So, let’s talk building a rally car. Frankly, it is not a small project. There are several things we did to start our build. First we utilized the Rally America Rulebook. You can access it at www.rally-america.com and can review it as much as you need to. We printed a copy on our home computer and put it in a 3-ring binder in plastic sleeves so we could read it as much as we wanted and needed any time we needed to answer a question or find out if we were on the right track.
One of the smartest things anyone has ever told me is “start with the end in mind”. Meaning, picture your end goal and plan towards that goal. So, using the rule book we built our goal. We determined that Group 2 was where we wanted to enter rally. We could use a Ford Focus which is a car you can always find parts for, they are everywhere. Ford is a solid brand, with a proven history of performance and frankly we both really like Ford. Also a very important part of rally is building your budget. Deciding how your finances stand and what you can put into rally. If you need/want more, then you have to decide how you are going to adjust to make it happen. This isn’t fun, but it is real and it is important.
Once we decided on a build budget then Stephen really began looking for a car. Wanting to know the car as well as we possibly could and be as familiar with everything that went into it we looked for a car that needed some work but was drive-able. What Stephen found on EBay was a red 2002 Ford Focus SVT in a town south of Atlanta, Georgia called Hampton. It was a little over 11 hours from us. The ad and emails said it was totally drive-able and based on the year, make and model we thought we had found the one. The idea of an 11 hour drive (one-way) should have given us pause but it didn’t. The price should have made me stop and question if it was too good to be true, but it didn’t. The sellers warning that it ran great but it had rolled 3 times should have let me know just how much work was coming, but no. So for around $900 we bought our rally car and on a Saturday morning we headed south east. It was a fun trip in our little Mazda Miata Speed. We had a great time planning, talking and dreaming. We rolled into our hotel after 11 hours on the road, bone tired and ready for our break. Quickly realizing I should have selected a less cheap hotel as check in was a bit harrowing and our room wasn’t even fully cleaned when we got there. We got a new room and were off to bed.
The next morning, eager to check out of our hotel of unease we got up early and headed out for breakfast. Then continued on into Hampton. It was a cute little town and had a great little car show and fair of sorts in the city park. We went and checked it out while we waited to pick up our car. It was hard to be patient because the longer we waited, the later our return would be. Finally we got to see the car and the seller was surprised to see us arrive in a 2 seater sports car. We were asked where our truck and trailer were and would they be there soon. After a bit of confusion we were shown the car and understood why they asked about a trailer. The engine ran great, but the flat tire and shattered windshield were a bit of a problem. Despite the issues, we paid for the car and put the spare on and took off. We stopped at Walmart in Lovejoy, GA – HUGE SHOUTOUT to the folks in the TLE (Tire Lube Express) for all their kindness and help! They fixed the tire while we clear duct taped the windshield in place. All of this took time, valuable time for our trip home and worse, we learned a storm was headed our way. Little did we know, storm was not an appropriate term for what was coming and we were not prepared.
But that is a story for the next post…
One of the questions we hear most often is “How did you get started in rally?” or “Why did you pick a Ford Focus?” Well, let’s answer those questions.
Getting started in rally is a funny story. We had been married just about a year when Stephen looked at me (co-driver Makisa) and said, “Hey do you wanna go to a rally?” Being the often cautious person I can be I asked … “What kind of rally; political, church, charity, I mean what are you getting me into?” He laughed, and said “no, a stage rally with cars”. After a bit more explanation I agreed. I had never experienced anything like it. We volunteered as spectator marshals, meaning we were put at key points along the stages where people would be watching and our job was to keep them in the safe areas. This also meant we had a front row seat for all the drivers flying down the stages.
It was AMAZING! I had never experienced that before and I was hooked, despite the cold and the snow and the crazy roads to get where we needed to be I was in love! Stephen had loved this type of racing since he started playing it on the PC and Xbox but experiencing it in person took it to a whole new level. Without knowing what the other thought we both found something we wanted to participate in as much as possible. We had driven to the Rally in the 100 Acre Woods in Salem, MO separately due to my job at the time and his car had trouble as we tried to leave town. As we sat and waited for rescue, we had a great time to talk and review our weekend. It was obvious we were both really excited by this “rally thing”. While we were sitting there with a car in need of repair, I asked Stephen, “When are we buying our car?” I am not sure that was the reaction he expected but I think he was thrilled with it because he immediately began searching for our first car.
The most important thing we did while we searched for our car and built it was to volunteer at rallies. In addition to being spectator marshals, we did tech inspection (which was amazing) and start time control. This gave us a great look into how rally worked, what we needed to focus on in our build and things that could cause us trouble in the future. We recommend that anyone who is interested in starting in rally spend some time volunteering. You learn so much and meet people who will help you along the way. The things we learned and the friends we made have been some of the most important aspects of rally for us. These things made rally more attainable and a lot more fun!
So – how did we pick our rally car? Well, that was very scientific. 😉 We love cars, pretty much anything that performs well, but we have a special place in our hearts for Ford and Audi. We decided based on cost and build requirements Group 2 was our best place to enter rally at the time. (Group B is available and becoming more popular but it is based on newer model cars so it will probably cost more to get into then ours did.) We bought our 02 Ford Focus SVT off EBay for around $900. We did all the build ourselves using the wisdom and input of our friends from Rally America, Google and You Tube. I will tell more about that in the next post. In the meantime…here is the before and after of our rally car.
Sadly the 2015 season has come to a close. It has been one heck of a ride! There have been several ups and downs to the year so let me re-cap it for you!
February 2015: 100 Acre Woods
It was a COLD, snowy no icy few days in the 100 Acre Woods. Sadly, we did not find Winne the Pooh. After a great day of recce, excellent notes and excitement all around we did however find a Mechanical DNF. We lost the timing set and bent the exhaust valves in the motor on Stage 4. It was heart breaking. The car had been running great up until that point. This did leave us with the opportunity to support other teams as the snow and ice built up. It was a great rally despite not being able to continue.
Then we had an unexpected break in our rally plans. Co-Driver Makisa was unexpectedly diagnosed with a tumor in her lung in May which had to be removed. This put a 3 month hold on rally. No worries, they removed the tumor, 1/3 of her lung and the lymph nodes surrounding and she has made a full recovery. She was quite excited to get back in the rally car!
September 2015: Show Me Rally
This was a great event, we took our 6 year old niece who has wanted to learn more about rally for some time. She got to help out at service and meet many great teams. She loved it and is planning to be a Rally Driver for Halloween! Our event went very well. We placed 3rd in our class which is Group 2. It was a great event and our niece was surprised at how “nice” we managed to keep the car!
October 2015: Lake Superior Performance Rally
It seems we like being in the cold. This event in Houghton, Michigan was another beautiful but chilly event. After a great trip north to the event, replacing the starter twice and the battery, recce and passing tech inspection thanks to our wonderful crew, we competed in the rally! May I just say if you have never been to Houghton, you must go, it is very beautiful. (I will post pictures.) We fought hard in this even but struggled due to cancelled or red flagged stages and cars off on many stages. In the end we finished 8th. With the size of the group and the rugged and rough nature of the rally, that was a good finish, just not what we wanted or worked to accomplish. And we did it all with a broken lower motor mount.
Now we are looking forward to next year and are currently planning our schedule. As soon as we have solidified our plans we will release them here. Check out our great partners and if you have any questions about getting into rally just post them to the page. We are happy to answer!
Welcome to our webpage! We are so glad to have you. As we build out this page you will find: our virtual build book, a calendar of events, event results, and much more. We are so grateful you found us and look forward to hearing from you. Please feel free to contact us with any questions or things you want to know. We will do our best to introduce you to our team and crew as well. All our media sites will be listed here as well so you can see our videos on YouTube, Facebook page and Instagram posts.
Thanks for joining our journey! We are blessed to have you!
Stephen and Makisa