BONDING ON THE RACETRACK

The extreme sport of rallying and a Fiesta ST keep this father and daughter close

By Fred Stafford

When most people think of ways for a father and daughter to bond, flying through the forest at high speeds in a rally car probably isn’t one of them. But for Steve LaRoza and his daughter Alison there’s no better way. “It's one thing to have a good father-daughter relationship,” says Alison. “But being teammates with your dad is completely different. There’s a unique bond that develops between a rally driver and co-driver.”

Traditional father and daughter roles are reversed inside the rally car. Steve may be in the driver’s seat, but it’s the co-driver, Alison, who is really in control. “As the youngest child, I’ve been waiting my whole life to tell people what to do,” exclaims Alison with a laugh. As co-driver, she holds the “pace notes” that describe the severity of every turn and hazard along the route. Without her notes, Steve would be driving blind. Alison must decide when and how she reads the notes to Steve, literally controlling the pace at which he attacks the road.

The LaRoza’s racing partnership began 11 years ago when Alison voiced an interest in racing motorcycles in the desert, just like her dad who she had watched win several BITD (Best in the Desert) motorcycle championships. Steve wasn’t keen on the idea of his then 15-year-old daughter taking on such risks, so he built a two-seat buggy for them to race in together. They proved to be a great team, winning the BITD 2000 Class Championship that first year. It wasn’t long before they moved up in class to a Ford Ranger and later a Ford F-150. But the demands of college soon limited Alison’s time in the co-driver’s seat.

Steve continued racing Ford trucks in the desert and in 2011, he was approached by Ford to help test the 3.5L EcoBoost® engine in desert racing. That venture resulted in a VORRA (Valley Off-Road Racing Association) Overall Points Championship and a Group T Championship in 2012 and 2013.

In 2014, Steve’s attention turned to rallying, so he left his LaRoza Construction company in California in capable hands, and took a position with the Ford-sponsored Tim O’Neil Rally School in Dalton, NH. “If I’m going to be successful in rallying, what better than living it every day at one of the world’s best rally schools?” explains Steve. His plan appears to be working. He was named Rally America’s Rookie of the Year in 2015.

Alison was only able to join him for one rally in 2015. But now, after earning her Master's Degree in Human Service at the University of Northern Iowa, she has returned as Steve’s full-time co-driver in their 2014 Ford Fiesta ST. As of this writing, with two rallies completed, they sit just one point out of first place in the two-wheel drive class. With six races still to go, a Rally America National Championship is well within reach.

When asked what was the best aspect of being able to race with her dad, Alison gave an answer that would warm any parent’s heart. “Honestly, just being able to spend the weekends with him! He lives in New Hampshire, and I live in Washington, so without rallying, I don't know that we would be able to see each other more than just once or twice a year.”

When Steve was presented with a similar question about racing with his daughter, his answer gave an equally touching pluck at the heart strings. “As far as I’m concerned, you can’t ask for better memories than these.”

Tags: Fiesta

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