In the late 1990s, Camden’s Mike White spent a “long summer” building a rally car.
He has worked on his current rally car, a 1984 Saab, for four years.
White will debut his car this weekend at the 19th annual New England Forest Rally in Bethel.
The 41-year-old White will be joined by his co-driver/navigator, Jared Lantzy, and their crew.
Bangor’s John Cassidy and his longtime co-driver/navigator, Camden’s Dave Getchell, will run their 2003 USDM WRX in another class in the NEFR.
“This will be my first event in seven years,” said White, who got out of the sport seven years ago to
“have kids and buy houses.”
He tested the car in May but this will be his first competition.
Rally cars are street legal cars which have been modified for safety and modified for toughness, according to White.
White said his return to racing wouldn’t be possible without “hundreds and hundreds of hours of work by people who have come from all over [the Northeast] and made the journey to Maine to help me on this rally car.
“There is a massive amount of effort that goes into preparing [a rally car],” added White.
Rally car racing is a unique sport.
It involves cars racing on all sorts of terrain, predominately dirt logging roads, for a variety of stages with times being calculated on each stage. Cars have a staggered start, one minute between each car.
“You can see cars going 100 miles an hour on logging roads in the back woods of Maine,” said White.
The co-driver/navigator “has a very detailed set of instructions” for negotiating the course.
“Your co-driver is letting you know what is coming up ahead,” explained White. “You can have some very, very tight corners and some hazards. He needs to be two turns ahead of what I see. You need to be able to anticipate what is going to happen and what you’re going to see.”
Mistakes could land them in a ditch or up against a tree.
There are pit stops but they are quite different from the ones you see in NASCAR.
“The pit stops are 15 seconds in NASCAR. In rally cars, they’re 30-minute service stops,” explained White.
And those service stops are much more involved than Sprint Cup stops, which usually entail changing tires and fueling the car.
“We may have to replace a radiator, brakes, a transmission or shock absorbers,” said White.
He said there will be two service stops each day.
“So it’s like the crews are running their own rally. They have to be at the next service spot on time to meet the car,” he said.
His crew chief is Brett Rudolph and his crew consists of Breck Holladay, John Groo, Andrew Steere, Carl Russ and David White, Mike’s brother.
Suzanne Dunavent-White, Mike’s wife, is the team manager.
In their class, the two-wheel-drive open class, White expects 25 other cars.
He said the course is “very challenging.
“It’s very tough. There are some sections that are very fast and there are some very twisting sections. Anything can happen,” said White.
So why is White driving rally cars instead of the more conventional stock cars?
“I like going fast and racing around a track is boring. You‘re seeing the same corners. But in rally car racing, every corner is different. You never really know what’s around the next corner. You’re more self-reliant in rally racing, there’s more uncertainty. It’s more challenging,” said White. “It depends on a lot of things. We’ve stopped to drag people out of ditches and we’ve been dug out of ditches ourselves.”
He said the key to being successful is “being prepared.
“There’s some self-preservation involved but you’ve also got to be fast. If you’re going fast, you sometimes have to put self-preservation in your back pocket,” he said.