We had a chance to catch up with Keith Jackson, driver of the DirtyImpreza.com Rally Team (DIRT) / Jackson Rally open class STi to talk about how he got started in rallying, a little bit about car prep, and what he thinks about European rallycross making its debut in the United States. He is currently competing in events across the southwest and will be defending his USRC champion title with his co-driver Marra Estep.
Aaron Ekinaka: First off Keith, tell me a little bit about yourself, what you do for a living, and when you’re not rallying what you do for fun?
Keith Jackson: Professionally, I am a project manager for a construction company, a civil engineer by degree. Rally takes most of my time, but off season i’ll be snowboarding, mountain biking, running, any kind of outdoorsy stuff, all fun.
AE: Do you remember how you first became interested in rallying?
KJ: Yeah a while back, I grew up with off-road motorcycles, mostly truck stuff and always wanted a Subaru because of their rally heritage and after college I was able to make that happen. Then, I just got into the local rallycross in southern California, and once you do that you’re hooked, and then here I am.
AE: You mentioned rallycross, how did your experience with rallycross help you prepare for driving stage rally?
KJ: I think rallycross is fundamental for stage rally. Some people don’t agree with that, but the are a lot of skills in rallycross that you use in stage rally. Its not the same, I agree with that, but the fundamentals of car control are essential on any kind of racing. Rallycross helps out a lot in that area.
AE:Who would you say is you favorite rally driver, or is there someone in the industry that you look up to?
KJ: I’d say favorite, in the world rally championship would be Petter Solberg. Obviously I don’t know him, but he followed for quite a few years along with Subaru for a number of years, even lately when hes on a private team funded with private advertising and not on a factory team it’s kind of like what we do but on the world class level. We’re all privately funded and he always has a good spirit about rally and just loves to drive. I really dig that.
AE: Tell me a little bit about the car you actually drive, your Open Class STi. What is your favorite thing about the car, or is there anything in particular that you enjoy about how its setup?
KJ: My car is a 2005 Open Class, kind of US rally standard STi. I know its probably not as fast as it can be, but i know every single thing about this car, and I think that’s what i love most about it. I’ve spent my blood sweat, tears, and a whole lot of money into this thing and so far we have a good system going on here at Jackson Rally and it’s a very reliable car, that’s another thing I like.
AE:You mentioned putting a whole lot of money into it, isn’t it true that when you started building you car it wasn’t fully paid off?
KJ: That’s true, we built it in summer of 2008 and that was about 9 months before it was actually paid off. I’m sure a lot of people would advise against that especially for a novice rally driver jumping into open class but its the car i had and the car knew and i would accept the consequences obviously if i balled it up and had to pay the payments. That story doesn’t change, either you drive it on the street and you pay the payments or you rally it and pay the payments. There was no difference to me.
AE: What do you think about the whole European rallycross thing that’s coming to the US. Do you think its good for rally in general?
KJ: I think its a good thing, definitely I don’t think there’s anything bad about it. For the US, hopefully it will pick up the excitement about rally, even though its not by definition stage rally, but its pretty cool and its been successful over seas. I’m excited for the new series I just hope the whole stage rally thing doesn’t fade away here in the US. It’s been around for a long time but it doesn’t seem that its going to prosper into something as popular as the WRC or anything.
AE: It seems that a concern is that the European Rallycross thing might be taking away from stage rally in the US.
KJ: I don’t know what Rally America / RallyCar really plans on doing with this, obviously they are trying to boost the market. I don’t know what they have in sight for the future of stage rally in the US, but obviously they’re trying something new which is always a good thing. Hopefully stage rally can continue.
AE: Do you have any plans to try anything door-to-door, or if there was a west coast stop to try one of these European rallycross events?
KJ: I think that would be a lot of fun, I wasn’t hear during the X Games but I did see some videos of that. I thought it would be a little more side to side banging doors against other cars, I wouldn’t be to thrilled to try that with my car but would definitely would be something cool to get into even though you’re still going to have factory teams competing. It will be like Rally America open class right now, where I’m just not competitive with Travis Pastrana and those guys. I am sure there will be more classes where you can something more like a beater car and go at it. I think that would be awesome.
AE: I think they are going to have several layers of competition, where you don’t have to have the high horsepower to compete door to door.
KJ: Same thing with stage rally, open class is for most teams is pretty impossible to beat factory Subaru teams. They just have the budget and cars that makes it tough to beat those guys.
AE: You’ve been stage rallying for a while now and have been quite successful, what kind of advice would you give to up and coming drivers that are thinking about making the jump from rallycross to stage rally?
KJ: I haven’t been doing it for too long, this will be actually my second full year because Gorman was my first event in 2008. Its actually my favorite rally of all the ones I’ve done, its still Gorman. Pay attention to your budget and do choice events and just make the most out of it. Don’t skimp on car prep and all that because the worst thing that happens is you spend all this money to get to an event and you don’t get any seat time because of some small electrical issue or something like that. Checklists to check your car to make sure its on the up and up, and have fun!
AE: Finally, what are your plans for the 2011 season?
KJ: 2011 season right now is up in the air. Most likely will be similar to this year, USRC championship here on the west coast. I believe the finale will be in Prescott again next year which is a little more easy on the financial side than going to New York like in 2009. Its not set in stone, this year is still going on about half way through and then we’ll see what happens coming up in the fall.
AE: Thanks Keith, and if there is anyone you want to give any shout-outs to right now, go on ahead and let them know. Anyone that gave you help along the way.
KJ: Number one thanks goes to my brother Kyle over here at Jackson Rally, hes the mastermind behind the fabrication and the car and all that. He’s helped me out tremendously obviously throughout my entire life and through this venture we’ve started here in stage rally. Also of course, Aaron with DirtyImpreza that helped grow the community here in southern California. I’ve met a lot of good people through rallycross and stage rally and its an awesome community to be in.
AE: Thanks for your time Keith and best of luck to you in the upcoming events!