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I finally got one of my childhood dreams off the ground. One of which is to become a serious enthusiast rally driver. I was doing a lot of business with a legacy family that I love dearly called “The Johnsons”. Ricky Johnson is better known as one of the world’s finest off-road racers. A lot of people remember him as the world’s greatest dirt bike motocross rider in the world. He’s still that guy, he’s an amazing and passionate man and all those traits have been passed on to one of my merest best friend, Luke Johnson. Luke and I are partners in his business where we focus on making his dreams more efficient and effective to hit the racetrack, influence others to race and do well, and support men and women in our country’s  armed forces. I’m glad to be a part of that team every day, thick and thin, through and through, and I’m proud to be a part of that family. Some of the crazier things that we’ve been through had been the ultimate highs and lows. But last year was amazing for us, the family, and the team. Rick decided to award me with an incredible gift – a little white Subaru Impreza rally car.

 

As I got the car, I was really excited to start looking into understanding what events were near me. I grew up in a town where I was influenced by New York and North Jersey (because that was where I was born) while my parents moved me to the woodland area of Elwood, New Jersey – a really small town where we are surrounded by woods versus busy streets, assholes and businesses.

Regardless of where I lived, I was always a passionate car guy, but I always had a hard time longing to get my street performance cars because we lived in an area where off-road is king. I always wanted a Subaru because it was the perfect balance of the two worlds. When Rick and Luke gave me this vehicle.

I was absolutely honored to have this, and it was such a childhood dream of mine to finally have it. Unfortunately, it happened when I was 35, and I’m living in California now. It was kind of hard for me to understand if there was anything I could drive, any destination that I could drive this car. Back in New Jersey, I could drive it anywhere. I had multiple locations where I wouldn’t get in trouble, and locations where I might get in trouble but I could run away fast enough. Now in California, I have no idea where I was going. Luckily through the internet, I was able to find a website that gave me all the information I needed.

 

That website happened to be NASA road racing, and they had a ton of local events. So I signed up for my first rally cause, not thinking about anything that I needed to do with the car. I had no idea if the car was capable or what kind of suspension it had. I had so much to learn but I just wanted to go out there and fling it around in the dirt. In the past, my brother and I had Subarus, and we’d done some damages to that car.

I got to the race thinking this is just going to be like this – just back at home when my brother and I would rampage through the woods. When I pulled up, I was mostly undermining how far people have invested and how far rally has come. Regardless, I had an amazing time but I knew I had a huge learning curve ahead of me.

Then came Dug Nagy. Dug is a real soft spoken person. A real solid mentor, teacher, engineer, fabricator, businessman, entrepreneur, and friend. He and I connected to a level of excitement for entrepreneurship and marketing. I’m completely immersed and I just love when the guy talks. It’s so easy to learn from him and understand the physics and engineering behind what he does, thinks and knows we talk about cars. He does things in such an efficient and effective way.

I’ve been lucky enough to have Dug as my crew chief. He’s been great because he has a long legacy of people he’s coached for. It’s an honor to be a part of his team. It’s even more of an honor to be in his shop and be able to walk in without permission.

Dug and I go over the car, and I’ve realized that I’ve got a lot to learn and work ahead of me. The other major problem I got is now I need to figure out what rally I’m gonna run, how I’m gonna raise the money to race, and where to find a co-driver.

So the first thing I need to tackle is my car. 

I had some roll cage interior things that needed to be addressed. There’s a thing called the logbook and I didn’t realize that it’s like an airplane. They have their logbooks and so do these rally cars. Logbooks certify and verify the safety updates of the vehicle. It’s amazing what this car could do, but it’s also amazing how much the engineering and the thought process for safety is of much importance.  Unfortunately, the roll cage that was in the car just wasn’t going to cut it. Luckily, Dug and the gang are expert fabricators.

That’s our good buddy Josh. Josh is one of the guys at Dug’s Shop, Streetwise Motorsports. He was crawling around literally like a yoga wielder, getting in and outside of my car – measuring, bending, and fabricating metals to fit and make sure that I can do almost anything in this car and still come away safely walking. The amount of time it took him just to rebuild the front half of my cage was about 2 to 3 days. I couldn’t believe how quickly he did it. It was crazy how he just knew where and what to bend and how to place the pipes where everything came together massively. It was a piece of art after he was done.

After the fabrication was done, the next thing needed to be addressed was the suspension. The car was all ready to go and I was lucky enough to have my friends over at BC racing make me a custom suspension for the rally car. Even to a point now where they’re making me custom lockers. The guys at PC racing help me start my agency five years ago and now they are supporting me with my passion for rally racing.

I got the suspension dialed in and we decided to go ahead and start testing the rally car. My buddy Chong was grateful and crazy enough to commit being my co-driver. Chong and I met at my time with Olloclip and we became great friends riding road bikes together. I Never knew he had a passion for rally cars, but luckily enough, he and I had a mutual respect for each other. I have mutual respect for him, almost like an older brother. When we drive together, I tend to have a submissive mindset listening to his advice and guidance. It naturally fits when we race in rally cars.

We took the car out to Burman. Chong and I decided to take the car out and we had an amazing time. We got our notes pacing right. We understood our styles and I couldn’t believe how quickly we got it done. We literally arrived there at 6:00 AM and we wrapped up around noon. We didn’t want to wrap up at noon because it was out of our control to wrap up.

During our test session, we got more comfortable and confident throughout the day. His pace notes were making a lot of sense and my driving style was making sense to him towards what his pace notes should be and what he should start telling me when to do what. He really is the driver. He really is the one who’s telling me what to do. He’s taking on the responsibility of everything that happens in the car so that all I’m responsible for are putting in all the inputs that he’s dictating.

But at the end of the day, Chong is an amazingly disciplined individual and I couldn’t ask for anyone better to be a co-driver for me, but also to be so caring as an older brother, a great friend, and someone I look up to very much.

We got back from the tested foreman and we found out we broke a couple of things. We had Chong hop at the back of the rally car. We got the suspension off the car and temporarily put the old suspension back until we could find the PC rollovers and get us to a point where we need to fine-tune the car.

I’ve been lucky enough to have the Johnsons give me this amazing opportunity based off of no expectations and just good hard work to help them achieve their dreams. They gave me that blessing back by being transparent and humble and meeting someone like Dug.

To have someone like Dug and the rest of his staff, world-class rally engineers, embrace me into their family as a team and their rookie driver; I carry a lot of pride bearing their name because of the way they make me a part of the family and a part of the team. I feel like I’m their young rookie driver that they obviously believe in because they put so much time into my dream, my passion. Just something I’ve been wanting to do for such a long time and I’m so lucky to have these guys behind me, supporting me.

 

More importantly to my wife for being so supportive of my dreams. I just can’t believe how good this opportunity came out. How lucky I am to have such a supportive wife and family to let me go achieve my dreams and reach for it.  How this world and God gives back opportunities and somehow even gives me more things to help grow my family, the people that I care about around me and my top ten people that I really care about from an everyday professional career. How this experience and opportunity still gives us all opportunities. He works in real mysterious ways and I don’t understand how it goes but I just keep believing that I’m going to do the right thing. I have to be humble. I have to be smarter in what I say, how I act, and what type of demeanor to portray. Make sure that it is really what I want to portray and not what marketing has made me think of what it has to be. Being transparent and real and letting everybody know that I see what they saw in me from the beginning.
I look intimidating and my business is intimidating. But in the end, I have a really big heart and I need to make sure that that comes across correctly. And they’re right. This is one piece of my heart, this little Subaru. I’d love that car to pieces. I know I’m going to crush it.

But I know I have a passionate team of guys that believe in me and my wife’s got my back. Chong is going through that journey with me.

I know I’ve got tons of wisdom behind me, to support me throughout this new endeavoring career of being a driver. I don’t know how this would turn out but I’m grateful for every second of it. This is my journey with this little Subaru of mine.

I have to say, this all stemmed from this one machine. My brother, Father and I built this stimulator about ten years ago. We were snowed in New Jersey and we were four in the woods. They both know I had a passion for driving and racing. We couldn’t afford to do anything. But we had a PlayStation laying around and an extra steering wheel. We put a piece together this little steering wheel simulator.

 

At that time it was the steering wheel. It has traveled with me to California. It’s one of the most humbling and important pieces of my life that keeps me grounded. Something I’ll never get rid of. I’ve come a long way modifying it. But I kept the original base knowing that it was built from the love and passion my father and younger brother had. Some of the original pieces are the foundations of it and just reminds me of the journey this foundation has got me through. I never thought that I’d be working with a legend, and end up becoming best friends with his son where they would gift me a car.

 

Being able to find someone on the internet that happens to be one of the world’s most pronounced engineers and so many disciplines in motorsports. The guy is amazing! He’s worked for brands like Vulcan Tire to being the race director and engineering for Celine. And now he is my crew chief. All because of some piece of wood that my father and brother pieced together.

 

An old dashboard from my Nos Energy Drink days to a center console, which is a pile of junk that my wife never gave up on and rebuilt for me time after time after time. Knowing that my birthday was coming up, she would buy me parts for that simulator. And it has changed my life, every year it hasn’t gone away.

 

That simulator has meant a lot to me, if I had a stressful day I’d stay on that simulator and hit it for a good hour or two. I just needed a break and stop thinking about the craziness of my life – with the agency and all the other business that we’re running. If I miss my dad I hit the simulator.

 

There are so many things about that simulator that’s the core of what I am right now with this race program. And I thank my brother for always being a part of that. He and I had a great relationship because of motorsports. We haven’t had the time or resources to maintain that, but this little simulator of ours, every time we’re together, it’s the core of our brotherhood that’s something I will never leave and forget. I hope my children take on that simulator and respect it and love it as much as I do. We’ll see that as something that we can keep in our family forever.
Thank you to everyone who has made this dream a reality. Seriously, it has been 10 years from the simulator to my first stage rally. And I love you all for getting me to this point.

Ernie Manansala

The author Ernie Manansala