Feature Article, Other Motorsports, Washington — November 22, 2004 at 4:47 pm

Craig Murphy’s Rally Car ride (issue 62)


By Craig Murphy

Just before we take off on a press ride during the Sept. 10-12 Wild West International Rally weekend, Dave Hintz looks over from the driver seat of his Subaru WRX.

“I’m going to take it a little easy,” he assures me.

Before my mind can even finish the thought “Is he joking?” Hintz seems to provide the answer.

Hintz dumps the clutch and takes off on a full-throttle launch.

The 250 turbocharged horses propel the WRX as the all-wheel-drive system scrambles to provide traction. Within moments we’re sliding through the corners as Hintz alternates between the brake and gas pedals, sometimes using both at once.

Small branches and tall weeds hanging over the road quickly get knocked out of the way as we roar along, kicking up plenty of gravel along the way.

All the while I’m chuckling to myself, “Man, I wouldn’t do that in MY car.”

This is my second time on the course. Earlier in the morning Steve McQuaid, one of the event’s organizers, took me on a slightly more pedestrian tour of the road in a full-size 15-passenger Chevy van.

No offense Steve, but I found the ride with Dave slightly more thrilling.

Dave has been rallying about 10 years with brother Rick. Initially Rick was the driver, and the duo had a 1973 Dodge Colt. “I was a nervous passenger,” Dave recalls.

Several years ago Dave took over the driving. Dave, who still lives in Washington, bought the WRX this year. Rick, who lives near San Diego, comes up and serves as Dave’s co-driver approximately six races a year.

This WRX has a more powerful turbo than stock. Other improvements include the transmission and rally differential. “The transmission and differential are noisy, which is why they are not put on the street car,” Dave says. “But they provide better traction than stock. The car is very reliable, and that’s what we want.”

Shocks are also upgraded from stock. “It’s pretty bumpy for around town,” Dave says. “You wouldn’t want these parts on your daily driver. You wouldn’t want your girlfriend in the car with all this clanking.”

The Hintz brothers used to compete in a 1987 Mazda RX-7 Turbo. If you watched an area rally in recent years, you probably remember the car: it was the black-and-yellow bullet that was constantly sideways.

When the Hintz brothers moved up to the WRX, the RX-7 was sold to Rick Schmeling. My second press ride of the day was with Schmeling, who had his intercom setup to ease conversation.

“A 1978 Datsun 510 was my first car,” Schmeling says before we start the run. “This is my third season rallying. I’m still getting adjusted to this car. It’s got two or three times more power (than the 510), and a lot better handling. When you’re going fast enough, you don’t even feel the little bumps.”

Um, I guess that’s supposed to be a comforting thought?

Like others, Schmeling remembers seeing Hintz driving the RX-7 slideways in a four-wheel drift. “Rear wheel drive cars just look cooler, with the rear end hanging out,” he opines. “I’ve only driven RWD cars – give it a little throttle, get some rear wheel oversteer.”

Only rallying as a hobby, the Shelton resident says he’s not up to the level yet of a driver like Hintz, and as such gets crossed up from time to time.

“I always have one or two of those moments,” Schmeling says. “When you’re on a one-lane road, you have to drift it just right.”

Schmeling notes one such moment during the press run, when he broke the RX-7 sideways during a sharp turn. “I over-rotated a bit too much on that right hander,” he says. “I do not have enough confidence yet to fully commit.”

As the run comes to an end, Schmeling lets this little gem slip out. “I rolled my car in my first rally, during the third stage,” he points out.

Wow, now that is a comforting thought.

“But I haven’t rolled since,” he adds. “I didn’t want to spend three more months fixing my car. I’m just doing this as a hobby.”

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