Q&A with Mike Lovejoy
Mike Lovejoy is a Delivery Specialist at Baxter Subaru and the co-driver for the RedFogo Racing Team. Along with driver Jovan Kelsey, they completed their first-ever rally at the Rally in the 100 Acre Wood earlier this year. I sat down with Mike, as they get Bender The Rally Car ready for their next event to talk a bit how he got into rally, his experiences competing in his first rally, his love for Subaru, and what’s next.
This year’s Rally in the 100 Acre Wood was your first ever rally as a co-driver. What got you interested in rally and what made you want to co-drive?
There were a few things that came together to make me want to be a co-driver. I hadn’t even heard about stage rally until I was doing research to buy my first Subaru. There was a video that had just come out in 2011 of David Higgins making his way up Mt Washington in a Subaru and that popped up while I was looking for info. Between his driving, the course, and all the subsequent videos that followed, it got the wheels turning for me. As a fan following all these rally videos, I really just wanted to make more sense of what the co-driver was saying during all the in-car footage. That prompted a message to Craig Drew, whom I had met through a couple of events I had managed to make it to. His answer was to attend his Co-Driving course that he was teaching at DirtFish Rally School. I signed up with a friend, we boarded a plane from Omaha to Seattle, and took the 2-day course. Learning from him, being at the rally school, getting in the car and actually delivering notes, all these things took me from just being a fan to feeling like it was something I could actually do. At that point, I knew I wanted to get involved with co-driving.
I’d guess your first rally was very eventful. What would you say were the highlights of the event?
There were a lot of moments that stick out, but I think that’s mostly because what seems normal for seasoned competitors is still new for us. Early in the first stage, we were starting to see competitors having trouble and that was throwing us a bit. We were nearing a spectator point and pushing a little more to give the fans a show. As we approached the turn, there was a tire sitting right in the apex of the corner. My driver dodged it, but we got pulled over the crown of the road and into the loose gravel on the outside and spun. It killed the car and, after regaining composure, he fired it back up quick and exited the cloud of dust only to find the owner of that tire a few hundred feet further down the stage. Another one of the downed competitors was in a fancy looking Escort Cosworth. As we passed by a man in shiny sunglasses and a Monster Energy sponsorship with an “OK” sign up, I distinctly remember hearing over the comms “Well, we’re faster than Ken Block.” That set a pretty easy tone for the rest of the day. The second day was not as forgiving and right before we thought we were gonna finish unscathed, we slid down a hill, over an embankment, under a barbed wire fence, and debeaded a tire. With less than a mile to finish the stage and no good place to pull off and change it, we drove through the stage and ruined the tire. It was the last stage of the day and was a very quiet drive back to the finish. We were both tired and frustrated by ending on a down note. When we arrived at the fairgrounds, the guy who took my timecard at the end end said “Congratulations on finishing the rally” and it slowly set in. In a rally that had seen all sorts of attrition, we managed to finish our first rally. Between reuniting with our friends who had made the drive down to support us, seeing all the competitors who had made it, and celebrating together that evening, it was pretty easy to shake off the “oops” we had ended on and be proud of what we had accomplished.
What were the biggest surprises of the rally? What did you learn that you’ll be applying to future rallies?
I think we underestimated how important Recce is. Making adjustments to the notes so they make sense to us can play a much bigger role in our success when we’re actually at speed in the car. There were sections that we really could’ve simplified to get through some technical sections. We both got a little flustered with mistakes and agreed that we could make better use of the Recce beforehand to clear things up. I personally underestimated how hard it would be to focus at certain times. I’m used to being a driver and I know that my driver is great behind the wheel, but lending that trust to someone else took more time than I expected. All of the hazards and cars in the way and debris and all sorts of things that I stopped to think about got me off in the notes because I wasn’t used to just doing my job with the notes and leaving the rest of the havoc for him to sort out. With us learning, barely making Bogey time with each run, and constantly being on the clock for things, the lack of any sort of downtime to let us mentally regroup was tough and there wasn’t much we could do about that at our first rally. I think with the adjustments we can make with notes and building more trust between us, the times will improve which will give us more time in-between to reset.
Your rally team name is Redfogo Racing, for those who don’t know where does Redfogo come from?
RedFogo Racing originally started as a website domain name for a Factory Five 818 project that my driver was (and still is) working on. He had aspirations to get into rally as well, so when Bender the Rally car went up for sale, he sold his Rallycross car and picked up the battered Bugeye. The good thing was that Bender already had a roll cage and a logbook taken care of. A new engine, some safety updates, and better suspension brought Bender back to life. We went a step further and swapped the 2002 “Bugeye” parts for some 2006 “Hawkeye” parts that gave it a different look. When it was time to name the team, we just re-used the existing domain he already had: RedFogo Racing. Fogo means “fire” in Portuguese, and uhhh Red is a fast color? It’s a handle that my driver has been using for years and it’s unique so why stray from it, right?
You’re an avid rallycrosser and attended the Dirtfish co-driver school before competing. How much did those help prepare you for your first event?
Without the Nebraska Region SCCA Rallycross program, I don’t think I would’ve had confidence to pursue anything in rally. Sure I’m not driving the car for RedFogo Racing, but the jump from fan to competitor is a big one… especially if you live in Nebraska where there’s no stage rally at all. I got involved with Rallycross because of the rallies I was following as a fan. It’s an easily attainable sport since you don’t need any specialized equipment or a fancy car to do it, so it made it really easy to get started with. After competing for a few years, I started wondering if I could give Stage Rally a try. I suppose Rallycross was kind of like a “gateway drug” for rally in my case! However, I was unclear with how I wanted to be involved with rally until Craig Drew told me to take that co-driving course at DirtFish. That class built the foundation for what I know about co-driving and, without it, I probably wouldn’t have even bothered getting into rally at all. It was really a combination of getting comfortable with rallycross and competing that made me want to do more, but without that little push from Craig, I don’t think I would’ve taken that next step.
You seem to have a real passion for Subarus. What got you hooked on Subarus?
Getting hooked on Subarus got me hooked on rally, so the two have gone hand-in-hand for me. When I was in college and looking for my first new car, a friend had a 2002 WRX Wagon and that car just seemed brilliant to me. I liked the idea of a nimble, all-wheel drive, fun car. Then, when I was looking for my own Subaru and stumbled across rally videos with Subarus flying through the woods, it stuck with me. It wasn’t long after I got my Subaru that I started exploring rallycross to go slide my Subaru sideways in the dirt like my rally heroes I had been following. Still, there’s all sorts of car brands and all kinds of motorsport, but the thing has really driven Subaru and Rally into my heart have been the people. I got started going to local Subaru owners events and made a lot of friends. Then I traveled with those friends to Ojibwe and 100 Acre Wood Rallies. By going to those, I got to meet great people in the rally world. It’s hard to imagine what my life would be like without the two and without knowing all the great people I’ve met and continue to meet. The things I’ve learned, experiences I’ve had, and friends I’ve made through both Subaru and Rally have been incredible, so there’s no way I’m backing down from either.
Speaking of Subarus, you own a couple that are pretty unique. Tell us about them.
The two Subarus I own are pretty special to me and, in my opinion, they make a pretty great team. One of them is a 2006 Subaru Baja Turbo. Sometimes I think the term “Jack of All Trades, Master of None” was what the Baja was built around. 4 Doors for moderately-sized humans to get in, moderately-sized pick-up truck bed in the back, good ground clearance, and a turbocharged boxer engine to make it fun. It’s not incredibly roomy inside, nor can it haul like a regular truck, but it gets the job done for me. I’ve put a little lift kit on it with some knobby tires and I go out in search of adventure with my local MtnRoo group. Plus it also served a certain iHeartFast photographer well at the 2018 Ojibwe Forests Rally. My other car is a 2016 Subaru WRX STI Series.HyperBlue. It’s #44 of 700 that were made so it’s already kind of special in that regard. When I got it, David Higgins and Craig Drew had just completed their Perfect Season of the RallyAmerica National Championship. I figured I’d turn my Hyper Blue into “Higgins Blue” and make it a bit of a celebration car like they used to do in Europe for Colin McRae and Richard Burns. David and Craig have both seen the car and Mr Higgins periodically jokes that it’s “his car” since it has his name on it. It’s great catching up with them at events and cheering them on everywhere I drive with that car. Now that I’m on RedFogo Racing’s roster, it does seem like a bit of a conflict of interest to cheer for another team, but they haven’t fired me yet.
You recently announced some other exciting news, you’re going to be having a baby! How soon will we be seeing them in a rally car?
In October, my wife and I will be adding to our roster. A baby boy is on the way and we couldn’t be more excited for this next stage in our lives. He’s our first, so it’ll be quite the adventure on it’s own but we’re pretty stoked to finally take the plunge into parenthood. We’ve been working on finishing up projects in the house in preparation for his arrival this fall. I’m not entirely certain what this will mean for my immediate future with rally, but I’ll continue to be involved with it in some capacity. Family comes first, but we still have Ojibwe Forests Rally on our calendar to attend before the little guy makes an appearance in October. We’ll prop him up behind the wheel for some photos I’m sure, but I don’t know how soon he’ll actually be driving them!
Now that you’ve got your first event under your belt, what’s next? When will we be seeing Redfogo in action again? Will there be any big changes to Bender the rally car?
The two closest rallies to Omaha are 100 Acre Wood and Ojibwe. Last Fall when we started working on Bender to get it ready, we were still trying to figure out which one to attend because they were both in different sanctioning bodies. When we learned later that winter that 100 Acre Wood would join the ARA, we decided we’d try our hand at both events. With our first event completed and a WHOLE lot learned from that, we’re eager to try our hand at Ojibwe Forest Rally coming up in August. Our car Bender already went through quite a few changes and upgrades to get it ready for 100 Acre Wood earlier this spring, so there’s not a whole lot of changes coming for Ojibwe other than some repairs and tweaks. We are fortunate enough to have some financial help from sponsors that we managed to secure for our first event and are happy that they’ll continue to support us again at Ojibwe. There might be another sponsor or two that’ll lend a hand before Ojibwe, but as of now that’s still in the works. Either way, Bender 2.5 will be ready again for another round with the ARA and we’re excited to see what we can do now that the first rally under our belts!
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