Sleeping for pretty much the duration of his flight from one west coast to another – Australia to America – might have put a monster journey behind Max McRae quite nicely. But nobody rides the wave of jet lag for free.
It’s 5am and he’s still awake. Wide awake.
A handful of hours later, there’s a reasonable expectation of being greeted by a slightly grumpy teenager. Not a bit of it. Max has been waiting for this moment for a while.
McRae father and son have come to see us for what’s going to be a memorable week: a few days in Seattle before heading southbound to California for Velocity International.
Now, it’s back to school.
“I was here four years ago,” says Alister, “that was probably the last time. I took some pictures of the school and sent them to Max at home. He replied and said: “It’s amazing how much they’ve made it look like DiRT!””
Like millions of sim racers the world over, the game originally bearing the name of Max’s Uncle Colin provides a first touchpoint with DirtFish.
The reality far, far outweighs the virtual.
Arriving into Snoqualmie on a crisp fall Monday, the morning mist is just rolling back to reveal the Cascades in their full glory with the silence fractured only by the lazy turnover of an unmistakable flat-four.
Max’s smile widens. The iPhone’s out. The moment captured. And shared.
These guys are very much part of the DirtFish story. The McRaes and Rimmers are firm family friends – Colin’s daughter Hollie has only just left town – and now Uncle Al and cousin Max have landed.
The school tour takes time. Having waited long enough to get here, Max wants to take everything in. Lead instructor Nate Tennis shows him the full 300 acres and mile after mile of prime gravel stage road. Then, there’s the shop, where the fleet of Subaru WRXs and BRZs are fixed and fettled.
Up top, the main building takes some beating. Given its small screen star provenance, I put forward the story of how our home took center stage in hit Nineties TV program Twin Peaks.
Max appears lost at the concept of a TV program, so I look to Alister for reassurance and recognition.
“Twin what?” he says. “What was it? A film or something.”
“No, it was a…”
It doesn’t matter. Alister’s 1990s were far better spent establishing himself as one of the world’s preeminent rally drivers.
Understandably, the pair are lost to the cars, the pictures, the videos and, of course, the awesome wall of fame – DirtFish’s corridor collection of driver and co-driver overalls from up and down the decades.
“There’s a pair of mine in here somewhere,” says Alister.
All eyes on Max, where are his? Slightly embarrassed, he offers: “I’ve only got two pairs and I sort of need them right now.”
And right now, he really does need them.
That flat-four’s become the trademark, off-beat boxer burble of a pukka Group A Subaru Impreza 555. Accompanying it is a stunning, period, Eaton Yale-liveried Ford Escort RS1800.
The sound of music.
Steve Rimmer knows better than anybody how to shake off any lingering effects of time zone travel.
McRae Jr watches the two cars being parked outside the school building. He stands. He stares.
Life on Australia’s west coast has crafted Max into a fairly cool 18-year-old, but there’s no attempt at nonchalance here.
“Jeez…” is as good as it gets.
It’s time to change. Time to blow away the long-haul cobwebs.
A car each and the McRaes take to the stage. Head of strategy Josie Rimmer is alongside Alister in the Escort, while Nate jumps in with Max to taste the hardware Uncle Colin used to climb to the top of the world 27 years ago.
This is a recce. DirtFish has a handful of very welcome guests who will be enjoying a ride with two generations of rallying’s most famous dynasty, once the pair have familiarized themselves with the stage.
Off the line, it’s immediately obvious the recce’s being done at a fairly brisk speed.
The bark of the BDA drowns out a bevy of school BRZs and bounces around from mountain to mountain.
It’s one of those moments you just don’t forget as a pair of super-Macs painted an outstanding picture on the DirtFish canvas. It was pure poetry watching the cars dance through the dust.
Alister wound back the years to demonstrate the ability that kept him at the top of the World Rally Championship, while Max offered real insight into a talent that looks set to return the sport’s biggest name to the top table in years to come.
Especially when you consider… “That was my first time in a rear-wheel drive car,” grins the younger of the two.
“It was so much fun. I watched gramps driving the Mk2 at Knockhill [at the McRae Rally Challenge] in the summer and it looked pretty awesome. I was all up for having a go in one then and this one was just fantastic. You really have to balance the thing on the throttle. So much fun.”
And just when the day couldn’t get any better, Alister and Max thrilled a roomful of friends with stories past, present and future. Max stared wide-eyed at his dad’s memory of assisting Colin in rolling Jimmy’s Porsche 911 recce car silently down the drive of their parents’ Lanark home before taking it for a midnight spin.
Once the laughter had died down, Alister remembered his changing role of responsibility. “Don’t you be getting any ideas, son…”
McRae Monday will be remembered for a long time.