Monday, May 16, 2011

Rallyconnection on Irish Examiner Weekend

Having a shot at adventure
By Joe McNamee
Saturday, May 14, 2011

INITIALLY, it was very appealing: a whirlwind skite around the deep south, cramming a variety of adventure activities into just two days.

Who doesn’t love a bit of hillwalking? But there was also rally driving, shooting and a spot of extreme climbing. Hmmm. You see, I’d be more your cautious type: when the doodoo hits the fan, I’m leading the panic-stricken flight, trampling over women, wearing small children as body armour, screaming like a boiled hyena. So, frankly, I need a little ‘moral support’. And that can only be provided by one man, my old compadre, Blond, James Blond (JB). "JB! Me old segosha! How do you fancy a little hillwalking around the beautiful sunny south?" "Emmmm … ?" Says JB. "Good man!" says I, "See you Friday at the crack of dawn." A few days later we are driving through a misty, magical west Waterford, in the hinterland of Dungarvan.
We crest the brow of a small lane way, chuckling about souped-up Escorts. The chuckles vanish. Nestling in a bucolic vale is a tarmacadamed circuit, loops, dips, curves, 180-degree hairpin bends. It’s Rally Connection, one of only two Irish venues authorised to issue rallying competition licences. Screaming down the home straight is a souped-up 36-year-old two-litre Ford Escort. Our gulps are deep, simultaneous; this is no longer funny. Proprietor Tom Kenneally pulls off his helmet to reveal a shiny pate and a wicked grin, wrinkling his nose at the fresh waft of Sunday driver. "Who’s first?" he asks gleefully. I bamboozle the bewildered JB into jumpsuit, balaclava, helmet and passenger seat before he can work out what has happened. Tom takes off. Actually, Tom leaves planet earth, nought to sound barrier in three seconds, 70mph into the first hairpin. With the old Escort’s arse swinging wildly behind, Tom negotiates the bend, rearing up and off into the next straight, the next hairpin. Just over a minute, he completes a circuit with a handbrake turn. A brief glimpse of JB’s face, all eyes and terror tells too much. I grow progressively queasier as Tom hurls around the circuit 10 more times before screeching to a halt. JB staggers out. "Jesus," he gasps, "I’m like jelly. That was the most terrifying thing I have ever done in my life." We guffaw, me hysterically. Last year, JB knocked out a parachute jump and a paraglide in New Zealand with nary a bother. I break into a cold sweat if I see a kite. I am going to soil myself. I am going to cry. I cannot do this. I am doing it. It is a dream. Instructor Tony is strapping me into the hard bucket seat, belts over shoulders, chest, crotch, no give like a normal car. "Can you hear me, Joe?" shouts Tom over the helmet headset. "Yes," I whimper. He presses ignition. I am pinned back, we are heading for that first bend, for death. And then a strange serenity washes over me. I am floating. We slam through, Tom gunning out of the turn, shouting a running commentary. I take in nothing. I reconnect with the car. I am, I am … enjoying myself? "You’re very quiet, Joe?" "This is effing brilliant, Tom!" Ten circuits are done in a flash, and I am scrambling into the driver’s seat. I have become my own worst nightmare, Boy Racer. Tom howls instruction: "Brake! Gear down! Off the brake! Don’t accelerate, don’t accelerate, wait until you’re nearly through the turn. NOW, JOE, GIVE IT WELLY!" I hare down the straight and into the next bend. "Stay wide, Joe, stay wide! Off the effing clutch, Joe! !! Now go! GO!" It is a drug. I drive faster and faster as the Escort and I form a bond of thrust. Into a sweeping rising bend, ! I put the boot down, find the line and rise through the curve, bulleting out the far side like a stone from a slingshot, shimmy through gentle waves of the home straight and handbrake turn. Well, Tom pulls the handbrake. Out of the car, I struggle for a nonchalant swagger, but am fizzing with adrenalin. It’s JB’s turn to take off. Like an old lady looking for a space in a crowded car park, braking to a near halt at the first hairpin. I laugh the hysterical, cruel laughter of the survivor. He never tops 40mph the whole way round, struggling in vain to master the scrawny gearstick. "That’s an afternoon in the workshop for me," says Tony pleasantly after one grinding crunch of the gears. Tom cuts JB’s misery short a few laps shy of 10. We leave — me very reluctantly, promising faithfully to return — but the clock calls. Driving off, we laugh manically. No question, we’re awake now. Read more:
RallyConnection Rally Driving School, County Waterford, Ireland.
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