- Tes Sewell, Action Sports
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In the Global RallyCross series, the big-name drivers are well known and celebrated. The Ford and the Subaru teams all have multiple cars, fancy haulers and stylish racing suits, but a few plucky privateers in the field turn out race after race to take on the big guns. Pat Moro of Columbus, Ohio, is one of those privateers. Though Moro technically owns a construction company he claims to have worked pretty much full time on the rally team this year.
Moro was a standout as one of the first drivers to confidently jump the steel gap jump during practice at Texas Motor Speedway's GRC race and though this jump intimidates many of the drivers and has cost a few of them their season chances, he describes it as "One of the least talented things I have ever done in a car." This is possibly because of a background of racing dirt bikes. I decided to try and get "under the hood" to see what would make someone spend so much time, effort and money to race at this level.
ESPN.com: What got you into rally in the first place?
Moro: In Southern Ohio there used to be a rally called the "Sunriser" and there were these guys named John Buffum and Rod Millen that used to come and run through the forest in the middle of the night. My friend's dad, down the road, used to rally some two-wheel drive stuff so my friend asked me, "Hey, you want to come out with my dad and crew for him?" We were young kids and couldn't drive, like 12 or 13 years old, so we went down and then we watched Buffum and Millen drive through the woods and thought, "Wow, these guys really know what they're doing! It doesn't get any more extreme than this." I was hooked ever since.
I went and did the motorcycle stuff for a long time and after a couple of injuries on that I was like, "You know what? I think it would be kind of cool to go back to doing rally." At the time I did not know if it was still around or not, so I looked into it a little bit and on blind faith I went out and bought a 2002 Subaru. I brought it back to the shop and started working on it and went to a rally. I was full-bore into it from there.
So how long have you been doing it seriously?
The first I started was 2003 or 2004, so this would be my eighth or ninth year into it. I got a couple of championships in the production class in the Rally America series. We have always been towards the front of the class and the field overall so we have had some pretty decent success at it.
How big is your team at the GRC races?
We bring six guys per car. A spotter, an engineer, a team manager, a couple of mechanics and then another PR guy, or someone to run around. At the beginning of the year we started to run two cars, but there were challenges with the differences in these cars from stage rally. Basically these are "warmed-over" Group N cars and this is the year that we set out to learn a lot. It's a lot different from stage rally. These things are basically trophy dashes whereas the stage rally is basically an endurance kind of deal. We are learning a lot and I don't want to give too much away about the car, but suspension is different, brakes are completely different, the engine tuning is completely different, the restrictors are different. There are just a lot of differences.
Where do you get these cars from?
Salvage yards. We go to the salvage auctions or the Pull-a-part and we buy them, then just pull it all apart and go to town. We have built a lot of rally cars. We do all the fab, suspension and gearboxes in-house.
So you have a facility to work on these things?
Yes we do. Right now we are in 6,000 square feet, but we were looking to expand to somewhere around 12,000 square feet. That way you can separate things a little better or give it a better layout. Obviously that takes money and we are kind of waiting to see what happens with sponsorship. Sponsorship would make a huge difference on the facility.
So, just as a ballpark figure, what kind of money does it take to run a team like yours?
You know the scary part about that? I really don't know because I don't want to know [laughs]. I have budgets put together for ideal sponsorships and stuff, but right now I pretty much fund it out of my own pocket.
Yeah, it's a little tough. It's hard because you hear about everyone else having money to do stuff and their budgets are four or five times what ours are. We are really doing it on a shoestring and what we don't have money-wise we are making up with hard work.
As an example though, you have to run a certain "spec" tire at each event. Your team guys were talking to me about the alarming cost per event, just for tires.
We spend somewhere around $4,600 per event on tires. I would say we are somewhere in the neighborhood of 12,000 to 15,000 [dollars in budget] per event. The other guys are 40! [laughs].
They have better catering though, right?
[Laughing] You mean they have catering!
So how does this lack of budget hold you back in things that you might want to do or perhaps on how fast you can repair something?
It's huge, because there is a big difference between the initial parts. The parts on those cars are one-off and we pretty much use your standard parts from a Subaru dealership. The control arms are standard, our sub-frames are standard, but all the stuff on the other cars are custom made -- swing arms and control arms and lateral links.
The big difference, I think, budget makes is that they are able to go out and test and break those parts. They are able to blow up motors and push them to the edge where we have to slowly creep up on it, but if we had the proper budget we could have an expendable motor just to go out and test it. We don't have the budget to do the testing that everyone else does. I'm sure that almost every one of the other teams is testing prior to the event, somewhere local to the event. Our testing is actually at the event. Any kind of a problem we have then we have to adapt at the event not in testing. That's a huge difference.
Do you actually feel yourself holding back because you think about what you might damage on the car?
Absolutely, you have to. It comes back to something like a factory rider and a non-factory rider in Supercross or in any other motorsports racing. The factory guy just goes out knowing there's a parts budget and there are spares there. We can't really push it to the absolute edge.
For example: When we were in Vegas [last month for Round 5] we were very cautious with the car because we don't have a huge budget to repair the car. If we went out and really hurt the car at [Las Vegas Motor Speedway] then we are not there for the second Vegas round. The other guys can drive at 110 percent where we have to protect the equipment a little bit.
So how does that affect your competitiveness with the other teams and drivers?
It definitely hurts. If you can drive like the car's expendable then you are a little more aggressive and that shows on a performance level. We only have one motor, we don't have a spare motor in the truck so if we blow one up we can't run to the truck and put in the spare one. We're done!
So when you are sitting on that start line, what is your strategy? What goes through your mind?
On the start you just want to cut a good light and then try to get out in front to see where we can be. We haven't tried to hide the fact that this year is a measuring stick and this car is just a measuring stick, so we see what we can do with this car and the plans are to build a new car over the winter. So we would have something a little better performance-wise for the following year. That has always been the goal. We feel that we have to be here and we have to be running right now. I don't think we are that far off.
How well do you think this sport of rallycross is reaching the general ESPN sports fan?
I have a lot of friends that I went to school with and they are not really motorheads. It's exciting to them. They like to see the car in the air, they like the roughness of the driving quite honestly. The only complaints that I've ever heard are that they would like to see it longer. If it was longer they would have a better idea of what is going on, because it happens so fast that sometimes it is kind of hard to grasp what just happened. The way we are in America, we have to have everything now and in this sport everything happens now. It's four or six laps and it's over.
OK, one last question: What was the craziest crash you ever had in a rally?
STPR -- a rally in Pennsylvania. I hit a tree. It was raining and that place in the rain has mud that is like ice. That's a rally where the trees just kind of grow in the road. I came across and lost the front end and went head-on into a tree at about 75 miles per hour. Ended up tearing most of the front of the car off. I had a tool kit in the back and in the tool kit was a socket set and that ended up going through the windshield!
Right past your head? Note to self: Strap down tool kit.
[Laughs] Yes! Note to self: Tool kit mounted way lower.
Privateer Pat Moro explains how he does rallycross on a shoestring