Feeling old happens to us all. But nothing will make you feel more ancient than when you discover the man on the other end of the phone was born in 2004.
“It hit me a couple weeks ago that I’m going to be 20 next year and I was just like ‘aw gosh!'”
Immediately, Jared Hudson seems like a well-mannered and fun individual – but this just isn’t allowed. Try being 26! And I’m told that, in reality, that’s not old either…
Perhaps we both have bright futures ahead of us in rallying, but I’m prepared to wager mine isn’t as bright as Hudson’s.
New Zealand motorsport has rarely had more international relevance than it does just now after Hayden Paddon and John Kennard became the first non-Europeans to lift the European Rally Championship the other week, and Liam Lawson made an unexpected Formula 1 debut in place of the injured Daniel Ricciardo at the weekend.
But if they’re the stars of today, Hudson is the star of tomorrow. And the truth is he’s already becoming the star of today.
So to get to know him a bit better before diving into the serious stuff, I devised a quickfire quiz – which is why I became thoroughly depressed when learning his date of birth.
Where is he from? “I’m from and still live in Christchurch, the middle of the South Island.”
There are some very good roads around there! “Yeah, you’re right we do have very good roads everywhere, but there’s some good ones around here as well.”
Favorite snack? “Aw! There’s a difficult question. I’d probably go with a trusty banana I think. I do love a good old banana.”
And he doesn’t mean the soft, foamy candy bananas. Which explains why I’m almost twice Hudson’s weight…
Anyway, back to it: fun fact about you that we might not know? “That’s a difficult one! It’s maybe a bit of a cliché but I actually went to my first motorsport event when I was four days old.
“It was an event we have locally here called the Ashley Forest Rallysprint, which you may have heard of. It’s quite a famous one here in New Zealand. One of the guys from here was debuting his new hillclimb special car that he was taking over to Pikes Peak in America and mom and dad wanted to see this car debut, so they took me along with them! They didn’t want to miss out on seeing the car so that was that.”
Rallying hero? “That one’s hard as well. It’s probably going to sound quite funny but I’ll probably have to say Hayden Paddon. That’s the obvious answer but it’s certainly probably the correct answer.”
And for very good reason, which we’ll explore later. But this got my brain into action. That means Hudson would’ve been just 12 years old when Paddon won Rally Argentina 2016…
I bet you haven’t told him that!
“We always like to joke about our age difference and that sort of thing, but when we first started working together he was like ‘I’ve just worked out I’m one year off twice your age’ and was like ‘thank god I’m not twice your age!’.”
Last question of this quickfire section: rally ambition. Where do you want to go with this?
“That’s another hard one as well. I guess the big goal is World Rally Championship – that’s where I’d love to be but I understand that’s certainly easier said than done. So the other goal is just to see how far I can get.
“I don’t have a specific place I want to get, I just want to keep going and keep trying my best and just see where it takes me really.”
So far, that’s not working out too badly. Just over 40 rallies into his career, Hudson has already won multiple events in four different countries, and has sat alongside statistically New Zealand’s best ever rally driver.
The bug was instilled since day one (well four, actually!). Hailing from a rally family – his mom Lisa, dad Rocky and sister Amy all co-drive – meant Hudson never really stood a chance.
It wasn't an option to not be involved in rallying because it was always on the telly or being talked about.Jared Hudson
“Dad did a little bit of driving back in the ’90s and early 2000s, then mom and dad sold the rally car to have kids which we often get reminded that it’s our fault that we don’t have a rally car!” Hudson tells DirtFish. “But hang on, that’s not quite how it works!
“When we were growing up dad moved over to the navigator’s seat so he could still compete but it was a much better option financially trying to raise a family. And so when me and my sister were growing up it felt like dad was going away almost every weekend to events.
“Obviously it wasn’t every weekend, but it was regularly, and it wasn’t an option to not be involved in it because it was always on the telly or being talked about. It was everywhere around our household. We were growing up around the scene, always going to events and helping out and spectating.
“My sister’s three years older than me so she jumped in and co-drove when she was about 14, and then I remember it was a rides day for sponsors that a local guy, Matt Summerfield, did. And I was a big, big fan of him and he asked if I wanted to jump in.
“This was when I was 11, and I was absolutely buzzing, ‘hell yeah, I’ll jump in!’. So I had my first proper drive in a rally car in anger when I was 11 and was absolutely hooked from then: ‘Yep, this is exactly what I want to do’.
“I waited until I was 12 to get my competition license, as that’s the youngest you can get it here, and did my first rally when I was 12-and-a-half.”
Now that he’s started, Hudson hasn’t really stopped. Growing up around rallying, and particularly in a family of co-drivers, everything has come naturally.
“I’ve grown up hearing that language,” he points out. “That’s where the family side comes in quite a lot because we’re always talking about our pacenotes and looking at what each other has for a stage and differences between that, so we’re always just discussing various notes.
“So when I went to actually read them for the first time it all just made sense and I always knew what it meant.”
That’s not to say that things haven’t developed.
“My voice was so high-pitched the first time!,” Hudson laughs. “Listening to some in-car, I can’t remember how long ago, and I was like ‘who the heck is that? Oh, it’s me! Aw gosh’. It was like a squeaky chipmunk chatting away.
“But you learn and you improve with each rally you do but definitely all your timing and your pronunciation and that processing speed has all got much better.”
Which is just as well, given what happened in 2022. It’s not unfair or dramatic to say that one text message from John Kennard flipped Hudson’s life on its head. Which is all very ironic as initially, the call was never supposed to come to him.
“It was so out of the blue,” Hudson explains.
“We’re quite good friends with John Kennard, we’ve known him for a long time and it was actually quite bizarre. It was the week after Otago last year, the first round of our championship, and me and our household, so mom and dad, actually came down with COVID.
“So we were locked down, working from home and it just came as a random text out of the blue from John to dad asking what he was doing, would he be interested in sitting with Hayden?
“Dad sort of hummed and hawed and was like ‘it’s a tough job’. Dad’s semi-retired as we call it because he keeps changing his mind! So he sort of went back with ‘wasn’t sure’ and John was like what about me jumping in with Hayden and dad could jump in with the guy I was sitting with for that year.
“It was quite funny when the text came through I said to dad ‘you can’t turn that down, that’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, you don’t say no to Hayden Paddon!’. So I was like ‘well I need to listen to my own advice! I’m not going to say no to that!’.
“So I said ‘yes I’d love to’ and it all just snowballed from there. Got in touch with Hayden, got it all confirmed and then I spent a couple of months preparing myself.”
At any phase of a career, that’s a life-changing call. But at 18…
“It was seven or eight weeks before the event that I knew I was going to be doing it with him,” Hudson continues. “But that was good from a preparation point of view that I was able to spend some time on his notes and trying to get myself up to speed.
“But it was also difficult because we had a round of our championship in between, so I had to go to an event and see everyone and bite my tongue almost. The rumors were spreading that John wasn’t going to be doing it.
“I even had a few people ask me ‘do you know who Hayden’s got for Timaru? [Rally South Canterbury]’ and it was like ‘no, no, don’t know!’. It all just came very, very out of the blue but I’m certainly very happy it did!”
The rally couldn’t have gone any better either – a win, and a partnership that appeared to work from the off. Which is no mean feat considering what they were up against.
It still hasn't hit me yet that I've done some rallies with HaydenJared Hudson
“It still hasn’t hit me yet that I’ve done some rallies with Hayden,” Hudson admits. “I can remember watching when he won Argentina, awake at 3am in the morning or whatever it was watching it live and I’d been a fan of his for as long as I can remember, and I still am!
“You’re sitting in the car with your hero so it’s almost about trying to humanize him a little bit. Yes he’s my hero and I’ve looked up to him but he’s now just my driver for this weekend and I need to treat him like that. But it was quite interesting.
“The first rally we did together was actually our first time in the car, we didn’t actually get a chance to do a test or a shakedown or anything. We don’t have shakedowns for rallies here in New Zealand, and so we had actually planned to do a test the weekend before but it got snowed off because the weather was that bad, so it was a little bit daunting going into stage one being the first time calling pacenotes with him.
“The main way I approached it was to try and do the best I can, and he’s so good with coaching me and helping me adjust to work with him. I think I know what I’m doing and I’ve learned from my experience and I’ve called pacenotes before, it’s just a matter of calling them a bit quicker, a bit further ahead and a bit more to say.
“But I basically went in there, did my best, went with my gut and fortunately it worked out reasonably alright.
“It felt great, just that almost relief, to get to the end. I didn’t make a mistake and I was able to do the job, and to hear the encouraging feedback from him was really nice and it was great because it ended in me getting covered in champagne which was nice of the other guys on the podium!”
As Hudson puts it, “contrary to popular belief”, there was nothing in place beyond that first event.
“A couple of months went by as Hayden went over to Europe to start his campaign over there, and I remember thinking ‘it would be great to do something else with him’ whether it be a test day or another small rally or something like that,” he recalls.
“And again out of the blue came this email about doing a rally in Wales! What!? ‘Yeah, sure.’ Again, you’re not going to say no to these things.”
Wales, and Rali Ceredigion to be precise, was when I first actually met Hudson – and I have to say I felt a degree of sympathy for him. The stakes were certainly high, and he had a lot to deal with. As I’ve since discovered, that trip was his first on a long-haul flight ever, and first time out of the southern hemisphere.
When I briefly bumped into him and introduced myself, he was so intensely at work that I had to walk with him as he headed back to the service park. There I saw the serious side – on this call 10 months later I’m seeing the more relaxed side. But what’s clear is there’s a very good co-driver within Hudson.
“It was a whirlwind of new experiences,” he reflects. “Even just getting on a big plane was a new experience for me. It was just a case of again trying my best and hoping that I was able to perform to the level I needed to.
“It was a very demanding event, I was able to work that out by the recce. The roads were very, very technical and challenging and especially on the pacenote side of things. So there was that little bit of extra preparation the night after recce to get the pacenotes correct and again [something] I find myself doing a lot with Hayden is almost following your nose, going with my gut and doing what I think is right in each scenario.
“Fortunately it just keeps working out well!”
Since that weekend, where the Kiwis won, Hudson joined Paddon for an event in Sardinia which they also won, and sat alongside his hero for Rally Regione Piemonte earlier this year too where they were fifth.
He’s retained a foothold back home, but the international opportunities have kept coming with a run alongside Allen Dobasu in the American Rally Association National championship where they finished third on Southern Ohio Forest Rally, and on his first trip to Australia last month Hudson was victorious alongside Richie Dalton in their Craig Breen tribute-liveried Toyota Yaris AP4.
The Paddon link isn’t Hudson’s only golden ticket, but it’s what’s most likely to launch him to further stardom – particularly as Kennard is 65 next year and Paddon is known to be an admirer of Hudson’s work.
Talk is of, one day, Hudson becoming Paddon’s new permanent co-driver, but for now Hudson is simply interested in seizing any opportunity he can and doing his absolute best.
“I’d like to think that’s a possibility [that I could one day partner Hayden full-time], but I’m not really sure,” Hudson says.
“John’s still doing a fantastic job alongside Hayden, and there’s not really any reason why he couldn’t continue to do that. So I’m just enjoying the rallies that I get to do with Hayden and trying to make the most of the opportunity.
“‘I’ll repeat it again but it still hasn’t sunk in that I’ve been able to have that opportunity to sit with Hayden,” he adds.
“To just be able to spend that time with someone who’s been at that level, and you can see how they operate and see where that difference is, has been amazing.
“I’ve already achieved more than I thought I ever would and fortunately for me it’s still looking like there could be some more stuff coming for me. It’s like a dream come true but it’s like more than a dream almost, you know?”
More than a dream, and the bubble doesn’t look set to burst any time soon.
Need I remind you he’s only 19…