Dan Brosnan – the Kerry man who tows rally cars across the USA
By Sean Moriarty
Everyone knows the drill.
It is a few days before a rally, the car is ready, everything is in order and the team is set to go.
Except for one big problem. Who is going to tow the van and trailer from base to the event?
It has to be someone in a highly trusted position within the team– many rally drivers do it themselves.
The job is simple enough if it’s a local rally. Going from Tralee to Killarney for The Rally of the Lakes?, no problem, one of the gang will take Friday off work and deliver rally car and service barge to Killarney’s scrutiny venue in time and in one piece.
The Donegal International Rally? A slightly bigger effort will get the same result. Tralee to Letterkenny can easily be achieved in less than a day.
But what happens if your trusted tow pilot lives in Boston, the rally car is prepared near New York City and the next rally is way out west in Missouri?
This is the story of how Lisodigue, Fenit native Dan Brosnan delivered Joseph Burke’s Ford Fiesta R5 halfway across the USA in time for this weekend’s Rally of the 100 Acre Wood.
The event takes place in Salem, Missouri on Friday and Saturday – a whopping 1350 miles and three days’ drive away from Dan’s Boston home.
Brosnan, who is the younger brother of well-known local rally driver Brendan, has been living in Boston since 1992.
He is a central part of the Irish rally community in America but these days the former American National and East Coast Regional two-wheel-drive champion (driving a self-prepared Nissan Sentra) prefers to work in the background as opposed to competing.
His former role as a driver means he is a trusted, safe and experienced pair of hands when it comes to transporting expensive rally equipment from one side of the USA to its deepest mid-west. He is also an accomplished mechanic. The right kind of man for this job.
Dan’s adventure began in the early hours of Sunday morning Boston time.
The first leg of his journey took him from his home to McKenna Motorsport’s impressive facility in New York – a journey of about 200 miles – where Burke’s car was prepared in time for the second round of the American Rally Association’s National Championship.
After completing a few last minute preparation jobs, Dan placed the rally car in to a closed-in trailer, hitched it to his Dodge Ram Truck and headed west. His first overnight halt, just south of Cleveland, Ohio – a journey of over 400 miles. That is close to 650 miles driving on the Sunday shift alone.
“It drinks fuel,” he says. No surprise given the truck’s big V8 engine and the weight of the load up behind which includes both the rally car, enough spares for the weekend and toolboxes and other equipment.
His journey took him through the famous Delaware Water Gap and along the storied New Jersey Turnpike, through the rolling hills of the Pocono Mountains and Allegheny National Forest.
He passed through the southern boundaries of the Susquehannock State Forest, home of the famous Susquehannock Trails Pro Rally, another ARA National Championship event and a rally that has had plenty of Irish success stories over the years. In fact, Burke’s father,Donegal rally legend, Seamus finished sixth overall there in 2019.
Dan stayed overnight just south of Cleveland Ohio, the home of the Winton Motor Company which was founded by Scottish immigrant Alexander Winton in 1896.
Winton is reputed to have sold the first car to a customer in America in 1898. Up to this point, automobile engineers were largely experimentalists but he is credited with starting the retail side of the US car industry.
He was also a member of the American motor racing team that contested the 1903 Gordon Bennett Trophy Race in Athy County Kildare, the first motor race in Ireland.
Cleveland sits on the shores of Lake Erie, one of the Great Lakes that separates the United States from Canada.
Dan is familiar with this part of the country.
“You are better off heading south from here,” he explains, “The lakes create their own weather patterns, you could get snow up there in June.”
He passed through this region in January on his way too and from the Sno* Drift Rally, the opening round of the ARA series.
On that occasion he was in charge of Seamus Burke’s Mitsubishi Lancer E9.
The Sno* Drift Rally is based in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan which, from New York City or Boston, it is usually easier to access by keeping north of the Great Lakes and traveling through Canada.
“The borders are closed because of COVID, they are leaving nobody through,” he says. “It added about 350 miles to the journey.”
On Monday morning, Dan set his sights on Indianapolis, a journey of approximately another 400 miles yet, in geographical terms, just two states.
He passed through Daytona, Ohio, home of flight pioneers, the Wilbur Brothers and the US Air Force’s official museum on his way to the capital of American Motorsport.
The rolling hills of Sunday’s trip through Pennsylvania gave way for the vast prairies of Indiana and his second overnight halt in the Hoosier State’s capital.
Indianapolis is well-known to motorsport fans, it has been the home of the Indy 500 since 1911 and the base for The Brickyard 400, NASCAR’s best-attended event.
Over 500 motorsport related companies are based here and some 10,000 people are employed in the motorsport sector in the region.
It is also the home of Irish motor racing hero Derek Daly, one of the very few Irish drivers to race in Formula One.
“It is only about 350 miles from Indianapolis to Salem,” adds Dan, “My shortest drive!”
He arrived in Salem around Tuesday lunchtime (about 6pm Irish time) and in time to meet the rest of the team. Earlier in the day he drove through southern Illinois, and crossed the Mississippi River, the official East-West divide, at St Louis.
It is a climate divide too… The temperature gauge in Ohio on Sunday night read 20F or – 6C. By Tuesday evening he was basking in a glorious 60F or 15C. He entered a different time zone too – Missouri is one hour ahead of New York, Cleveland and Indianapolis.
Meanwhile, the Burkes (Seamus is contesting the Rally of the 100 Acre Wood in his Ford Escort) made their way from their Atlanta base in time for the pre-event preliminaries on Wednesday and Thursday.
Burke Jr is the sixth seed for the event while his father will start 17th out of 90-plus crews.
The McKenna Motorsport squad are also onsite, the New York firm is running several cars this weekend including a Ford Fiesta WRC for team owner and current American National Champion Barry McKenna.
The Irish-American rally team will also be looking after their latest recruit – Ken Block – who is using the team’s Skoda Fabia R5 this weekend.
The rally is heavily dominated by Irish competitors. Of the top ten seeds, six cars have either an Irish driver, co-driver or both onboard.
Among them is Kenneth Quirke. The West Kerry man is on co-driving duty for Martin Donnelly who won the recent Sandblast Rally in South Carolina. It marks Quirke’s third US rally this year.
The Ford Fiesta R5 crew are the eighth seeds for the event and one of the three all-Irish crews in the top ten.
The rally takes place on forest roads in Crawford and Dent counties in Missouri and gets under way around 6pm Irish time on Friday evening.
When the rally finishes on Saturday evening, Dan will be facing the prospect of doing his outward journey in reverse. He does not expect to get home to Boston until late Tuesday night or in the early hours of Wednesday morning, over ten days since his journey started.
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