Bangor rally race driver competes in 20th New England Forest Rally Part II

Episode 274

July 28. 2019

Friday with Last Ditch Racing at New England Forest Rally

Bangor based Last Ditch Racing rally team with owner John Cassidy at the wheel and his son John Cassidy V as his co-driver/navigator thundering through a woodlot competing in the elder Cassidy’s 20th consecutive Maine Forest Rally last weekend. His experience paid off when the team finished second overall and first in the Open class 4 wheel drive (4WD) in the 44 car regional competition. (Photo by David Cosseboom)

Last week’s episode of UpNorth Motorsports began with John Cassidy telling his experiences at the New England Forest Rally based in Sunday River. We ended last week as the team finished preparations for the Friday stages.

In Cassidy’s words with slight editing to fit the format,

Rally cars and drivers must be able to withstand the sometimes bone-crunching fender wrinkling forces of the jumps and rocks encountered on the assorted stages of the race. (Joel Sanford photo)

“We finish the stage. Not much air over the big jump. Sorry about that folks-not enough speed. We’ve done our best. We’re sweaty. Slightly rolling the car at the time control to keep the brake pads from catching fire. We’re not saying anything, but both concerned that this stage may set the tone for the rally. And not in a good way.

We loop around to do the stage again. We pop the hood and scan for any issue. We know the engine bay. We’ve spent hours there. Nothing obvious. No smoke out the tail pipe. Idling ok. Ok. Let’s try it again.

We repeat the suit up, strap in and go ritual. T4 feels better. Less hesitation. She’s making me work a bit more, which is a good thing. She and I have a slightly abusive and dysfunctional relationship.

By the time we finish the stage, we know the time is better than the first. She seems to running ok. So we decide to focus on the race and other issues. Like the clunk in the left front that’s new and the terrible noise when we turn the wheel. It may have something to do with the rock I hit with the left front on both passes of the stage. Sorry guys!

Digression: Rally is not a sport if you get overly emotional over issues that require you to have more data. Put another way, it’s not a sport for catastrophizers. You have a big picture(the rally and getting to the next place you need to be) and then the smaller picture(which may or may not impact the bigger picture). You can’t get the cart before the horse.

We pull into the first service. Brakes need to be bled. Fluids checked. Intercooler spray bottle filled. Windows cleaned. Tires removed and all suspension bolts, “spanner checked.” That’s the baseline service.

Broken front strut on Last Ditch Racing Subaru (Last Ditch Racing photo)

We have motorsport strut(shock) mounts up front. They’re rigid and allow for camber adjustment. One of them is broken. Gravity is keeping the car sitting on the top of the strut, so we just need to keep the car on the ground. Easier said then done. Oh yeah, we don’t have a spare solid strut mount. The decision is made to deal with it at the overnight service and just drive it. I’ve driven with two broken mounts before-how hard can one be?! Of course, the two longest stages of the day await.

We head out on the hour-long drive to the next stage. Front strut is clunking with every imperfection in the road. John V and I wondering which impact will send the strut up through the hood. We’re racing, but I’m still a Dad, so I say, ‘I think it’ll be ok.’ As he knew by the time he was 5, he knows I have no idea what I’m doing and cannot predict the future.”

We have an ok run in on the North Arm stage. Car is still missing. And clunking. If I keep the throttle somewhere around 75%, she’s happier. Why?! I don’t know. John already knows this.

We’re happy to complete the stage. It’s a turn around stage, meaning we all turn around and park. We wait for everyone to finish and then start back out the other way. The out stage is a longer stage called Icicle Brook. Freshly graded, which doesn’t make me happy. I miss the rough, technical stages of the Maine Forest Rally.

We socialize with the other crews and enjoy some snacks and drinks graciously provided by the organizers. Time to suit back up and get back to work. Icicle Brook awaits.

The stage feels good. It’s smooth. And fast-for long stretches-the car gets hot. I glance down and see 120 celsius. I’m not going to slow down.

Then we hit it. John called the note as a jump. We’ve jumped before. I remember this jump as more of a kick. When we get to it, I know it’s not going to be ok.

It’s a steep ramp. We’re too fast. Too late. We launch. It seems like we’re looking at the sky and then the road. My brain is likely making that up. Anywho, we impact on what seemed like the left front first and then the other side. It may have been opposite.

The result was an axial and decelerating load to my body. I felt my head bounce between the side head restraints of the seat(don’t race without them folks). I saw stars. I asked John if he was ok. He said yes. Good.

Was I ok? Was T4 ok. I wasn’t sure. Should I pull over for a minute and regroup? Once the car settled, we were back on the throttle. Not much else to do when you’re in a race car, in a race.

We still had about half the stage to go. And then the transit to service. Another hour. Did we frig the strut top up?

John’s calling notes. Stop thinking about those things and focus. Wait, what about the artificial disc in my neck that my surgeon friend put in a couple of years ago?! No worries. All good.

We were lucky to drive away from the jump. T4 is a really strong girl and although she got bent a little, she allowed us to ride it out (although I’m still sore today). Others were not as lucky. While there were no, ‘major’ injuries, some cars won’t race again because of it. It’s part of what we do.

The transit back was painful. Physically and stressful mentally thinking about what other damage we might have sustained and how we’d fix the strut top.

T4 sounds a certain way. Engine note. Vibrations. Creaks. Everything sounded ok. Smelled ok. Clunk still in the left front. New normal as of two hours ago. An hour back to try not to pay attention to the back and neck pain and do some stress reduction.

The boys had met us for a supplemental refuel stop in Andover. They followed us back to the service area and just before turning onto the access road to Sunday River, there was a bad clanking noise from the front under the car and then the engine died.

Pulled off with hazards on. Boys pulled up behind us but couldn’t touch the car outside the service area. They said just before we pulled over, there were sparks coming out of the tailpipe.

Sparks!? Camera light in the tailpipe and there’s something in there. Worst case is part of the turbo. Best case? You guessed it, I don’t know.

We had made our muffler removable thanks to us watching the Subaru Canada team. We copied it, although I’m not sure we had any idea why. This was why. Thanks Stewart and the CanJam crew!

I pulled the tool kit out. Put some gloves on and removed the muffler. The catalytic converter further upstream was cherry red. With the muffler off, bits chunks of catalyst fell out. The converter had given up the ghost. It was a relief really, because it explained the power issues we’d be having all day.

Arrived in service and we decided some of the guys would do all the regular service items that needed doing before tomorrow’s’ stages and then a couple could focus on the strut top.

I tried to get the crew to come eat and then go back down to work, but they wanted to stay and work. They were amped by the challenge of fixing something we had no obvious fix for.

Last Ditch Racing crew member Duncan Matlack discussing the fix for the broken suspension components with co-driver John Cassidy V. (Last Ditch Racing photo)

John V and I went up to shower and eat a great dinner that Dana had made and then we went back down to service to see how we could help.

The struts are special rally units. At one time, they came with nuts that allowed them to be used with stock Subaru strut tops. When we moved to the solid mounts, our team machinist Jon made some custom nuts that made them work. The custom nuts don’t work with stock mounts.

Where are the original nuts? As Jon and you already know, I don’t know…

In order to use the custom nuts with the stock strut tops, the mount needed some grinding on the under side(for the spring to seat ok. And the top needed to be clearanced so the custom nut could be installed-upside down-so that the head would act like a washer of sorts.

Next problem-we needed a thin-walled socket. Did we have one? Nope. Could we find one? Nope. So, the boys clearanced the top of the mount some more so we could use the socket we had.

To watch a crew problem solve, fabricate and succeed in a repair is a glorious thing. There’s no time to process. The thinking and problem solving happens in real-time. There are options and there needs to be a collective decision on what is the best-and safest-choice from the list. Our lives depend on their skill. That’s not an overly dramatic statement.

The crew finally finished service around midnight(early!) and returned to the condo for dinner. There was talk about Saturday AM and the movement plan for everyone

Day Two of Last Ditch Racing adventures at 2019 New England Forest Rally in next episode. Great reporting from team owner/driver John Cassidy. Thank you John for allowing me to reprint your story.

Biggest (and only) stock car race in the County next Sunday

The anticipation is building for the Aroostook Savings and Loan 2nd Annual Firecracker 200 to benefit Feed the County August 4th at Spud Speedway. The event will benefit area food pantries supplied by Catholic Charities throughout the year.

Driver introductions at New Hampshire Motor Speedway where Austin Theriault made his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series debut. He finished 35th at NHMS and a week later 34th at Pocono Raceway. (HTF Motorsports photo)

For the first time, Caribou Chamber of Commerce “Thursdays on Sweden Street” August 1st will have the County’s only Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver Austin Theriault on hand.  Theriault will have his race merchandise for sale and will be signing autographs.

Dixie Shaw and the folks at Feed the County, Aroostook Savings and Loan, and WAGM-TV will be on hand to help raise money for the County’s food pantries. The event runs from 6 to 9 pm that evening.

Race fans from all around the area will begin arriving early in the weekend with their campers in preparation for the Sunday races which include the PASS Super Late Models and Modifieds. A 50 lap Enduro race will cap the race activities.

The grandstands will open at 11:00 am. The pit gate will open at 10:30 am with racing starting promptly at 2 pm. Prior to the PASS Super Late Model race, a meet and greet session for race fans will take place on the track. Drivers will be available for photos and autographs.

2019 marks the return of Shawn Martin to  his home track, Spud Speedway. Martin races at Oxford Plains Speedway in the Super Late Model Class and recently won a Oxford 250 qualifier race at Oxford July 6, 2019.

Shawn Martin from Frenchville now living in Auburn wins Oxford 250 Qualifier race July 6th to secure a spot in this year’s Oxford 250. The team will be making the trek north for him to try to win his third 150 lap special race at Spud Speedway. (Sandy Haley photo)

With roots in Mars Hill, the Wyatt Alexander Racing (WAR) team, featured  in the May 2019 Speedway Illustrated Magazine, will attempt to qualify for the Oxford 250 with a win at Spud Speedway. (Jason Beck photo)

PASS Modified points leader Spencer Morse, Waterford, after his first Modified win of 2019 being interviewed by Mark Thomas. Morse is one of several PASS Modified drivers slated to race in the 50 lap feature at Spud Speedway.(Sandy Haley photo)


Spencer Morse, Waterford, preparing his PASS Modified for competition at Spud Speedway. (Spencer Morse Racing photo)

RYAN Motorsports update

Christmas in July race at Speedway 660 Geary Woods, New Brunswick. Ryan Messer finished a strong 3rd after a hot night on the track. With Messer in front of the #1 is his girlfriend Kamdyn Cawdie, Oromoncto, New Brunswick.  In back left to right Penny and Robb Messer, Harvey, NB and Ryan’s cousin Jaxon Cleghorn, MacAdam, NB. (RYAN Motorsports photo)

RYAN Motorsports is racing in the Maritime Pro Stock Tour this season. Ryan has graduated from school and is working for Valley Equipment who will be opening their new store in Fredericton, New Brunswick. He lives in Hartland, New Brunswick which limits his availability to work on the Pro Stock car.

Results for this season:

8th Petty International Raceway

8th Scotia Speed World

4th “Best of the Best 100” Speedway 660

2nd and 3rd at regular season races at Speedway 660.

Messer will not be racing at the Firecracker 200 at Spud Speedway, however, he expects several from Speedway 660 to give it a go.

County Rides

Once in a while I will be featuring a car, motorcycle, racer, or even a boat that I might see in travels in the County that I want to put in my blog. The first such car belongs to Vince Morrow, Caribou.

What caught my eye was the Avalanche Grey paint on Vince Morrow’s 2004 Mustang GT. Morrow’s Mustang has the 4.6 V8 with a five speed transmission, 75 mm intake, Saleen wheels and wing. The car has seen no winter driving and is immaculate. (HTF Motorsports photo)

Side view of the Vince Morrow Mustang showing the Saleen wheels with 275 X 35 X 18 tires. (HTF Motorsports photo)

See you at Spud Speedway August 4th!

Let’s go racing,

Tom Hale

Soli Deo Gloria (Matthew 5:16)




Tom Hale

About Tom Hale

Tom wrote 14 years as freelancer for the Bangor Daily Sports covering motorsports in Maine. Now blogging and concentrating on human interest stories about people and places in racing. He races Champ Karts and owns HTF Motorsports in remote Westmanland, Maine