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Published: Saturday, March 19, 2011, 12:01 a.m.

Students at DirtFish Rally School take the sport for a spin

  • DirtFish Rally School student Jamie Thomas takes a demonstration ride through the slalom course with instructor Ted Anthony Jr. Students are taught ho...

    Michael O'Leary / The Herald

    DirtFish Rally School student Jamie Thomas takes a demonstration ride through the slalom course with instructor Ted Anthony Jr. Students are taught how to left-foot brake, turn and accelerate through the course.

  • A DirtFish Rally School student takes a demonstration ride through the slalom course with an instructor.

    Michael O'Leary / The Herald

    A DirtFish Rally School student takes a demonstration ride through the slalom course with an instructor.

  • DirtFish instructor Ted Anthony Jr. takes Jackson Holtz on a fast lap around the "wedge" at the rally driving school.

    Michael O'Leary / The Herald

    DirtFish instructor Ted Anthony Jr. takes Jackson Holtz on a fast lap around the "wedge" at the rally driving school.

  • DirtFish Rally School student Jamie Thomas finds a helmet that fits before heading out to get in one of the school's Subarus.

    DirtFish Rally School student Jamie Thomas finds a helmet that fits before heading out to get in one of the school's Subarus.

  • DirtFish Rally School student Jamie Thomas gets ready to try out the skid pad.

    Michael O'Leary / The Herald

    DirtFish Rally School student Jamie Thomas gets ready to try out the skid pad.

  • DirtFish Rally School instructor Ted Anthony Jr. takes student Jamie Thomas on some introductory laps around the skid pad.

    Michael O'Leary / The Herald

    DirtFish Rally School instructor Ted Anthony Jr. takes student Jamie Thomas on some introductory laps around the skid pad.

  • DirtFish Rally School instructor Ted Anthony Jr. takes student Jamie Thomas on some introductory laps around the skid pad.

    Michael O'Leary / The Herald

    DirtFish Rally School instructor Ted Anthony Jr. takes student Jamie Thomas on some introductory laps around the skid pad.

  • DirtFish Rally School instructor Ted Anthony Jr., with student Jamie Thomas at the wheel, slide on the snow and gravel of the skid pad.

    Michael O'Leary / The Herald

    DirtFish Rally School instructor Ted Anthony Jr., with student Jamie Thomas at the wheel, slide on the snow and gravel of the skid pad.

  • A DirtFish Rally School instructor and student slide in the snow and gravel on the school's skid pad.

    Michael O'Leary / The Herald

    A DirtFish Rally School instructor and student slide in the snow and gravel on the school's skid pad.

  • DirtFish Rally School student Jamie Thomas gets ready to drive one of the school's rally-prepared Subarus.

    Michael O'Leary / The Herald

    DirtFish Rally School student Jamie Thomas gets ready to drive one of the school's rally-prepared Subarus.

At DirtFish Rally School students learn to drive cars with their feet.
The alternating action of hitting the accelerator and pushing down on the brake can swing a vehicle around like a top.
Behind the wheel of a modified $80,000 Subaru Impreza WRX STI with sport suspension, special brakes and high-end tires, students get to kick up the dust, burn rubber, skid and spin.
"It was a blast," Chris Gardner, 41, said after his turn in the driver's seat. "You really get a sense of what the car can do."
Gardner came to the Snoqualmie race car driving school from Vancouver, B.C., with his sister and parents.
"They're letting you do whatever you're comfortable with," Gardner said.
That's the idea, instructor Don Wooten said.
Students spin a car sideways on a gravel rock bed, they slide into turns at 30 mph and snake through slalom courses under the watchful eyes of instructors.
Rally racing is to NASCAR what mountain bikes are to the Tour de France.
Rugged, street-legal cars dart through off-road courses at breakneck speeds. Each car must be road-approved, and unlike other types of car racing, rally drivers compete in pairs: a driver behind the wheel and a co-driver in the passenger seat to navigate the tricky twists and turns, dips and slides of the course.
The sport is huge outside the United States and gaining popularity here. That's one reason why last November DirtFish opened the only rally school on the West Coast on a 315-acre retired Weyerhaeuser mill site.
There's no racing here, just lots of opportunities to drive a modified high-end Subaru.
That's what drew Jamie Thomas, 40, of Clearview.
"I'm rally mad," she said. She's also over-the-top in love with a single automaker. The license plate on one of her six Subarus spells "Subigal."
Although she's been a rally driver for nearly 10 years, she's never had professional instruction. She signed up for the daylong class, which costs $895 a person. The school also offers a two-hour class at $249, a four-hour introductory class at $549, and a three-day intensive class at $2,795.
During the day, Thomas broke some bad habits and focused on racing properly, skills she hopes will make her a better, faster driver.
On tight, twisting rally courses, drivers don't have the luxury of steering conventionally. Each turn must be accomplished by sliding the car. The only way to accomplish this feat is to learn the fine balance of braking and accelerating, using both feet in the process.
It takes some getting used to all that slipping, sliding and left-foot braking, some students said.
"I'm getting it together," said Val Gardner, 68, who came all the way to the Snoqualmie school from British Columbia. "I didn't think I'd like going too fast, but they walk you through and tell you how to do it."
Although the price is steep, each student receives individualized instruction and plenty of time behind the wheel.
Donning a helmet and sitting in the modified car interior wearing a special seat belt is a bit intimidating. The engine is so loud, the helmet is equipped with a microphone and speakers so students and instructors can talk to each other.
Instructor Ted Anthony took me for a spin around DirtFish's 1.5-mile course. Even as a passenger, the ride is thrilling. It's a bit like downhill skiing in a car.
For enthusiasts and beginners, the day at DirtFish whets appetites. After a day on the courses at the old mill site, people likely will never drive their cars the same again.
"It's definitely something anyone with a little bit of adventure in their heart should try," Thomas said.
She stomped on the accelerator, lit up her brakes, slid and spun. Behind the wheel of a rally car, the smile on Thomas' face was brighter than the high beams of her headlights.

Jackson Holtz: 425-339-3447; jholtz@heraldnet.com.








Story tags » TravelAuto Racing

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