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Mastering The Art Of Rally Car Driving

A visit to DirtFish Rally School.

Peter Tarach
Oct 2, 2012
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If you’re like me, then most of your driving career has been spent on roads made of asphalt, and while the exhilaration and excitement is still there every time I hit a racetrack, I wanted to elevate my driving skills to the next level and learn how to properly maneuver a car in the dirt.

Tucked inside Washington State, just about 45 minutes from Seattle in a town called Snoqualmie, is Dirtfish Rally School, a full-fledged facility with legitimate rally cars, professional instructors, and acres upon acres of varied terrain for your driving pleasure.

Let me start off by saying that I wasn’t coming to Dirtfish to learn how to be a rally driver. As much as I’d love to do rallying, at the moment, I have neither a car for it nor the financial means to afford it. Instead, I went into this school with the intent of broadening my driving skills, in other words, taking what I learn on the dirt and translating it to the track.

The course I signed up for was the full three-day advanced rally techniques program that starts off with the basics, and before you know it, you’ve learned how to drive through an entire rally stage at race pace. This is by far the program you want to do, if you can handle it financially. It outlines all the techniques used from left-foot braking and handbrake turns to the Scandinavian flick and so much more. You’ll basically be ready to compete in a rally after completing this course. Trust me when I say to spend the extra money and do the complete three days because you’ll regret it if you don’t.

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The course at Dirtfish is awesome because you’re driving a rally car for the majority of your time spent there. Dirtfish dedicates only about an hour every morning in-class talking about what you’ll learn out on the course, and then it’s off to the playground to practice and perfect the various techniques.

If you’re thinking you’ll be putting around in some underpowered, two-wheel-drive cars, you’re wrong. These are serious and legitimate rally cars—300hp, AWD Subaru STIs that were once competing in rally races are now at your disposal for the entire duration of the program. They’re equipped with all the safety equipment, trick differentials, and authentic rally tires for you to get the full experience from.

Even with the best equipment and vast facility, without proper teachers you won’t get far. Thankfully, Dirtfish has some of the best talent available. I’ve been to my fair share of driving schools, and they’ve all been nothing short of fantastic, but I can safely say that the guys at Dirtfish were some of the best (and funniest) instructors I’ve met. The atmosphere they create is one about learning at your own pace and having fun while doing so. There was never a moment when I felt the day’s pace moving too slowly or I was bored with an exercise. If I perfected a technique early, we’d practice something else, or combine techniques. The instructors are great at reading your ability and adapting their instruction accordingly.

If you’re worried about class size or not getting enough time with an instructor, don’t be. When I attended, six other guys were there for the course. Each and every one of us had an assigned instructor who rode with us the entire day.

All the courses, skidpads, and driving areas are located within an old mill station, which has miles and miles of gravel and tarmac surfaces. Add unpredictable weather and it creates the ideal location for rallying. You’re pretty much guaranteed to get wet, but a slippery surface makes for as much fun as you can have behind the wheel of a rally car.

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By the third day, you’ve learned all the techniques one needs to control a rally car, and that means most of that day is spent driving the living hell out of the cars around the entire facility. This is why you want to do the three-day course. The extra day gives you almost seven full hours of rally driving. Make no mistake, I don’t mean cruising around the stages. We were ripping it at full bore, swinging those cars side to side, mud flailing high into the sky. For a car guy, there are few places one would rather be.

When the last car key was turned to the off position, it slowly began to sink in that our adventure had come to an end. We all wished there were one more day of driving to look forward to instead of our flights back home. Aside from the amazing driving skills one takes away from this course, the experience of handling a car on dirt is so unique that it leaves a lasting impression unlike that any other road racing school could give you. If you’re looking for an automotive experience unlike anything you’ve tried before, then I not only suggest you to check out the Dirtfish Rally School, I urge you to do it because it’s an adventure you won’t soon forget.

By Peter Tarach
352 Articles

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