The last thing I’ve learned about rally over the last decade is this. WRC is lame compared to regional, clubman level rally. Seriously. I couldn’t name three current WRC drivers right now. I’m not even sure which manufacturers are still involved. Volkswagen? Ford, maybe? Once you’ve experienced regional, clubman level rally – once you’ve been involved – WRC just seems less important.
Sign up to volunteer at a rally in your area.
Get assigned to a road block or time control out on the stages. Once you’ve had someone in a rally car look you in the eye and genuinely thank you for making rally happen, you’ll know what I mean.
Join the after rally party behind the host hotel. Enjoy a few drinks and stories, mingling with scoring and communication teams, courseworkers and service crews, drivers and co-drivers. Get to know all the people who are the lifeblood of the sport. Feel how important you are to others you don’t even know yet.
When you come back the following year – and some of those people recognize and remember you – you’ll feel it even more. Rally will be in your blood. You won’t have to have a $50,000 open class dream machine to have a fantastic time at a rally. You’ll be part of the rally family, which is really, when you think about it, is actually better than being a guy with a Subaru and a helmet.
WRC isn’t lame. It’s the hook that brings us all in. Top teams with factory backing, competing all over the world? It’s awesome. If it weren’t, there wouldn’t be thousands of people lining the roads in the middle of the night, in the rain, in the cold of winter in Sweden to see a car go by at speed every couple minutes. WRC is a world class motorsport spectacle. As gearheads, we see relatively attainable machines doing awesome stuff on the screen and we want to do likewise. I get it. Because I want to do it too.
But clubman level rally – when you’re involved – is so much better. You don’t have to fly to another continent. You’re not a mere consumer there for exposure to branding packages on cars and stages. You’re not a spectator. You’re part of the sport. You ARE rally. Let me put it another way, WRC is a spectator sport. Clubman level rally is a block party with race cars.
BONUS: It doesn’t happen without gearheads like us.
That block party doesn’t happen without volunteers. It doesn’t happen without us. The only reason two people can strap into a rally car and tear it up in the woods is because there are 20 other people willing to spend their weekends standing in the middle of nowhere with clocks and caution tape, or sit in gas station parking lots 10, 12, 14 hours at a time for the chance to fix something that matters to their friends.
In the last 10 years, I’ve done a little bit of everything.
I’ve been service crew, crew chief, acting team manager, timing control, radio road block, non-radio road block, media, and even plain old spectator. I’ve driven Net Control back to HQ so he could continue live scoring from the passenger seat of his own truck. I’ve let organizers park my Galant VR4 on the side of a highway on a remote mountain crest with a giant antenna strapped to the roof and a repeater in the backseat so the radio net reached all the stages. And I’ve even had my Galant towed TO the rally hotel, then towed home 2 days later when it blew up on the way to the event. Watching rally is fun. Making it happen is so much more.
We all want to be important. We’re all looking for that something we do well enough to be recognized. Rally ticks all the right boxes. It’s the mechanical skills and driving prowess getting the car to the starting line and a strong finish. It’s the tangibility of seeing some kind of result from our automotive efforts beyond a few likes when we post pictures of our street cars. It’s the recognition for being one of those legit people who manage to pull all the pieces together, put on a show, and be a hero. Deep down inside, everyone who loves cars knows it’s better when you actually DO something with them.
Standing on the side of the road spectating is a lot of fun.
You’re sitting out in the middle of nowhere, having a good time with friends, sharing stories, maybe having a couple drinks, and then race cars come flying past your front row seats. Hell yes. Volunteering is better because, in addition to seeing the action up close, you get personal with everyone making it happen. YOU’RE the one keeping this section of the stage safe for the racers. YOU’RE the one ready to respond if someone rolls at your corner. YOU’RE the one triggering the clock on the flying finish. YOU’RE the one taking the time card from the co-driver and telling her they’ve just beat their closest competitor by 10 seconds on the stage.
Hours later, after the last car has past, your station has been broken down and loaded into the back of the truck, when you’re driving down that dusty road back into town, covered in dirt and dried sweat, you’ll feel it – the sense of accomplishment that only rally volunteers understand. Today, you made motorsport possible.
WRC is a spectator sport. It is meant to entertain us. Clubman level rally, on the other hand, is audience participation. It’s a game we play together. We are there to support the racers and they know – and sincerely appreciate it. Rally doesn’t happen without gearheads like us. You wan watch rally, or you can be rally.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this little series on rally and would appreciate any feedback or comments you might have.
Until next time, keep going fast with class and press on regardless.