Standing on top of the Oregon Trail Rally podium, Alex Gelsomino knew what was coming. Any occasion with Travis Pastrana is always an event, and any podium ceremony he’s present at inevitably leads to one thing: a shoey.
“The way it works with Travis, we’ve known each other for nearly 20 years, he tells you something and he’s relentless,” Gelsomino tells DirtFish.
“If you go to his place and there is a minibike and a pit there he says ‘OK, go do a backflip’ and he just tortures you relentlessly until you get on that bike and do it. So with the shoey, it’s the same thing; I don’t know how Ken [Block] got out of it but I said to myself ‘I’m just going to do it now otherwise I won’t hear the end of it.’
“And we were super stoked, it had been a strong weekend, f*** it, I just grabbed it and had it. I can tell you it’s the most disgusting thing, I needed Indian spicy food a couple of hours later as I couldn’t get rid of this disgusting taste! This may be my first and only time ever, but I’ve done it.”
To understand just how spontaneous a decision this was from Gelsomino, he doesn’t even drink liquor. But, given the events of his last four to five weeks, he was more than entitled to it.
Block and Gelsomino’s American Rally Association presented by DirtFish National championship charge took a severe dent (literally) before it had even truly begun on the DirtFish Olympus Rally, when their Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC left the road and hit a tree head-on in a 12G impact.
“It was a very big accident because it was a sudden stop,” Gelsomino remembers.
“Those are the accidents that you hate the most and the ones that are going to hurt the most. We were very lucky because we are actually competing in a state-of-the-art car when it comes to safety as well. We had spent some time at the previous round in Missouri to make sure we were happy with the seat position, as well as placement of the seatbelts and everything, so everything was done perfectly to be safe in that car and it paid off when we had such a big accident.
“It was a head-on hit with a tree. I saw the tree coming and for a split moment, I had this picture of my wife having the same type of crash in Australia 10 years ago and breaking her legs in a head-on crash into a tree. So for a split second, I eased off the pressure of my legs on the footrest to avoid maybe having a shock that could’ve broken a fibur or a tibia or something in my legs.
“By doing that, that put a little bit more of a hit on my crotch belts, so what happened is my tailbone actually dug down in my seat. It didn’t break luckily, I had a check 24, 36 hours later but when you hurt your tailbone it’s like when you hurt your ribs, it’s just so painful and it takes so long.”
And even now Gelsomino is experiencing discomfort: “Yesterday I was driving into town to go to some shop and at some point I told Rhianon ‘can you just drive and I can relax a little bit,'” he shares.
But there was never any doubt that he was going to make last weekend’s Oregon Trail Rally. He did have some help in that process though. Any of Gelsomino’s Instagram followers may have noticed what DirtFish describes to him as a rubber ring appearing in various places on his stories.
He laughs: “Yeah, that was actually an inflatable donut that they gave to me at the hospital when I did my CAT scan. They said [to] basically sit on this every time you sit on something because it doesn’t put pressure on the middle part of your butt, which at the end of the day is your tailbone, so you’re sitting more on your butt cheeks, more pressure there but less on your tailbone.
“It works. It’s not the most comfortable thing but again the problem with the tailbone is because it had heavy inflammation from the trauma, if you keep sitting on it the inflammation takes too long to go away as you’re putting stress by sitting on it.”
Gelsomino couldn’t use an inflatable donut when competing but the team did have a neat solution.
“The boys at 2C Competition created a setup with a cushion on my seat that actually meant I was very, very comfortable in the car and was less comfortable during the recce where I was sitting in a normal vehicle,” he says.
“So that allowed me not to be in pain during the rally last weekend; I just focused on my job.”
And what a job he and Block did. Winning all eight of Saturday’s stages gave them an unassailable lead they simply had to manage on the final day. They had a plan and executed it to perfection.
“Because it was postponed last year we had done this event maybe five and a half, six months ago so everything was fresh in our minds, the notes were the best we had done all year.
“It was the same for our competition Travis [Pastrana] and Brandon [Semenuk] as well. We knew it was going to be a massive fight but we were ready; our prep was even better than normal because we’d just crashed at Olympus, we’d lost all points and our competition just won, so we’re like ‘we need to roll our sleeves up even more and get to work even more.’
“This was probably the most prep work that Ken and I have ever done, or that we have done in many, many years, and it paid off so we’re happy about that.
“Day two of the event was always going to be the most critical day,” Gelsomino adds. “Our competition Brandon used that day and those stages six months ago to put a lead on all of us, on Travis and Ken and I, so we went for the same strategy that he did six months ago – have a big push on day two on those stages and then try to start day three with a 45s to a minute lead and manage from that.
“So there was a plan, we put it in place, it paid off and yes, in rally you need luck on your side but also you need to keep away from trouble and we knew the areas where the issues with punctures could be, and one of them was the powerstage.
“So we sacrificed a little bit on the powerstage, we finished second so compromised the result with one less point than we wanted but it then meant we cleared that stage which was the most rocky and most tricky without the risk of getting a puncture and perhaps throwing the win away, and we didn’t want to do that.”
The result solidified what has been clear since round two of the ARA back in March – that Block, Gelsomino and the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC are a winning combination.
Their job now is to ensure they can keep up that momentum on next month’s Southern Ohio Forest Rally and indeed the rest of the season.
“We have to look at this championship event by event because it’s so long. You just don’t know what’s going to happen this summer or later in the year so you’ve got to go and prepare for every event as a single event and go for it as a single event and then see where you are maybe a couple of events from the end,” Gelsomino says.
“Let’s not forget that we are competing against two of the best human beings that this world has ever seen. Brandon Semenuk is the best mountain bike rider in the world, Travis Pastrana; these people they bleed talent.
“We are not against just normal drivers. These are superhumans.
“Whatever they do in their own sport, like mountain biking and motocross and everything Travis does, when they strap themselves in a rally car these people feel even more invincible than what they are actually doing during their other sports and other careers.
“Of course we were in line for a win in Missouri, we made a mistake at Olympus, that happens, then we won last week so I think we’ve got all the tools in our hands to do our job and go after this thing this year.
“But at the end of the day, I think that this year the champion will be the driver that deals with maybe less punctures or is able to secure the most powerstage points. I think it’ll come down to a handful, if not less, of points at the end after all those rallies. It’s going to be really close I feel.”