I'm eating my midnight Tostitos and Herdez salsa dinner in the back of a rental van, out here with the animals. No kidding, I think I just saw my first-ever porcupine on the twisty little road that led into this state park in northeastern Pennsylvania. I'm not sure if I'm even allowed to be here. I saw a camping sign on the interstate and figured I'd give it a shot.
The actual camping area is closed. (Imagine that — on a Sunday at midnight!), so I found a nice looking parking lot instead. I have no tent, but I do have a narrow corridor between the front seats and the back of the van, which I share with tires, tools, front bumper, EZ UP, gearbox, clothes, and a big wooden Moose in a box.
When I stole the moose I'd planned many funny pranks with him but I've simply run short of time and energy to amuse myself and his actual owners properly. It's a rally thing; he's affectionately known as "Steve the Moose."
As I suspected, it's not okay for me to sleep here; a friendly park ranger notifes me of my trespass. I probably can afford a hotel room, but I like sleeping in the van. All my stuff is right here and when I wake up I don't have to hassle with showering, packing and checking out.
There's another answer to my dilemma. It's a stunner, and it's waiting patiently in Sacramento, CA for me to buy it. It's a 1977 GMC Eleganza Coach. This baby puts the luxury in "luxury RV," despite its age. problem is, I'm not sure it would be a very good tow vehicle or service rig for rallying; so, here I am, sitting in a van. Rest areas are loud, with all the trucks, and sometimes you get extra unlucky and pull over near a gallon-sized puddle of some trucker's pee. Now, it looks like I'll be heading to the next area on I-80.
I'm on the way to the Maine Forest rally in Bethel, Maine — based mostly at the Sunday River ski resort. This is the second of two rallies offering qualifying spots for the X Games. I'm not competing with my eye on winning a spot — it doesn't make sense to do so with my current car. However, I know there are six guys — all good drivers and all in fast cars — who will be duking it out right in front of me, and anything can happen out there. If things go just the right way, I could find myself 20 feet in the air in front of tens of thousands of spectators on the X Games rally super special stage. I'm not holding my breath.
This week leading up to the rally is a busy one. In the morning, I'm meeting with my biggest sponsor, Hankook Tire, in New Jersey, then heading up to the Team O'Neil rally school in New Hampshire to do a school with one of the Hankook guys. (We're going to train him up to be a rally driver.) Then, on Wednesday, it's over to Boston to the Rack club to display the car and sign autographs for interested rally fans. Later, it's a drive up to Sunday River for a full day of recce on Thursday. Recce is when we pre-drive the rally stages at slow speed, and write notes to ourselves about what to watch out for. Rally starts Friday and finishes Saturday. The drive home is on Sunday.
For entertainment, my friend Amy and I adorned the rally rental van with some shelf paper — wooden stripes down the sides and some flames on the hood in a tuscany fruit motif. (At least I find it entertaining and that's good enough for me.)
Oh, crap, I just remembered, I've gotta get home and swap my spare WRX motor into a friend's car. He suggested I take his substantially upgraded Subaru WRX to the Subway for food the other night and I got into exercising it a bit on the way home. We heard the very clear sound of a rod knocking around like it was trying to escape from the motor. Here is your warning: Many WRX tuning tricks are great for little blasts around town, but can't take the punishment of long pulls in fourth or fifth gear. Such is the life of a rally driver, I guess. (I'm expected to break cars and blow 'em up right?) I'll send an update on how the Maine Forest Rally weekend went soon.
[Twenty nine year old Matthew Johnson began his racing career by autocrossing and attending track schools. In 1996, he moved to England, where he attended the RallyDrive school and the Forest Experience rally school in Wales. Upon his return to the states in 1997, his VW GTI began to morph into a rally machine. Over the past three years, Johnson has gained recognition by beating veteran drivers in a car with less horsepower and front wheel drive. He's recently switched to a more powerful Subaru WRX running in the PGT class. He's now on the heels of some of the top drivers in the sport.]
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