July 29, 2013

Wild and crazy ride attracts racers to Sunday River

By Matt Byrne mbyrne@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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Dirt flies from a rally car as it navigates around a hairpin turn on the Newry race course.

Photos by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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The Last Ditch Racing team of John Cassidy and Dave Getchell work their Subaru through the Concord Pond Stage of the 2013 New England Forest Rally in Newry on Friday. Driving competitively on loose surfaces is a dance performed at the edge of control.

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Getchell and Cassidy teamed up after Getchell covered the Maine rally in 2000 for a weekly newspaper he worked for at the time.

"I met this guy, struggling at the back (of the field) with this little banged-up Honda, trying to solve some relatively simple thing, but he didn't have the resources," said Getchell. "We've been self-funded for many years. When we break it, we pay. When we race, we pay. We trust his car with our lives, literally."

As Cassidy became more serious about racing, better results followed. He would go on to win four regional championships with a newer car, a Subaru, between 2007 and 2011. It had been two years since the pair raced together, and the first rally drive for Cassidy since his stroke.

"I was wondering, would I be sharp enough to do this? I can't put Dave at risk. I have kids," Cassidy said. "We've had comments like, 'Do you have a death wish?' I don't do it because I want to die. I do it because I want to live."

On Friday, Cassidy and Gethcell won their class. Cassidy said it was one of his best days rallying.

Cassidy, Getchell and their crew were on their way to sipping Stella Artois beer and tucking into barbecue sandwiches Friday night in the hospitality tent, when the work was just beginning for White and team Saab.

In the final part of Friday's racing, clipping through the trees at about 90 mph, the Saab's gearbox -- located direcly underneath the engine -- made an unplanned meeting with an indigenous boulder.

"We hit a rock the size of a toaster," said White, who had moments earlier climbed from the car, still sweating. "We came over a crest, and there's this rock."

For normal drivers in regular cars, such a breakage would spell disaster. But within minutes White was working the phones, looking to score a few parts.

As the last of the sunlight faded over the ski slopes, White hit pay dirt: Not one, but two replacement transmissions had been located.

"We're sending the boys to Portland," White said, grinning.

The four-hour journey would mean few on the team would sleep that night.

No one knew if one of the transmissions would work, or in what condition they would be. But those are real-life concerns for regular drivers. This is rallying, he explained. They had to try.

Watching the familiar drama unfold in the paddock, Getchell, a longtime friend of White's, knew the feeling too well.

"This is it, in a nutshell," Getchell said.

More than 12 hours later, on Saturday morning, White and Clark were back in the car. The car was due at the starting line in a few precious minutes, and White's face was in a strained grimace as the engine turned and turned.

He kept trying, the starter-motor whining. One cylinder caught, and then another and another. The motor roared to life, and the silver and red Saab with antique plates eased into the queue of rumbling race cars, ready to try it again.

Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:



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Additional Photos

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Aiden Gardner Baker, 5, cheers as he and other spectators watch racers during the Icicle Brook Stage on Friday.

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Racer John Cassidy’s firesuit displays his blood type, to help rescue workers in case of an emergency.

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John Cassidy, front, and Dave Getchell, rear, of Last Ditch Racing, settle into their Subaru rally car before departing for the first stage of the day at the New England Forest Rally.

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Mike White and Geoff Clark prepare to enter their Saab in the South Lodge parking lot at Sunday River on Saturday as they and other rally teams line up for the start of the second day of the New England Forest Rally.

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Dave Getchell, co-driver for Last Ditch Racing, dons his racing helmet before departing for the Sunday River Super Special Stage.

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Erik Lee, in driver’s seat, and Cullen Gillis sit in the front of Last Ditch Racing’s Subaru rally car late Friday night as they go through final pre-race checks for the next day.

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John Cassidy, left, goes over racing footage from the first day of the New England Forest Rally in Newry as co-driver Dave Getchell checks his phone before going to bed.


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