FocusRush | Life in Sixth Gear, Rise of the Phoenix 700 Mile Rally

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I’m not exactly sure anymore how I came across this event other than it was on facebook. It looked exciting, exclusive, and interesting. I’ve always been enamored by rallies like the Gumball and Cannonball runs across the country, but I know that those events are big money, and well well well well outside of my reach. WHen I came across this event, I asked myself what I had to loose by requesting an invitation. I saw that all of the cars in the teaser videos were highly modified supercars, and I thought it might be interesting to see if I’d even be accepted. The idea of being in a convoy with my Focus ST on the same playing field as Vipers and R34’s made my bunghole pucker with excitement. I know, I know, TMI…

Not even an hour had passed before I received an e-mail from LSG rally. The application was not very specific with the description of my car, so the anonymous keeper of the gate requesting a photo of my. This e-mail was the difference between another weekend of internet car part window shopping, or 700 miles of high-speed road trippin’. Included in the e-mail was a confession that they were once a focus fanatic and owned a 2002 ZX3 that was a replica of the then cool, fast and the furious-esq, bright orange Wings West Avenger Focus. This was my in, and I needed my best photo to send of my ST that would be the greatest representation of my pride and joy. After about an hour of digging through file after file on my computer, I settled on one and attached it to my reply.

This time, the wait was shorter for a reply, and this reply was one that I truly was not expecting. ‘You’re Invited!’ I clicked the link and reality struck like a lightning bolt to my wallet. The cost of the event was well above what I was expecting at around $600.00. I called up my good friend that I voluntold was going to be my co-driver and asked for a commitment from him that he would be able to make it before hitting that dredded ‘pay-now’ paypal button. Once the payment was sent, I felt like the idiotic screaming girl at a Justin Bieber concert. This was happening.

I called everyone in my contacts list that was at a major automotive after-market company for help. I needed decals! the more stickers, the more horsepower! Ha! Borla, Vortech, Wilwood, Bojix, and fifteen52 all received calls from me for some di-cut decals. I knew that it was too late to ask for sponsorship of any monetary value, so I settled on stickers. These companies were gracious enough to sponsor my car via product in the past, so I felt inclined to make sure they all had representation someone on the car. The task of placing these decals on the car was the next daunting task which took hours. Every logo needed to be placed on the car in just the right spot. If their were two, I needed to make sure that they were perfectly mirrored on each side of the car, and if their was only one, I took way too much time making sure that it was perfectly centered. After placing the decal just right, I noticed that the car was, well, black and white. I needed some spice, some #becauseracecar a so I went to my scraps of vinyl and found just what I needed, a strip of #JDMASF*CK red, and I knew the perfect place for it. After about 30 minutes of profanities, vulgarities, and a slice to my right index finger from my exacto knife, I completed the wrap of the front lower center lip. It was complete, it was…my race car.

The morning of the event was filled with excitement for myself and my co-driver, Chris Dorsey. We packed the car up with all of our stuff, and then some, and headed out on the road to Irvine, all before sunrise. We pulled into the entrance of the parking lot of K1 speed which was flanked by a DJ and two Dodge Vipers. Corvettes, Chargers, Camaros, and BMWs made up the rows of cars and I truly felt out of place. Once parked, we got out and headed towards check in. Before getting three feet, we were greeted by a man we recognized from one of the LSG youtube videos. Chris and I knew him as M-Dew Guy since it seemed that in every shot of him, he had a Mountain Dew in his hand, which we both noticed since we are Dew-Addicts. We offered him a cold can of dew from the cooler in the car and we noticed that a few of the drivers came over to check out my car. To my surprise, everyone was quite complementary. From the videos, we were expecting non-stop shenanigans from a motley crew of rich douchebags, but instead, we found a motley crew of well-off car enthusiasts that were all very accepting and cool. We got our registration completed and took our bag of even more decals to put on the ST. With the placement of the large LSG graphics on the doors of the ST, it reignited that twitch in my sphincter of excitement. It looked the part, now we just needed to keep up.

Once the driver’s meeting completed, we were on the road. I was not expecting such a spirited drive through Orange County traffic, but in this case, the traffic acted as an equalizer and allowed my humble four cylinder to keep up with everyone. Once outside of the congestion of the city, we were on our way to our first checkpoint. Chris was frantically trying to figure out the Rally app to make sure we got our challenges completed correctly and before we knew it, we were there. It was an hour drive from out starting line, but it felt like 5 minutes. Take a picture at the checkpoint, find the dinosaurs, take a picture in front of them, do a quick burnout and take a video, ready, set, go. It all happened so fast and before we knew it we found ourselves on the road out of civilization and onto the vast nothingness of the California desert.

Checkpoint two was at the Iconic Amboy Hotel/Motel on Route  66. We were somehow one of the first to arrive at this checkpoint and we took the time to patronize the store as well as use their ‘facilities’. In small groups, the rest of the drivers pulled into the gas station in front of the Cafe to fill their now starving gas tanks. Many cringed as they looked up at the prices for the gas and realized they were paying more than $6.20 per gallon. To compound the matter, the station ran out of gas before many could get any gas at all. I looked down at my gas gauge and was sitting pretty high and mighty when I saw that I had more than 3/4’s of a tank still. We took this advantage and opportunity to leave early and get ahead of everyone else. We knew that we had enough of a head start to not have to excessively speed down route 66. Chris by this point was able to figure out our place within the rally and to our joyous surprise, we were in 4th place! We couldn’t quite figure out how the others were beating us in the top three, but we didn’t really care at this point. We never expected to be so high in the rankings.

This new piece of information forced my competitive side to surface and my foot became quite heavy by this point. Keep in mind that ‘heavy’ for me is 10mph over the speed limit. While cruising at this speed, we noticed a car coming up quickly behind us. Before we could identify it, it had already passed us on the left as if we were standing still. It was the Lexus F-Type, and it was HAULING ASS. I thought for sure that the rest of the pack would be right behind, but no one else surfaced until the next checkpoint. Again to our surprise, we were one of the first to arrive at the lunch checkpoint. Chris spotted the Taco Bell from about 15 miles before the exit and insisted that we go their, only to find out that lunch was going to be provided by the coordinators of the rally. My boss at this point in time thought that it would be the perfect time to demand that I re-send an e-mail to him that I had sent him in the past because blah blah blah blah blah. For me, socializing wasn’t an option, I had to work during this break because  . Since we ate earlier than everyone else, Chris kept his socializing to a minimum and again, we headed out early to get a head start on everyone else.

The sun had set and we were once again on a two lane highway. I was quite thankful that we had left with no-one on our tail since we had a run-in with a pair of deer. Without any warning what-so-ever, a pair of deer thought it would be the perfect time to run across the highway right as I was driving past. By the time I reacted, I was quite convinced that we were screwed. I thought that the car was going to get totaled, I thought there was going to be some injuries via a deer through the windshield, and I thought for sure that there was going to be a dead deer. To our absolute amazement, the 14″, 6-piston front brakes and 13″ rears performed beyond anything we thought possible. The car stopped about 15 yards short of the deer which by this point was frozen in the middle of the lane. If the car had stock brakes, or if it were any other car, we’d be in a world of hurt. THANK YOU WILWOOD!

As we neared the end of day one, we made our way to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. It was a straight shot North, but the weather was turning south. We were able to see patches of snow starting to form on the ground on either side of road and an occasional flurrie would hit the windshield. It was only a few more miles to the end and I was in first. WIth the road being straight for so long, and the sun being gone from the sky, I could see headlights a few miles behind me, and quickly approaching. We were in first by this point, but that coveted place was now in jeopardy. I increased my cruise control speed another 20mph figuring that there was still enough distance between us only only a few miles remaining that I could maintain my position. About 2 miles before our last checkpoint for they day, I was tailed by two VERY fast cars and they didn’t want to slow down. I was forced to take off the cruise control and speed up even more. The occasional flurry had turned a light dusting and I was now able to see the wind blowing lines of snow across the road. The two behind me were not letting off so I had both hands on the wheel and was incredibly focused. About a mile from the day’s finish line, The two supercars behind me took the opportunity to blow past me as if I was standing still. When they passed, I downshifted to 4th gear and put the pedal to the floor. I was able to keep up with their new fast-paced cruising speed. The only way to get the points by this point was to have my co-driver have his phone on, app on, and ready to submit our snapshot before the other’s had a chance. We pulled into the front entry of the Hotel which was the finish line, and before the car came to a complete stop, Chris took a quick snapshot and hit submit. We were first.

We checked into the hotel and parked around back. When we got out belongings to the room, we both quickly realized how hungry and tired we were. It was late at night so many of the restaurants were closed, or closing. We went to the hotel next door and found a quiet restaurant where we enjoyed some delicious steaks and and a glass of wine. Well, I enjoyed a glass of wine while Chris drank a glass of milk. My glass of wine quickly turned into several glasses and it took its tole on me quicker than anticipated due to the 6000 feet of elevation. After dinner, Chris went to bed, and I made my way to Casa Bonita (The same name as the highly coveted South Park Destination) restaurant where I found the rest of the competitors eating. I stumbled around a bit until I found a seat and waited to hear the details about the next morning, then stumbled back to the room, made my way to my bed, and was OUT!

The following morning was painful. After only a few glasses of wine, I managed to earn myself a lite hangover. The free continental breakfast was mediocre as expected, but was punctuated by the deathly screams of a crying young girl. Chris and I couldn’t take the noise and departed for the rim of the grand canyon. When we walked outside, we were shocked at how cold it had become and were surprised that it was still snowing. Very cautiously, we drove to the South rim and made our way to the edge. The view was less than epic since the snow was blocking the vast majority of our view. I felt as if my co-driver was cheated out of the experience of seeing the Grand Canyon since it was more like a Grand Fog. All was not lost since he had never seen it snow before, so there was plenty of that to be seen. After only a few minutes at the rim, we shuffled our way to the local bike shop to get ourselves some gloves and beanies since we were caught without proper clothing for the nippy air. Now, much warmer, we made our way back to the rim where we met up with the rest of the group and took some fun group shots. I was the last one out since i decided to hang back and get a few more shots with my Nikon and while walking up the stairs to the main sidewalk, a family of Latin origin passed me. In the back of their group was an elderly woman that like me was not prepared for the freezing temperatures. Her small wrinkled hands gripped the railing with a firm but painful grip as the metal bar felt colder than the freezing air around. Each step was very labored as to not slip and fall on the ice that covered each step. The rest of the family seemed completely unaware of her struggles and moans of pain as they all rushed ahead to the rim of the canyon and left her behind. I felt my heart melt for this woman and I took off my now warm, newly purchased wool gloves and gave it to the old woman. ‘Seniora, Gratis’ I said, as it was the thing in Spanish I could think of to say to her as I helped her put the gloves on her frozen hands. She looked at me with disbelief and thanks in her eyes as she repeated several times ‘Aye Dios Mio! Muchos Gracias” ( I think that’s how you spell it). She gave me a hug and I was on my way back to the car. As I was walking away, I she was still saying ‘Gracias Senior’ over and over again. I didn’t turn back, my hands were now freezing and the group was on their way out.

The caravan out of the park was slow, I mean, leave it in first gear and don’t touch the gas pedal slow. The road was covered in fresh powder with ice underneath so any type of speed was out of the question. I had the advantage since I was one of the few drivers with all season tires, traction control, and the only front wheel drive car. I was able to speed past a few cars at 5mph versus their cruising speed 4mph. From what I was told, the driver attempted to drive the road without the traction control on, and ended up sliding off the road. No damage, just ended up off to the side. As we drove down in elevation, the weather cleared and it became possible to get the car back up to ‘freeway speeds’.

Because of the bad weather, the remainder of the checkpoints were canceled. We did have one last challenge to do which was an off-road burn out. Once we were in the middle of nowhere, we exited the freeway,found a dirt road, and filmed and submitted the worlds most awesome front wheel drive dirt burn out. #rallycar

Now with some dried mud, and dust all over the car, we made our way to the finish line in Scottsdale, AZ. It was a beautiful; Hotel/Casino that was very Vegas-esq. We checked into the lesser expensive hotel next door and napped until party time.

Once back at the Casino, we did some on-camera interviews about the rally and made our way to the private VIP club on the top floor. We had our own reserved area for LSG competitors, and lots and lots of free booze. I even let loose and danced a little to the Cupid Shuffle. HA! After the awards were announced and handed out, Chris and I went back to the room and knocked out.

The next morning we took our time to wake up and had some wonderfully bland Denny’s food for breakfast. We were on the road back to Ventura and 65 seemed so slow. The entire event went off without a hitch. At least that’s what I thought.

On the drive back from Scottsdale AZ, to Venutra, CA (About 460 miles) My co-driver had to pee. We had just stopped and it was getting late so I told him to just pee in an empty gatorade bottle we had for just that purpose. Even though it was incredibly dark, he still found it necessary to turn himself all the way towards the door and basically do some sideways planking in the passenger side seat in order to hide his wiener from me. As soon as he did that, all of the gauge lights on the dash went out including the main SYNC MFT Screen, as well as everything plugged into USB and 12v ports, which included my GPS. I also noticed that my horn and turn signals weren’t working. The last thing on the center gauge cluster screen that I saw was ‘Take to dealer for immediate assistance’ The car was continuing to run, but I decided it best to pull off the freeway. I found a spot off the offramp to pull over where Mr. ShyPee could do his thing, and he jumped up, opened the door and did his thing while I tried to figure out what the hell went wrong. I made the mistake of shutting the car off because as soon as I did, I realized that I couldn’t turn it back on. Nothing was working anymore. I checked all of the fuses under the hood with no luck in finding any issue, and then I searched for the interior fuse box. Up to this point, I’ve never seen it and had no idea where it was. Come to find out, it’s in the passenger footwell. I walk around to the passenger side of the car to find a MASSIVE wet spot on the ground from his pee. This wasn’t just a little trickle line in the dirt, this was a large 3-foot splash zone of wetness. How the car was, I couldn’t move it at all to get it out of the way of that, so I had to kneel in the splash circle of peepee to get to the fuse box where I find the main harness to it had been partially pulled out by his foot. I re-secured it back in place and everything was back to normal.

Moral of the Story, When your co-driver is trying to pee in a bottle on the way back from a 700 mile Rally, make sure he’s not a shy pee-er or your ST will be rendered useless.

James Stanley