Motocross Rider Succeeds in Rally Racing After Destabilizing Accident
In the span of a week this past July, Rally America rookie driver, Ryan Wilcox from Suffield, CT, amazingly took regional podium honors in his first attempt at performance rally while competing at the New England Forest Rally (NEFR) in Newry, Maine, and a week later, he found himself on the podium again at Round #2 of the U.S. Rallycross Series, which took place at the New Jersey Motorsports Park in Millville, NJ.
His accomplishments are impressive - not only because he beat other seasoned rally drivers and rallycross competitors as a first-timer, but also because it was his first major sporting success after surviving a traumatic motorcycle accident in 2007 that effectively ended his motocross career.
Wilcox was hoping to make a name for himself in the America Motorcyclist Association’s (AMA) Amateur - Pro circuit where he competed against other famous riders, such as Travis Pastrana. Wilcox’s dream was to be the best in his class and then make a living competing in motocross where he’d spent a decade racing.
But on a fateful morning in October 2007, Ryan was on his way to school riding his street bike when he collided with a car at a high rate of speed. Wilcox broke all his limbs, ruptured his aortic artery and was in danger of bleeding to death. He lives today because an ambulance crew happened to be enjoying a lunch break in a nearby parking lot and heard the accident occur.
The ambulance team rushed Wilcox to the hospital where he underwent two heart surgeries to repair his severed aortic artery. The second operation resulted in an infection where he spent four months in an induced coma. After eight months in the hospital, Wilcox was released and spent another two years learning how to walk again and to rebuild his battered body.
During his recovery, Wilcox watched his longtime motocross heroes, Travis Pastrana and “Cowboy” Kenny Bartram, make the move from motocross competition to performance rally and as a result, he determined that rally, too, could be a natural outlet for his motocross skills if he wasn’t able to compete on a bike again.
During his recovery process the inspired Wilcox secured a car and willed himself to compete in the SCCA RallyCross circuit while still on crutches. The SCCA’s rallycross experience was just what he needed to fuel his desire to compete again and he made a trip to watch the 2011 New England Forest Rally (NEFR). Following that event, Ryan made a commitment to himself that if there was any way he could manage it, he would compete in the event himself the very next year!
To achieve his dream, Wilcox cobbled enough funds together to purchase a 1996 Subaru Outback Wagon which would serve as the basis for his first-ever rally car. He spent days, nights and any free time working on the car making it rally-ready. As the 2012 New England Forest Rally drew closer, Wilcox and the ECS Performance team swapped the previously installed STI 2.5 liter engine for a smaller one without forced induction as Rally America rules do not allow entry-level drivers to compete with a turbo-charged engine. The team spent the eve of NEFR tuning the engine before Ryan arrived to compete in his first rally event.
Amazingly, in just his first regional rally weekend as a competitor, Wilcox and his team went on to take 3rd place in the Open Light Class at the 2012 Maine Regional Rally and 2nd place in the Open Light Class in the New Hampshire Regional Rally the very next day.
“Motocross skills translate easily to rally,” explained Wilcox, “I was always in the ruts at NEFR, but motocross teaches you how to use the ruts to keep momentum up. I had a great rally and only went off the road a few times. Now I know why I needed to start my rally career without a turbo – everything happens so fast!”
Wilcox likens rally racing to motocross, but with more of an adrenaline rush. He explains that rally racing is a lot like the sport he favored on the dirt only faster. As a result of his years in motocross, he’s comfortable losing traction in the dirt and feels that he has a competitive advantage in that regard.
Says Wilcox, “I like being scared. There’s just something about driving at 100mph without hitting a tree.”
Wilcox’s Subaru left NEFR in great condition so he decided to enter Round #2 of the U.S. Rallycross Series a week later at the New Jersey Motorsports Park. The car wasn’t quite prepared for rallycross competition, so Wilcox cashed in on some favors at X-Pro Motocross where the machinists quickly produced a restrictor plate the morning of the event.
“The whole car came together Saturday morning around 1:30am,” said Wilcox, “We drove straight to New Jersey and arrived just in time for tech. I had no sleep, but I was amped to race.”
Wilcox, with support from ECS Performance, raced each qualifying and heat session to finish 2nd in the 4WD Class, and first place in the 4WD Limited Class! The result is even more amazing since he was up against notable rally car drivers, such as David Sterckx and Burak Tuglu in well-prepared rally cars.
Despite the intense racing and short service times of the rallycross racing which was also new to Wilcox, he somehow managed to steal a few naps while still strapped into his driver’s seat with his Hans head & neck restraint system still connected!
“I was strapped in, Hans device still on and I just fell asleep in the car while the crew worked on it,” said Wilcox, “My ECS Performance teammate, Robert Champion, found me napping at one point and said the Hans device was perfect for napping because it doesn’t let your head fall.”
Given all that Ryan’s been through in recent years due to his unfortunate motorcycle accident in 2007, it’s amazing that he’s even with us today and even more amazing that he’s been as successful as he has been in his rally debut. Keep an eye out for this dynamic driver when he returns for the remaining two rounds of Rally America’s U.S. Rallycross Series at New Jersey Motorsports Park on October 20th and November 17th.
You can follow Ryan Wilcox’s progress and visit his sponsors here:
Photo 1 & 3: Terry Hall
Photo 2: Mat Janiak