| THE FAST AND THE FILTHY
By Allyson Marrs
Put the pedal to the metal in the gravel. Grip the wheel tight until your fingers ache, and feel the thrill of the uneven ground beneath you.
With Snoqualmie's DirtFish Rally School (www.dirtfish.com), you're not only allowed to get a little muddy on the courses, you're actually encouraged to. The roads are unpaved—made of gravel and dirt—and drivers learn how to control the car and handle the thrill in a fantastically filthy environment.
The school offers two-hour, half-day, one-day, two-day, three-day and private classes, and drivers take away throttle management, a left-foot braking technique, an understanding of weight transfer, the ability to provoke and correct slides and proper rally line. For the purpose of the class, it's best if students are already comfortable driving a manual transmission—all of the cars are Subaru Impreza STIs.
Drivers are in control of a four-cylinder, turbocharged engine—roaring 300-plus horsepower built in. Inside, the car boasts a rally intercom system, hydraulic hand brake and a racing harness. Add in custom engine mapping, 15-inch alloy gravel rally wheels and World Rally Car spec gravel racing tires, and you have everything you need to drive hard.
To the delight of drivers, most of the class time is spent on the course, with minimal time spent indoors, used mainly to provide background on driving on the tougher terrain. Class size is a draw too, with a nine-student cap and a two-to-one student-instructor ratio.
This ratio becomes the format during the driving, as two students share a car. While one cruises and rallies, the other debriefs with the instructor, as part of a pit stop. DirtFish structures it this way so students learn from each other, while also studying specific techniques with the instructors. Part of rallying is borrowing skills from other drivers and learning how to apply them in your own car—it's an almost-always evolving sport.
Adrenaline junkies begin on a skid pad to master basic car control techniques, and then speed over to the handling course. The intensity surges on the slalom, where drivers manipulate the car's balance, and it finishes on the rally roads, all of which are within the 315-acre facility.
The instructors are diehard car fans, having competed in the World Rally Championship races in Europe. So don't expect any boring DMV-like ride-alongs here. Chances are, your instructor will be just as excited to be behind the wheel as you. Though you won't be getting scored, their main concern will be your safety, as well bettering your technique.
To satisfy the need for (dirty) speed and honor that appreciation for handling, prepare your gears. Getting schooled has never been quite so fun.