The WRC video that started a rally love affair

The latest in our series highlighting women in motorsport looks into Kris Saada's first forays into rallying

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“I can’t see anything, my lights are adjusted wrong, and I’m getting through this stage by faith and faith alone”

You may know the feeling; it’s dark, raining, and it’s your first time on Olympus stage roads. The ground holds a chronic soppiness, and your windshield wipers are doing nothing but spreading the rain’s love. It’s scary and chaotic and absolutely, overwhelmingly invigorating. This is the start of Kris Saada’s competitive rally journey.

As a girl who traded boy band posters for their Lamborghini and Ferrari counterparts, a love for cars wasn’t new to Kris. Her mother had been driving the back roads of Pennsylvania like she was a rally driver since Kris was old enough to bounce around in the back seat. She taught her to drive, to work on the car, to understand the mechanics she needed to go fast. Kris was riveted. But life got in the way and cars drifted to the back of her mind.

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It’s funny though, this rallying thing. It hits you when you least expect it, and when you most need it. In 2004, Kris encountered a WRC video online. The quality was old and grainy and left much to be imagined, but she found herself watching it over and over and over again. She watched it when she was upset, angry, or just needed to relax.

It became a metaphor for her life in that moment; as she puts it, “my life and rallying were quite the same then – we go all in and crash out often”. Rallying took up this new, therapeutic space in her mind, but remained just the video she’d watch at the end of the day. Until later that year, an interviewer asked, “if you could do anything, what would you do?”

In one breath, Kris replied, “I would race rally cars”.

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Because women weren’t encouraged to drive a manual in the 80s (or to drive cars at all, for that matter), Kris hadn’t learned to drive [with] a stick. This would be the first challenge, as Kris had newly discovered DirtFish, only 20 minutes away, and refused to take a class until she felt comfortable with this new skill. Kris and her husband Rick purchased their own “Pinup Girl”, a cherry red Subaru BRZ that would soon become the commander of most of Kris’s time.

True to her deeply rooted determination, Kris refused to let Rick teach her. “It would’ve broken up our marriage”, she says, laughing. They’d drive in separate cars to their chosen manual-learning-parking lot, and Rick would leave, letting Kris teach herself the ways of the clutch.

And she did. Next, she went to DirtFish. A three-day course, a bachelorette party, a “Pinup Girl” rebuild and countless test drives, here Kris stands having just crossed the finish line at Southern Ohio Forest Rally. The difference between then and now? The little red car is a fully suited rally car, decked out in Kris’s signature Godzilla livery, and her name is no longer “Pinup Girl”.

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I fired my therapist because rally is doing more for me than they ever did

Quickly after Kris’s first run at Olympus, she discovered that “she’s actually the feisty redhead kid sister that doesn’t want to play with dolls – she wants the boys to throw her the damn football”.

Despite the rain and the constant threat of slipping into a ditch you’d rather remain a stranger to, Kris felt the “thing”. The rally euphoria. She had suddenly transported into her little kid dream of being a race car driver, and it didn’t matter that she’d spent the day being tested by the rally gods or could barely see five feet in front of her. She crossed the finish line and thought, “when I’m really good at this, this is going to be really fun”. Three events in, rallying has provided far more than that.

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“I fired my therapist because rally is doing more for me than they ever did”.

It can be a brutal sport, this rally thing. But it’s true – that the moment the light turns green, you’re in another atmosphere completely; one where there isn’t space for the nine to five worries or the conference call you have later.

There is only the road, the mud, and in Washington – almost always – the rain. Kris entered the arena quickly, wholly, and entirely full of grit. Now, with her next goal being to complete one thousand stage miles, Kris is preparing for the Tour de Forest – so be sure to keep an eye out for the little red car that goes big red fast.