Alison LaRoza: smiles, hugs and high-fives

American rallying lost one of its brightest lights and best-loved co-drivers last week

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Oregon sits under a cloud this week. For much of the American rallying community, it’s hard to imagine that cloud lifting. But out of the darkness, there is one beautiful, bright shaft of light shining down on the stages.

The memory of Alison LaRoza.

The 35-year-old died after a short illness on May 9 and, for many, the world stopped turning. It made no sense. How could it? Alison was supposed to be with us in Portland on Friday evening, getting the best out of her latest protégé. It’s with no sense of hyperbole that she was talked of as one of America’s finest co-drivers. More than that, far more than that, she was just a great human.

Talking to those who knew Alison, one thing shines through: she brought nothing but happiness.

“With Alison it was all smiles, hugs and high-fives,” fellow co-driver and friend Krista Skucas told DirtFish.

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California-born Alison was a universally loved member of the rally community. And one of the country's finest co-drivers

“I met Alison for the first time in 2016. I was with Travis Nease and she and her dad were doing their first full season together. We were close to them in the start order for that year and it was so much fun getting to know her. She was just so optimistic and happy, no matter what was going on.

“She kept everybody on their toes with her constant jokes and witty banter. I used to tell her she should be a stand-up comedian. Her delivery, her stories… she had this aura which was just captivating. She used that help people, she was always about helping people.”

That desire to help people knew no bounds. That’s how Alison ended up in an interview to become a 9-1-1 dispatcher.

“She told me she had to take a lie-detector test in the interview,” said Skucas, smiling at the memory.

“She said: “I’m such a nervous, fidgety person. They told me not to fidget. Then they put me in a swivel chair…” They couldn’t make the test work, she just kept swiveling back and forth and this thing was spiking away!

She was just so positive, so caring. Krista Skucas

“She was just so positive, so caring. So many times I remember her having problems on rallies, wheels falling off and all sorts – but the bigger the problem, the bigger the smile.

“It’s devastating, just heart-breaking.”

ARA front-runner Nick Allen competed with Alison at LSPR two years ago. The pair won L2WD despite a tricky start to the rally week.

“She came in, her flight was delayed,” said Allen. “Basically everything that could go wrong went wrong. We had everything up against us, we missed part of recce, but Alison was able to get notes and footage from another competitor. She was super-cool, on top of everything the whole time.

“The part of the recce we did was amazing. This has to be one of the hardest parts of the rally – it’s exhausting, a real mental draw. Doing it with Alison, it was one of the more fun days of my life. She was just cracking jokes the whole time, between the stages it was just like we were hanging out at the bar!

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Acccording to her friend Krista Skucas, Alison should have been a comedian. There was never any shortage of laughs

“During the rally it was all competitive and we were really up for the challenge, but then once we’d finished, we just cut loose and had a great time. We made a deal before the event. We said that if we won the class, we would go shot-for-shot. She put me to the test! That was Alison, so much fun and just a great person to be around.”

ARA competition director Preston Osborn competed with Alison in 2019, but they’d known each other for a long time before that.

“We took care of the cars Alison and her father Steve raced,” he said. “We were on the same team. She was a staple on nearly every rally I ran for the better part of a decade. This is a tragedy that came out of nowhere. She was in hospital for a while, but you just kind of take it for granted that people like Alison are going to pull through.

“It was unthinkable that it was going to turn the other way, but it did.

“She was such a caring person and just so much fun. She always had a smile on her face. She taught, she worked with children and her personality was always about taking care of people – she was trying to be the mom to everyone.”

Preston Alison

Alison co-drove Preston Osborn with success, helping to cement an already great friendship

Osborn knows better than most how much the sport meant to Alison and how keen she was to be back competing at a high level regularly.

He added: “I actually had a lot of conversations with her in the last six months or so, where she found joy in working with a lot of new drivers. She always laughed: “Oh, I find these baby drivers, and then I bring them up in the world, and then hand them off to the next person to take care of them.”

“We talked about how she wanted to find that high-level drive again, she wanted to be fighting for podiums and fighting for national championships. We talk a lot about what an amazing person she is, and her co-driving was part of that. She had a lot of success.

“But this is a tragedy which goes beyond the sport. It’s such a tough time, but what I keep coming back to are the memories and the positivity she brought.

Alison LaRoza

Alison was never happier than when she was chasing a stage time on a rally

“There was never any sadness around Alison, there was only joy and I was so fortunate to share that for so many years. We had so much fun, such a great time. I keep telling myself that, but it can’t take away the pain knowing that there won’t be any more of those memories.

“We miss her so much.”

Those thoughts, those sentiments were echoed right across Portland and Oregon this week.

DirtFish extends its deepest sympathies and sends love and support to her family, Debbie, Steve and Stephanie and to her many friends throughout the world of rallying.

To know her was indeed to love her. She will be forever loved. And forever young.

God bless and goodnight.