When I was a kid my dad raced off-road, and I spent a lot of weekends out in the desert around VWs. In fact, I learned to drive when I was 12 out at Glamis, CA in our dune buggy, but it wasn’t until I got older that I started racing.
I started off-road racing what was essentially a play car, but was classified as a 5 unlimited. The unlimited part means just that….you can basically put anything on it as long as it retains a baja bug appearance. My car had a 2180cc dual carb engine, but the suspension just wasn’t up to snuff with the competition. Still, I managed to finish top five in the races that I finished, once taking second after a last minute motor swap and losing second gear on the last lap.
I decided to save my pennies and got a 2/1600. It’s a 1600cc air cooled VW engine on a tube chassis. She’s got a 4 speed bus transmission, disc brakes all around, and Fox bypass shocks. The class is limited, so it is truly a driver’s class. The key with 1600 is to stay on the pipe at all times. When the car is set up right, your front end just bounces off the whoops and you float over everything. When it’s not set up right, or if you lift, the back end can come out on you and the next thing you know you’re upside down. I haven’t rolled it…yet, but I’ve come close. You can see more pictures and videos on my website.
I want you to keep in mind that this is still a VW. This ain’t crazy high speed racing in a 600 hp Trophy Truck. Top speed on my car is about 75 mph. Downhill… With a tailwind… Here’s a quick video I put together while we were doing some shock testing out in Barstow, CA.
I’ve also spent some time in a class 11. This is essentially a stock bug: 1600cc engine, stock bug transmission, drum brakes, one shock per wheel. These cars are the slowest out there but remain a fan favorite. Keep in mind these cars are doing the same course as the bigger trucks; same rocks, same hills, same silt beds. Class 11 is the unsung hero of desert racing. They also roll pretty easily.
I’m the first to admit that it’s easy to run out of talent pretty quickly. The video below shows my SECOND rollover at the USA 500 a few years ago. Obviously, I no longer drive for this team, which I understand but I regret. I learned a lot from them and I wish I could make it right. I guess that’s why they call it off-road racing, not off-road friends. I don’t have a lot of regrets, but this is one of them.
I don’t have nearly as much experience pavement racing. I feel more comfortable and fearless on dirt, so I’d rather spend my money there. I do take my second generation Miata out to SCCA autocross events. I don’t put any money into the Miata beyond basic maintenance, so I’m really there just to push my car as much as possible in a safe environment. If you haven’t explored autocross, it is the cheapest racing out there. You can run virtually any car. Just up your tire pressure a bit and you’re good to go.
My biggest adventure lately has been as the driver for Team 178 – The Indiana Joans – in the Rallye Aicha des Gazelles, a nine day all female off-road rally in Morocco. The Gazelle Rally is one of the most extreme motorsports events in the world, pushing competitors to their limits physically, mentally, and emotionally. Participants are not allowed GPS, cell phones, or chase crews. All navigation is done with a compass and an old map (in French), and points are awarded for shortest distance between checkpoints, not fastest time. Only 11 other American women have attempted the rally since 1990 and I feel very fortunate to be a part of this elite group. 25% of our rally fees go to the Heart of Gazelles, the non-profit arm of the Gazelle Rally providing educational and medical services to people in the most remote parts of Morocco.
My navigator and I have partnered with FORCE: Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered. They are the only national non-profit that works specifically with women who have a genetic risk of breast and ovarian cancer. While at the rally we will participate in the Isuzu Media Challenge, where we have the opportunity to win 15000 Euros for FORCE. Last year we came in top ten in this mini-challenge and with a year of experience behind us we have an excellent chance of winning.
I have some Gazelle themed t-shirts, koozies, and stickers available at www.indianajoans.com, as well as the 2014 Women of Off Road Racing Calendar, featuring some of the most awesome ladies in off road racing like Jessi Combs, Bre Bradley, Pam Hall (no relation), and of course, little ol’ me, in hero card style poses with our cars.
I’m pretty good at responding on Facebook and Twitter, so feel free interact with me on social media. I’m very excited to be working with Roman, Nathan, Andre, and the rest of the TFL team. I hope you’ll continue to join us as we drive anything we can get our hands on!