New rally school offers mud roads, speed, skids

New rally school offers mud roads, speed, skids
SNOQUALMIE, Wash. -- On the same acres loggers used to work tirelessly on at the Weyerhaeuser Lumber Mill and where the 1990's cult TV hit series "Twin Peaks" was based, now resides one of only three rally schools in the nation. It's called DirtFish.

"This whole place is a huge playground. 315 acres and we just get to use all of it so it's pretty cool," says Ian Alexander, Chief Rally Car Instructor. He says rally car racing has been popular in Europe for years. Now, Alexander explains, it's growing in interest in the States.

"Rally's kind of like the crazy sport where the drivers go down small roads high speeds and the fans stand right on the road," Alexander said.

The roads Alexander is speaking of are old, narrow, logging roads. They are gravel covered and, especially in our climate, often are muddy. The cars they use are real race cars with roll bars, race restraints, kill switches, undercarrige protection, and super shocks to absorb the bumpy terrain.

"It's actually pretty safe," Alexander said. "It's more dangerous walking around out here and tripping over something. So, it's good fun."

Before student drivers can get behind the wheel of one of the rally cars, they have to have some indoor classroom time. That classroom is right above the tracks and happens to be the same building used as the sheriff's office in "Twin Peaks."

After drivers are briefed on the fundamentals, they hit what DirtFish calls "The Boneyard." It's a mainly flat, gravel area with a coned off track. A water tinder is handy to soak it when it's not raining. It makes the track slippery, and Alexander says, that's what they want.

"Most people never experience a skid until it's snowing or they hit a big puddle and hydroplane on the freeway. We spend hours out here sideways, sliding," he said.

Besides the thrill of driving a real rally car in the unique surrounding, Alexander says they want to teach advanced car control. Part of the lesson is learning how to steer the car with your feet; left on the brake, right on the gas.

With adjusting speeds, instructors teach students how to place the car right where they want it with little movement of the steering wheel. They stress students to look ahead and how to not over correct if ever in a spin. "You can probably save any sort of spin on the freeway or anything like that so a lot of application for safe driving," says Alexander.

Other than some minor grooming, the old logging roads are pretty much the same. The crew at DirtFish tells me they would even like to turn the building that surrounds the last standing historic smokestack into a restaurant someday. Alexander believes the school is going to be a big draw.

"People are going to fly from all around the world to come check out this site. It's one of a kind," he said. More people mean more money for the small town of Snoqualmie.

DirtFish is currently offering one day courses that happen rain or shine. Many of them are already full.

"We're, I think, making some friends with the people of Snoqualmie. I mean we're going to bring some business in and send some people into the town and all that so it should be really good," says Alexander. The school will be open year 'round.

Every session ends the same. After spending hours behind the wheel of a rally car, the student gets to swap seats with the instructor. Those instructors show their students what race cars can really do. I got that ride with Ian Alexander, who's been driving rally cars for 11 years. We darted down narrow gravel paths hitting triple digits, coming within inches of hitting trees, sending waves of mud over the car and rocks flying yards from the path. It left me speechless. But Alexander says not everyone is so quiet.

"We rocket them down a little tiny tree covered ditch lined road. It's pretty good. We usually get some yelling but lots of smiles," he said.

More information on the Rally School, go to dirtfish.com