How To Win Rallycross Without Really Trying

There are few moments of my life I wish I had on video, but the time I nearly ran over my own headlight was one of them.

There is a right way to win your local rallycross. Since it's basically just autocross but on dirt (or snow), you just buy the best cheap, sturdy car you can find on Craigslist, you enter as many events as you can manage, you enter even more events than that, and eventually you sneak out a winning spot just before you collapse to the ground, crying and murmuring about dodging cones.

Then there is a wrong way. This is the story of the wrong way.

(Welcome to the Continuing Misadventures of Raphael and his Baja Bug, a series on how I buy a half-broken 1973 Volkswagen offroader that I proceed to break, fix, break, fix, and break again. As you may remember, last year I rolled my car. Part II of that story is in the editing phase, I swear.

Many thanks to DaggerSLADE Media for the top picture. Find more of his pictures right here on Facebook.)

Well, there's only good reason I won the SCCA's New England Region rallycross last weekend at Lakes Casino in New Hampshire. There were two cars in my class, and the other car broke down. Their Thunderbird left on a tow truck, my Baja Bug left with a trophy. I mean, it's actually a beer glass with first place written on it, but it's a really nice beer glass.

That's leaving out a few details about how it all went down, so let me elaborate.

As it turns out, sleeping in the back of a VW Bug in early March in a New Hampshire casino parking lot isn't all that bad. Really, I didn't even need to wear my balaclava through the night like I'd expected.

The reason I slept in the back seat of my car is that this rallycross was four and a half hours away from Manhattan, or about six hours in a Baja Bug. Wake up to an '80s Golf with a massive exhaust driving by a 7am, pack the sleeping bag, and start a day of rallycross. Not a bad way to spend a Sunday.

How To Win Rallycross Without Really Trying

Photo Credit: Raphael Orlove

The rallycross course itself was the snow-covered parking lot in front of the Lakes Region Casino. It was supposed to be light and fluffy and fun, but there had been two thaws recently and two corresponding freezes, punctuated with a bunch of snowmobilers digging ruts in the slush in the middle. What this meant was a course made up of deep snow mixed with hard ice, full of massive heaves and ruts big enough to bunny hop multiple cars into the air. I watched with my own eyes as a VW Scirocco pulled a wheelie at a particularly rough bump late in the day. I wish I had a picture of that, so here's a shot of a Subaru with busted front struts going through whatever the opposite of full compression is.

How To Win Rallycross Without Really Trying

Photo Credit: Raphael Orlove

A couple people took one look at the course and left. They knew the course would break their cars, and they didn't even bother making an attempt. On the parade lap, every rear-wheel-drive vehicle but one got stuck. One driver complained the next day that he still had a headache from his helmet hitting the roof of his car so many times.

To get a sense of how rough the course was, check out these pictures right here from DaggerSLADE Media, taken by Douglas Bolduc. This one of a VW Golf doing its best Free Willy impression is particularly memorable.

So things weren't looking great for the Baja Bug and things didn't exactly go great in my runs either.

The course was so bumpy that the car repeatedly popped out of gear. This was a problem, since sometimes the car would get bogged down in the snow, so I'd need to rush the car back into gear as quickly as possible lest I get stuck. That was a problem because my car has no lockout for reverse, which is right next to second. This all meant that I'd sometimes throw the car into reverse while trying to dig out of deep powder.

So I drove with one hand holding gear lever in place and one hand on the steering wheel.

How To Win Rallycross Without Really Trying

Photo Credit: Raphael Orlove

That was also a problem, because the Baja has manual steering. This meant that every time the car hit a bump, or a rut, or a huge pile of snow (and there was plenty of all of that), the car would go in whatever direction it wanted, and I only had one hand to fight the car into line.

How To Win Rallycross Without Really Trying

Photo Credit: Raphael Orlove

I've never ridden a bucking bronco before, but I imagine it would be a good workout to get yourself ready for rallycrossing a Baja Bug one-handed through rutted snow and ice.

How To Win Rallycross Without Really Trying

Photo Credit: Raphael Orlove

The course was so bumpy that at after the first run, the car stalled and wouldn't turn on. I got pushed out of the way after one of the rallycross officials ordered my car out of the starting order [won't someone please get thing out of my sight] and after some very confused diagnosis I found that a wire had been shaken clear off of my distributor.

How To Win Rallycross Without Really Trying

Photo Credit: Raphael Orlove

That wasn't as bad as what happened after a run in the afternoon. I pulled around to the pits following what I thought was a very successful run (I only got stuck and needed a push once, I believe) when another racer came running after me holding something in his hands. It turned out to be one of my headlights. Apparently it decided to start a new life for itself after one of the more vigorous bumps on the course. It was dangling for a little bit like a loose eyeball, and when it finally popped out, I nearly ran it over. So they tell me.

How To Win Rallycross Without Really Trying

Photo Credit: Raphael Orlove

I ended up screwing it back into my fiberglass fender and holding the screws in with cut-up pieces of rubber scrounged from a cheap air-pressure gauge I bought a while back. Interestingly, this isn't unlike how the other headlight was held on in the first place.

How To Win Rallycross Without Really Trying

Photo Credit: Raphael Orlove

So the Baja broke a few times, but never in any way that kept it from competing, and that was good enough for a win in my class. Did I spin out a lot? Maybe. Did I get stuck quite a bit? Possibly. Did I once get stuck immediately after being pushed free from a snowbank on one particularly slippery corner? It's not improbable. Was I the only person to complete some of the course while driving backwards? I don't doubt it.

How To Win Rallycross Without Really Trying

Photo Credit: Raphael Orlove

Alright, maybe I was the worst driver there. Maybe my times were appalling. Maybe to survive the bitter cold five-hour drive home with no heater and no defroster I had to wear boots, pants, pajamas under my pants, a shirt, a sweater, a sweatshirt, a jacket, two pairs of gloves, a balaclava, and a beanie. What's important is that the car made it. The car and I lived and that got us a class win.

So if you absolutely positively must be the fastest motherfucker at your local rallycross, find a way to get yourself into a Mitsubaru WREVOX. But if you want to pendulum-swing yourself over a sheet-ice slalom, lift-off oversteer your way around snowy corners, and pass through the finish line as sideways as physically possible, laughing as you do it, consider getting yourself into a Baja Bug.

Photo Credits: Many thanks to DaggerSLADE Media for the top picture! Check out more of his photography right here on his Facebook page. Other photo credits where mentioned are from Raphael Orlove.