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My result from the Maine Forest rally: Third in class, PGT, and 20th overall. Wow, that sucks after the great run we were having, but that's they way it goes in rallying. Things change in a split second and you push on with what you have.

That split second came for me on the next to the last stage SS8 on a "Right6," a fast, slight right-hand corner. I saw a break in the tree line on the left ahead and was going over a crest, but that meant I couldn't see the road. There was some brief question in my head about the next instruction from Kim, my co-driver. I started braking a bit and it tightened my line enough to tag a softball size rock along the right edge of the road, hard enough to cause a flat.

I knew it was coming, I've been jinxing myself on purpose ("If I finish this one it will be my 13th rally in a row that I've finished.. Maybe this will be the end and I'll just roll the car into the woods on this one....") because I don't want to believe in that crap.

That statement hasn't bitten me yet... And I've been saying it for a long time before each rally. The other jinx I put on myself was bragging that I've had no flats on my Hankook rally tires. It was seven or eight rallies on Hankooks with no flats, some of those really rough and some with really sharp stones and some with plenty of cutting into ditches with the tires, but my Hankooks always prevailed. Until Maine... Now, of course, I wonder if I really DID put a jinx on. Then again, I've never completed the Maine Forest rally without a flat; each year I've gotten at least one and this year was no different.

Holding first in PGT by just a six-second lead and eighth or so in the overall standings at a rally this competitive is no time to get a flat — especially a front flat only halfway through a 12-mile stage. Kim and I worked our butts off to have a lead over Tanner, and I was pretty sad to suddenly be struggling and losing the battle.

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I didn't lift, just kept the hammer down and kept going as quickly as the car would allow. When the tire finally flapped itself off in the first mile it took the rear view mirror with it and tore up some other stuff. I continued on as we pounded over some rocks on just the wheel. Even tireless, we'd still see 90 or over on the straights.

If there wasn't such a punishment for doing so, both in losing my rally battle and in the money it'll take to repair the car, I rather enjoy driving on broken equipment. It's neat. You wonder, "Hmm... Just how far can I go like this?" or, "How fast can it go on a wheel that's flying apart?" The whole "hammer down until she blows" mentality gets expensive, but I sure do love it. In fact I love it so much I've saved almost every big, nasty torn up flat tire I've gotten and the three wheels I've driven to utter destruction. I smile when I see them lying on the garage floor.

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In the end, I stuffed it while trying to go too fast and too hard after the wheel had mostly blown apart. "Stuff" is a rally term for when you go off the road. "Stuffed it hard" is usually a big deal, but I had a small "stuff" — I stuffed it into the bushes. Thanks to Jon Bottoms, who stopped only two cars back to yank me out of the bushes. It took me 10 minutes to change the damn wheel on stage and get ourselves to the finish of SS8, losing more than 17 minutes.

The wheel was damaged such that the inner part was wrapped around the brake disk and caliper.

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I return home at 3:00 am after driving 18 hours on Sunday and into Monday morning. Now, it's time to unpack the rental van and make it suitable to return. I thought to grab some jumper cables before leaving. My VW isn't so good at holding a charge or air in its tires. (No cool street car for this boy. That money goes into parts to keep rallying.) I'll just keep pouring in the oil, adding air, tightening bolts, listening to new squeaks and flogging the crap out of my tired and battered '89 GTI. When I arrive, it has a front flat but has managed to hold a charge. I quickly change the tire with the spare, which has a broken belt and steel cording hanging out but it IS holding air. Driving away, hot and sweaty with dirty hands, I'm finally relaxing. Maine is almost over.. Now to get busy ordering parts and planning some body repairs for Ojibwe!

MJ

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[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.]