DALTON — The third Team O’Neil RallyFest was held Sunday at the 583-acre Team O’Neil Rally School, drawing more than 500 visitors to the event.
The RallyFest featured workshops on how to drive a manual transmission; Rally Mechanics 101; Rally Navigation; and How to Get Started in Rally.
Rally is a type of motorsport driving held on public or private roads with modified or specially built vehicles.
For an extra fee, attendees could drive their own vehicles on Team O’Neil’s Rally X course; demo Sig Sauer pistols and rifles; or take a ride in a helicopter or a Sherp ATV.
Those who felt a need for speed and the rush of controlled danger, however, could also ride in a rally car.
Team O’Neil used four cars for the rides, two Subarus and two Fords, each of which was turbocharged, displaced more than 200 horsepower, and was operated by an instructor who seemingly pushed the car — and its passengers — to the limits of what seemed safe and prudent on the rolling, winding, dirt roads.
On straightaways, the cars, including the orange Subaru driven by Tom Peplinski, would hit speeds between 70-80 mph, before braking, and turning, at 90 degree angles, and with little or no apparent room for error, into a left- or right-hand corner.
The rides lasted several minutes during which the vehicles caught air, slid sideways and, to the untrained eye, seemed to come close to rolling over, something Peplinski said was not the case at all.
“We weren’t even close” said Peplinski, who resides in Concord, Vt., but is originally from Granby, Conn., and who for more than four years has been a rally/drift instructor at Team O’Neil.
Founded in 1997 by Whitefield’s Tim O’Neil, who himself is a five-time national rally champion, the Team O’Neil Rally School is the only purpose-built school of its kind in the U.S. and many people think it’s also the best “loose-surface” school.
X-Games champion Travis Pastrana — who on the same day in July 2017, set and then broke the record for the Subaru Mount Washington Hillclimb — and rally driver Ken Block, whose Gymkhana videos have received tens of millions of views on YouTube, are both Team O’Neil alumni.
The school also has many graduates who are members of the military, law enforcement, federal government and the private security industry.
Public courses include rally driving, winter driving and off-roading. Students can practice in a variety of vehicles, including those with front-wheel, all-wheel, and rear-wheel drive as well as those with high centers of gravity.
Team O’Neil also has a Motorsports division; operates the New England Forest Rally; and is a primary supporter of the American Rally Association.
Despite having a relatively low profile in the U.S., rallying is hugely popular in the rest of the world, said Karl Stone, who is Team O’Neil’s marketing director. He said RallyFest 2018 drew more than 500 visitors to the school, some of them rally enthusiasts who thought nothing of driving several hours to the event, while some were from the immediate area.
The RallyFest, said Stone, “is an opportunity to show people what we do.”
Peplinski believes that with patience, concentration and practice, anyone can learn to be a rally driver, but stressed it’s a gradual process.
“Here,” he said, “It’s crawl, walk, run.”