by Chris Leone // Website // Twitter

Images via Jason Swoboda

MAKING OF A CHAMPIONSHIP
The Galvanizing Moment // The Return // From One Extreme to Another (today) // Returning to Colorado // Down the Stretch // The Champions

While they’re all united by common vehicles and procedures, the terrain of the Rally America National Championship is highly diverse. From the woods of Southern Ohio Forest Rally and Lake Superior Performance Rally, to the dusty mountains of Rally Colorado, no two events, or stages, are truly alike. Combine that with how dramatically each car can alter the roads, and each stage is a living, breathing organism with its own personality, just like the drivers who compete and the cars they run.

But Sno*Drift is an event all its own. Every late January, rallyists prepare for one of the only snow events in the United States each year—an event where they don’t have the advantage of using studded tires.

“An event like Sno*Drift is incredibly difficult for both the driver and co-driver, because of the varying amount of traction and its unpredictability,” Mike admits. “Dave was always fighting for traction and analyzing every inch of the road to try and figure out how much (really, how little) traction to expect. I had to constantly adjust the tempo of my calls because our speed varied so much. I also had to make sure I called turns with braking going into them really early because it took so long to slow down on the ice.  Most stages have a rhythm to them, which allows us to get into a flow. Sno*Drift had no rhythm, so it was a constant battle to just finish every stage."

After a runner-up finish to Nathan Usher and Marianna Langosch at Nemadji Winter Trail Rally, the Browns entered Sno*Drift just looking to finish. But after a smooth and consistent run that included multiple stage wins, they returned to the top of the charts for the second time in their Rally America career with a victory. The win also gave them the overall championship lead.

“The overall win at Sno*Drift was really awesome, but nothing could have prepared me for those conditions!” Dave explains. “An inch of perfectly clear glare ice covered in a layer of water? I've never even heard of road conditions like that, let alone driven on them, and now we were going to race on it? This was another rally where we just wanted to finish and not crash. This time, it was even more important because we'd committed to running the entire season so we knew that getting points every event would be key.

“We felt like we were moving incredibly slowly but in the end we set some overall fast stage times and stayed consistently near the top on every stage. To me, Sno*Drift confirmed that Rally Colorado wasn't just a fluke and that we were able earn our overall wins on the most challenging roads around. It was a really great feeling!”

“After our Sno*Drift victory, I think we joked about the overall National Championship but never thought it would actually be a possibility,” Mike adds. “I mean, we were racing against great drivers with amazing race cars whose tire budget is bigger than our entire 2018 race budget (kidding—sort of). I was pretty certain that there was no way we could compete against those teams. I was wrong.”