Like many SCCA autocrossers, I partake in significant internet bench racing. Internet bench racing usually happens in the fall, shortly after the results of the Tire Rack Solo National Championships are posted. I see which cars fared well in the results, then begin researching new car prices, options, and aftermarket support. How much are a set of wheels for this car? Is the correct tire size available in a competitive 200-treadwear tire? Will my wife kill me if I buy another race car?
Once all of these questions are answered, I then build my internet dream car for the following autocross season. Most years, these endeavors lead to nothing more than a ridiculous browser history log with nothing purchased. In late 2019, however, this bench racing led me to the Ford dealership to purchase a brand-new Ford Fiesta ST. And, well, then 2020 happened.
A Ford Fiesta ST won the H Street class at the 2019 Solo Nationals thanks to some handy driving by Philip Mitchell. I had the honor of talking to Phil about his car and he was kind enough to provide me with tips and tricks for a competitive build. Following his lead, I purchased lightweight Enkei RPF1 wheels, slapped on a cat-back exhaust from FSWerks, dropped in a K&N air filter, installed Quick Fit four-point harnesses from Schroth, put in a Mishimoto 160-degree thermostat, swapped in Carbotech brake pads, and — in what I considered the keystone piece — added Motion Control Suspension (MCS) 2W double adjustable remote reservoir dampers. With Yokohama Advan A052 200-treadwear rubber at all four corners, I was ready to take on H Street.
At the Regional level, I was flying high. After dialing in the air pressure on the Yokohamas, aligning the car with Smart Racing Products tools, and getting the adjustments on the MCS dampers just right, the little Fiesta ST was doing all sorts of awesome things as it danced around the cones. I was undefeated locally and consistently within the top five PAX results. The unassuming little Fiesta was a genuine good time.
Based on that success, I scheduled a vacation for September and convinced my wife I had to go to the 2020 Tire Rack Solo National Championships in Lincoln, Neb. I then registered for the Solo Nationals, and that was that.
Sometime later, money inexplicably entered my bank account. That was strange — as a racer, money generally goes the other way.
The deposit was from MotorsportsReg, and it was a refund for the Solo Nationals — somehow, I’d missed the news that the 2020 event had been cancelled due to COVID concerns. To me, the cancellation of the Solo Nationals was completely understandable. To bring 1,300 competitors from across the country into the city of Lincoln onto an FAA airfield was probably not ideal during a pandemic. Regardless, I was bummed.
Opportunity knocks — with little warning
While on SCCA.com, I noticed that the 2020 SCCA DirtFish RallyCross National Championship was slated for Heartland Motorsports Park in Topeka, Kan., in August 2020. The event was scheduled to begin exactly seven days from when my registration for the Solo Nats was refunded to me — it was time to adapt.
With only seven days to plan, prep, and travel from California to Kansas in order to compete in an event I’ve never been to before — that was significantly outside of my autocross and road racing wheelhouse — there was not time to think. I registered and figured I’d ask for time off from my boss and forgiveness from my wife later.
Looking at the 2020 RallyCross Rules, it turned out the Solo class rules for H Street (HS) were remarkably similar to the RallyCross rules for Stock Front (SF). You could change wheel size plus-or-minus one inch, swap an air filter, change the exhaust, update brake pads, and tires had to be DOT legal. The major difference — and it was a doozy — was RallyCross required OEM or direct replacement shocks and struts. That meant my super fancy adjustable MCS dampers would not be legal for RallyCross. Sad emoji face.
The good news was that I’d neglected to throw away my stock shocks. Packrats unite!
For tires, since RallyCross is off road, I deduced that my Yokohama Advan A052s were not ideal. A quick search on TireRack.com revealed Yokohama’s snow and ice tires, so I quickly ordered a set that were narrower than stock with a taller sidewall in order to increase ground clearance.
With drivetime from California to Kansas being about 25 hours, I had little time to waste — then I received an e-mail from Tire Rack that said my order was on hold. “Sir,” Tire Rack said, “these tires are specifically manufactured for snow and ice, and you live in California. Are you sure these are the correct tires for your use?”
My answer was a panicked, “Yes, yes! I want the snow tires. Put them on a truck and ship them today! I don’t have an extra day to wait!”
Tire Rack was truly awesome. The tires arrived Monday afternoon, right on schedule, and that was good because tech for the RallyCross Nationals kicked off at noon in Kansas on Friday.
I spent Tuesday at the Double Nickel Nine Motorsports shop in Central California prepping the Fiesta ST. The MCS dampers went on the shelf, the stock components returned to the car’s four corners, and we realigned everything using Smart Camber and Smart Strings. I used the shop’s vinyl cutter to make new stickers for the car.
I then took my autocross wheels with the recently mounted, brand-new Yokohama A052s on them to Sanger Tire along with the new snow tires, at which point the staff at Sanger Tire inquired: “Didn’t we just mount these for you?”
Sixteen hours after arriving at the shop — and one snarky retort to the tire shop later — the Fiesta was ready to rock.
I returned home to my wife, whom I love, who decided to tell me I was crazy for wanting to drive 25 hours to Kansas for an event on such short notice. I ignored her description of my behavior; after all, as a racer, this was all very rational.
On the road again
At 6 a.m. on Wednesday, I hit the road. The Fiesta ST proved to be extremely useful in this situation as everything I needed for the event was crammed into the hatchback. From tools to tires to Double Nickel Nine IPA from a local craft brewery in Fresno, Tactical Ops Brewing, everything fit nicely. The Fiesta even had room for some optional items — like fresh clothing. My plan was to share the California craft beer with my competitors in Kansas. It was going to be a good road trip.
The trip across the U.S. was beautiful. I cruised through Nevada, a smidgen of Arizona, and absolutely gorgeous portions of Utah and Colorado. I put down 13 hours on the first day and found a dive motel in Colorado. For $71 a night, it was a racer’s paradise.
There were some moments of anxiety along the drive, though. For example, I wasn’t used to how desolate parts of America can be. In California, you often bump into gas stations every 50 feet. Out in the wilds of the rest of America, it turns out that 120-mile gas station intervals aren’t out of the question.
I arrived as the sun set in Topeka, Kan., on Thursday and found a hotel not far from Heartland Motorsports Park. I knew I was in the right place because the parking lot was jammed with race car trailers with RallyCross cars on them. It seemed like most of the cars were on trailers — I wondered if I was the only idiot who drove his competition car to the RallyCross. The same idiot who needs his car to get him back to California. Perhaps my wife had a point about my state of mind.
The Fiesta was filthy from the drive, so I left the hotel to find a do-it-yourself car wash. While I was there, I used the well-lit bay as an impromptu shop to sticker up the car.
The next day I arrived at the event site, registered, and teched the car and my helmet. I scored a paddock spot and hammered a tarp to the ground for ease of working on the car. I’d cut pieces of wood prior to leaving home to go underneath my jack and jack stands to help make changing tires in the dirt easy and safe. This turned out to be a smart move, and also a life hack used by the rest of the RallyCross community in grass paddocks.
Therein, everyone was friendly at the event, especially to me since I brought beer. Although a few people did look at my license plate and ask, “Did you drive that car all the way from California?”
“Yup,” I replied proudly.
“You’re crazy,” was the response.
I wondered if my wife had called ahead.