When Toyota asked if I wanted to join them and their Rally Race team for a ride along with Championship Rally Driver Ryan Millen in his Toyota RallyRAV4, I didn’t think twice before saying “Heck, YES!” To be honest, I then more than once, thought to myself “What did I just agree to?” I’m a diehard adrenaline junkie though and was really looking forward to it. My son, almost 7, was super jealous. I knew I’d never live it down if I didn’t do it. Thanks so much to Toyota and Ryan for hosting me for the afternoon for this incredible experience.
When I showed up, I was warmly welcomed by Ryan, his co-driver Rhianon Gelsomino, and the entire team. I knew I was in good hands. Ryan gave me a walk around of the Toyota RallyRAV4. It’s the only SUV in a race dominated by cars. They’ve also not changed it much—it’s a stock engine and transmission. The dashboard looks like any other RAV4 dash. They added some roll bars and other safety features but kept the heart of it the same. I was quickly fitted with a helmet and neck brace (EEK!) and was being strapped in safely in the passenger seat. The first time around that mile section was exhilarating. I wasn’t sure at some points what way the road turned, and we were going around 60MPH. Good thing Ryan knew his stuff! When he asked if I wanted to go again, it was an immediate, “Yes, please!”
After our ride, I sat down with Rhianon and Ryan and learned all about the work that goes into a race. It’s quite a bit of reconnaissance and note taking all put together in a notebook full of pacernotes. Rhianon spends hours taking her notes from just 2 rides over the stages, into the pacernotes. Ryan drives it, but Rhianon tells him 2 or 3 steps ahead so he can plan accordingly and they can get the best time possible, as safely as possible. As we finished up my crash course of pacernotes, I climbed into another RAV4 and watched as Rhianon directed Ryan through the course. Next up, she directed me through the course. My country girl heart was feeling pretty happy about driving fast through country roads. Last but not least, I directed Ryan as he drove the course. I was told I did really well! Maybe something to look into further? It might come in handy as my son is already asking when he can drive a race car. We both couldn’t wait to attend the 2017 Oregon Trail Rally at the Portland International Raceway.