Meet the Drivers: Al Dantes Jr.
Al Dantes Jr. is beloved in the North American stage rally community for his relentless support of the sport. From his frequent competitive appearances in “Rexine,” the Tower City Race Team Mazda RX-7, to his organization of last weekend’s Sisu Challenge for 2-Wheel Drive racers at Lake Superior Performance Rally, it’s hard to find an event that Dantes hasn’t touched in some way. Today, we learn more about Dantes the driver, and his one unbreakable rule during race events:
What made you want to start rallying?
I wanted to start rallying the second I saw my first Pro Rally car at speed. My cousin and codriver, Brandon Snyder had invited me to go Marshal at the Press On Regardless Rally back in 1994. I had no idea what a Marshal did or if I would be deputized, but I was excited to go spend time in the woods. A few hours later, sitting in the backwoods of Kenton, I got to see, hear, smell and feel the John Buffum Audi S2 rocket through the woods at unfathomable speeds. Brandon and I right then and there swore we would be buying rally cars and competing against each other for the National Championship when we turned 18.
When was your first event and how did you do?
Our first event was the Mini LSPR in 2007. It was organized by the late Jeff Moyle on private property. We rented Paul Koll of Barefoot Racing’s VW GTI. We had open recce and wrote our own notes, and pretty much finished in last place!
When was your first really memorable result—win or podium—and how did you get there?
My first memorable result was 2013 Magnum Opus Pro Rally. I finished third in class, and should NOT have. Scott Rhudy was my codriver and very early in the event we had a front strut mount fail and the entire assembly came through the hood. We made it to service, reviewed our options, and if we would die if we continued. We decided to press on regardless. On the way to the next stage, I came up with the plan to use the engine spill kit diapers and duct tape on the shock shaft, to deaden the harshness of the impacts. This worked! Every stage I would add another diaper, and another layer of tape, and after seven stages, we finished, and on the podium!
Who is your usual co-driver, and when did you two start rallying together?
Brandon Snyder is more navigator and teammate. He’s the boss. I started out with Jenny Majszak, Matt Solka, and Scott Rhudy, but Brandon was always lurking online and cyberspectating. Humbly, he asked if he had a chance to join the team. 2014 LSPR was his first time back in the right seat, and we promptly DNFed both days with blunt force trauma to the control arms.
What’s your favorite event on the Rally America schedule?
My favorite event on the RA schedule is LSPR. I was a marshal, control worker, and stage captain for 17 years, before buying a car. It was my “Christmas” every year for decades. Now as a competitor, we try our best to “give back” to all the volunteers as we have been given so much through the years. Just the smell of the fall leaves, the brakes, and race gas in October, with the chill and bite of the wind. It’s just magical, and no other event can compete.
Do you have any pre-event routines?
I have a team rule, that I probably shouldn’t share, but we don’t tell anyone “no” on race day. I insist we don’t mess with “rally karma.” It’s driven my team nutty, but we’ve helped little old ladies move pianos (while in our race suits), changed other teams’ tires, borrowed tools, given people rides, etc. That’s about it for pre-event routines.
Which other drivers in your class do you respect the most?
The 2-Wheel Drive, rear-wheel drive rallyist that I respect the most is Mike Hurst. Just the amazing cars and results he’s had through the years is just amazing. It doesn’t matter the car: a Mustang, Porsche, RX-7, Nissan, and now the Cosworth Capri. He only gets to race a couple times a year, but he just hops in, hammers down, and is up to race pace immediately.