I usually do rallycross in a white Subaru Legacy Turbo wagon. We nicknamed it the “Space Shuttle” after I sent it over some huge jumps. One of my friends got hit in it and still owes it a non-holey door, but whatever, it runs. At last month’s event, it faked me out. It started right up with a fresh battery—until it didn’t.
Rallycross (in its non-wheel-to-wheel-form) is often described as “autocross on dirt,” with participants working various duties when they’re not driving to keep costs down and cones laid down to determine where to go. It’s the best kind of cheap thrill, because it’s the perfect opportunity for you, a now-boring adult, to play in the dirt.
The poor Space Shuttle lives in a field at the Brianne Corn Raceway rallycross track and spends far too much of its time being ignored. I hadn’t had time to get out to a rallycross in a while, and wasn’t sure if it would even run. Finally, this month, I had a chance to go play in the dirt. There was a two-day Lone Star Rallycross event planned, and I had both days free.
Lately, most of my well-intentioned plans tend to get sucked into an inescapable depression hole. It’s the worst kind of catch-22: getting out and doing things—especially ones that involve throwing cars around like a maniac—makes me feel normal, productive and good.
Yet the anxiety of being around other people when everything feels bleak tells me to stay at home. I often feel even worse when I realize that I got exactly nothing done all day and still have a crushing burden of things I should’ve done, and feel even more useless as a result.
That’s exactly what happened to the evening I planned to get the Space Shuttle running again: it didn’t happen. I stayed at home. Nothing got done. So, I showed up the morning-of, having arranged to use a back-up car just in case, but figured I’d try to make the good ol’ turbobeater work just in case.
Once I found a fully-charged battery and connected it using the Space Shuttle’s janky battery cables that hate to stay attached, the unthinkable happened: it started.
It was in the S4 class, which was set to run first for the day, so I lined up in the first run group. I left it running just to be sure, and it just purred along all through the parade lap like it usually does when it’s not completely neglected.
After we’d all driven a parade lap, I was set to make my first run. My car worked! This was great! Then it died in the lineup before the start. We pushed it out of the way, and then looked for the problem. It seemed as if it was a battery issue, so we jumped the battery, made sure the connections were tight on the battery terminals as they have a bad tendency to come loose and it fired back up.
Finally, I got to try out the course at speed. It was going fine enough until I got to a big sweeping turn in the course, when it seemed down on power. Going over a bumpy section farthest from the start line seemed to finish it off. I felt a thud, and then it lost power completely. I had to get the Tow of Shame back in, and I hadn’t even done anything fun to merit it.
This time, it was done. We tried tapping on the starter, but that didn’t work. If it died again, that would probably be another tow. So, I switched cars to another loaner Brianne Corn Raceway keeps around: the Battlewagon, a Subaru Impreza Outback that’s ridiculously quick, but in a different class: M4. I arranged with the event staff to swap out cars and was told to just get my runs through in this run group since I was already standing around and not working the course.
I laid down some mediocre runs in the car, which I’d never driven before until now. A power steering leak caused it to start smoking after its first run, but was eventually deemed mostly harmless. Then a weak battery kept it from re-firing back up after its first runs and it had to be bump-started.
Holy crap, the Battlewagon had grip for days that the Space Shuttle never had. It was ludicrously quick everywhere and was clearly faster than I was. Was this what I’d been missing? Fast, working race cars? Every run left me in giggles.
Towards the end of the first run group, the rain started to sprinkle. This was not good. Brianne Corn Raceway’s rallycross track is thick clay that just turns to globby mud when it rains, as there is no gravel road base. It sticks to everything, and feels slipperier to drive on than ice. Cars tend to sink and get stuck in it. Times lengthen exponentially, as none of the tires we run are really made to paddle through thick gunk.
By the time the second run group lined up to run, the course was becoming a wet mess. The first runs were workable, but the last ones were soaking wet. A couple cars had to be towed out of the mud.
The classiest machine of the day, a Mercedes 240D, filled up all of its seats for its final run in the hopes of weighing it down for more grip. Afternoon runs and the Sunday half of the event were called off because the track was too far gone.
This is how I ultimately won the M4 class: by accident. Because all the afternoon runs were that much longer, my slow but consistent dry runs ended up taking home first place for the class.
That’s the weird thing about rallycross. It gets compared the most to autocross, but autocross determines its winners much like a time trial: the fastest individual run wins. Rallycross is timed more like a stage rally. You don’t get a throwaway run to knock down all the cones as you figure out the course at the start of the day, as every run you make counts towards your final time. That final total time that you spent out on the course—not your best run—is what determines the winner.
Maybe I can get my usual beater to start for the next one. We think the cord from the starter to the battery may be toast. It always seems to be something simple and dumb on that car. Otherwise, it always fires up with no problem.