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I had been to a few rallies and I had watched my partner as he raced through the trees, over grids and around hairpin turns all on a tiny dirt road. Not once did I wish to be in the car with him – I was just content to stand back and take pictures. Then he found out his navigator couldn’t navigate for him in the next rally so the first person he turned to was me. In a moment of weakness I said yes. That may have been my first mistake.

After a few days and with the reality setting in that he was serious (and after I had picked myself up off the floor), I asked for a few old road books to look through so I could get a feel of what was to come. I had no idea what TL@TJ meant, let alone why there were two sets of numbers on the page!

My partner took me for a drive in the rally car on the dirt to get a feel for what the noise would be like, which is very loud to the point you have to shout to be heard at all. I played with the trip meter (and made sure the roll cage and harnesses looked sturdy) while we were driving that day, and I took one of the old road books with me to see if I could work out the calls.

I looked in the book and it said 500m Turn Left, so I hit the pedal on the trip meter to zero it and started the count down in my head. When we got to the 500m mark and we were turning right I panicked a little, but this was just an old road book and not for the road we were on.  Mistake number 2!

So that was fairly easy to get the hang of. Next came the process of getting my CAMS (Confederation of Australian Motor Sport) license to navigate. That involved a few online tutorials, some reading, watching a DVD and then taking the test. I passed with flying colours.  Mistake number 3.

I borrowed a race suit for the event and helped write out the entry forms.  I read all the event rules and regulations in the hope that they had a back out -chicken - yellow-bellied clause, where, if the navigator got too nervous before the event, they could quote something like page 3 subsection 5a says that blah blah blah……..but no, it had nothing like that.

So the big day loomed large and very real. My children thought that it was awesome that their Mum was going to race (remind me never to get advice from a 6 yearl old boy again). The time came to get everything ready and get ready to go. I had my highlighters, pens, sickness tablets and I was sure I was forgetting something - oh yeah, I remembered, my nerve. Mistake number 4.

On the drive down I chatted nonstop about anything and nothing. We got to the camping ground the night before the rally, pitched our tent, set up our little site and went and talked to a few of the other competitors. Everyone was swapping stories about their previous rallies while I sat there turning a dull shade of grey. (Lucky the campfire hid all of that.) I was reassured that I would be fine and not to worry.

 We went off to bed where I tossed and turned thinking about the next day. It’s not such a great idea to be awake half the night when you have to concentrate on something so important the next day.  Mistake number 5.

I woke up the next morning very calm considering the state of me for the previous week or so. We did all our paperwork and sat around for a while waiting for our turn to start, which was just enough time for me to work myself back up to a pre-heart attack state. We went and checked the trip meter, on a special piece of road they had set up, to make sure it was calibrated properly. There were no problems with it, and I could feel my last hope fading away that something would happen to magically make us not be able to race.

It was just about our turn to start so we got in the car, with helmets, road books and time sheets (something else for me to get my head around). I was amazed at how much quieter everything was with the helmet on and I could hear my partner clearly even though he was talking softly - the intercom system was great. I was a mess with pages being hastily turned and searched, looking for the beginning of the first stage.   We lined up at the start of the stage, any nerves I had left were just there for me to twitch with. I sat there wondering how I had got to this point and remembered all my “mistakes” that had led me there.

My partner asked if I was OK and I am sure I mumbled something in jibberish but I have no idea what that was! The count down for the stage began “30 seconds guys” was said by one of the officials.  “20, 15”. I looked over and my partner said in a voice I can’t even describe “You’ll be fine. I love you, honey.”  And all of a sudden everything was all right. No more stress or anxiety. It all blew out the window as we took off down the first hill and was swallowed by dust before the first corner.

I knew I could do it. I had done all the preparation I could and now nothing was left but to sit back and enjoy myself. I just read the road book and watched the trip meter tick over, making calls here and there. All too soon we were finished the first stage, then the second, and third. Before I knew it the rally day was over. I had made mistakes on a call or two, we didn’t win or set any land speed records, but that was okay because we had fun.

We joined all the other competitors for the presentations and then settled back beside the campfire for a drink or two to share the stories from the day. It was more physically demanding then I thought it would be, after all I was just sitting in a car. So we said our goodnights and made our way back to our campsite. 

The next morning everyone was packing up their cars and tents and I was asked by someone if I would ever do it again, to which I replied a very enthusiastic “Yes”, after all, I knew that TL@TJ meant Turn Left at T-Junction now.  That was my first mistake……

Photos by Al's Photosport.

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