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2011 Olympus Rally Review Part 2

In the first part of our Olympus Rally review, the team spoke about their successes and failures. In this portion of the review Tom chose to speak about his experience at the event.-DiRT Media

It has taken me a year to write this, both for the team and myself for a number of reasons. Much of this blog had been sitting as an archive for months so that I had time to reflect on the event and how I wanted to tell this story. I choose to put this portion of the event in my own words instead of our traditional, promotional style. Others in the rally community have a much more poignant and intelligent way of speaking about this incident.

I was really excited to run this event. I am very dedicated to the Max Attack two-wheel drive rally series; that, combined with the chance to run in the National portion of the event was a huge motivating point for us to get the car out and run hard here. With the passing of Ray Damitio, frankly, a rally icon in the Pacific Northwest, it was only common sense that we came and ran as hard as possible on his stage, the Brooklyn Stage.

We came out and ironed out some small issues in the fist few stages and parts of the event then got to run pretty hard on the Brooklyn stage. We ran so hard that we surpassed our old record on the stage, that was something that Don and I were both very proud of, so we were stoked to finish the event and put on a good show. After finishing the second running of Brooklyn, we came back to quite literally one of the fastest stages I have ever run on, Smith Creek. I’ve never been strong on the stage and I knew that courage on the high speed stretches in the stage was one of my limitations.

As we lined up for the second running of the stage, there was a delay at the stage start. For those not familiar with stage rally, we routinely come across delays for a number of reasons, anything from issues with stage communications to spectators on the course. Many times you hear from the competitors in front of you from the time control about the reason for the delay. This time the rumor down the telephone line (rally cars line up before the control zone prior to the stage start and exchange times and pleasantries), was that there was a car off the course.

While we waited for the stage to start, we removed our helmets due to the delay. We enjoyed the sun shining on us, it was a beautiful spring day, rare for the Pacific Northwest. After about 15 minutes at the stage start, veteran competitor Andrew Comrie-Picard called an impromptu driver’s meeting at the stage start. Andrew confirmed the rumor, indicating that a car was off the course, but added that it was a pretty bad collision, and that the stage was going to be cancelled, and that we would all caravan back to service.

Don and I have experienced this several times in rallying, sometimes big crashes happen and stages get cancelled, it is just what happens in rally. On the 30 minute drive around and back to service, Don put out a tweet about a car being off, keeping our followers up to date on our battle with Wyatt Knox. Once we got back to service it was time to fix a few issues with the car before fueling up and heading back out to finish up the day on the final two stages. I noticed a helicopter flying towards the area of the stage and hoped that it wasn’t heading to the crash.

After fueling the car up we entered a regroup to get everyone back in line and ready to head out to the final stages of the day. Yet again, another impromptu driver’s meeting was lined up. This time a few of the big wigs at Rally America were here to talk. I didn’t have a clue what they were about to announce.

J.B. Niday confirmed the rumor, identifying the car off as Matthew Marker and Christopher Gordon’s Subaru. They indicated that the car had gone off the roadway and struck a tree, that Christopher was doing ok, but that Matthew didn’t make it. My heart sunk. I couldn’t believe what I had just heard. I was nothing but shocked, and I could see the same look on everyone’s face around me at the meeting. I didn’t know Matthew at all, in fact I had only just seen him and the yellow back windowed Subaru at scruitineering the day before.

I’ve been involved in rally for eight years; as a driver for five of them. I think I have been relatively naive as to the risks involved with racing. I started out racing as a superhuman near teen, with a thick steel rollcage, a fire proof suit and crash helmet. I saw spinning, flipping wildly crashing WRC cars on TV and rarely was there even an injury. I knew I was safe, I thought that I was invincible.

I was wrong.

This weekend, someone I’ve never met before died rallying. We weren’t in the same kind of car and we weren’t in the same class, but we were both racing for the same reason, for the love of competition fun. You can’t do this sport without loving it. No one in their right mind would spend thousands of dollars a year on a car to drive it hundreds of miles a year.

In rally, we balance a car on the knife edge of our abilities. Many times we learn on stage what that limit is, we hit the wrong line, we have a moment, we miss a braking point or have a spin. We compete with others and push our limits, that is the excitement and the allure of rallying; the competition with ourselves, our machines, and our fellow man. I don’t know Matthew, but I know he is familiar with this concept. Anyone who has pushed hard in a rally knows it, it is a feeling akin to freedom. Matthew is more free than he has ever been. Rally on Matt.

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