“I just shut my eyes”… is not something you want to hear from your co-driver when things start to go south. But in this case, for a mother/daughter duo who have spent 20 years in a rally car, it’s yet another testament to their trust.
I’ve been trying to come up with the right word to describe the Tabor Rally Team, an all-women’s rallying family based in the Pacific Northwest. ‘Legends’ seems like the right one.
It’s clear, in conversation, that I’m not the only one who thinks this. Whenever I say their name, the response is always, ‘Oh yeah! I love them!’ or, ‘They fed me snacks at the last rally!’ or, ‘Thank God for the Tabor team, they’ve saved my ass more than once…’.
The Tabor team name holds weight, and the best possible kind.
I wanted to understand how this smile-inducing reaction started, and the answer lies with Jan Tabor – the matriarch of the rally clan. Jan has organized rallies everywhere; volunteering, and eventually running her own competitions.
Naturally, the kids (beginning with her sons) started asking questions, so, in the way that most rally fanatics do, they built a car. Then another car, and another car, and then “somehow” ended up with enough cars to run their own rally. Having had enough of her brothers’ dirt-caked grins, daughter Kristen threw her own hat into the mix.
She took her position as her brother Mark’s co-driver, but unfortunately, throwing up soon after saying the word “go!” doesn’t really jive with the whole co-driver job. The rally gods had a different plan for her that day.
I’d tell other young girls to just do it! And don’t care about what anyone thinks about you doing itMaddie Tabor
So, Kristen and Mark swapped seats. Upon Kristen’s predicament, they parked the car, got out, and just like that, Kristen was driving her first rally. Kristen’s co-driving career began and ended on that stage, and a whole new drivers-seat-laden set of adventures began.
It started logically. Kristen needed a co-driver so, as any great mother would, Jan volunteered. I did wonder if she would have offered herself had she known they would roll the car on their first event, but my gut says she would have. Two decades later and they haven’t rolled a car since. I’d bet it’s because of Jan’s “mom voice” (we all know better than to ignore that).
By now, they’ve driven it all: Nissans, Acuras, Subarus, the lot. But say thanks to the Geo Metro with 58bhp that started this clean streak.
The family legacy doesn’t stop there. Mark’s daughter Maddie, now 19 – who went to her first rally at four weeks old and who has built her own name in quarter midgets racing – just recently crossed the finish line of her very first stage rally. When I asked what her advice was for other young women joining the rally world, she said: “I’d tell other young girls to just do it! And don’t care about what anyone thinks about you doing it.”
There’s a lot to learn from these three. In an intense, grueling, male-dominated sport, they’ve carved out their own space as compassionate badasses, and everyone knows it. Everyone needs it, and everyone reveres it.
When asked whether they felt their experience was different based on their womanhood, Kristen explained that it’s actually a secret weapon, saying: “It’s easy for them to underestimate us, so we let them. The only time they’ll judge you for how fast you are is when you’re faster.”
That says it all. Rallying is for everyone.
The Tabors have a sticker on each of their race cars that reads ‘girls just wanna have fun’ and it holds just as true as when Cyndi Lauper first sang those words in 1983. The Tabor team reminds us of the point of this crazy sport in the woods: we do it because we love it.
Yes, a win is nice and a trophy is shiny, but the stories from three generations of family sliding around in the mud holds far more significance – like the Turkey that ran directly in front of the car in Idaho, or the cow that set up shop in the middle of a stage in Oregon. Or the time they completely lost headlights on a night stage, and Kristen just trusted that Jan’s notes were spot on and would get them home.
Don’t be afraid - OK, be a little afraid - but not of what people think of you. If you’re having fun, you’re winningKristen Tabor
This is what I admire most about this team – they do it for the love of the people, for the love of the car, for the love of the speed. And they always remember; at the end of the day, girls really do just wanna have fun. But even so, they’re not afraid of setting times and taking names (and trophies) while doing it.
Kristen – who is full of book-worthy quotes – added: “To girls getting into the sport – it doesn’t matter what your experience is, if you want to do it, do it. Don’t be afraid – OK, fine, be a little afraid – but not of what people think of you. If you’re having fun, you’re winning.”
Jan nodded alongside these words, and reassuringly said: “Find a way to do it. Age doesn’t matter, either. I’m probably the oldest co-driver out there, and no-one cares. You won’t know until you try.”
This mother/daughter duo remind us that there isn’t any point in rallying unless you’re smiling so wide you’ve got dirt in your teeth, and this family lives by that rule. They make a point of saying “Once rally isn’t fun anymore, we’re out”.
The message is clear: rally, rally, rally. And if you find yourself there, surrounded by the chaos of the paddock, or needing advice or a snack, the Tabor Team is where you go (they gave me permission to say that, I promise).