Archive for August 5th, 2011

I started writing my farewell post this morning.  I believed I had reached a point where I wasn’t writing enough to justify continuing the process.  It seemed that (at least) a temporary vacation of a month – or maybe a couple of months – would either re-kindle the cooling desire or confirm that Today’s History Lesson had indeed become a part of history.

But then I looked at my upcoming calendar, and there were several topics (like this evening’s) that captured my attention.  Maybe this place wasn’t so dead after all.  So I shelved that “farewell” post…for now.

I’ve talked about rallying on a couple of occasions, and I will again tonight.  It’s a fascinating sport, the ultimate test of man, speed, and machine.  All forms of auto racing require skill – yes, even NASCAR, which involves mostly left-hand turns on concrete…I’ve often said that NASCAR stands for “Not AS Cool As Rally”, which merely displays my bias – but top-level rally drivers are, without question, the finest car-control experts on the planet.

Maybe it’s navigating a highly-powered car through the high-speed gravel tracks and “yumps” of Finland.  It could be the twisting, narrow roads of Corsica.  Or maybe it’s the famed Col de Turini of Monte Carlo.  Whatever the venue, rallying requires a certain amount of panache and flambouyance, an appearance of “disregard for personal safety”, and a splash of “nuts”, all mixed in the proper proportion.  And did I mention the need for unparalleled car control?

Few drivers displayed these characteristics more than Colin McRae.  The Scotsman from Lanark, born August 5, 1968, was a madman behind the wheel, giving an appearance of throwing caution to the four winds, and taking “maximum attack” to new heights.  The talent was there in spades.  The outright speed was astounding. He was brilliant at the controls of every rally car he ever drove.  Colin was (and still is) the youngest driver to ever win the World Rally Championship title, conquering that plateau at just 27 years old.

But along with nearly 150 rally starts, 25 outright victories, and 40+ podium finishes (driving for the Subaru, Ford, and Citroen factory teams) came the inevitable shunts.  Now most rally drivers will tell you that if you don’t ever crash your car, you’re not pushing hard enough.  But rally legend Jimmy McRae’s son often put himself out of the competition in spectacular fashion, earning himself the nickname of “McCrash”.  A couple that come immediately to mind are his crash in 1999’s Rally Australia, where Colin carried too much speed over a sixth-gear jump on day 2 and put his car into the trees.  The other was his crazy end-over-end crash in 2001’s Rally Great Britain, where Colin hit a big hole that was hidden in a right-hand bend, destroyed his car, and ended his shot at a 2nd championship, handing it instead to Richard Burns.  There were dozens of others, and his fans always remember a few.

As 2003 ended, so had Colin’s career…for the most part.  He picked up occasional drives for the next couple years, but as the WRC entered something of a “dry season”, opportunities were few and most of them went to up-and-coming drivers.  But Colin didn’t stray far from motorsports, trying his hand at the Dakar Rally, the 24 Hours of LeMans, and even Britain’s version of NASCAR racing.

And all along the way, there was the Colin McRae Rally video games, introducing millions of gamers not only to the sport of rallying, but also to the man behind the box’s title.  Other than maybe American rally legend John Buffum, no other man of rallying is better know in the United States (where a WRC event will probably never come again) than Colin McRae.

Having cheated death so many times behind the wheel, it’s somewhat ironic that McRae’s death in 2007 came behind of the controls of his personal helicopter.

McRae had just celebrated his 39th birthday the month before.

Happy Birthday, Colin McRae!!  You’re rallying magic is sorely missed, but will not be forgotten.

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