,” but they support him anyway. When his former factory-campaigned SRT4 rally car isn’t on a stage road somewhere in the California desert, Jack’s got it sideways at rallyx event, where he keeps developing his car control skills. What’s your name? Where are you located? What do you do for a living?
My name is Jack Szanto & I live in Temecula, CA which is about an hour north of San Diego, with my wife Angela and two kids Derek & Devon. I am the Parts & Accessory Manager for DCH Chrysler Jeep Dodge, Temecula CA (part of the DCHautogroup.com) & I consider myself a ‘rally rookie’ having only entered a handful of events but I have always been pretty passionate about the sport.
What got you interested in rally?
I grew up in Vermont and was a rally, motocross and ‘anything dirt related’ fan since I can remember. I was a John Buffum follower from the sideways Triumph TR7 days & I practiced many a night in my mom’s car on some lonely dirt road. Later in life when I finally bought a WRX, I worked with Marvin & Opie of the Gravel Crew and they convinced me to try the WRX out in a rally-x at Tombstone Paintball Park in Corona CA (“don’t worry, it is perfectly safe” is what I recall them saying and, for anyone who remembers Tombstone… it was anything but… but I was hooked!)
Tell us about your rally car/truck.
2001 Dodge SRT4. This car was assembled in 2000/2001 as a ‘factory-supported’ MOPAR / SCCA ProRally car & was one of the original five Mopar SRT4 rally cars built during this time. Doug Shepherd/Pete Gladysz drove their similar (albeit pumped-up) version of the Dodge SRT4 to the SCCA ProRally Group 5 2wd championship in 2004 & 2005 and they, along with others including Tom Young in this car, helped Dodge earn its first US ProRally Manufacturers Championship in 28 years in 2004.
How long have you had it?
I have owned it since March 22th, 2006
Did you buy your rally car or build it?
Bought it; fully prepped, log-booked and ready to race What challenges did this cause? Challenges: I over-spent and could not afford to enter an actual rally until 2008. But I actively rally-xed for a few years, learned to drive the car a bit and earned the California Rally Series R2 (Rally 2wd) class rally-x points championship in 2008 along the way.
What benefits did you realize as a result?
Benefits: I may not have actually over-spent in the long run… I ended up with a well sorted, well built car with only a few rallies in the log-book and love the car and it’s history plus I had time to learn how to control the excess power going to the front wheels before hitting an actual stage.
Tell us about a time when you stuffed the rally car (or maybe had a nasty off).
I drive pretty conservatively and have not yet had a major off… We did have a interesting experience at High Desert Trails last year when I broke the downpipe and the turbo was dumping hot exhaust straight onto the firewall… which was all good until the heat got unbearable, the paint began burning off the firewall & smoke started entering the cabin. I told my co-driver “we may have a real problem here” and her response was “R4 tightens over crest” … we kept going until the end of the stage, didn’t catch fire and didn’t melt too much important stuff.
What’s the most rewarding part of being involved in rally?
I am a car guy and I enjoy dirt/gravel so rally is a great fit for me… I also love the feeling of being ‘almost’ out of control which really helps clear your head of all the other worries you may have. I like the fact that the competitors really do work together (at least they do at the regional level which is all I know) to make sure everyone has the safety equipment, parts, & knowledge needed to start each stage.
The most challenging?
Paying for it all.. I am in the car business and this past couple of years have been financially challenging. I put my wife & kids way before my need to race so I find that I am only able to make it to one or two races a year at the moment. As long as I can rally-x every few months I am ok with my current rally calendar.
Is that trending up or down?
Flat for 2010; my plans for this year are Desert Storm Rally in Blythe CA and I hope to do Prescott Rally in AZ if I can afford it otherwise Seed 9 was sure a lot of fun for not a lot of money! and I will do as many rally-x races as I can fit in. Why? pretty much driven by the lack of available time and money at the moment; my kids are very involved in soccer and horses and I try not to ever miss their events if I can help it
What kind of cash prize structure would entice you to enter more rallies or push the car harder?
I really like the trend that Max Attack started and the direction it continues to take rally in – a HUGE thanks to Eric Burmeister and others for all the hard work that I am sure it takes to keep this program energized and moving forward – simple, clean, easy to understand and pays money! what could be better then that? Will I push harder because of it? I don’t know but I’m sure it will be in my head.
Should rallies be run as for-profit corporations?
Somehow we need to get all the rally cars that are parked in garages in the US out to events… if this will help then I am a supporter but I am skeptical that this is the answer
How important are car classes?
I believe in simple classing & if auto-x had seemed simple when I got the bug then I may not have ever participated rally-x or rally. The current P-Stock, G2, G5, PGT, Open-Light, Open classes do their job of pitting like vehicles against each other pretty well & I would not like to see more classes.
What class/region do you race in?
Group 5, 2wd Open class in the Pacific SouthWest region
How many competitors in your class at each event?
The typical southwest event I have done has 3 to 5 of us in G5 but my car is de-tuned for ‘safety’ and I am seriously comparing times with G2 and P-Stock guys… my class has Bill Holmes in his very fast Bilstein Ford truck and Jim Morris in his crazy fast red, white & blue Camaro so I am quite happy to run as quickly as I can without getting myself, my co-driver or my car in trouble and just be happy with a solid finish of each stage.
Spectators: Dream come true or worst nightmare? Why?
I am a firm believer that today’s spectators breed tomorrow’s competitors so we NEED to find a way to help rally become a bit more spectator friendly in the US. Preferably without bringing rally into arenas to make it happen. Block & Pastrana have helped push this sport into the mainstream in the US more then we may ever know and we need to keep the ball rolling.
How do you get local gearheads involved in rally?
I am involved in way too many internet forums and post pictures, results, stories and information about rally on a regular basis. I have gotten everything from crew members to free or cheap parts & lots of technical support from many of these forum people and I feel I am doing my little part to keep rally alive in ‘my world’.
What do you see is the most critical issue needing addressed by the rally community today?
We need entries at the events plain & simple. I think that the current economic and environmental situation that we are experiencing, especially in California, is here to stay for awhile. Between increasing costs of vehicle & driver safety equip., increasing land use costs and most importantly the decreasing of open public land venue options, we will see more ‘closed course’ events, more one day events and events specifically catering to the crowd that can’t afford ‘real’ rallies in my opinion. If someone can get their arms around a venue that offers one day events for a couple of hundred dollars on a surface that won’t deteriorate after a few cars have passed over it and have it within a few hour drive of most of Southern California then I think they will have a well attended event. European Rallycross may very well be an answer as well… we all have to see how that will sort itself out this year and I encourage you east coast types to show it all the support you can so maybe in 2011 Rally America will move it westward.
How do you help out at rallies when you aren’t racing?
This is something that I need to do a lot more of – it is on my list
If you could enter any WRC event, which rally would that be? Why?
Sweden… I would love to do a snow race sometime in my lifetime and why not shoot for the big one? maybe a more realistic approach would be try to make it to Sno*Drift in Michigan sometime in the next few years.. trailering the race car to Europe sounds expensive.
Your favorite Group B car?
The famous Audi Quattro S1, a somewhat unattractive car that proves function is so much more important then form… it is so ugly that it is almost beautiful
We’ve all got a rally hero. Who’s yours?
My rally heros really are the event organizers – people like Mike and Paula Gibeault, Denise and Pat McMahon, & Ray and Donna Hocker (rally organizers in the southwest who NEVER receive enough thanks). These people and those like them who put everything else in their lives on hold in order to organize rallies so the rest of us can show up and have a blast. Thank You!
Do you have a local rally club? Tell us about it! (If not, why not?) Rally Club?
I am part of California Rally Series which is a great group of guys and gals, I am also involved in Dirty Impreza.com which is an on-line community for people with rally interest, potential future rally competitors and current rally people. It is based around the Subaru Impreza but embraces anyone with gravel or off-road interest.
Tell us about some people who have made your rally dream a reality.
First & foremost, my wife Angela and my kids who, despite not fully understanding my rally ‘addiction’, not only tolerate it but support me being involved in the sport that I love. Secondly the DCH Auto Group, who have allowed me space to work on the rally car and occasionally store my car or trailer. Also, as my employer for the past 15+ years, they pay me for showing up every day and spending time doing what I enjoy most, being a car guy. DCH is a great organization with great vision for the future. Third, thanks to all the people who reminded me on a regular basis over the past few years that I really should get out on the stages; Kris and Chistine Marciniak, John Black, and many others who told me to ‘get out there & do it!’ Thank a volunteer (or group of them) here. A big thanks to my main ‘crew’ guy Ty Hall (Moparahollic05 on the SRTforums.com)… Ty knows SRT4s inside and out and he has been at every race supporting me! he requires very little food or beer and he packs his own bed roll so ‘crashing’ on the floor is no big deal for him. a HUGE thanks to Ty! (plus he is serving our country as an active duty member of the US Coast Guard based out of San Diego, so also thanks for your service Ty!)
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned from your time in the rally community?
My most important lesson learned from my time in the rally community is that you should never give up on your childhood dreams just because your ‘regular’ life gets in the way. I believe most times it can all co-exist and while maybe not quite to the level you hoped or quite as quickly as you may have hoped, you can do it all and have a blast doing it. Set realistic goals and then get out there and do it! Oh & all of us ‘rally rookies’ love to mention that contrary to what you many have read or heard … rally-x CAN lead to stage rally.