Unexpected Rally Weekend – Plan B Co-Driving

A couple weeks ago at the JV rallycross, John Black hesitantly asked if I would co-drive for him. I exclaimed, “Yes!” Of course we talked about the fact that Kris and I had already signed up to crew for the Stage Notes Radio teams of Erik Christiansen & Amy Floyd, and Eddie Fiorelli & Brent Ellzey, so I had to double check with them before fully committing, and also about figuring out how to get/borrow/beg/steal a HANS device and helmet that would fit me.

As a sidenote, (about a bee that has been in my bonnet for a while now) let me just once again clarify here that the HANS (or other head and neck restraint system) and the money required to buy them for both myself & Kris is the single biggest reason we’ve chosen not to run any of the early events in the CRS season. A lot of people keep asking what the deal is, if we are pro or anti one sanctioning body or another, and the answer is NO. The majority of the reason why we’ve mainly stuck with certain events is that we feel they’ve given us the best “bang for our buck” championship-wise. We’re not Mr. and Mrs. Moneybags, and it’s been tough not only trying to pay to get the car back together this year, but also to fly cross-country three times for the weddings we have to attend back east thoughout this year. There’s just no room in the budget for something that isn’t required for every rally this year.

Getting back on track here: John said getting a HANS and helmet for me would be no problem – he would be buying one for “his co-driver” (whomever that would be) to use for this and future rallies. I have to say, that was a super-generous thing for John to do! As soon as Kris and I got home from the rallycross, I emailed the other teams, and everyone told me that not only did they not mind losing me from their crew, but that they would be excited to race with/against me at Plan B. So I gathered my co-driving items together, made plans for the drive up, and I was pretty much ready to rally!

We got up at 5:00 AM for the drive up to Ridgecrest. Since the car has pretty much been packed the night before, we were ready to leave right away, with a minor detour just off the 405 to pick up Amy. Having another person in the car made the trip go by pretty fast, and we were in Ridgecrest a lot earlier than we were hoping by 8:30, just as registration was about to open. The process went pretty smoothly, but things were a bit more mis-mashed than I am used to. I had to move all my things to other vehicles (usually the Neon has my stuff pre-packed and ready to go), I didn’t have all the documentation to take care of registration for my driver nor did I have any pre-filled out forms (I tried, but they apparently are no longer available online), I hadn’t made up a movement plan (I wanted to, but with my crazy work schedule I hadn’t had any time to do so), and this was the first time I’d known in advance that I’d be co-driving for someone else.

Tangent part 2: This is NOT (contrary to popular belief) the first time I have co-driven for someone other than Kris. If you’ve read my bio, you know that back in 2005, Michael Taylor asked me to co-drive for him on the Sunday Super Special at what was then the Ramada Express Rally, because his son had to leave to get back to school for finals. I said yes, but had to borrow his son’s suit & helmet, and hence became “the sexiest Steven Taylor anyone had seen.” This is important to the story here because Michael Taylor sold his truck to John Black last year, and at Plan B we joked a) that I had co-driven for 3 different people, but only in 2 different cars and b) that a co-driver had not originally been part of the things that had “come with the truck.” :D

But registration (for the most part) went smoothly, so I got myself over to the tech area. I had to give John my driving suit for him to pass tech, and I also had to sign the CRS Production Classes Meeting sheet because John had to go look for something. (That was my first time I had to do that too, usually I don’t even go to the tech inspection OR production classes meeting.) After a minor problem getting through tech, we were able to pack everything up to head over to the motorsports area in Ridgecrest where the actual Rally(sprint)s would be taking place. We arrived just after Paula Gibeault’s recce` class started. As an experienced co-driver who has only run notes and run recce` several times myself, I was flattered when Paula asked for my input. I showed the group the pillow I was holding and planning on using to place my writing surface on so my writing would not become unintelligible during the two-pass recce`, and told everyone doing this for the first time not to go overboard – just write down the most major turns.

Since John would have had to unhitch his trailer to be able to run recce` in his truck, I asked around for anyone that had extra room in their vehicle. Odi & Amy said yes, and so we got in their Subaru for the two passes for both the forward and reverse courses. The course was easy to notate, and John was pretty easy-going, so I noted as close to “Jemba-style” as possible to get him used to hearing notes at his first event as a driver. Before I knew it, we were done with recce` and it was time to change into our suits and get to the drivers’ meeting. After getting our timecard and checking our in-time for the first stage, I went over to get my event t-shirt, another unexpected rally moment as they were provided complimentary for all the competitors from the motorsports park owners.

John and I got in the truck and drove the twenty feet to our place in line. Kris came over and took some pictures of me highlighting my notes, and helped me get the HANS (lovingly referred to as “stupid neck thing” for the rest of the day) both on my shoulders and attached to my helmet. I’m sure I could have figured it out eventually myself, especially if I’d had time to practice, but it was so nice to have my hubby to help me with it! Kris took some more team pictures of me and John in the car, and at the stage start – after waiting nearly an hour to do so! (Since John was a rookie driver we started last.) I told John our primary goal for the day would be to accomplish the first two “Fs” of rally – having FUN and FINISHing.

John did a great job, and we accomplished the first “F” on our very first stage! I did not have to try hard to be positive and encouraging. I just had a huge smile on my face, one that I probably haven’t had in a long time since I usually get pretty serious in the car with Kris. It was almost an hour until the check in for the next stage, so we pulled back in line and removed our helmets and got out of the car. I left the helmet and HANS attached until the end of the day, since I remembered some people recommended doing that. We got to shoot the breeze with everyone else in line between pretty much every stage, which was a lot of fun too. As we pulled up for the second run at the same course, I told John of our secondary goal – to go faster and improve on our stage time. I was so pleased and excited as we pulled into the finish control – we were able to beat our time by 21 seconds! Just two stages, and we had already accomplished the third “F” of rally – going FAST! After that second stage, it was time for service, but we didn’t have to do anything to John’s truck, so we got something to eat. The third stage was in reverse, so I had to make sure my notes were properly highlighted, and before long it was time to go. The third stage was pretty uneventful, but the on fourth stage (repeat of stage 3 and end of the “day” event) we passed the only other car in our CRS class. I was super excited now, because both John and I had no preconceptions about being able to beat Michel Hoche-Mong in his truly Group-2 car, and we were able to fulfill the fourth rally “F” which is FIRST, and all four “Fs” in John’s very first rally!

There was a midday break between the “day” and “night” events, so we all got some food from the motorsports park owners, who had stepped up to fill in for the Habitat for Humanity people who’s originally volunteered but fell ill at the last minute. It was really great to see Darren North again, and finally meet Mark Bullock, whom we’d heard so much about. I really wish we had had more time to talk to both of them about the property and present and future plans.

Soon enough, it was time for the second event, so we gathered together back in our cars and back in line. John had gotten the A/C up and running in the truck, so we were able to sit with our suits on in line in the cool breeze of air. This second event was uneventful for us for the most part, but there were tons of rocks pulled up and into the middle of the course that I knew would have been a problem for Ze’Neon. I could tell John was getting more and more comfortable with his rallycar, and even though it was a little on the edge for me, I still laughed at our small excursion into the shrubbery. It was an awesome feeling when we pulled into the final finish control of the evening, knowing I’d helped a novice driver finish not one, but two of his first events, and that we’d been able to accomplish more than just one goal in those two events.

Kris and I gathered everything together, and left with John following us back to the hotel. I really wanted to shower before the awards ceremony, but we noticed that the pizza had just arrived so we immediately went down to grab some hot food. We stayed as the awards ceremony followed shortly thereafter. I accepted the actual cash prizes for John, saying “thanks for the ride” and just handing him the envelope. You could tell it had been a long day because Denise McMahon kept calling our class “Preferred Stock” (because the abbreviation for the CRS Performance Stock class is “Perf Stk”). This was quite funny to John, Kris, and myself (as well as to a bunch of others, I’m sure) because we would prefer if it was a truly stock class only. :D

Our evening ended shortly after the celebration of awards, and since it had been such a long day for us, Kris and I took the time to sleep in and take a leisurely drive home the next day. Thanks again to John Black for the experience and opprotunity, and to the Stage Notes Radio crew for another fun event together!

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