June 28th, 2017 ~ Vol. 87 No. 26
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Nick Spencer and his Subaru take on the Canadian Rally Championship
Crowsnest Pass Herald Front Page
Anna Kroupina photo
ANNA KROUPINA
Pass Herald Reporter
Adrenaline comes in many forms for many different people. For some, it’s the belly-dropping sensation on a roller coaster. For others, it’s jumping at a horror movie scene.

For Nicholas Spencer, it’s zooming up and down a serpentine backcountry road with views that stun and challenging tracks that exhilarate.

As a competitive rally car driver, he gets to experience this professionally, with his next big race in Baie-des-Chaleurs, Quebec this coming weekend from June 30 to July 2. This will be the first race in Baie-des-Chaleurs for Fat Tail Racing, Spencer’s team composed of his father-in-law as crew chief/mechanic, his co-driver and his three-man pit crew.
Rally races are typically held on logging, dirt and gravel roads in the backcountry. The rally cars themselves are usually heavily modified but street legal. Unlike oval track racing where cars make laps around a closed-circuit oval-shaped track, rallying is done on a point-to-point format where each participant races one at a time.

The Canadian Rally Championship is the third national event of the season and one of the biggest, where Spencer will be competing against racers from all over North America. The course is an exciting 200 km total with huge jumps and winding hairpin turns set in the backdrop of lush forest right on the border of New Brunswick.
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Spencer and his team, the Fat Tail Racing crew, have been on a recent streak of success , turning heads and gaining speed in the world of rally racing. In 2016, Spencer placed second overall in the Canadian Rally Championship for his driving category, Production 4WD, and is currently also standing in second place overall. For the 2017 Western Canada Rally Championship, he’s now in fourth place overall and is first by a long shot in his driving category.

Not bad for a guy who’s only been racing in rallies professionally since 2012.

Spencer acquired his first rally car by pure happenstance, almost serendipitously, when he traded his dirt bike for a 1995 Subaru WRX with another Pass resident in 2012. He went on to be sponsored by Dv8 Performance & Tires in Lethbridge, and took on his very first race in the Production 4WD category in the 2013 Pacific Forest Rally.
He was instantly hooked.

"It's the most exciting motor sport I’ve ever been around and been in. The reason I love that job so much is that it's not the same thing over and over, and it's exciting. Every corner is different,” says Spencer, who’s had a passion for rally racing since he was young. “I’ve done some oval track, some quarter mile stuff and it seems like there's just such a brief amount of adrenaline, but with rallying, it's constant for two days straight.”

His current racecar is a full production-class 2004 Subaru Impreza STI with 270 horsepower, 330 foot-pounds of torque, and plastered with Disney princess stickers all over, courtesy of his three-year old daughter.
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On June 30 in Baie-des-Chaleurs, Spencer and his co-driver David Ma will be racing in a 225 km course against roughly 11 in his category, but the rally for them starts two days before the actual race.

“Two days before the event, we get to go what they call RECCE, reconnaissance, where we get to look at the road in our personal vehicles. We get to go over it twice in our personal vehicle,” says Spencer. “The first time we go through, I’ll read out to my co-driver what I think the road is doing, what it looks like. He’ll write it down and the next time through, he’ll read it back to me and that’s it. We don’t get to see it again until the day of the race.”

As with any competitive sport, a lot of training and practice go into preparing for an event. Spencer spends between 300 and 600 hours of practice runs and working on communicating the course to his co-driver. Spencer also does runs on his own, as well as taking part in practice days organized by the Western Canadian Rally Championship body.

He also spends hours on YouTube learning the intricacies of a course from videos posted online.

“Most of it is learning all the corners. I’m trying to remember as much as I possibly can and try to pick things out before any of the tricky sections come up or try to find better breaking points or better ways of turning. It’s a lot of studying and watching YouTube over and over again,” he says.

Practicing RECCE and communicating with the co-driver is a big part of training and preparation, possibly the most important component.
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“We’re not racing. We're only doing 60 kilometres per hour in my personal vehicle, just so we can practice reading notes and taking notes and reading the road. That’s the most important part. The racing is easy. It’s the same thing, either gas or break, and it's 100 % of both. It’s getting your notes done and dialed in that requires practice,” says Spencer.

Although he admits he’ll be racing against some top-class drivers in Baie-des-Chaleurs, he’s optimistic about a top-3 finish in his class.

"There's some really great racers from down East. There's some amazing guys in my class and I think it'll be the hardest field I’ve come up against, but if I can get top 5 or top 3 in my class, I’d be really excited,” he says.

Pass Rally

Originally from Nova Scotia, Spencer moved to Crowsnest Pass approximately a decade ago and for the past few years, has been back and forth between the Pass and Lethbridge, where he lives and works as a firefighter and paramedic.

Living in the Pass for 10 years, he recognized early on the potential that Crowsnest Pass has for hosting its own rally.

“I bring groups of guys down here just to do RECCE because we have over 300 kilometres of amazing backcountry road. It’s beautiful just to drive it, but to go through and do a RECCE on it, the guys are like, ‘This would be the best rally race in the world,’” says Spencer.

Spencer started looking into bringing a rally to the Pass a few years ago, but plans halted because of the difficulty in coordinating with off-highway vehicle users.

“Safety is our number one thing for a rally, and with quadders, they can come out of anywhere. So if we can't make sure that it’s completely closed down, we won't have it. That’s something that turned some of the organizers away from having it here,” he says.

Now that the provincial government is increasing enforcement of OHV use and the rally can better control the entrances and exits on a potential track, the dream is back on his agenda.

“It brings in so much revenue and the town loves it,” he says. “I really want to show other people in the Crowsnest Pass what I love doing and what I have a passion for, and I want to show the rest of the rally world this fantastic little place that, in my opinion, has the absolutely best roads of anywhere I’ve ever rallied.”
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June 28th, 2017 ~ Vol. 87 No. 26
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