Written by Vaughn Micciche
Location: Indianola, Iowa
2019 was a record year for attendance at the 2019 SCCA DirtFish Rallycross Nationals, but as a competitor you wouldn’t have known it due to some subtle changes in the structure of the event. There is a saying in racing that “To finish first… first, you have to finish”. But for Nationals there’s another: “That to finish first….first you have to make it to the venue!” Most NER folks had a 22+ hour trip to one of the best grass fields in the country with just enough undulation to make things interesting, and a loam/clay combination that ensures each run on a dry day is a totally new grip level, ending with a rubbered-in dirt track type surface with SICK grip…if it doesn’t rain.
The NER Contingent at Nationals
NER launched a full scale attack on the Stock front field with 3 entries. Kim Hapgood and Chang Ho Kim shared an Integra, while Warrant Elliotte was on snow tires in a modern Mini Cooper. Hal Denham duked it out in prepared front in a stock Mini Cooper on proper rally tires. Modified front wheel drive also saw Chris Zanis and Michael Gallant co-driving Chris’s blistering fast Golf, and Vaughn Micciche was again throwing the kitchen sink at Mod Rear.
The saga of the weekend was that of Chris and Michael in Mod Front, looking for their turn to shine. Chris has built a fire-breathing dragon of a Golf and of course he’s still sparked full of ideas to make it faster yet. The pair shared the trip, with Gallant supplying the tow-rig and new enclosed trailer. Zanis knew he’d created a competitive car due to his lap times against some stiff competition at NER events. With a little foreshadowing Zanis was truly worried about co-driving, knowing he had a formidable opponent with Gallant, but the team was required for a successful foray into the national’s fray. It’s quite an undertaking.
The high’s and lows of having one shot and blowing it…
The pair were both in the dumps after Saturday, with Gallant being too cautious learning the car and Zanis sending it maybe a touch too hard. They sat in 4th and 6th respectively after Saturday. And then the rain came. All night the storms raged and over an inch of rain fell. Passing showers on Saturday had just primed the dirt to accept the the rest and it created SUCH a sloppy mess of a course. The kind of day when you want blocky tires and all your weight over the tires doing the work. With Zanis having nothing to loose, and Gallant’s tempered consistency being a perfect fit for the conditions, coupled with excellent mud tires the two went to work on the field and catapulted themselves toward the front with each passing run on Sunday. In the end Gallant squeaked out a win by just under half a second with 2 seconds worth of cone penalties included and Chris clawed up to 3rd just under 2.5 seconds off the win with 6 seconds of cone penalties! What a fight.
Front Wheel Classes
The other front-wheel drive classes were exciting, but bittersweet with wild changes in course conditions from run-to-run while the showers passed through Saturday, and then in the rain and muck on Sunday. Hal, Warren, and Chang came home empty handed which is not a typical occurrence for the seasoned competitors. Kim Hapgood slid her way into 2nd place of stock front against an oddly competitive in the muck Volkswagen. Watching Chang and Kim wash their Integra after each run as it was completely covered in mud on the windshield was astonishing, such a mess.
And then there was my trip…
Last year was awesome, but it became evident that not only were more tires needed, but to compete with Peter Dozeman and Brianne Cornne of Texas would require freedom of movement and tools not afforded to the ‘clinger on’ of a two car trailer/truck setup. So I put together a program for the season back in April that took me to PA, VA, OH, MO, and finally IA competing. The truck, trailer and racecar stayed in a few safe-houses along the way – you know who you are and THANK YOU SO MUCH!!! This seemed like a great idea, and was really the only way to make it all happen but it required some serious effort this spring as I did basically a year’s worth of development to the car in a couple months, and then went for it. Simply making the timelines work for each event became more challenging than the racing at times and over time the lack of time to fix things created some serious challenges.
Heading into the parking lot for Nationals the tow rig had no rear brakes, the race car was not starting, and it had blown front struts. Luckily we got it started before tech inspection closed and thought we were in business until Saturday morning when, you guessed it, it wouldn’t start again. With zero time to spare to get it onto grid it finally started and in my haste to find reverse I threw it in with the revs high. Somehow that managed to move the shift-forks in the trans such that I only had reverse available! So, I drove the ¼ mile and through the maze of grid in reverse and got to work.
The comradery of Nationals was awesome. When I didn’t fix it in time for the first run, a fellow racer offered up his Toyota (they don’t break apparently) and kept me in the running. At the end of day one I was in second place, but as you already know, the rain had different plans for Sunday. Even with 4 sets of tires, I still didn’t have the right tires for that amount of muck and I watched Brianne and Peter put 4+ seconds per lap into me on Sunday and ended up 3rd.
That said, 3rd still felt like an amazing accomplishment after the adrenaline of nearly DNSing the entire competition Saturday morning!
Now, onto 2020 nationals…