Given the present state of the sport in the US, I recommend getting a real job and using that to fund the rally habit. Full-time jobs in rallying are hard to come by (unless, apparently, you like Vermont).
Currently, the only folks doing this for a living in the US are those running prep and build shops, or sales outlets for 'stuff'. And, if I did this, I would not limit myself to just rallying, so as to have a broader business base. (Of course, the focus on rallying could get watered down; it's a balancing act like so many things.)
I'll stick with wireless systems engineering, implementation, and sales of such, and running my litle business in that industry. Too late to change horses now.
I've always been of the type that likes to keep work and play separate. I'm a statistical analyst/economist right now. Start grad school in Sept. and plan to go into higher education as a professor doing research in the medical field. When people ask me what I do for a living I tell them I am a statistician and that I build and race rally cars.
I am a rally car driver. If you go into any restaurant in LA and ask your waitress what her career is, she will certainly tell you she is an actress. She's just doing this gig between roles.
If you want to be successful, you have to tell yourself and others what you are. About two years ago, I stopped telling people I was a designer and started saying I was a race car driver.
I put more time into racing (car prep, marketing, travel, meetings, chasing down parts, keeping sponsors happy, and a little bit of actually driving) than I do on my day job. It is beginning to pay off.
On Monday thru Friday from 8-5, I do contract work for Ford Design. I'm pretty much relegated to computer modelling in Alias now. Contrary to popular belief, my Ford ties had and have absolutely nothing to do with my Mazda ties.
If you want to be a rally car driver, be one. If you want to be a guy who rallies for fun, that is just fine, too. I believe your success will be relative to either the time, or the money (or both) you put into it (depending on how you measure success).
There isn't a lot of opportunity to make money rallying in the States at the moment. The prep shops do okay, but I don't see many of them getting rich.
You're best bet it is to get a good day job, don't get married/have kids, live cheap, and rally hard.
Alternatively, you could get a job elsewhere in motorsports. It isn't rallying, but racing is still fun. They don't tend to pay as well initially, but you learn a lot and get some good opportunities. A great example is Chris Gilligan, who started I believe as an analyst, then worked on NASCAR stuff, and now is head of some GM racing programs. He's a busy guy, working on some sweet machinery, but he still finds to time to kick ass in his Evo.
Whatever you do, get invovled in the school's SAE racing programs NOW! These are invaluable training grounds to a future in motorsports. I learned way more working on SAE Baja cars than I ever did in class.
>How many people actually rally for their career or rally
My job is kind of rally related (actually more recce related, right Jason? ). I?m a forest road engineer for a private timber company, and they actually pay me to inspect and maintain logging roads.
Working in the forest, I?ve learned a few things about driving on loose and varying surfaces, but it?s also been a hindrance. In my first year of racing, I was giving my co-driver a woods tour- ?I laid out that road, this was my first harvest unit, I need to replace those culverts soon, ??. I used to take bizarre racing lines, always on the right side of the road for fear of that oncoming log truck. Now I get frustrated that I can?t open it up when I?m working because the risk of civilian traffic, rock trucks, or motorcycles, scares the piss out of me. At least I can tear loose a few weekends a year, on secure stage roads.
While I love my job, I wouldn?t recommend forestry to anyone as a career. It?s a small field and jobs are few and far between. But it does have it?s benefits- my office is my pickup or the woods, no cubicals!
Good luck with whatever career you chose in the future! Hope to see you on stage soon.