The Road to VictoryPosted on Aug 06, 2019
This guest post was written by Amanda Skelly of Noble Star Rally Team. Team Illuminata is a proud sponsor of Amanda's rally program and would like to congratulate her on her recent win. This is her account of her journey to victory!
Just when it feels like the racing season is finally starting anew, you can blink and it is already halfway over. Within the last 7 months, I have been to 20 different states, competed in 4 different stage rallies, given rally rides at Hyperfest, taken a team training course with OzRally Pro, taken a driving course at the FIRM, attended and worked at Boxerfest and Wicked Big Meet (some of the countries largest Subaru only events) and landed 2 podiums with my new co-driver Sarah Freeze in two different rally series. The thought of calculating the amount of miles flown and driven thus far makes my head spin.
8 years ago, right around this time I spun a bearing in my 1998 Subaru Impreza 2.5RS during a local rallycross. A fellow competitor towed the car home for me, and when he dropped it off I asked how I could repay him, he looked at me, smiled and said “just pay it forward”. The journey began there. That night, I began gutting the car and a few months later I was sitting behind the wheel of a freshly built rally car getting ready to start the first rally stage of my life at the Sno*Drift Rally in January 2012. It was terrifying and exhilarating all at the same time. I remember sitting there looking out the windscreen, with my hands on the steering wheel listening to my sister-in-law countdown and thinking to myself- ”what have I done?” In a matter of seconds my foot left of the brake and as many of us can attest - the rest was history.
It’s been no easy feat these past 8 seasons. In 2015, after competing in 15 stage rallies, I was forced to retire my first rally car “Sassy”, due to an unsafe chassis (thank you Michigan rust and Subaru cancer). The process to return to stage in my own rally car took me 3 years. In my down time, I began trying my hand at co-driving and fell in love with it. It gave me a whole new perspective of rally to have the opportunity to sit on both sides of the car. I stayed present in the community, co-driving, crewing and even competing in a rental car thanks to Broken Motorsports in 2016.
In 2017, I finally had the opportunity to shakedown a hot mess of a rally car build, which resulted in mechanical failure on the first hot stage we ran. After scrambling to finish the car in just 3 weeks, and ending with everyone working hard and being awake merely 72 hours, our victory was short. Just 9 miles in, we experienced catastrophic engine failure. As we sat on the side of the stage, my heart sunk. I knew how much the team put into making the event happen, and I remember feeling like I let them down immensely. But, at the end of the day; we had one goal. And that was to get the car on stage. While it only last a short period of time, I can say that those 9 miles were some of the most glorious moments in my career.
Fast forward to 2019. My new rally car, aka “Stitch”, a 1997 Impreza L, has now competed in 8 events. This year has been exciting to say the least. The season kicked off with a return to my home rally of Sno*Drift, after a 3 year absence. The team braved the record low freezing temperatures, and we made it to the finish. Following Sno*Drift, my new co-driver Sarah Freeze and I made our way out west for 2 days of training with well-known co-drivers Alex and Rhianon Gelsomino of OzRally Pro. One week later, we were competing in our first event together, where I qualified in the top 10 (a new for me!) and finished 4th overall and 3rd in class. It was exciting to see Sarah walk away with some hardware after her first event. 2 weeks later we competed in the 100 Acre Wood Rally, where we made the conscious decision to withdraw on day two after having some mechanical concerns. With a busy season ahead, we wanted to ensure the car was 100%. Over the 3 month break between events, I had the opportunity to do some training at the Florida International Rally and Motorsports Park (FIRM), which lead us right into last month’s New England Forest Rally out in Maine.
Sarah and I had one goal- to drive hard, but conservatively and get to the finish. That was exactly what we did. Out of the 6 Nationally registered competitors in our class of NA4WD, we were the only car to officially finish the event, and we did so unscathed. This put us on top of the podium for a champagne spray.
It has always been a dream of mine as a little girl, to stand atop a podium. When the moment happened, I was in disbelief- thinking it must be some kind of error. I was concerned we were perhaps the only one in our class, or the only one of a few. The entire weekend, we never paid any attention to our placement or the times of other competitors. We focused on our job in the car and building our communication and relationship as a team. It was fun to compare our own stage times on stages that we ran twice, noting that we shaved off 17 seconds on day 1 during the second pass of Concord Pond, and 10-17 seconds again on day 2 for the second passes of Wilson Mills and Aziscohos.
Prior to getting our award, I was panicking inside. I had never participated in a champagne spray, and I may or may not have a little bit of stage fright. Thanks to the support and encouragement of our crew, and having Sarah by my side, we took a deep breath and when they called our name, walked up on the stage with smiles. The lights were bright, the crowd was cheering us on and the moment felt surreal. The next thing I knew Sarah was drenching me in champagne and we were dying of laughter. Afterwards, we had a quick exchange with Mike Shaw from Open Paddock, and made our way back down the stairs to our ecstatic crew.
When I saw their smiles, I knew that moment on the podium meant more than just a successful rally. It meant we finally “made it”. All that hard work over the last several years, all the challenges, obstacles, disappointments and heartaches we experienced in and around building Stitch, were suddenly remedied the moment we stepped onto that podium. Maybe that sounds silly to some, but for us, it was a moment that reminded us that all the blood, sweat, tears and curse words that went into getting us there was worth it. The family we have created because of the car that we have built together, was able to share a moment of victory, as sweet as ever. That moment was not just for our fans, or our team, but it was also for the ones we lost that ride with us at every event. The love was strong that weekend, and experiencing that moment brought us all back “home”.
Currently, we are ramping up to compete in the Ojibwe Forest Rally in just 3 short weeks on 23-24 August. Following that we will be heading over to Wellsboro, PA for the Susquehannock Trail Performance Rally (STPR) on 13-14 September, and rounding out the season in the Upper Peninsula of MI on 18-19 October for the Lake Superior Performance Rally (LSPR). This season has been a whirlwind, and it feels like the best is yet to come!
MASSIVE SHOUTOUT to our 2019 partners, crew and fans!
- BRAID Wheels USA
- Team Illuminata Motorsport
- Link ECU
- TurboTime Subaru Specialists
- The FIRM
- Turtle Gloves
- 5 Star Design
- Restoration Race Works, INC
You can follow us along at:
- Web/Blog: www.ralygrl.com
- Instagram: @ralygrl & @sarahfreezerally
- Facebook: Ralygrl & Noble Star Rally