Spring at Last
On the fourth day, we were thrust into spring. Temperatures rose into the 60s, and most of the snow melted. But then we had to contend with dust! The mud from the previous three days had dried.
All that we had learned led us to the fourth day, step by step. Then everything grew more intense and daunting.
Because the course was designed to be taken in two, three, or four days, we had lost more than half our group of 12 students by the fourth day. Four other students and I tackled Fourth Day Road – one with crests, ditches big enough to swallow our cars, and boulders lining the road along with trees. We walked the course so the instructors were sure that we understood the significance of each obstacle. Any miscalculation would mean having to wear the dreaded pink helmet – a sign to all that the person wearing it had made a major mistake.
We pitched our way around Fourth Day Road into midafternoon, when we were given a fascinating treat … and humbling challenge – Brook Road.
Not every group has a chance at Brook Road. It rises and falls steeply, has a very loose surface, is lined with trees and boulders, and features a couple of crests. It sweeps out of Fourth Day Road and back into it.
I asked if rally stages were like this, and the instructor told me that few have anything comparable, and even fewer would have anything more difficult, especially within the length of Brook Road.
Once behind the wheel and under way after the instructor's demo ride, I had no time to overthink – only to DO. And so I did.
What I Learned
First and foremost, I learned that I still could learn. One of my concerns was that my driving habits were so ingrained that I'd never be able to change.
Also, I have taken away more information and experience in controlling a car on varied surfaces. Reflecting on what I accomplished at Team O'Neil, I'm more comfortable in my own car and confident in being able to react safely on the road.
As I expected, I have a much greater appreciation for what rally drivers accomplish on the stages.
Finally (and what my wife didn't want to hear upon my return): I need gravel on which to practice what I've learned and perhaps a rally car in which to do that practicing … and, perhaps, rallying (or at least rally cross).
I have been fortunate to experience an abnormally large number of driving events within the auto industry during the last 25 years, and this, by far, is the most significant experience I've ever had.
I'd especially like to thank the instructors who guided us through the four-day school: Mike Doucette, Kevin Hans, Eric Hansen, Wyatt Knox, Al Moody, Chris Renne, and, of course, Tim O'Neil.
An extra nod goes to Mike Doucette for some of the photography found in this article.
Team O'Neil was most accommodating with its help on this article. For more about the Team O'Neil Rally School and Car Control Center, go to www.teamoneil.com.