Chase Hovinga and Shelly Smith's incredible story
If you find yourself at Oregon Trail Rally this weekend, you probably won’t miss the bright yellow Volvo 740, that stands out in a crowd of Imprezas and BMWs like… well, a bright yellow Volvo 740.
And while a standout car has, on numerous occasions, been enough for me to be interested, I could never have imagined the story of how car, driver, and co-driver perfectly come together for this rally team competing in the Dodging Dysentery Regional Rally.
First, let’s meet Shelly Smith. Shelly Smith is a Product Manager in the autonomous driving department at Volkswagen Group of America, working with the likes of Porsche, Bentley and Audi. Recently though, Smith has been moonlighting in the world of rally.
Smith got into rallying for the same reason most mothers stay out of rally, fear for their son’s safety.
“I got into rally because my son, Wes Smith, was co-driving for Mircea Marghidanu,” Smith told DirtFish.
“I would watch him on the ARA app, and that was very difficult for me. I could tell when they had offs, and it got to the point where I told my son, 'hey, something has to change. Either you can't tell me when you race, or I have to follow your advice and come check this thing out and volunteer.' So that's what I did.
“I volunteered in many different positions, from social media, road marshal, etc. and eventually my son and I had a conversation about getting a car. So we looked through some cars and, we were looking for a car that had good rally bones, and something we could grow into.
“We had planned to race 2-3 years earlier, but because of covid and my son getting married it was delayed.
“So here we are and we're ready to roll out and rally as a team, and my son started a family. He had to drop out, and he's selling all his toys, and not racing motorcycles and enduro anymore.
Enter Chase Hovinga.
Hovinga might be a name you recognize if you’ve been around US rallying for a few years. Getting hooked at just 17 years old, Hovinga has been rallying almost as long as he’s been able to drive.
“I got into rally through rallycross,” Hovinga told DirtFish, “but even before that what got me hooked was definitely for my 17th birthday I did a half-day in the BRZs at DirtFish and I couldn't get enough of it.
“So I went out with my money from my first car that I had wrecked, and I bought a race car instead of another actual car.
“I started doing rallycross, and I was doing that for about a year, right as I was moving to stage rally they announced the junior championship that was supposed to happen but never did.
“So I got the place in the junior championship, and I started to build a Fiesta ST because the cars had to be 2010 or newer, and I guess it was in my benefit that it didn't work out because the car was not ready for the first event anyways.
“So I raced the Volvo 240 that I previously had for the first two races of the season, and as most people know I rolled it on the first event and ended up having a bunch of people help out that night to get the car put back together to race, and we actually ended up racing the next day which was awesome and it was a lot of fun.
“Eventually I got the Fiesta built and started racing that, and I started being pretty competitive. I think it was 2019 I placed in the top three for the L2WD National Championship. I kept going on from there and kept getting strong finishes with my Fiesta, but had to move out last year so I have lots more stuff to juggle.”
Smith had worked with Hovinga in the past when she had him do interviews on a live-stream she was running as a volunteer at the Mike Nagle Rally, and when her son was unable to hop in the Volvo behind the wheel, she knew just the person to help.
“I was looking for a driver, I'm not able to drive myself right now, I need to have a surgery, and Chase's name was the first that popped into my head. He's just awesome, he's fast, and he has some experience I didn't.
“So putting this team together, I got a crew chief that's been a fan of rally for going on 15 years, and is into cars, and owns an Impreza WRX, and he brought his buddy who also just bought a brand new BRZ along with us for the ride, and pretty much, there hasn't been a second I have regretted asking Chase and him accepting jumping in there with us.
“It's just been a good deal all around, except there was extra work, we didn't anticipate bringing the Volvo out of retirement, but we are really looking forward to OTR.”
And about that Volvo, where is it being unretired from? Well as it turns out, the taxicab 740 has its own interesting story.
The Volvo, was originally built and driven by Carl Jardevall, a legend in the PNW rally community. Jardevall began rallying in Sweden in 1979, and first rallied in the US in 1989, with his latest race being Tour De Forest in 2019.
Jardevall campaigned the 740 successfully in the SCCA Club Rally scene on the west coast from 1997 to 2001, with multiple class, and rally wins in that time, before selling it to Jay Streets, who sold it to Shawn Callahan, who sold it to Shelly Smith.
“When Jay Streets picked up the car, he put a new engine in it and a dog box, and upgraded the steering, and the suspension too,” Smith told DirtFish.
“Going into this car, I was kind of looking at it primarily from a safety issue, those Volvos are kind of like tanks, and then trying to get us into a car that had good bones, the Volvo did really well while Carl campaigned it.
“That car has a legacy, it's kind of a legend, Doug Nagy from the ARA inspection team recognized it, lots of people reached out and said ‘hey is that Carl Jardevall's car?’
“People when we were driving into service, or parc expose recognized it, and that was pretty awesome, and it was awesome for real car guys, they would kind of snap their neck when they heard the dogbox in it, that was righteous.”
For Hovinga, the switch to the 740 hasn’t been too hard, after all, he has had experience in similar cars before.
“Most of the Volvos, the rear wheel drive Volvos, at least, to me they handle pretty dang similar, so coming from my 240 to a 740 wasn't too much of a jump, it handled pretty similar.
“The biggest difference was the powerband, and obviously having the dogbox, I had none of that in my Volvo, This Volvo has got a crazy aggressive clutch, it's got like a triple plate metallic clutch.
“And then it's got, almost no torque under 3000rpm because it doesn't build any boost, so you're starting the car, and you really have to rev it up to start it, but not only that but like, the car doesn't do anything under 3000rpm, and even then it starts building, and then you get this huge hit of torque and it lights up the tires, and it puts you in your seat surprisingly, even though it's a 2WD and on gravel, I was kind of shocked at that.”
While already a great story of all the right elements coming together at once, for Smith, it’s even more than that.
“I was on chemo for issues with my immune system,” Smith explained to DirtFish, “and before that I was super active and really athletic. Being laid out on a couch and being ill for a long time, it’s difficult to accept those changes in your life, and so, even the thought of going back to work, where do you get that confidence when you can't get off the couch?
“So as soon as I was well, I got involved in rally and actually it was a long time before I could even walk coming out of chemo, and rally, it gets your adrenaline going and you get this sort of desire to walk farther, and to do more, and essentially, I think my life would be pretty sad without rally.
“I honestly didn't see this in my future at all, but I feel like my involvement has put me back into life again, and just seeing a future and wanting even more for myself, but I have to tell you, Chase's soft leadership and kindness, really has gone a long way over the years.”
While going forward they might not always be in the same car, Chase Hovinga and Shelly Smith have proven to already be an incredibly strong duo, and an inspiring tale of everything coming together at just the right moment for the benefit of all.