Rallying is arguably one of the most demanding forms of motorsports. Becoming a rally driver means mastering the art of driving, but also developing the ability to anticipate how the car reacts to different inputs. Especially when you’re driving down gravel (or snowy) roads you haven’t seen before, at speeds well above our Nation’s highest speed limits.
Mike White from RallyHo!! Motorsports was kind enough to share his journey to becoming a rally driver, and what it takes to be a part of the American rally scene.
The modern rally has come a long way since the early ‘80s. Long gone are the days of the Group B madness, borderline bipolar Lancia Deltas, and rocket ship Ford RS200s. World Rally Championship cars of today are safer, more efficient, and far more predictable than their predecessors.
Yet, WRC is just one part of the modern stage rally scene. American Rally Association, the US national rally championship, runs concurrently with a number of regional events.
These smaller events are packed with teams who lack the funding and logistical support top-tier teams have, but are managing to achieve incredible results in the field.
Mike White, a Healthcare IT professional, husband, and a father from Camden, Maine, heads one such rally team — the RallyHo! Motorsports. White is a rally driver and a car enthusiast with a peculiar taste for Swedish steel.
His car is a heavily modded 1984 SAAB 900 that can be seen at a variety of ARA regional events, including the upcoming New England Forest Rally.
RallyHo! Motorsports is a perfect example of what can be done when you put together a passionate, knowledgeable crew with a vision and a knack for problem-solving.
Although the team enjoys a number of sponsorships, including that of eEurosports.com, they’ve been bootstrapping their way through events when they first started out.
Turbo Noises and Scandinavian Flicks
As for Mike, his story begins back in the ‘80s, during his childhood. Being a kid interested in anything that goes fast, White was naturally attracted to cars.
“I was reading Hot Rod Magazine and MotorTrend about building big V8s, and Camaros and Corvettes,” White recalls. “I was all about the heavy American iron”
Like most other kids his age, for Mike, racing cars was synonymous with NASCAR and chasing quarter-mile times on a drag strip. Then one day, he saw an ABC’s Wide World of Sports’ coverage of a rally race.
“I didn’t see a single Camaro on screen. What I saw were Audis, Lancias and other European cars driving at incredible speeds, sliding sideways and making sounds that no American ever made. I was hooked.” says White. That moment marks the beginning of White’s journey to becoming a rally driver.
Neighbor’s Used Rally Car
As he grew older, White’s interest in cars quickly turned into an interest in rallying. At one point, his brother bought a used SAAB from their neighbor, which quickly turned into a quasi rallying rig for the two young rallying enthusiasts.
“We kinda just destroyed the car without ever having enough money to go to a rally,” says White. “We went to autocross and hill climbs with this SAAB, but never really rallied it”.
The lack of funds to enter a legitimate race didn’t stop the brothers from testing their SAAB under real-world conditions. “We certainly drove the car too fast on back roads, thinking we were cool,” White laughingly recalls.
Mike’s true involvement in rally sport began in the early ‘90s during his time in college. He volunteered as a crew member and a mechanic for various rally teams, which allowed him to get some real-world experience in the sport. White had used this chance to accumulate the knowledge he was going to use on a car he wanted to build one day.
First Rally Event
Several years after graduating from college, White entered his first official rally as a driver in 1998.
“I drove a SAAB 99, which I’ve built from 3 different cars to get all of the pieces we needed,” he says. “I think we made it halfway through before we blew the motor”.
Despite suffering a serious setback, the experience of driving a rally was enough to cement White’s passion for the sport. He had relived that episode of ABC’s Wide World Sports show from the best seats in the house — behind the steering wheel of his own rally car.
Mike would go on to rally his SAAB 99 for a decade before the car threw in the towel for good. That’s when SAAB 900 came in as a replacement, which the team uses to this day.
Although a staple of the global rally scene from the early ‘60s all the way to the late ‘80s, SAAB is no longer a common sight in modern competitions. Yet, for Mike, SAAB was the obvious choice. He’s been rallying these cars from the very beginning of his competitive career. The knowledge and experience with SAAB he accumulated along the way was immense.
RallyHo! Motorsports’ current SAAB 900 is built on solutions that Mike and his team tested on the now retired SAAB 99. However, there was a price to be paid for sticking with SAAB. There are very few off-the-shelf bolt-on components available for this brand, let alone the now already vintage model. You can’t order a rally kit for a SAAB 900 that will turn it into a WRC-ready car. Everything has to be engineered and designed in-house, from the ground up.
“We have to invent, innovate and iterate. We have to try to see if something works, and figure out why and why not,” says White. “We spend a lot of time working on the car, hoping that it will net us the result we want, instead of ordering a kit that someone else has done the R&D on, and proving that it works”
Building a SAAB 900 into a proper rally car was a massive challenge, but one that the RallyHo! Motorsports team enjoyed tackling. That being said, there’s another reason why this team is sticking to the quirky vintage SAAB 900.
“In a sea of Subarus and other more modern cars, a Saab driven in anger certainly stands out and gets your attention as a spectator!” White noted.
New England Forest Rally ‘21
RallyHo! Motorsports’ next event comes in a little over a week from now, on July 30-31. They’ll be participating in the New England Forest Rally, where Mike White will push his SAAB 900 to its limits.
Speaking of which, we’ll soon be publishing the second part of our interview with White, where we went over every mod they’ve done to this car in order to prepare it for rallying. Stay tuned!