Rally Racing with Robert Werk

Stage 1 (By Dagger Slade Media)

Stage 1, Photo credit to Dagger Slade Media

Rally racing is an adventure packed motor sport that will fuel your adrenaline rush, while simultaneously requiring a mind clear enough to calculate risk and make quick decisions. It is similar to the lure of climbing in that regard; it pulls people to an edge.

The best place to start discovering any action sport, is to learn what exactly it is. To do this, I met with Robert Werk, who has been active in SCCA racing with his rally team Slow Roll RS, which you can follow at: https://www.facebook.com/SlowRollRS. They are a team that started in 2014. Rob has a lot of experience to offer, and he has a sometimes humorous, always interesting, and comprehensive way of sharing it.

Rob has always been someone who loves cars and driving. It was a passion that started as a baby being lulled to sleep by the soothing motion of a car ride, and has progressed over the years into his full commitment to racing. It is clear that this form of racing is something he really enjoys, and the community surrounding it feels like the accepting, welcoming kind that many people spend their lives searching for. In a time that can seem bogged down by negatives, this activity creates not only a useful outlet, but brings people together who want to support each other and help each other out. There is a strong sense of respect among people involved, and since it is an activity really anyone can participate in, it attracts a wide range of people.

If being the one in control of the wheel doesn’t appeal to you, there are other roles on the team that are crucial and require different types of skills that may be more suited to your interest. There’s a place for anyone who wants to be involved. It’s a great way to have fun year round.

Getting Ready for Stage 1 (L to R_ Andrew Benson, and Robert Werk) (By James Kancewick)

Getting Ready for Stage 1 (L to R: Andrew Benson and Robert Werk) Photo credit to James Kancewick.


Climbing Together: What is the type of racing you do? How would you describe it, and how is it different from other forms of racing? 


Robert Werk: I do Stage Rally and S.C.C.A rally cross. S.C.C.A rally cross is mainly autocross. Autocross is a race around a parking lot around cones. With rally cross they go around cones except it’s in a grass or dirt field. There are also rally sprints, but to understand rally sprints you have to understand what stage rally is, because rally sprints are abbreviated stage rallies.

Stage Rallies take place on public roads, many of them are dirt. They close off short sections of road, though they’re not always short, but sections of road that you go as fast as you can on. Between each of those you drive on just public roads with your race car to get to each stage. You have a set amount of time for these transits, as they’re called, and there are penalties for arriving early and there are penalties for arriving late. Actually the penalties for arriving early are larger than arriving late, which totally messes with my German upbringing where if you’re early you are on time, and if you’re late you are, as they would call Dummkopf.

It is an exercise in precision and teamwork in terms of the driver and the co-driver, and that can be what makes rally very different from let’s say another form of off road racing like desert racing. In the Baja 1000 you have 36 hours to go 1200 miles, whereas in rally you have maybe 100 special stage miles, and then in between each of those you have a set amount of time you have to get there in or you get penalized, and there’s penalties for speeding and so forth.

Below is a sample course map to give all the visual learners an idea of what the set up might be like. 

stage 1 and more sample

Sample from The New England Forest Rally Spectator Guide. Rally America National Championship Round #6 2016

Climbing Together: So it’s not really getting the fastest speed so much as getting the best time?

Robert Werk: Yes, because each special stage you are not going wheel to wheel with anyone, not usually anyway. They send you off one at a time. Usually at a minute or 30 second intervals. That should give the person ahead of you enough time if they’ve done their organizing correctly. You shouldn’t catch anyone but you shouldn’t be caught by anyone either. Usually the etiquette is that if you’ve seen you’ve been caught, you pull over as soon as you can, in a spot that’s safe, so that the people can pass. It’s not necessarily you vs everyone else, its you vs. the course. You’re running the course a lot differently than other people are going to run the course.

Climbing Together: What are some of the penalties?

Robert Werk: They mainly have to do with time. If you arrive to a time control early, you’ll get penalized. Let’s say you get there a minute early, they’ll add a minute to you time. If you arrive a minute late though, they’ll add 10 seconds to your time. Then you have services along the way that are scheduled services that have a scheduled amount of time, as well. Everything is timed and you have to meet those times. If you’re late getting out of service because you broke your car more than your crew can fix, you get a penalty. If you are early getting out of service because you didn’t break your car enough, damn it, you get penalized. A lot of times getting out of service early is pretty hard. You have to really be trying to get that penalty.

So all that time and keeping everything on schedule is really the co-drivers job. They are in charge of planning the routes, I mean the routes are already planned, but looking at the routes and saying okay, well we’ve got to get this far in this amount of time so how much time does that leave us to go to the bathroom? Change a tire? Fix a problem with the car? You know, before we’re late. What speeds do we have to go, and so on and so forth. Directing the drivers attention.

Climbing Together: Is it always two people in a car? 

Robert Werk: In stage rally, yeah. It’s always two people in the car. You have your driver and co-driver. The co-driver really gets all their work done before the rally even starts. They have that hardest job of planning it, knowing what the services times are, what people’s phone numbers are, making a sort of a movement plan of getting to the rally. The driver’s job is really just to drive. The co-driver even basically makes sure the service crew is doing the right things to the car, and helps prioritizes that. The service crews job is to get the car back out on stage on time and fixing any problems.

Climbing Together: Is there one you like doing better? Driver or co-driver? 

Robert Werk: I like being a driver. I like driving. I always have. Even when I was a little kid. When I couldn’t sleep, as a little baby, they would just plop me in the car, and take a trip around the block and (snaps) out like a light. I like driving, and I guess, I also like being in control. I don’t like having it out of my control. It feels strange sitting on the right side of the car rather than the left. I’ve never tried to co-drive, but I can tell that I’m not suited for it. It takes a very special kind of person to want to sit in a car going 80 mph over rocks and through streams and stuff, and past trees…sometimes into trees, without being in control of the car. Just reading “okay, you’ve got this turn coming up, remember!”

Climbing Together: How do you find a co-driver or someone who would want to do that?

Robert Werk: Well, there are actually a lot of people out there that co-drive. For New England Forest Rally, I found my co-driver, literally, I went on Facebook to the New England Region SCCA Rally Sprint and Rally Cross Facebook Page, and said I need a co-driver for New England Forest Rally, and I would like them to have a little bit of experience reading notes. It is a lot harder than it seems. A guy named Andrew Benson said alright I can do it. I have done a couple of rally sprints, and I was getting the hang of it, so I’d really like to do New England Forest Rally. I was like alright, let’s do this. I would have preferred someone with a little bit more experience, but on short notice you have to take what you can get and it just so happened to be that Andrew and I actually worked pretty well in the car together.

Climbing Together: Is it easy to find a co-driver? 

Robert Werk: It can be. It can be easy to find someone who would like to co-drive; who would like to sit in the rally car and go 100 mph through the woods. It can be hard to find people who are good at it, if you don’t have the right connections.

For instance, I did a rally sprint renting one of my friend’s cars. It was sort of on the spur of the moment. On a Wednesday I found out he wasn’t able to run in the rally sprint because he had another commitment. I think he had to go to a wedding or something. I was like okay, I’ll rent your car. Now I just need a co-driver. It so happened that Ryan Symancek, who also helps out with the drive series and does other online productions on Youtube, was like sure, I’ll be your co-driver. He was looking for someone to sit with. I was like okay, let’s do this.  On a Wednesday morning my weekend went from going and watching a rally sprint to competing in it, and it was a whirlwind. We didn’t have a service crew. It was just me and him and we got through it.

Getting the Car Through Tech (By Dan Colburn)

Getting The Car Through Tech (Photo by Dan Colburn)

Climbing Together: Do you provide your own service crew?

Robert Werk: Yeah, you usually have to provide your own service. For stage rally, Rally America says you need at least two. Then after that you have to start paying for your service crew, it’s like $10 a person, it’s not much. I’d say its important to have at least 3 people to work on the car, and another person that can run and be a messenger/errand boy for everyone to get food, water, parts, tires, whatever. That person to run and grab a tool if they have their hands full and can’t get away. That is the optimal number. The minimal number is 3.

Climbing Together: If you don’t have a crew, can you get one there?

Robert Werk: They have a pool of volunteers. People will volunteer to work in the service area. You can rely on those people. Rally is a lot like climbing in a way. Certain climbing communities, you can go to a crag and just walk in with a rope, draws, your harness, and shoes and be like “Can anyone give me a catch on a climb?” 3 or 4 people will be like oh, yeah, sure. Then they’ll be like “you wanna go catch me on this?” That’s sort of how rally works. You see someone has a problem or something, lots of times you go over and check, see if you can help. The guys on my service crew, on the second day they were helping out on everybody’s car. That’s the kind of environment rally is. Everyone wants everyone else to succeed.

_Repaired_ Car Ready for Day 2 (By Robert Werk)

Repaired Car Ready for Day 2 (Photo by: Robert Werk)

Climbing Together: Are there people who take advantage of that, because there are some with climbing?

Robert Werk: Oh, definitely with climbing. Climbing is a pretty large community because the entry level, yeah it’s expensive for the gear, but you think of the entry level to a motor sport that’s even higher, so your pool is a lot smaller. Really it’s a nationwide community, once you start doing stage rally, because it’s pretty expensive. It’s two days, that means you got to get a place to stay, you have to feed people, you got to get gas. That’s just the race, pre-race that’s another three days tacked on in front of that. It’s pretty expensive, but still it’s the cheapest motor sport. But that’s like saying a Ferrari 458 is the cheapest Ferrari. It’s still expensive.

Climbing Together: If someone wanted to try it out before fully investing are there ways to do that? 

Robert Werk: There are. With it being so expensive, the best way to do it is to find a cheap car on craigslist. If you are mechanically inclined awesome, if you’re not you’re going to spend a little bit more money to get something that’s running and not a ball of shit to begin with. Go to S.C.C.A rally crosses, look for what region you’re in, because S.C.C.A, I know the New England Region, they do a great job. They are always on time. Yeah they start early, but you get 10 runs in. Sometimes that’s the easiest thing to do.  Get a cheap car, if you don’t have a cheap car already. Get a helmet. S.C.C.A has loaner helmets, but if you don’t want to wear a loaner helmet, get your own helmet.

Go to rally crosses. That’s it. See if you want to drive around on dirt. If nothing else, if rally cross is good enough for you, you have a good social circle. If you decide, okay I want to keep going with this, you can take that car, put a cage in it. Fiddle with your brakes so you can fit 15″ wheels and gravel tires on it. Get the appropriate safety equipment, and look at the rules for Rally America, NASA Rally or the newly formed American Rally Association and see what sort of safety equipment you need. Get off to the stages or off to rally sprints. If you don’t know if you want to invest your time in a full rally build, they are places that will rent you rally cars. Team O’Neil will rent you rally cars. I don’t know if DirtFish will rent you cars, but a lot of the rally schools will let you rent a rally car.

Climbing Together: What do you need to get specifically for the car?

Robert Werk: To start off, honestly, what I’ve learned is stay away from cheap upgrades to your suspension. They are cheap and aren’t going to stand up to the abuse. You’re better of going with stock suspension, the suspension that comes on your car. Depending on the car you get, you might have to fiddle around with the brakes so you can fit the appropriate size wheel. I know I had to do that, it took a lot of headaches but I did it. The internet is a wonderful thing. I would tell you the best cars to get are Hondas, Toyotas, Subarus, and to be honest, I think that would be it for ease of maintenance and just the plethora of spare parts out there. Those are the best ones. Hondas, you could go to a junk yard and get an engine for like maybe $100.

Climbing Together: Are there people who try to race anything or are there restrictions on what kinds of cars they can use?

Robert Werk: A lot of people on the grassroots size, that are a private tier or just starting off, really have older cars. A lot of them are Subarus. Some people with BMWs, older ones from the early 90s and late 80s. They are a little cheaper, there’s lots of parts out there, and they’re not super powerful. In rally you don’t necessarily want the most powerful car, you want a car that you can control, that’s not going to send you into the trees. I know Rally America doesn’t let you start off with a turbo. Same with any front wheel drive type things. You really want to go for something that you can go to a junk yard and take parts off of any Honda. Same with Subarus and Toyotas, to a certain extent.

Climbing Together: Is that because you go through parts fast?

Robert Werk: Yes. Rally is not a question of if you are going to crash, it is when and how bad. One of the rules of rally, for your first rally, is that you need to take a spare of everything in the wheel well; brakes, brake pads, control arms, brake lines, things like that. There’s going to be different things you are going to have to do to certain cars to make them stage worthy, or make them more stage worthy, I should say. That’s dependent upon each car.

I know with my car the wiring harness goes between the engine compartment and the fender. The plastic in the wheel well just isn’t very beefy, so I had to put heavier duty plastic into the wheel well. Make sure the wires were up out of the way, just in case you shred a tire, you aren’t taking out your wiring harness and then your car just doesn’t want to move. It’s amazing how that happens. In terms of just getting your car ready, there’s always the internet. If you think you’re the first person to rally it, you’re probably not. People rally anything from the Honda Fit to the Subaru STIs. You can rally pretty much anything.

Climbing Together: What is going through the crashes like?

Robert Werk: I shouldn’t say this out loud, but I’ve been in a fair number of accidents that have been single vehicle accidents. They’re honestly not that bad. Like this past one, I kind of knew it was going to happen, and it was just like I looked over at the trees as we were sliding into them. “What’s the worst that could happen? Where’s it going to hit? It’s going to hit the back. Okay, there’s not much in the back. Oh, well. This is the best we could hope for.” And if it wasn’t going to happen like that, that’s why you have a roll cage. I didn’t have enough time to try and make it not happen.

I think I was more frustrated than anything else when I got into the crash. It was one of those things that I knew shouldn’t have happened, but it happened, and I didn’t know why at the time. It wasn’t til later my co-driver actually had a go-pro and had filmed it. I watched the film and was like Oh! Okay, now I know what happened. It’s really not that bad with all the safety gear on. You get spun around and you’re just like “son of a bitch, come on.” I think those weren’t my exact words.

Stage 2 Crash (By Nathan Sockalexis)

Stage 2 Crash (Photo by: Nathan Sockalexis)

Climbing Together: The crashes look really intense. Is there a high rate of getting injuries?

Robert Werk: If you look at the videos of rally crashes on YouTube, they look really intense, but those types of accidents don’t happen super often. Most of the accidents that you’re going to see or get into are relatively low speed and not very dramatic. If you look at the accidents on YouTube, that’s not representative at all of what most of the accidents are. Most of the accidents are someone goes around a turn and they hit mud or something they didn’t expect, and they slide and hit a tree. That can mean the end of your rally or it could mean you just got to get pulled out of the woods.

Mine I was fortunate enough that I just needed to be pulled out of the woods. Very rarely do you see roll overs and stuff like that with body panels flying everywhere. While those are interesting to watch, that’s why you have the roll cage. Injuries can happen. Thankfully from every injury or any death, they learn something new. They always update the roll cages after incidents like that and do a very thorough investigation. Safety really is the most important thing when you’re doing something like that because there are going to be accidents. I wasn’t even the first person to go off that day. We’re well prepared for them, as well prepared as we could be. As long as you pay attention to the safety measures, things should be fine. Should be. They can go very bad.

You can get a concussion, which is why they recommend getting seats with the side head braces. When you get into an accident, your head goes pretty much everywhere. That’s why you were a Hans device, which basically holds the helmet down on your head, so your neck doesn’t snap forward and you separate your skull from your spinal chord. That’s never a fun thing. Apparently if your skull gets separated from your spinal chord you die. It’s not a personal experience I’ve had.

They take safety very seriously.

Climbing Together: What do the events normally look like? Do they have spectators or different things going on? 

Robert Werk: It depends on where you go. Europe loves rally. That’s pretty much how a lot of drivers start over in Europe. They are in high populated areas because people want to watch. There can be lots of spectators and the crowd control over in Europe isn’t always the greatest. Spectators can get injured. A lot of people will go out to a rally, have a few adult beverages and maybe not be as mindful of their surroundings. In the United States, between Rally America and NASA rally sport, NASA rally sport is a much smaller scale event. There’s not as many spectators. Whereas, Rally America is a little bit larger scale and there are a fair amount of spectators. Nothing like over in Europe, but there are pretty big crowds. Some stages they allow them out, and some stages they don’t allow any spectators on. Usually the stages where they do allow them out, they have controlled areas for them that are far enough back from the road and taped off so people know where they are.

It’s hard to spectate a rally because you can only be in one spot.It’s down a road from one point to another. I think that’s part of the reason why it’s not as big here. With the advances in technology and remote controlled drones and cameras and things like that and how many people have go-pros, it really has become a lot easier to make those sorts of things happen. If you look at how the World Rally Championship markets, and uses those media devices to let their fans watch rallies. You have to pay $5.99 a month, but you can access the on board cameras of just about every single driver, you can access cameras around on stages to watch a single driver go through a stage or watch everyone go through a single point. It’s really become a lot more accessible, in a way. That’s what the American Rally Association is trying to do.

Climbing Together: Are there a lot of events? Is there a certain season?

Robert Werk: The nice part about rally is that it takes place on any surface, so our season is January to December. There is snow drift, which takes place on snow. Then you have a bunch of other rallies all the way through the years. Right now there’s 6 rallies each year in Rally America, and NASA has 13 or 14 in different locations. All year round. We’re one of the few sports where weather rarely has us cancelled. If there’s lightning and stuff and it’s dangerous for spectators on stage, sometimes they’ll call it. Lots of times it’s spectate at your own risk.

A tornado or hurricane might hamper it. A blizzard depending how bad it is, but rally cars are meant to go all terrain.

Climbing Together: Is it more challenging in the snow?

Robert Werk: Yeah, it is because you really can’t go as fast. Any power advantage that you might have doesn’t amount to much. It can be more difficult because you have to stay focused and you don’t necessarily know what’s under a snow path. It could be ice or it could be dirt and the grip is going to be very different depending what it is.

It all depends on if you’re prepared for it.

Some drivers enjoy it because it’s a lot easier to slide the car, especially at slow speeds. It’s enjoyable to do something with less risk, especially when you get to slide around. It depends on the driver.

Climbing Together: Is there a hierarchy of professionalism?

Robert Werk: You have Rally America, which is down here. Then there’s the Canadian Rally Championship and the European Rally Championship, and a few recognized championships. The World Rally Championship is way at the top. There’s a hierarchy of drivers within each those championships. You have the grassroots guys who are just starting out, who nobody knows about. Then you have the guys who have a manufacturer backing, which is kind of nice but at the same time, then it’s very much a job.

Climbing Together: What types of things do people get for being a winner? How do you win?

Robert Werk: You win by having the lowest accumulative time. That you get on the special stages, because technically everyone should have the same amount of transit time. It boils down to what did you do on the special stages. In the United States, you get a plaque, a little trophy. That’s about it. You might get 50% off or your next entry fee free to the next rally or something like that.

It all depends upon the class of car that you are driving. There’s the open class where anything goes.You basically make a 4 wheel drive car and you can do whatever the hell you want to it. If you do forced induction on it, you have to have a restrictor on it, which is just a restriction on the inlet to lower the power. Or you can do what they call super production, which is take a factory four wheel car and rally that. Usually those are your STIs, Mitsubishi Evos, and stuff like that.Subaru has a contingency program within super production. They give you on the national side, like $2,000 if you win and $500 if you come in like 3rd, on the regional side it’s like $500 if you win the region and like $200 if you come in 3rd.

There’s a little bit of money but that’s not really going to get you a great car or anything like that. It’s going to pay for your gas to get there or your next entry fee. There’s not much money in it, until you get to some of the World Championship type things. Then you have sponsorship deals and stuff like that.It’s all over. It may not be the sky’s the limit like Formula 1, but most of the professional drivers in that are pretty well paid.

End of Rally (By Robert Werk)

End of Rally (Photo by: Robert Werk)

Climbing Together: Are there people that put together their own rally races?

Robert Werk: There might be, but they would be non-sanctioned rally events. I don’t know about any of those. They might exist. I don’t know. But I know,there’s a lot to organizing a rally in terms of getting closures on roads, when you can do that, posting three months ahead to the people who live on that road. “Hey the road is going to be closed at this time.”Even then people will claim “oh, you never told us.”It’s like you’ve known for 3 months. You were at the town meeting, we’ve been going door to door handing out flyers, we’ve been posting them everywhere, we put up big signs, we sent you things in the mail and your e-mail. They’re like “nope, never got them.”

It takes a lot of organization to plan that. Sometimes it’s on private land where some of the special stages are. I know New England Forest Rally takes place on a lot of logging roads, so talking to the logging company and seeing if we can use this. Sometimes they say “yeah, sure you can do that” and sometimes they say “No, not this one, but you can go on this one” because that’s their business and they need to use those roads.

Climbing Together: How do you practice or get better?

Robert Werk: Go to rally crosses and rally sprints. It’s really what you need to do to get better. As a driver, practice listening. There are several rally games out there. The dirt series is out there and the WRC series of games which is out there. The lesser known one that’s probably one of the better to practice driving cars, Richard Burns rally. Which is an old game, but the physics in it are pretty brutal. Finding actual time to practice is difficult. That you would have to know someone who has a gravel pit or know someone who has a bunch of dirt roads on their property. There are places that do, but those are few and far between. You don’t want to go out onto a public dirt road.

Climbing Together: How fast do the cars usually go?

Robert Werk: It depends on what car you’re driving, but typically your average speeds are right around 65 to maybe 70 mph, because you are going down a dirt road, your car isn’t super light weight. Yeah okay you take out the interior and you add a roll cage, but you’ve got a spare tire, extra tools, fire extinguishers. Whatever you’ve taken out, you’ve at least put as much back in. You’re not a super light car, so you’re not going to go stupid fast. If you’re going literally 100 mph on some roads your car might tear in half and you would never be able to make some of the turns because you’re on a loose surface and it’s just not going to happen.

Climbing Together: What got you started?

Robert Werk: Every since I started driving, I had seen little bits and pieces of rally races and thought that it looked cool. During high school I had other commitments, like school and track and cross country. College about the same. It moved into the back of my mind. It wasn’t till after grad school when I started looking at different kinds of motor racing again. I had gotten into trophy trucks and the Baja. I was like what would it take to do the Baja 1000 in class 11. I couldn’t really find any good 1970s or 60s Beetles around that I felt comfortable tearing apart. They were too nice or just so rusted out that it wasn’t worth trying.

Then I saw a video of an interview with a guy who took a $500 BMW, threw a cage in it, and went rallying. With that same $500 car came in 3rd place at a World Rally Championship event down in Mexico. I was like “$500! I’ve got $5oo. I can do this.”So my adventure began. I brought a car, learned how to drive stick, and learned how to work on a car too. I had really no mechanical knowledge before I started doing this. I knew how to change oil and put windshield wiper fluid in. The first modification I did to my car was brakes, and I got this Wilwood kit. You had to take out part of the factory mounting position so the Wilwood caliper would sit correctly. I had to use an angle grinder, which I had to go buy an angle grinder and file part of this bracket down. The whole time I’m doing this, I’m like “Don’t screw it up. Don’t screw it up…I don’t know what I’m going to do if I screw this up.” I didn’t screw it up, but also I found those brakes were far too big to fit under 15″ wheels.

It’s an interesting sport and if you’re into learning new things, then rally is a great sport. You have to be creative sometimes. You break an engine mount, but you don’t have an engine mount with you out on stage, figure okay, well I guess I can use this ratchet strap because my engine probably doesn’t weight 1500 lbs. You use that instead. That’s actually what Bill Caswell did in rally Mexico and he still came in third cause he’s a freak. Talking about the Bill Caswell story, you should probably always mention you probably are not going to get those same results. Bill Caswell had been racing in other forms before he did that. You’re probably not going to find some $500 beater and end up taking it to the WRC. That’s a very rare thing to happen. Expect more of the results to just have a really damn good time.

Climbing Together: Is it common that people usually do different types of racing too?

Robert Werk: A lot of people do more than just rally. A lot of people go to the track nights that race tracks will have. They’ll do auto cross. Some people will do the American Endurance Racing series, which largely take place on tracks, I think. A lot of drivers look at rally as a starting point, and a lot of drivers who look at rally like something that looks like it might be fun to do. I always thought that rally drivers were some of the best drivers in terms of controlling a car, and keeping it on the road and being damn ballsy on tiny little back roads that you would probably want to go 20 mph on, like “yeah, I’m going to go 80. Oh, it’s snowing? Whatever. I’ll just slide the car under this bridge where my car just barely fits through, sideways.”

There’s a saying: A Formula One driver sees 10 corners a 1,000 times, a rally driver sees 10,000 corners once. It’s a more interesting sport than just going around in a circle. And wildlife playing a huge part. Like I had to dodge a moose. That was an interesting experience. I came around a corner on the third stage of the second day, and I see this moose head peeking out of the brush. I was like “Did someone bring a moose head out here? Trying to freak people out?” All the sudden it starts moving and I was like “nope, that’s a moose!” It runs out onto the road and I had to swerve more than I wanted to to avoid it. I was like “Moose!” and my co-driver was like “whaaat?” Cause he is just looking down at the stage notes.That was impressive. There was a photographer there too and I still haven’t seen pictures of that. It came up off the road and ran along side us for a little bit and then turned back into the woods.

My ultimatum with myself is if the car is totaled I’m done. I can’t afford to get another car. I just brought a house. I’ve got a needy dog. If the car is totaled I’m out.If the car is fine, I’m in it. Occasionally I’m flirting with this very thin line between disaster and just barely making it. I think that’s also what makes it fun for me. In a way it’s like climbing in that you flirt with this edge. If you free solo anything you flirt with it more, but even lead climbing you flirt with an edge between disaster and it being something really awesome. You have to weigh those risk. People look at climbing the same as rally in that it looks really dangerous. It can be, but you take a calculated risk. Think what the risk and reward are. I can take this corner at 80 and it can be really awesome, or I can take it at 60 and it will still be kind of awesome, but I’ll make it through. What’s it worth?

Leaving for Stage 1 (By James Kancewick)

Leaving for Stage 1 (Photo by: James Kancewick)

Climbing Together: Is there a certain age or type of person it appeals to?

Robert Werk: It goes across a lot of different people. The people who are competing in it are all different types of people, young, old. The guy who won New England Forest Rally was in his late 60s. It’s one of the few sports where women are in the same playing field as men.

Climbing Together: Who wouldn’t like rally?

Robert Werk: I guess, if you’re worried a lot about getting into an accident, then maybe rally is not for you. If you are a driver and you have a really nice car you are afraid of wrecking, rally is not for you.I’m sure there are plenty of people it wouldn’t appeal to. People who, I don’t know, don’t like loud noises.There are people who just don’t like climbing. There are people who just don’t like anything, but then there are also people who work actively to not like anything.

Climbing Together: Any physical hold backs that would stop a person?

Robert Werk: If you have a heart condition or something like that you’d want to be pretty careful what you do and how much you do.I guess each person has to weigh that. Do I care if my neck hurts? Some people might really care. Some conditions might stop a person.

Climbing Together: Who would be well suited for it?

Robert Werk: If you like driving, rally is a great sport because even if you don’t like driving fast, there are time/speed distance rallies. Literally, all just transit. You are going to be going quick-ish on less than ideal surfaces, but you’re not going to be going all out. You don’t need a roll cage.

People who like planning, like my mom could have been a really good co-driver. She likes adrenaline, and she also likes to plan. If you enjoy that, you might make a good co-driver. Especially if you can keep calm in high pressure situations and just read notes. Like you’re sliding around a turn at 60 mph and you don’t have the wheel and you can calmly read through. It’s hard to find those kinds of people, and you can make a good living being a professional co-driver and you don’t have to be in the lime light.

Climbing Together: Is there anything you know now that you wished you had known at the start?

Robert Werk: I guess some of the etiquette. What your responsibility is as the driver in getting a car prepared and starting off. I guess, that’s different agreements between different people, but if you own the car you are responsible for getting the car ready. There were times when I was frustrated with how much it was costing me and not getting any help with it. I asked people if they could help out, but it’s like no, it’s really your responsibility. I wish someone had sat down and said it’s your responsibility, if you want to start a team, you’re preparing the car. Because I looked like an asshole a little bit, which that is what it is.

Climbing Together: Are these things unwritten rules? Or could they be found?

Robert Werk: They’re sort of unwritten rules, because different people reach different agreements. It’s one of those things. You don’t want to dick people over in a community that is as small as rally is. If you dick someone over, which thankfully I’ve never done, the rally community will make it very hard on you. Like if you rent someone’s car and crash it and you don’t pay them for the car, for their loss, word will get around. It will effect how easy it is for you to continue in the sport. It’s the golden rule. That’s probably the easiest way to do it. If somebody crashed your car, would you want them to pay you for it? Yeah, I probably would. It’s a lot of common sense. If you’re one of those people who will try to weasel out of certain things just because legally it’s okay, rally will bite you in the ass. It might be legal, but good luck getting into rallies.

Climbing Together: Is there anything else you’d want to add that I didn’t ask you?

Robert Werk: I think anybody who gets into rally, you’ve got to have a few screws loose and you have to be willing to not care too much about how your car looks. If you’re worried about having a really nice car, rally is not the sport for you. If you want to wash and have a shiny car, no.

If you think you have to have a multi million dollar team, you don’t. You can do rally on a pretty extreme budget, but also don’t keep track of a budget, in like a spread sheet, because you will go insane. If I actually tracked how much money I put into my car and am going to put into it to get it rebuilt, I’d probably go nuts and not eat forever. I’d just be like I can’t afford to eat now. Know that it’s going to cost you money, and be prepared to spend that money. If you really think it’s worth it, then you won’t care.

When I crashed, I looked at it as a positive. Now I get to rebuild it and make it better. Now I have an excuse to do that. Try to turn it into a positive. That will help hugely in rally because rally will beat you up. We lost the back glass in that crash and we were just dirty and smelly and had to be up all night fixing the car. It was an adventure, but it was great to see people helping each other. When we had to repair the car and do an all night service, it wasn’t just my service guys. Other people showed up to pound out dents and contribute wires, or tape, or tools, or wielding, or parts. When they are down and out, we’ll do the same for them. That builds confidence and good friendships.

Day 1 (From L to R_ James Annis-Cockfield, Joey Levesque, Dan Colburn, Robert Werk) (By James Kancewick) (1)

Day 1 (From L to R: James Annis-Cockfield, Joey Levesque, Dan Colburn, Robert Werk) Photo by: James Kancewick

Thank you Rob for your great answers and wealth of knowledge. This sounds like a fun adventure to get involved in for people who are creative, adventurous, and love driving. I appreciate your time and thoughtful words. For anyone who is reading, please feel free to share comments of your own experiences, or ask any questions that weren’t asked. I’m sure I can get the answers to you. Thanks for reading. I hope you had fun doing so! 



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