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It was the least likely and least expected turn of events in a very, very long time. And even now, two weeks later, it doesn't feel real. Somehow, in spite of ourselves, we won this year's High Desert Trails Rally.

After buying this car last fall I swore that I'd do everything possible to avoid a last-minute thrash the week of the rally as those have been part of virtually every rally I've ever entered. It was a plan that went very well right up until our last test day, three weeks before the event. It was then, as I loaded a car with a broken transmission onto the trailer, that I was reminded of how genuinely difficult rallying is. The soul-crushing thought of pulling the plug on this long-awaited race crossed my mind more than I'd like to admit.

Fortunately, the parts were located and installed in time and we were there at scrutineering the night before the race with a respectable-looking race car. We'd never really tested it at night, the transmission was freshly assembled and Dave arrived with a head full of snot. But we had made it.

As we bogged off the start line of stage one the next morning I was keenly aware that I was about to drive the car faster than I'd ever driven any rally car and far faster than I'd ever driven this one. So as I watched the shift light flicker on in fifth gear across Kelso Valley, I remembered the math I'd done the week before. Back then, 122 mph was all theory. Now it was hitting home with brick-to-the-kidney reality. Because, kids, that's really fast on dirt. That HDTR is a fast rally was something I'd known for a while. That it was this fast felt fake.

Stage two, Sorrell Peak, changed everything. There we traded 5s and 6s separated by a quarter mile for 2s and 3s separated by 20 yards. What a stage -- up, down, blind, tight, loose -- it had it all. Including a lot of dust from John Trucks who has flatted in front of us and opted to finish the stage on the dead tire. In hindsight, it was the stage of the rally which required the most self control -- and the one that was most likely to end it all.

By stage three, Dearborn Mine, Dave and I were syncing and I was starting to get comfortable with the speed and the car. Dearborn Mine also happens to be the best stage of the event as it couples the tight and twisty roads of Sorrell Peak with the faster more flowing roads of Kelso Valley to produce a fantastic balance of dirt perfection. It's also the first stage we won -- something we wouldn't know for several more hours.

Stage four was a reverse run through the first ten miles of stage one -- super fast and wide with scary embedded rock and the occasional deadly rut.

The first service came and went in a flurry of dust that saw the team bleeding a clutch master cylinder, rotating tires and fueling. It was relatively uneventful, which is the way I'd prefer it. Then we reran the same four stages to complete the first divisional rally. We won another stage, but still didn't know it as we rolled into service the second time.

This was the pivotal point in the rally. Third gear was dying and we'd stopped using it altogether on stage eight. There was no fixing it and we knew the chances of surviving the race with a four speed were slim. Despite this, there were more pressing matters. The rear bushing on the front left control arm was dripping blue snot (who knew those were fluid filled anyway?), a broken jack stand was making simple things difficult and we had lights to install and a gas tank to fill. There was a lot of chaos, the heat was setting in and Dave's cold was doing him no favors as he attempted to re-drug and refuel for the last leg.

Then we found out we were leading the rally.

This changed things. Considerably. With help from John Trucks' crew (thanks, Richard), we left with functional driving lights, a full tank of fuel and wheels that probably wouldn't part ways with the car. At the turnaround we had a chance to indulge in one of my favorite parts of the sport -- talking with our competitors in the middle of nowhere. Got to meet some great folks (I'm talking to you, Todd McAlister) and see some old friends (Chrissie, Matthew). There are few sports where one can, within the spread of a few minutes, appreciate nature's serene beauty and follow it up with a perfect sideways leap down an off-camber turn at 70 mph. But that's rallying, God bless it.

Rolling into the final MTC of the day with a car that would drive onto the trailer was the one goal I'd really wanted to achieve. Doing it with two Divisional wins and a National win was a real honor.

The day included all the components that make rallying fantastic. There were pre-race jitters, last-minute thrashes, friendly rivalries, common-cause partnerships, slow cars driven fast, fast cars driven broken, flat tires (not ours), duct-tape fixes, epic natural beauty, intense heat, improbable mud, physical meltdowns, likely excuses, shrewd driving strategies, shortsighted throttle smashing, rollovers, high highs, low lows and unlikely champagne.

We owe a big thanks to Maxxis Tires for providing some killer rubber that never let us down and provided genuine confidence in some wild conditions. Kartboy, Energy Suspension and Sparco USA also helped out. Also, it couldn't be done without a crew who takes the job seriously and gives it everything. Thanks, guys.

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