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Ready, set, rally!

For Mark Tabor, rally car driving is a family affair


by: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Mark Tabor and his son, Henry, have both come to love rally car racing and think of the events as family vacations. When West Linn resident Mark Tabor volunteered for the Willamette Primary School “Read to Us” event Thursday, the book he read aloud to students was called “If I Built a Car.”

On a surface level, it was a perfectly fitting choice for Tabor — who races rally cars in his spare time — as he sat dressed in his racing jumpsuit with a Subaru rally car parked just outside the school.

But beyond the obvious, the book, with its child-like sense of whimsy and wonder, also underscored what Tabor loves about the hobby he began to pursue back in 1998. Aside from racing and even winning several regional championships over the years, Tabor, 37, and his family have also built seven rally cars themselves.

“We had the ability to go out and say, ‘Well, we think this is going to work, so we’ll do this,’” Tabor said. “So you kind of take the ideas that are out there and make them better. And some things work better, others are miserable failures.”

It’s a sense of calculated risk that strikes at the heart of the races themselves. Unlike other pedal-to-the-metal style races like stock or drag, rally car racing is more a test of endurance and awareness — up to three days of stop-and-start driving through winding and hazardous off-road tracks.

Rally races are divided into timed stages, with a series of “competitive” sections bridged by “transport” stages driven at lower speeds and a service station at a central location.

“You do the loop of stages two to three times throughout one day,” Tabor said. “So you could have anywhere from 50 competitive miles in a total of 150 miles in a day, or 100 competitive miles in a total of 200, 300, 400. It depends on the track layout.”

During his first event, more than 15 years ago at the Oregon Trail Rally in the Clatskanie area, Tabor — an accountant by trade — remembers feeling terrified.

by: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Tabor has won a number of regional championships since he started racing in 1998, and has also worked with his family to build seven cars from scratch.

“Rallying is a logistical nightmare,” Tabor said. “You don’t show up in one location and get in a race car and go. ... For me it was a logistical nightmare trying to figure out, ‘Where do I need to be? Where do I need to tell other people to be? Am I going to get lost trying to find all of these places?”

He made it through, of course, and found himself hooked from that point on.

“I like the team appeal of the sport,” Tabor said. “The driver and co-driver have to work together in the car, plus your crew must work with you to keep the car running throughout the event.”

The Tabors have always been a car family, attending car shows and collecting “project” automobiles when Mark was growing up.

It was Mark Tabor’s parents, Janice and Bruce Tabor, who first suggested that the family try rally racing after remembering the fun they had with it as teenagers in Virginia.

Now, races often involve three generations of Tabors. Mark’s mother and his sister, Kristen, operate as co-drivers of their own car, and Mark’s children — 11-year-old Madelyn and 8-year-old Henry — like to help with the repair crew.

“It’s a vacation — that’s what we do,” Tabor said. “The kids will help wash the car when it comes into the service park, or give us food, so they’re kind of part of the team.”

Jennifer Tabor, Mark’s wife, admits to feeling nervous during races, but she also recognizes what the hobby means to her husband.

“I don’t believe there are many accountant-slash-rally-car- drivers out there,” Jennifer Tabor said. “So racing is a yin to his yang. It is a chance to release stress and have an absolute blast — something for him to make life sweeter.”

Though average race speeds hover between 50 and 80 miles per hour, and Tabor works to never let his competitiveness outweigh safety, he hasn’t been immune to mistakes.

“I’ve crashed a couple times, probably less than a dozen,” Tabor said. “I’ve only left a car in the woods one time, when it was so far off the road that they just said, ‘We’ll get it later.’”

In another race, Tabor’s brakes went out and he hit a tree, destroying the front end of the car. But occasional crashes are to be expected on courses that are known for unpredictability.

“You see everything you could imagine as you drive down the road,” Tabor said. “It’s not a paved road, so it’s not designed to race on. That’s the beauty of it — it’s just a road that has some other purpose, whether it’s a fire access road or logging road or farm road. They’re not pretty.”

The Tabors are set to return to the courses in May, as Oregon hosts the first race in the Cascadia International Rally Championship — a series that also holds races in Washington, Idaho and Canada.

“There will be a lot of variation,” Tabor said. “Some races in the forest, some in the desert, some on open farm land. It should be a pretty diverse series.”

Plenty of chances, in other words, to take the calculated risks that Tabor has come to love.

To learn more about the Cascadia International Rally Championship, visit cascadiairc.com.

by: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Tabor brought his newest car to Read to Us day at Willamette Primary School, where he read 'If I Built a Car' to students.


By Patrick Malee
Reporter
503-636-1281
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