W.E. Rock Rock Crawling Lady Driver Bio for Laurie Gray
How long have you been competing in Rock Crawling? What Classes? Finishes? This will be my third year; In 2015, I ran sportsman class for one competition. I took a third my first time out! 2016 was my first year in the Unlimited Class with my current buggy, and I placed 5th, 7th, and 5th in the East Coast series events and 9th at Nationals. I was so proud to be the highest-scoring female driver at Nationals and Trail Hero, and also be part of the highest-scoring husband and wife team in both events as well.
How did you get into rock crawling and decide to go competitive? What is your background? My husband has been offroading for years and I was always in the passenger seat. I got my first Jeep, a 97 TJ, in 2008. The first weekend I had it, I had it (temp tags and all) on trails I had no business being on, so I was alternatively terrified and thrilled: I was hooked. In 2011, I got my first buggy, a little 2400 pound rig that could crawl anything. In 2016 I got my current buggy. Justin Hall had won 3 National Championships in it, so I know the rig is totally capable of doing anything I want it to do.
Competition became a "thing" for me when we volunteered to be judges at the Dayton TN event in 2014. As I judged the sportsman classes, I thought, "I could do this!" I came home and posted something to that effect on Facebook; it was neat when it showed up in my Facebook memories last year.
What has been your most exciting achievement in W.E. Rock Rock Crawling? At the Trail Hero competition in 2016, National Champion Tracy Jordan complimented me on my driving. That evening, I had lost my power steering and I was knocked out of the competition early. I was feeling a little bummed, but then Tracy walked over to me and complimented my driving and congratulated me on my season. At that point, I didn't care where I landed in the placings, and I didn't care that my rig was broken: Tracy had sought me out and complimented me! I remember thinking to myself: YES! I BELONG! All of my hard work last season, spending every weekend practicing and learning the new rig before the season started, paid off right then.
What is the most challenging part of Rock Crawling? Last season, everything was new and the learning curve felt vertical all the time. Every time I got in the seat, I was learning something new. The buggy was new, the competitors were new. All of the venues except one were new, and even at that venue, the courses were new. Just about the time I got comfortable on the East Coast, we headed to Nationals where I saw the biggest courses I had ever seen. My Dad was with us when we walked those courses. He asked me, "well what do you think?" I remember taking a deep breath, blowing out all the air, shrugging my shoulders and saying, "wow, they are big." Honestly, it was all I could say because I was overwhelmed. Fortunately, the game had really slowed down for me over the course of the season, and by the end of it, I was feeling a lot more comfortable and in control. I had the best score of the day on one of the courses at Nationals, and when you consider who the competition was, I was delighted.
In your opinion, what are the characteristics of a good rock crawler? I think being calm in the face of ambiguity and chaos is the key for the driver and spotter. Despite all of the practice, and despite having a strategy for each course, inevitably we get out there and things don't go as planned. Remaining calm, keeping your wits about you, and being able to problem solve on the fly makes it better. Also, being in partnership with my spotter is key because two heads are better than one.
What does event prep look like in your world? The car lives a pretty pampered life. After each event, and even after each outing, she's washed down and inspected. Things that need to be fixed are fixed on the spot, or noted for the next wrench day. I have learned a lot about wrenching so Brian and I both work in the garage. We like to have the car ready to go about two weeks before a competition so we can just get to the event and get set up at our own pace. The car prep is the easy part!
What does a typical competition weekend look like for your team? For the east coast events, we arrange our travel plans to arrive Friday afternoon so we can set up Camp Chaos and tech in while it's still light, then relax in the evening. Competition starts bright and early Saturday morning and runs until Sunday afternoon. We tear down camp on Sunday afternoon and get ready to go, but most frequently, we stay over at the venue on Sunday night so we can get a fresh start as we begin our return trip home bright and early on Monday morning.
What do you look forward to at W.E. Rock events, past the actual competition? Let me answer this a bit differently: I really missed my co-competitors and their teams once the season ended. There is such a sense of family when we get together. We hang out together at events, and there is a lot of laughter. I love the camaraderie. It doesn't matter if someone needs a hand with a repair, a welder, buggy parts, a CO2 tank for their lockers, or some ketchup for their hamburgers; everyone is there sharing with and helping each other.
What are your goals for this year’s W.E. Rock Series? This year, we are going to make the podium on the East Coast!
What excites you about competing? I think it is all about successfully solving the puzzles. Each course, each day, has its own set of challenges. Once you add variables like car configurations, running order, and weather, it makes for a really awesome on-the-fly puzzle to solve. I have butterflies before each competition, but once I get on the first course, that all goes away and I am in a bubble, living entirely for the moment. It's not something we can easily do in daily life - immerse ourselves entirely in the moment and be wholly focused on achieving one thing. Its an adrenaline rush when you are doing big drops or climbs, for sure, but the best feeling is that of accomplishment when you complete a course in time with a good score.
What is a piece of advise that you have been given that you have taken to heart and instill into your racing career? Or, quote that you always remember. It's all about seat time, seat time, and more seat time. I am fortunate to have Justin Hall as a mentor and guide. I only half-jokingly call him my sensei, and he reminds me of the importance of seat time each time we talk. The more seat time you get, the more experience you have under your belt, the more familiar things become, and the more gracefully you can manage weird things that come up on the course.
Tell us about the rest of the Team that Supports you. Define the roll of the driver and spotter in your team. My spotter is my husband, Brian. We've been married nearly 27 years and I do think that it gives us the competitive advantage because we can communicate with a glance and we are completely in tune with each other. He pushes me but he also knows my limits. We drive each other forward, but we also talk each other down. If you listened to our comms, you might hear things like, "I love you, now go drive off that cliff", or "Two minutes left? That's all the time in the world! We've totally got this." and my favorite, "are you sure about this? It really doesn't feel too good right now." I think it's something that has brought us closer together because it's a shared goal. Prior to competition, when we walk the courses, it's a pretty even mashup of our ideas about how to tackle various obstacles. Once we get on the course, he's got the fine tuning on the details of tire placement and throttle control needed at the gates, and that's what he's advising me on. He's my tech support, giving me sanity checks on whether I have the right combination of lockers and brakes applied. He's also my superhero: one of my favorite photos from last year was him holding on to the spotter rope with all he had while the car was nearly on its side.
• 4 Wheel Parts
• JM Rigging Supply
• Howe Performance
• Daves Offroad Supply
• MLS Powersports
• GMZ Race Products
• Iron Man 4×4 Fab
• Cipher Auto
• Factory UTV
• Filthy Motorsports
• 4WD Factory
• Evolution Powersports
• Ryno Power
• Pit Posse
• Slick Products
Laurie Adds: My 2017 campaign is #getuncomfortable because it's just such an important way to live. I believe that unless you get uncomfortable now and then you aren't making progress in your life. Here's the thing: getting uncomfortable can be different things to different people, and it changes over time.
WERock Live Team Page: www.werockteams.com/
Author: Laurie Gray