The Rally in the 100 Acre Wood, round two of the Rally America National Championship, recently took place on February 26th and 27th in the foothills of the Ozarks near Salem Missouri. This rally is a homecoming of sorts for the Huebbe RallyeSport team since we live not more than two hours from the stage roads. I had invited a lot of my family and friends to come and watch us, so I didn’t want to disappoint them with a poor finish. After packing up the truck and trailer on Thursday morning, with almost every tool and spare part that I own, we headed out for a short drive down I-44 to Salem. Once registration and tech inspection were complete we met our service crew chief Jason McDaniel for dinner afterwards.
Friday morning emerged under clear and cold blue skies with just a little bit of frost on the car. Apparently the Bug was mad at me for leaving it out in the cold because when I went to start it up the throttle cable was frozen solid inside of the Teflon lined housing. At that point I knew the rally gods were laughing at me because the one thing I left at home was my heat gun. John made a quick trip to the auto parts store and we then proceeded to defrost the housing. After that minor delay we were a bit late arriving to the practice stage south of Salem. We belted up and got in line for our first shakedown run and with about four cars ahead of us at the start line the alternator light came on. Panic now sets in and we drive back to our service crew to diagnose the problem. Jason finds and replaces a blown fuse for the fuel pump but when we turn the key over the pump sounds terrible. (The rally gods must be really angry at me because the one spare part that I didn’t bring was a fuel pump.) We decide to skip the practice stage and flat tow the car 15 miles back into town. Once back in the hotel parking lot John calls around to source a replacement pump and our crew, Jason and Aaron, go to work removing the bad pump. After almost two hours of wrenching on the car we finally got it back together and drove north to Steelville for the opening ceremony and start of the rally.
The whole town of Steelville must have come out that afternoon because the crowds were huge at the City Park. After signing a few autographs, talking with fellow drivers and spectators, we left the start line and transited our way to the first stage (KP to Ollie). I was still a bit nervous, since we didn’t get to run the shakedown stage, so I took it a bit easy starting out. About three miles into the stage I scare myself pretty good. As we’re climbing up KP road, near the service crew spectator point, John calls one note just a tad late and I go a bit wide on exit and tag the right rear wheel on a large gravel berm. Once that happened my mind started to wander and think about wheel bearing damage or a loose axle nut. (Thinking about the car is not what you want to do when you need 100% of your concentration on absorbing the stage notes and driving the car.) We finished with a respectable time of 11m 22s, but we were down 22 seconds to our closest competitor. As we transit to the next stage my mind was playing tricks on me because I start to fabricate noises coming from the right rear of the car. The second stage (Pandora Westover) I start to shake the rust off and finally get into a rhythm but I screw up the hairpin turn at the spectator point in front of a very large crowd. I was concentrating too much on impressing the fans and not enough on setting up the car and getting into first gear quickly enough. We improved a bit and took 2 seconds off second place James Haas. The final stage before service is Berryman to County Line. It starts off fast but halfway through it became very twisty and technical, which I really enjoy and suits the car perfectly. Almost every turn is linked and the car drifts gracefully from one corner into the next. Near the end of the stage I notice vibrations coming through the steering wheel and think something must have loosened up on the steering rack. John and I finish with a fast pace (running in the dust of the car ahead of us) and then head back to Steelville for service.
Upon entering service our crew springs into action and starts to tear into the front end of the car. Jason finds a couple steering rack bracket attachment bolts had loosened up and the two inner tie rod heim bolts needed to be cinched down. John went to check scores and I had a quick bite to eat before we left for the last two stages. When John came back he told me we must have smoked the last stage because we now sat 5 seconds ahead of James Haas for 2nd place in Group 2 class.
The last two stages that night were repeats of the first two afternoon stages and I was confident we could go faster the second time around. With only a few seconds over James I knew if I wanted to keep my podium position I couldn’t back down at all. Stage 4 was a short five miles and by the end we were catching dust from the team ahead of us. About a mile into Stage 5 we had to dodge an errant muffler that detached itself from one of the cars ahead of us and was lying in the middle of the road. For the next mile or so we ran along Ollie Coleman’s property (who the stage is named after) and saw loads of spectators, bonfires, and flashbulbs. With two miles to go I could see tail lights off in the distance and with a half mile remaining we were 50 yards back and running in heavy dust. At the end of the stage I thanked John for a job well done and we drove back to Salem for the final time control. After we finished prepping the car in the Holiday Inn parking lot we checked scores and found out we finished 2nd in our class for the Trespassers Wil rally.
John and I awoke Saturday morning, still a bit tired, and the first thing we did was check on the car to make sure the throttle cable hadn’t frozen like it did before. The dawn air was chilly and the sky had not a cloud in sight. Everything checked out fine on the car so we quickly had breakfast, gathered our things, and then drove the car a few blocks into the center of town for Parc Expose’. The crowds were at least three times larger as in years past. Out of a sea of Subarus the Bug definitely stands out and is a crowd favorite.
Asbridge Hollow is the first stage of the day. It’s smooth, technical and has lots of loose gravel on the edge of the road. The first half mile is fast but then at almost a mile in I push a bit too hard on a slower left 4 into right 4 and get the car way over rotated and almost put it into the ditch. That really killed my confidence and it shows in my stage time. I finished sixth in class on that stage and lost more than 10 seconds to my competition.
The next stage, Loop Southern, is probably the roughest of the rally. The road is narrow and twisty, with lots of water crossings, dips and jumps. About two miles into the stage, just past the spectator point, I catch and pass fellow class competitor Matt Bushore. (His car stalled on stage at the spectator point.) I was a little nervous with Matt behind me but I knew I couldn’t let up and ran like hell for the remaining eight miles. We finish with a great stage time and are back to the pace of our class.
Scotia East is the last stage before the mid day service and is fast, flowing and wide with patches of fresh loose gravel that the county road crews had just laid down. As we pull up to the arrival time control crew I see a huge crowd at the spectator point. The stage start line is 70 yards before the first turn and is right in front of a thousand spectators. I tell John I can’t screw this up and pull the belts tight. I rev the engine to 4500rpm and dump the clutch. Second gear comes up quick and I pitch the car into a huge drift never letting off of the gas. As we exit the turn the back end swings the other way, I grab third gear at 6500rpm and head up the hill away from the crowd. It was a huge rush and I was stoked for the rest of the stage.
As we pull into the Viburnum service park I spot our crew waving us to our spot. Aaron and Jason quickly get the car up on jack stands and John goes to check the notice board. Service is pretty uneventful until five minutes before we’re scheduled to leave. When I start the car up and run for a bit John yells for me to turn it off as we have an oil leak. Jason crawls under the left rear of the car and tightens up a few oil line fittings and after running it for a minute or so we think the problem is solved. John hops in the car and we’re off to stage 9.
County Road 1 is a very short 2.6 mile stage just outside Viburnum. It’s wide and fast with lots of crests. After the first three stages we sit third in class, 13 seconds behind James Haas. I push pretty hard to make up time and finish 4.5 seconds faster than James. We then transit 36 miles northeast to Potosi for a mid day Parc Expose’ meet and greet with fans. When I get out of the car the first thing I check is if the oil leak had returned and it did. The whole mud flap was covered in oil. The only other spot oil could be leaking from was the oil hose at the barb fitting. I quickly got out the tool kit and stole a hose clamp from another part of the car to clamp over the oil line. I start the car up and have John keep an eye on the hose. We let it run for a few minutes and not a single drop comes out. I feel confident we’ve fixed the problem and then go visit with the fans.
The crowd is huge at the Lions Park super special. We wait about an hour and then Travis Pastrana starts the super special stage. Travis is awesome and puts on a great show but he breaks the lower control arm sliding sideways into a deep rut. John tells me to take it easy in that corner and not try to impress the crowd. We can’t grab second place on this stage but we sure could DNF trying. At the start line I dump the clutch and modulate the throttle to keep the revs near 5000rpm to get a good launch. The course is very tight and twisty and the back end is constantly drifting left and right. At the final turn the engine is on the rev limiter and then at the finish line the oil pressing warning light and buzzer come on. Oh crap, did the oil line blow off? Fearing the worst we hop out of the car and look for what should be a massive oil leak. We examine the whole car and find nothing. I must have frightened the engine oil up into the valve covers and it took a long time to drain back into the case due to all of the tight turns. After waiting a couple of minutes we tried starting it again and the oil pressure returned. We belt up fast and leave Lions Park heading north.
The next three stages are Floyd Tower, Pigeon Roost and Hazel Creek. They are all wide, fast, smooth and very fun. James Haas beats me by one second on Floyd, I take it back on Pigeon Roost and I get another second on Hazel Creek. As we pull into service we sit 2.2 seconds back from second place. While the crew is working on the car Andrew “ACP” Comrie-Picard (NOS Energy Drink driver) comes over and gives me some nice complements on my driving at the Super Special. His words catch me a little off guard but stoke me to attack the last two stages.
We leave service and have a long transit under a full moon to the second to last stage of the rally. As we pull up to the arrival time control there is a long train of cars and the stage has yet to start. With each passing minute I fear they might cancel the stage and our chance to claw back time on James Haas would disappear. Finally after a 30 minute delay I pull up to the start line, flip on 300 watts of driving lights and tear into the stage hard. After a quarter mile John calls a “left 4 minus very long slippy”. I enter the turn just a bit too fast and in an instant we’re completely sideways and sliding right towards the outside ditch. I counter steer hard to the right and lay on the power. (Pucker factor 10) The rear tires kiss the edge of the road; the car hooks up and exists strong. John looks up and says “nice, keep pushing” and doesn’t miss a beat calling the next instruction. The remaining seven miles are very fast go by in a blur.
The last stage is the longest and gnarliest of the rally at 10.8 miles. It’s very rough, twisty and has lots of hard dips and water crossings. John and I discuss and make a game plan to push hard where we can but take it easy on the couple real rough parts so we can secure a finish. The stage starts off very busy and everything is coming up fast. (Probably due to my inexperience in night stage driving) At 3.8 miles into the stage John calls “left 6 over small crest, slippy, 50, caution! dip water…” We are smoking fast over the crest and I totally misjudge my speed entering the water dip. I brake hard, let out a few expletives, and just before the dip nail the throttle to get the front end to come up. We hit it extremely hard and for a second think we could do some major damage. As we exit I check the oil pressure gauge and everything seems ok. The next three miles are very tight and tricky with lots of no cuts. With 3.9 miles to go we blast over a long low water bridge and water pours in through a few small holes in the firewall near our feet. I flip on the wipers and after a hundred yards the windows fog up and I can barely see out. I open the roof vent when I go to switch off the wipers the knob spins in my hand. We drive the rest of the stage with the wipers going and a half foggy windshield. At the end of the stage John and I are exhilarated after finishing our first National rally.
We drive back into Salem and park the car in front of the courthouse for the ceremonial finish. John gets out and checks the scores while I talk to my crew and thank them for all their hard work. After waiting for all of the time cards to come in John finally gets the scores and tells me that we made up 15 seconds on stage 14 and 41 seconds on the last stage over James Haas to capture second place in Group 2 class!
John and I want to thank our crew Jason McDaniel and Aaron Taylor for keeping the car together and our parents for supporting us the whole rally. Thanks to all of the stage workers and the whole 100 Acre Wood Rally committee for putting on a great event.