The original “3-4-Three Challenge” was my personal quest to compete in three of the Sports Car Car Club of America’s premier events in a single season. 2012 was the year. In early September, I traveled to Lincoln, Nebraska, for the Tirerack SCCA Solo National Championships where I finished 11th in the Road Tire All Wheel Drive class. I was a little disappointed in that result, but really shouldn’t have expected much more given the fact that the 2006 Subaru WRX I drove simply wasn’t competitive against the newer Subarus in the class. In early October, I drove Tulsa, Oklahoma, for the SCCA Rallycross National Championship. With a very minimal amount of Rallycross experience under my belt, I had no expectations for a high finish. I ended up 16th in Stock All Wheel Drive, near, but not at, the bottom of the class. It was my first Rallycross Nationals experience and I had a great time. The SCCA United States Road Rally Challenge, scheduled for late October in Michigan, was the event I had the highest hopes for. My wife Angela and I had proven competitive in the Limited equipment class at SCCA National Tour events. We had realistic expectations of competing for an “L” class win on the Tour rally of the USRRC. Alas, a family illness forced us to withdraw, ending the quest without having had a chance to compete in the event in which I was most looking forward to.
The disappointment over that withdrawal has lingered with me ever since. When I received word that the 2014 USRRC would be held in Chattanooga, TN, I started planning my redemption. The format of this particular rally would be slightly different than the usual. There would be no mileages given at all, only speeds and times. Many instructions would be in the format “Go X speed for Y minutes, then change speed to Z.” This is not an instruction easily executed on the dedicated rally computer hardware many competitors use. My spreadsheet-based system, however, is quite flexible. I was easily able to reconfigure a few columns to adapt. With grand thoughts navigating to an overall first place finish, I set about looking for a partner. Angela would be too busy with work, school, and parenting duties to take the 4 days off this event would require so I reached out to my Rally mentor, Chuck Hanson. Chuck and I had proven a potent team in previous rallies, missing a perfect score on the 2013 Badger Burrow event by only 2 seconds. A partnership was struck and we set about making logistical arrangements. Then life got in the way again.
5 days before the start of the event, my coworker and friend, Kelly, got a phone call from his sister. The long and short of the conversation was that it was time for Kelly to come say his goodbyes to his elderly father. I knew then and there he’d be out of work for the next several days and, given that one of the two of us needs to be at the store any time we are open, I would be forced once again to withdraw from the USRRC. I contacted Chuck who set about finding an alternate partner.
I was quite bummed, both for having to miss the event and for my friend who was about to lose his father. I sulked for a couple days until a post on the internet forum sparked a thought. I had completely forgotten that the Subaru Challenge Autocross was scheduled to take place the same weekend as the USRRC. Having resolved to go the USRRC, I had put this year’s Subaru Challenge out of my mind. Since the event was on a Sunday, when the store would be closed, I would be able to go to the event regardless of whether or not Kelly was back to work. I got a little spring back in my step. In 2013, I went to the Subaru Challenge in my old WRX. While I won my class, I choked in the Super Shootout finale, finishing last amongst the other class winners. It was quite embarrassing to fail like that in front of the attendant Subaru of America employees that I knew. I really wanted a second chance at the Shootout, but assumed I’d have to wait at least another year to make amends. Now the opportunity was just a couple days away.
To qualify for the Super Shootout, I would first have to win my class. D-Street had a healthy field of 12 competitors so that was far from a given. In the morning session, I missed a gate on 2 out of 3 runs and found myself in second place, almost a full second behind. 3rd place was nipping at my heels, only a half a second back. After lunch, I made some air pressure adjustments and found a better sight cue for the part of the course where I had been going off course. I dropped a little over a second on my first afternoon run, a time which moved me into first. While I managed to shave a couple more tenths on subsequent runs, the next closest competitor failed to improve upon his morning performance. None of the other competitors were able to challenge, either and so, for the second year in a row, I ended the DS class winner at the Subaru Challenge. I wasn’t content with that, however; I wanted a “podium finish” in the Super Shootout.
For the Super Shootout, each class winner would get one more run through the course. Each driver’s time would be adjusted by a handicapping factor based on the performance potential of their respective classes and the overall positions would be sorted by that adjusted time, or “PAX index time.” Last year I had qualified 5th and surmised I needed to speed up to finish in the top 3. It was a mistake as my attempt to go faster through the slalom made me nearly lose control of the car, forcing me to go off course to save it. I was officially classified as DNF (Did Not Finish) and therefore finished at the bottom of the Super Shootout results. This year, I took a different approach. I would actually go a little slower in the most difficult part of the course, knowing that a clean run was key to a good finish position. And so, when it was my turn to run, I gave up a little for the tricky offsets just before the finish. My time was only 1/10th of a second slower than my best of the day. More importantly, the run was clean with no cones penalties. When the final results were posted, it was clear the strategy had paid off. 3 of the cars that had qualified ahead of me had hit cones on their single Super Shootout runs while nobody who qualified below me managed to catch up. I finished right where I had hoped, 3rd place! Redemption was earned that weekend after all, even if it wasn’t the redemption I had originally sought.