L.A. or bust – A cross-country dash to X Games

Posted on 10. Aug, 2007 by in X Games 2007

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Words: Alan Ockwell
Photos: Andrew Harvey

It started, like most adventures, with a phone call.

In the week following the New England Forest Rally, and the subsequent announcement that Boris Said and Pat Moro would round out the field of qualifiers, Otis Dimiters and I learn that we are the first alternate for the rally car racing competition in X Games 13.

It is the worst possible position because we aren’t in or out for sure. We have to make the decision to go to Los Angeles in case somebody can’t make the start. Rally America, the organizing group, wants a substitute on site in case they are presented with this scenario, but we aren’t sure that the cost/benefit analysis will be favourable. We ask for some funds to cover our expenses, but that request is turned down. With this in mind, we decide to enter Rally West Virginia instead, which is much closer to home and significantly cheaper to run.

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Tuesday, July 31
Jump practice at Lake Elsinore motocross park. The organizers have built a replica of the crossover jump to be used at the Home Depot Center in the actual race. Ramana Lagemann has a very spectacular end-over-end rollover when his Mitsubishi doesn’t soak up the landing of the jump. The car is badly damaged and it’s unlikely that he will have it repaired for Sunday’s main event.

Later that afternoon, my phone rings. It’s Otis.

“Pack your bags, we’re going to Los Angeles.”
--“Are you serious?”

Our chances of making it into the competition have taken a dramatic turn. However, we are now faced a new set of problems: Otis is holed up at Autosport Engineering in Michigan with the rally car, and the truck is parked at North Coast Subaru in New York City.

I send out a call for help to our team’s mailing list. Angelo, Peter, and my brother Erik are able to go on short notice. Andrew Harvey, photographer extraordinaire, is coming with us. Flights are booked and hotel rooms are reserved. We hammer out a movement plan, catch up on X Games announcements, and try to figure out just what the hell is going on.

Otis calls Arek, one of our regular crew members. Arek and his wife Ewa will make a mad dash to North Coast on Wednesday morning, grab the truck, and make a break for Michigan.

2,900 miles to go.


Wednesday, August 1
Arek and Ewa arrive in the evening, help Otis put the finishing touches on the car, and get a full night’s sleep before leaving bright and early the next morning. It is the only full night’s sleep they will have all week.

Those of us still at home spend the next few days sorting out some logistical issues: withdrawing from Rally West Virginia, coordinating crew arrivals and pickups, arranging the load-in of our gear on Friday night, figuring out who to contact, tracking down a HANS device, chasing potential sponsors – the list is long and never seems to end. Ananda Sivert from Rally America bends over backwards to help us find what we need. We owe him a big thank-you.

2,300 miles to go.


Thursday, August 2
While the truck makes its way west, on the left coast the teams are out practicing the course. We receive an update from Los Angeles – not only is Ramana going to be ready for the main event, he’ll be able to practice on Friday. Our “sure thing” participation suddenly isn’t so sure. Our team members, scattered throughout Toronto, New York, Connecticut and rural Nebraska, starts to ask ourselves whether this last-minute dash across the country will be for nothing.

Otis and Arek take turns behind the wheel and drive through the night.

1,530 miles to go.


Friday, August 3
The truck is overheating on Friday afternoon but Otis and Arek press on regardless. The teams have another three hour practice session today. We receive another update – Antoine L’Estage has rolled. We might be back in the game after all.

550 miles to go.

Late Friday afternoon, Peter arrives at the Home Depot Center, the venue for the rally car event. He is collecting our credentials when we receive some encouraging news – the truck has arrived in Los Angeles. They manage to get everything moved into the service area before heading back to the hotel and crashing for the night.

 

Saturday, August 4
Peter, Otis, Arek and Ewa spend Saturday catching up on the ever-changing rules, course layout and competition. The rest of the team – Angelo, Erik, Andrew, Lauren and myself – arrive in Los Angeles on Saturday afternoon. We learn that L’Estage has repaired his car and will be ready for tomorrow’s race. We feel like vultures waiting for someone to die.

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Sunday, August 5

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We’re all exhausted from the travel, but Sunday doesn’t offer us a chance to rest. The crew is awake at 4:30am to move our gear to the floor of the Home Depot Center. Otis and I are able to sleep for a couple more hours, but it isn’t enough. Last night was a late night even without any competition.

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Practice is supposed to start at 8:00, followed by two hours of media rides. We planned to do as many runs as possible. Our competitors have had three full days of testing, which allowed them over a dozen runs on the paved courses plus a full day on the practice jump. We’re coming in cold and we need every second of seat time that we can get.

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Unfortunately for us, construction delays push the schedule back, and we’re only able to complete a single practice run. We have no problems with the crossover jump, but we suffer some damage on the ramp exiting the stadium, cracking the radiator and bending the subframe. However, Antoine L’Estage - our competitor on the practice run – badly damages his Hyundai on re-entering the stadium. He is facing major repairs and he doesn’t have a lot of time to make them. Antoine has to be ready for the parade lap or else we will take his place. We’re on pins and needles,
counting down the minutes, until we find out whether we will be participants or spectators.

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It’s going down to the wire. Antoine’s mechanics are frantically trying to rebuild the front end of his car. We go through the motions of getting ready to race, just in case. We put on our helmets and get in our car as the line for the parade lap starts to form. Half the field has started the parade lap when a Rally America official walks up to our car and taps the hood.

“Otis, you’re in.”

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Antoine was originally paired up with Andrew Comrie-Picard in the qualifying round. Since Antoine couldn’t take the start, we will face off against ACP.

We make our way to the start line. Otis is nervous. I remind him of his lengthy rallycross history and how those skills will translate well in this type of event. In the back of my mind, I’m thinking that we’ve only seen the course once, and Andrew is a very skilled driver, so we have an uphill battle ahead of us. We can do it, but we’ll need a bit of luck.

The lights go out and we hit the gas. Over the crossover and out of the stadium. The gap jump is exhilarating – I look out the window as a very small Mitsubishi races underneath us. Otis nails the jump, clears the ramp without any problems, and has a clean run through the first tarmac section.

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We re-enter the stadium in a very close race with ACP. We cross the line and start the run under the crossover jump. Something’s wrong. The car is down on power and won’t accelerate like it should. We have a boost leak, possibly a result of our hard landing in practice. Otis makes the most of the available power but there’s only so much that he can do.

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Our X Games is over as suddenly as it begun. Worse yet, the skateboarding ran long, so our race receives zero coverage on the TV broadcast.

The whole week has been an emotional rollercoaster, but especially now that the race is over. I’m happy that we got the chance to compete, and even though we lost, I’m relatively pleased with the result. Considering the boost problem and having a single practice lap, Otis drove really well – the best he could under the circumstances.

The crew guys are proud of Otis, too, but they’re pissed off that we didn’t get any TV coverage. We have worked extremely hard and sacrificed a lot to get here, but we have nothing to show for it.

Otis is extremely disappointed. It’s something we have never seen from him, even when we have been hit with bad luck before. It’s hard to pinpoint the cause. Does he feel he drove poorly? Is it the lack of TV exposure? Or is it the price tag of towing across the country for two laps in a stadium? We can’t figure out the answer.

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Looking Back
Would we do it again? Probably. When Lagemann crashed, it seemed virtually certain that we would compete. It would be very hard to walk away from an opportunity like that.

Will we be back next year? The circumstances would have to be very different, and right now that’s too early to say. But we would certainly consider the opportunity if it came up.

Was it worth it? This is the toughest question of all.

From a financial perspective, we should have stayed home. The X Games is incredibly expensive – we could have run two eastern national events for the same price. And we didn’t get the coverage that we had hoped to receive. We’ll have to tell our own story. 

On the flip side, the memories will last a lifetime. Some day we can tell our grandchildren that we had the chance to compete in the X Games. The banzai run across the country and the quick coordination of our whole team proved to ourselves that we are capable of accomplishing a seemingly impossible task. And being in the stadium was unforgettable – the fans, the crashes, the controversy and the fierce battles.

 But was it worth it? I don’t think we can answer that question right now. Having said that, I don’t think any of us regret making the trip. I’m pretty confident that in a few months we’ll look back on our X Games adventure and consider it worthwhile.

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One Response to “L.A. or bust – A cross-country dash to X Games”

  1. eli

    10. Aug, 2007

    Great story. I was crushed that you guys didn’t get any coverage. In retrospect, perhaps next year ESPN will do something to guarantee every car gets at least a minute or two of exposure. There is no excuse not to, especially when there are only 12 cars!!
    And I hope they finally realized that it’s a little different getting a rally car to the Xgames, complete with crew, then some emo punk showing up with his skateboard and a blonde hussy to parade around.

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