SOFR, New Car! Ecker and Hardin Rally

#SOFRSoGood is the hashtag that the Southern Ohio Forest Rally organizers use to promote their event, and it has accurately described the mid-season activities for the Ecker and Hardin Rally Team. To quickly recap, we picked up some hardware at SOFR, picked up a new (to us) rally car, and will likely have both of our rally cars entered in the Show-Me rally coming up in October! Read on for the full story…

Southern Ohio Forest Rally is an event that started up last year, and by all accounts, the 2017 version was an outstanding success. We were unable to make it a year ago due to previous commitments, but that weekend was free for us this year and we wanted to make the trip to experience the highly-praised stages and well-organized Rally. We were not disappointed! The stages were tight and technical with LOTS of quick elevation changes, and though most were short, they were long enough to be enjoyable and really get into a rhythm with the notes even without knowing the roads as we do for the local rallies. We quickly learned the roads and managed to finish third in G2 for Saturday’s Scioto Trail Rally.


Saturday was also punctuated by an out-of-nowhere monsoon in the middle of the longest stage of the day that reduced visibility to near zero. Unfortunately, the many hills really highlighted our car’s sub-optimal gear ratios, open differential, and lack of substantial power as major limitations. I found myself frequently wishing for a gear that the car did not have, or spinning the wheels for not much gain in a lower gear. We had some plans laid out to remedy all of those situations shortly after the rally, though…

Some weeks before we left for the event, I noticed that a car I that had seen for sale in a few places online had been reduced in price. We previously discussed making some major upgrades to the Panda – adding a turbo to move to G5 class, changing our gear set and adding a limited slip differential, and getting some proper rally suspension with proper rally suspension travel. When adding up all those things in my head the cost was coming awfully close to the cost of this car that was for sale – this car that already had all of those upgrades already installed and events already ran on them reliably. The general rule of thumb in Rally is to estimate the cost and then double it.  Hence, the already-built car for sale starts to look a lot more appealing! The only problem was this car was located near Boston, Massachusetts, which is a long haul from St. Louis, Missouri. We called the seller and spoke at length, and then made some very ambitious plans. The day after SOFR, the two of us would:

1. Drop the Panda off in Ohio somewhere
2. Drive the truck and trailer to Boston (a ~12.5 hr drive one way from Chillicothe, OH)
3. Thoroughly inspect and test drive a used rally car in a parking lot somewhere near Boston
4. Trailer the new car home (an ~17.5 hr drive)
5. Pick up and DRIVE the Panda home from Ohio
6. Go back to work on Tuesday, since we spent all of Monday driving…

Knowing these plans were extremely unlikely to go exactly as expected, we made contingency plans in case of problems.  Incredibly this all worked out nearly perfectly. The car was as-advertised, our timing all worked out, and we now have two rally cars sitting in the team garage. The new car is a 1991 Jetta shell with a 1.8t AEB big turbo swap, an O2J transmission with 4.24 F/D and LSD, dual master brakes, custom rally suspension, steering quickener, and much more.

Over the rest of the summer, we cleaned up and prepped the two cars, and had some new seat mounts fabricated for the Red Panda to fit our driving positions better. Best of all, my wife gave birth to our first son in July! He already likes spending time in the garage with all the cars and motorycles! #SOFRSoGood!

Next up for our newly minted two-car rally team is the Show-Me Rally, October 6th in Potosi, MO. Andy and I will be running the Red Panda, and the Giant Panda will be rented out to another existing team, keep an eye out for more details HERE! We are excited to see what this car can do on the fast smooth roads of the Show-Me State!

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Posted in Motorsports, Volkswagen

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