Rally car course now open in Snoqualmie
October 6, 2010
By Dan Catchpole
NEW — 12:15 p.m. Oct. 6, 2010
“You drive with the gas and the wheel, not the brakes!” Forest Duplessis said over the car’s revving engine and rocks kicking in the wheel hubs.
He punched the gas pedal again, while jerking the car’s steering wheel.
Outside, the horizon spun around as the car came roaring out of a sharp turn on the gravel and dirt road at the old Weyerhaeuser mill site in Snoqualmie.
Duplessis is a driving instructor at DirtFish Rally School, which recently opened at the former mill site.
The school is the vision of Greg Lund, an Issaquah native who saw his first rally car race in 1985 in the woods near the school’s location.
“We drove up into the woods and bam! There was a car flying through the woods, and I’ve been hooked ever since,” the 51-year-old said
Now, he wants to introduce others to rally car driving.
In rally racing, participants race the clock in stock cars on closed-off sections of roads that are usually unpaved. Races can be short or they can cover hundreds of miles in all sorts of weather and last several days.
It is a small sport with a devoted following that is strongest in Europe. Lund wants to spread the gospel of rallying in Puget Sound.
To do that, he and a partner, Steve Rimmer, bought the old Weyerhaeuser site for $3.25 million at the end of June.
The site, about 300 acres, was created from compacted gravel fill. Most of it sits in the FEMA floodway, which makes building extremely difficult.
The site is ideal for rallying, as far as Lund is concerned.
The gravel base allows the school to constantly change and reshape its courses. And they don’t need more structures than the massive industrial buildings already on site.
Lund and Rimmer said they expect to bring in about $3 million in revenue eventually.
“We’re set up to handle six people a day. As far as revenue, we’re a long way from $3 million,” Lund said.
DirtFish’s business plan is to offer a high-end experience — an introduction to rallying with catered meals. Lund and Rimmer are focused on getting corporate customers looking for offbeat team building exercises.
“We’re expensive. We’re $900 a day to come here. We need to provide the high-end service that someone would expect,” Lund said.
While the cars are gritty and plastered with mud, the main building looks like the interior of a hotel catering to business travelers. In the men’s shower room, there is a wicker basket with a canvas liner for used towels. Not exactly grease monkey décor.
But don’t let the decorations fool you.
Lund has rally in his blood. In the 1980s and ‘90s, he and his wife drove together. At one point, they sold everything and quit their jobs to become drivers for Ford Europe, but their dream jobs fell through at the last minute, he said.
He never got back into rally driving, but has stayed around the sport. It was too expensive to put together another car, he said.
Lund still loves it, though.
“It’s all about how good you can be,” he said, sitting in his office, which overlooks the site.
It only took once for him to become addicted to the sport, and he is betting that the same is true of many people in the area.
Dan Catchpole: 392-6434, ext. 246, or firstname.lastname@example.org.