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Lancaster's Pete Rizzo competes in first Rally Car race

by Tara Giles
Sports reporter - Coos County Democrat and Berlin Reporter

August 01, 2019
LANCASTER — Pete Rizzo of Lancaster, owner of RizFit gym is hard to keep up with, especially now. Rizzo, who is always up for a challenge, has just competed in his first rally car race in Maine at the New England Forest Rally this past weekend.

When asked what sparked his latest interest, he replied, "Growing up in this area, and as a logger (before my accident) I grew a love for driving dirt roads. For as long as I can remember Team O'Neil Rally School being around, I had always wanted to go and learn to rally drive but, the dream didn't materialize until I met Tim O'Neil years later."

The sports consist of real cars on real roads. Rizzo explained, "Stage Rally is a point-to-point race against the clock. Drivers and co-drivers work together in production-based vehicles to compete on closed public roads, called Special Stages. Day or night, teams tackle dirt, snow, gravel, or tarmac roads and obstacles like water crossings and huge jumps at incredible speeds. Seasoned Professionals compete alongside weekend warriors and press on, regardless of the challenge, to finish the event with the lowest time possible."

It's always an interesting thing to watch unfold, when two highly passionate people join forces. O'Neil and Rizzo, each enthusiastic and successful in their own rights, met when O'Neil was referred to Rizzo's gym.

"He was referred by his chiropractor for chronic pain and injuries from his sport," said Rizzo. "As I coached Tim at the gym and he realized my love of driving, I ended up taking him on as my coach and have trained under him for about a year."

Of rally car driving, Rizzo said, "Another aspect of rally driving is that unlike circuit racing where a driver gets to see the same corner a thousand times, in rally a driver will see a thousand corners once each."

Because of that and other potentially hazardous road conditions, a co-driver is employed to read road notes to the driver, so he knows what's coming up ahead and can focus on the singular task of driving what he hears from his co-driver, rather than driving by sight alone.

"Towards the end of my preparation for the New England Forest Rally, I met my co-driver, who's from Rhode Island, and we had to get together to learn notes and pacing while driving together. Beyond just learning to navigate the roads and sliding sideways to go straight, the experience of driving with a co-driver was all new to me," said Rizzo.

One thing that shocked Rizzo about the rally world was how fast a pit stop can be.

"It was surprising to me how much work can be put into a vehicle in such a condensed period of time as during a service stop," Rizzo said. "Also, the rally culture is one where competitors all help each other and root for one another to finish."

A challenge for Rizzo was adapting the car to his disability. "It was a challenge to adapt the car to my disability, finding the right hand controls, positioning and compensating for lack of balance and core function to drive and get in and out of vehicles. This has all been a work of trial and error." he said.

Rizzo did confirm that he has officially caught the rally bug and will compete at the Susquehannock Trail Performance Rally in Pennsylvania in September.

Varney Smith
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