Airman spends off time in top gear
By Staff Sgt. Torey Griffith and Airman Natasha Blanchard, 11th Wing Public Affairs
/ Published March 28, 2013
JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. -- As women continue to break down gender barriers in the military, one Team Andrews Airman is also making her way off duty in what has been a predominantly male sport.
Senior Airman Allison Hirsch, 744th Communications Squadron enterprise information management technician, may be relatively stationary at her desk during the duty day, but keeps things moving as a co-driver for a rally racing team.
"I really enjoyed cars ever since I was 16," said Hirsch, who began her high-octane hobby on the straight and narrow. "I did drag racing for about three years and found it really boring."
Searching for an alternative to the straight, smooth and short drag strip, the Monticello, Ga., native revisited her childhood for inspiration.
"I grew up on dirt roads and I always thought driving up and down them fast was fun," she said. "So, I somehow managed to find rallying and got some contacts and met a lot of people and finally got into the sport."
Hirsch began at the grassroots level, wheeling her daily driver through a course of cones set up in a field.
"I had a 2002 BMW at the time, not exactly the ideal car for that, but I went out and I had fun and I won a few," she said. "I had fun doing that but I wanted to do more fun stuff, faster stuff. I wanted to co-drive."
Going to the next level in her need for speed required some networking.
"To get into co-driving, you have to have all the gear and you have to know someone," she said. "A lot of people don't want to take the chance on their car, their life, their race if you're brand new. I found someone willing to take a chance on me and by the end of that season; I had people asking for me."
Hirsch is currently racing with driver and car owner Hollen Groff, campaigning a 1989 Audi 90 in the National Auto Sport Association Atlantic Rally Cup Series.
Groff's combination features a "swapped" inline five cylinder, turbocharged engine that sends an estimated 250 horsepower through the car's mostly stock all-wheel-drive system. For safety, a high-strength roll cage was welded into the structure of the body to protect the occupants.
As co-driver, Hirsch rides shotgun and tells Groff what to expect around the next bend as they blast their way through a course set up on remote and primarily gravel roads. The co-driver's role has changed over the years of rally racing from a ride-along mechanic to an essential part of the team's success and safety.
"So you would have your co-driver to help you work on the car," Hirsch said as she explained the history of the co-driver. "That evolved into co-drivers starting to know the roads and evolved into what it is today. When he's driving he's listening to what I am saying and not just driving what he is seeing. I hold his life and he holds mine at the same time."
Much more involved than simple navigation, Hirsch's race notes are essential to the team's pace through the course.
"We race in what is called All-Wheel-Drive Heavy," she said. "We're up there with all the fast cars. Last year, (Groff) actually ended up finishing second overall. I only was able to compete with him half the year because I deployed."
Hirsch, who joined the Air Force in May of 2010, said her military career has sharpened the skills needed in her co-driving role.
"When you're on stage, it's total concentration-you can't slip up," she said. "Preparation and mental state all play into effect on the outcome of the race."
Calm under pressure and acute attention to detail help her perform whether under attack overseas or strapped into a metal rocket, hurdling through the woods at 100 miles per hour.
Her adventurous spirit was one of her main drivers for pursuing the profession of arms.
"I didn't really have a direction in life and I wanted to go to school and experience new things," she said. "I love it. Everything is fun. I am able to go to school and go racing at the same time."
She encouraged those who may be considering military service to take the plunge.
"Do it! You never know where it will take you," Hirsch said. "It might be good and it might be bad, but you won't know until you do it. You'll meet people you'll never forget and have lot of fun stories to tell."
The camaraderie she found among her fellow Airmen is similar to what she shares with her fellow racers.
"You'll meet people along the way who'll help you and you'll also meet those who think you're not good enough, and you just kind of have to blow them off," she said. "The rally community is like my second family."