From a distance, I have been keeping my eye on all things DirtFish for quite some time now. On a few occasions, I’ve had the opportunity to film some social media content with the team in the UK and have kept an extra close eye on posts about my cousin Max McRae’s progress.
My DirtFish experience, however, was elevated when I was invited out to Washington to take part in the latest All-Women program.
Prior to my trip, I was both excited and apprehensive about the experience.
I have spent years of my life being asked by eager fans of my dad if I will ever follow in his footsteps.
Blame it on my own uncertainty, the perceived expectation or my mother’s nervous disposition, but the answer has always been: “I don’t think it’s for me.”
I suppose there had always been part of me that wondered what it must feel like to drive on gravel at speed and courageously, yet precisely throw a rally car around a bend – images of 12-year-old Hollie left-foot braking on imaginary pedals in her bedroom spring to mind.
In the real world, however, my driving expertise stretched to a clean record and fairly consistent ability in reverse parallel parking.
So how did I end up at DirtFish HQ? There were a few reasons for this being the ‘right time’ for Hollie McRae to finally sit on the driver’s side of a rally car.
Firstly, over here in Snoqualmie, there is not one person with the surname ‘McRae’. It’s not that I assume my gramps, Jimmy McRae, would point his finger and keel over with laughter if couldn’t quite execute a turn to his ability. Rather, I suppose, it is simply that the eyes of strangers felt less daunting than those of my family, who I only ever want to impress.
Secondly, the margin of error seemed to swing more in my favor here. Custom-built cars, trained (insured) instructors and a track that numerous beginners had successfully navigated. I felt far more comfortable in this environment than with the idea of throwing my 78-year-old grandpa around a field in a WRC car loaded with history.
And finally, the prospect of being surrounded by like-minded, supportive, badass women for the day seemed too good to turn down.
Sunday August 28 seemed to roll round remarkably quickly and before I knew it, I was sat in the McRae Room (so cool!) listening to Michelle Miller explain the fundamentals of car control to myself and nine other eager listeners.
“Traction, vision, weight transfer” – all words I had heard in countless YouTube videos analyzing my dad’s driving and his performance in rallies gone by. But now, it was my turn to learn them, understand them and use them to make a Subaru WRX STI do what I wanted it to do.
When our time in the classroom had come to an end, we grabbed our helmets and headed out to our first exercise on the Skid Pad. As I nervously buckled into car 227, I encountered my first challenge of the day – the driver’s door was where the gearstick should have been.
Being from Scotland, I have only ever driven a right-hand drive car on the left side of the road. Surprisingly, however, I only tried to change gear in the door pocket once and before long, Michelle, car 227 and I fell into quite the rhythm. Funnily enough by listening to and working with someone who knows what they are doing, you learn a thing or two!
My experience driving in the All-Women program is one that I won’t forget in a hurry and you best believe that everyone back home will be sick of hearing about the Boneyard in no time.
With thanks to DirtFish, and Michelle in particular, I was able to do things with a car that I had only ever dreamed would be possible.
In terms of left-foot braking, 12-year-old Hollie walked so a 23-year-old Hollie could run.
As I slalomed through cones and skidded around corners, I began to understand – and feel – some of what I heard my dad talking so passionately about all those years ago.
The foreign language of rallying now seems that little bit easier to decipher.
I’m not saying that you’ll see me on a podium any time soon, but perhaps the next time there is a parade of my dad’s cars, I’ll be able to drive more than the Subaru Series McRae road car. How about that!