The "Wheels of Teal" came tearing around the corner, dust flying everywhere as Carl Decker fishtailed perfectly into the turn. He stepped on the gas and rocketed the unassuming 1993 teal Subaru Impreza back up to 60 mph on the dirt road southeast of Bend.
Decker grew up in Bend, driving crazily like this on back roads. His father, Mike Decker, a former pursuit specialist for the Oregon State Police, used to teach cops how to chase fugitives.
"He knew I would drive like he did," Decker says of his father.
It should come as no surprise that Decker, a professional mountain biker, has gone full speed ahead into rally-car racing.
Decker, with fellow Bend mountain biker Adam Craig as his co-driver, won the 2007 overall two-wheel-drive Northwest Region Championship in rally-car racing.
He has competed in just four races, but the 32-year-old Decker seems to have found another niche, and perhaps an alternative to his long career as a mountain biker.
"When you've had filet mignon every night for 20 years, salmon tastes great," says Decker, who was practicing in his car near Bend recently. "(Rallying) is something new and exciting. I go to a mountain bike race, and there's no stress. Here, I have no idea what's going to happen. The unknown is super exciting."
In rally-car racing, drivers race on gravel or dirt roads in road-legal cars. Competition is conducted in a point-to-point format, as drivers race against the clock over a series of stages, leaving at regular intervals from checkpoints along the way.
In most Northwest rally-car races, Decker explains, the stages take place on narrow gravel roads lined by trees. The Impreza, which is also his everyday car, reaches speeds of 100 mph during the races, according to Decker.
As he tries to connect a series of blind corners in a full drift, one mistake could ruin the car or its passengers.
"Over two days, you drive 150 miles of gravel road as fast as you can, blind," Decker says. "I don't want to dramatize it too much, but it's kind of life-and-death decisions you're making."
Decker says the co-driver is almost more important than the driver. As the co-driver, Craig flips through a two-inch-thick manual, deciphering instructions that explain what's around each blind corner. Craig relays the information to Decker through an intercom system in their open-faced helmets &
car noise makes the intercom mandatory and Decker tries to time each turn to slow down as little as possible. To do so, Decker has perfected a drift maneuver called the "Scandinavian Flick," during which he pushes down the brake and steps on the gas simultaneously to slingshot the car into the turn.
"The co-driver doesn't really get to appreciate what's going on, because you're paying so much attention to your notes," Craig says. "I'm telling him the next thing that he can't see."
The four events in which Decker and Craig have raced have produced some white-knuckle moments. Decker says he has lost his brakes twice, once when a bolt fell out and once when a rock caught a brake line. To stop, he had to get the car sideways in a drift.
"I drove five miles with no brakes," Decker says.
Decker says he has found some success simply because he cannot afford to wreck his car. Other rally-car drivers crash often, according to Decker, but he says he has never crashed a car in his life.
"For me, it's such a financial thing," he says. "If I hit a rock, it might cost me $1,000."
Decker says he has put about $10,000 of work into the Impreza. But that dwarfs the money spent by other drivers, who Decker says spend as much as $6,000 on struts alone.
Decker has stripped much of the interior of the Subaru, making it lighter so the car can go faster with less power. There is also a roll cage, just in case.
For races, the car is fitted with special rally tires, which feature soft rubber for better traction. Decker and Craig wear fireproof race suits, much like those worn by NASCAR drivers.
In addition to the work on his car and the cost of other necessary gear, entry fees for rally races are often more than $1,000. Decker says he is looking into soliciting sponsorship.
The Wheels of Teal competes in the two-wheel-drive class, which includes cars without turbo chargers.
He says about 30 cars typically turn out for races all over the Northwest, 50 to 70 cars for national events.
The next rally race for the pair will likely be the three-day Oregon Trail Rally in Hillsboro in mid-May, according to Decker.
But he has his sights on even loftier goals: the Summer X Games, which added rally-car racing two years ago.
"Eventually I'd like to be racing in the X Games in a more powerful car," Decker says. "I could see trying to do that next year.
"Until recently, (rally racing) was kind of a pipe dream. But I figured I'd spend some money and see what it's all about. Unfortunately, it's really fun, so I'll probably die penniless and young."
Bend man fulfills need for speed