Q&A With Ryan Symancek From /MY LIFE AS A RALLYIST
He has a camera, he's obsessed with rallying, he likes to travel. What could go wrong?
What’s a Rallyist?
In the first season of /MY LIFE AS A RALLYIST I define it as anyone who thinks about, or does rallying instead of doing what they are supposed to be doing. The idea is we can’t all be pro drivers and co-drivers, but there are still so many people obsessed with this nutty sport. If you find yourself drifting corners on your way home from work, or going off the beaten path to search for the dirt roads, you could be a rallyist. If you think “one day I’ll own a stage car,” or pay $5.99 a month to subscribe to WRC+ so you can watch rallies live on your computer at 3 am, you’re a rallyist. And, of course, if you volunteer at rallies, crew at service or find yourself in a competing car, you’re definitely a rallyist. We are all one in the same.
That’s why I didn’t call my show My Life as a Rally Driver… because I am not a rally driver. I’m a dreamer. And I wanted my show to not just include the people associated with the sport, but the dreamers too.
What’s the show about?
There was always a distinct plan for the storyline — and the show has never followed that plan. When I first pitched the concept, the idea was to showcase the build of a stage car, from buying the car to building it up and competing in an American stage rally. Life gets in the way however, and with the first series I ended up accidentally finding a community of rallyists in New Zealand when I was studying abroad. I knew I had to use that opportunity to include them in the show. From there, the show became much less about building a car, and more about me moving around within the rallying community. This holds true with the new series, which highlights my involvement in ten rallying stories, all over the globe.
What’s your background as a video storyteller?
When people ask about my style of video I always reference Warren Miller’s ski films: particularly in the 80’s and 90’s, where Warren was still filming a lot of his own content and narrating the story himself. My parents were both in the ski industry, so I grew up sitting in ski lodges watching and memorizing these movies like it was a religion. I guess the style of storytelling stuck with me, because I starting filming skiing and rallying (my two loves) when I was in high school. I originally went to college for mechanical engineering, since during my year off between high school and college I worked as a mechanic. I knew I wanted to do something in the automotive field, but that dream started to slip away when I failed out of my freshman year of mechanical engineering classes. It wasn’t until then that I realized I was more artist than engineer. So I picked up my camera again and started on a media degree. This landed me an internship with /DRIVE in 2012 and ultimately my own show a year later.
How did you pick the places you went?
The locations for this season happened very randomly (just like the first season). Most of it just follows my daily life. I spend a lot of time at Broken Motorsports [a race shop] and Clubloose in New Jersey, prepping and playing with rally and drift cars. Every once in a while I compete in an event, so I try my best to get as much footage of it as possible, just in case I can use it in a future story. The two episodes with Porsches in them (New Zealand and Detroit) came from the owners contacting me and wanting me to film their cars. There’s also a secret episode coming out at the end that’s not in the trailer (we still have to film it)… and that too happened in much the same way. The episodes in the Isle of Man and Wales were Subaru-sponsored events. My trip to Ecuador was actually another lucky find. I was on my way down to South America to visit my girlfriend who was traveling down there. Turns out, there was a rally happening in Ecuador the first week I was down there, so we rented a car, ripped up as many South American gravel roads as possible and spectated a local rally.
Who was the most inspiring character you met?
There are so many people both in front of the camera and behind the scenes that make this come together and all of them are incredibly inspiring. I can’t thank the guys at the shop (Broken Motorsports) enough for all the help they’ve given me: Justin Hinman, William Petrow, and Alex Jagger. All three of them have inspired me to push my limits in playing with cars. I’ve learned so much from them, and without them I wouldn’t have a home base to explore the rallying world. Working alongside Cam Held in the postproduction process has been an eye opening experience as we learn together how to work with color and get a proper look of the show. Lastly, Sherri Lysy, who worked with me in the writing process and helped me at every roadblock, inspiring me to keep working at a final product.
There are or course a hundred more people I can mention who have inspired me, from all over the world: from the rally-crazed fans in Ecuador, to the people at SCCA rallycross events that approach me and claim that my show inspired them to get into the sport. It’s all incredibly humbling and I thank you all!
I realize this is just a bunch of thank yous, and doesn’t really answer the question of ‘a character that I met’ on camera. So to answer that question, I think there’s a solid tie between Alex Jagger and Paul Eddleston in being characters in the rally community. Alex and I share the exact same passion and goals in the sport, and it’s amazing to watch him succeed in building and racing what he dreams up. In the show we go drifting together. Paul is the owner of the 911 Carrera rally car. He’s a great example of a small business owner and rally hobbyist. But most importantly, both these guys keep smiles on everyone’s face, and that’s most inspiring (hopefully the camera conveys that).
So, what’s so great about rallying?
Rallying’s awesomeness is all-encompassing. Everything about it: the drivers, the locations, the spectators, and the lifestyle. Rallying is the toughest, most physically enduring, dangerous and beautiful motorsport in the world, therefore, comparatively to other motorsports, it requires the most skill out of the drivers and teams. There is also something so unique about driving and competing on a loose surface. To be a fast rally driver you must drive the car ‘unsettled’ all the time. It’s not like track driving. When you see a fast line in a dirt or snow rally, the car is ‘stepped out’ (drifting) through the corners… and it’s just so f---ing cool.
How can someone get started in grassroots rallying?
The first thing you want to do is find your local car club and see if they hold rallies or rallycrosses. If they don’t, find the closest one that does and drive to an event. Get to know the people there. The best way to acquire knowledge in this sport is to network, and it’s not that hard to do since the communities are fairly small. From there I would volunteer at a rally or help with service crew for a team. Eventually you will find a cheap rally-type car to buy, and that’s when it gets really fun. Start with competing in local club events. For example, if you start competing in SCCA rallycross, you don’t even need a roll cage. Just bring a stock car, drive it to the event, and learn the basics. It’s worth the $50-70 entry fee, I promise.