Together, they have travelled a long and winding road, both literally and figuratively.
Because there are no rally events here in Manitoba, the Zedrils have crisscrossed Canada and the U.S., towing their rally car behind their van, just to compete in their chosen sport. They’ve travelled day and night, often through terrible weather; they’ve slept in the van and eaten at more truck stops than they care to remember.
It’s often said that the family that races together stays together, and the brothers are typically joined by their father, Richard, who lends not only moral support but also helps them prepare and repair the rally car.
Since their inaugural event in 2007, the brothers have competed in 33 rallies and won an amazing 22 times.
It should come as no surprise that the Zedrils have built such an accomplished rally team. The pair have always been the best of friends and spent their childhood racing each other on dirt bikes, snowmobiles and ATVs. Prior to taking up rallying, they were also accomplished motocross racers — Jan is a former Canadian national champion and Jody was also an expert racer.
That’s what Jody was doing the day his life changed forever. In the summer of 1995, Jody was warming up for a motocross race when he crashed.
“I wasn’t going fast enough and came up short on a double and flipped over backward,” says Jody. “I was conscious the entire time. I hoped the feeling would come back, but it never did.”
Jody has been getting around in a wheelchair ever since.
Life may have changed, but it never stopped. Only three months after the accident, Jan, who is a CNC machinist, had modified an ATV for Jody to ride.
I asked Jody what the doctors thought of that. “I don’t know because I never told them,” he said with a laugh. Following the accident Jody stayed involved in the local motocross scene, and even served as secretary/ treasurer of the Manitoba Motocross Association. He also started up a home-based business — nowadays he’s a seasoned computer technician with a long list of clients.
Jody may have lost the use of his legs, but his spirit of adventure remained intact and he grew tired of being a spectator. When the brothers started looking for something they could do together, rally was the answer.
The pair attended their first event as spectators in 2002 at the Ojibway Forrest Rally in Bemidji, Minnesota. They were immediately hooked. They wanted to go out and buy a rally car that day, but there were still a few more obstacles to overcome. To familiarize themselves with all facets of the sport, they volunteered at many rallies from 2003 to 2006.
“We wanted to compete but knew that, in order to do that, we would have to get to know them and they would have to get to know us,” said Jody of the close-knit rally community.
It took them the better part of three years, attending numerous events, to gain enough confidence to submit an application to the sanctioning body that could give Jody the green light to co-drive. They were on pins and needles for six months before they got an answer, and it was ultimately a simple one. If Jody could free himself from the car in 15 seconds or less, he could co-drive.
The Zedrils purchased their car, a 2003 Mitsubishi Lancer, from another rally team in Stamford, Connecticut, and practised driving the car at a few Manitoba remote locations before they travelled to their first event, the Snow Drift Rally in Atlanta, Michigan, in January of 2007. It was there that Jody finally got the opportunity to prove to the officials that he could exit the car in the required time. He figures he got out of the car in about 14.9 seconds.
They finished third in that first race, and won the championship in their rookie season. They have since compiled an impressive list of wins, resulting in Canadian, U.S. Rally America and North American championship titles.
The brothers compete in the 2-wheeldrive class in the Lancer, and have had huge support from Mitsubishi Canada. They know the car inside out and treat the car like a spoiled child, doing all their own repairs and maintenance.
Don’t let all those decals fool you though — this car is actually quite close to stock. The rules are pretty clear in the class they compete in: the only improvements can be for safety and reliability. That means beefier suspension parts and tougher brakes are allowed, but things are pretty much stock under the hood. The car is actually street legal. On the safety front, there’s also important stuff like blinding lights for night driving, a roll cage, an onboard fire suppression system, racing seats and harnesses.
Jody and Jan communicate in the car via a two-way radio system with speakers and microphones inside their helmets. Jody must carefully map out the entire course and, during each event, calls out instructions to Jan ranging from direction to top speed on a corner to the severity of an incline or decline. The co-driver position is extremely important. When roaring through a wooded trail in the dark at more than 160 km/h, telling the driver to turn right instead of left would obviously be a bad thing.
When they talk about rallying, Jody is the more vocal of the two and is extremely knowledgeable about all aspects of the sport. Jan doesn’t say much. He simply stands nearby, grinning with that unmistakable twinkle in his eye that seems to be a common trait among great drivers.
While filming an upcoming episode of our MTS Winnipeg on Demand
TV series, I had the opportunity to go for a ride with Jan. And let me tell you, this man can drive.
After being strapped in and given a crash course from Jody on rally navigation techniques, Jan and I were off in a flash, blasting down the roads that surrounded a gravel pit the production company had rented for the afternoon. It was the first time I’d ever been strapped into a car, wearing a helmet and race suit, in the passenger seat.
Early in our test drive, Jan was roaring down a steep hill with a hairpin turn at the bottom. We were travelling at about 160 km/h. Despite the fact that the Lancer is a front-wheel-drive model, Jan orchestrated a textbook Scandinavian flick and had the car going sideways through the corner like we were on ice.
I’ve had the chance to tool around in some pretty quick cars in my day, and have ran more than a few laps in a stock car. But, sitting beside Jan while he masterfully manipulated his Mitsubishi, was surely the pinnacle of my motoring life. It was like witnessing a really great musician play his instrument.
My head was spinning but, when I looked over at Jan he was as cool as the Fonz, masterfully banging through the gearbox, feathering the brakes, hammering the accelerator and twisting that Lancer through the corners like a Samurai sword. Thankfully, Jan had the course memorized, because my navigation skills were surely blurred by the massive amount of adrenaline flowing through my veins.
When asked what they like most about rally, it wasn’t what you’d think. The Zedril brothers are not speed junkies. They both wholeheartedly agree that it’s the rally lifestyle itself, the challenge, the outdoor adventure and all of the travelling that comes along with the sport that makes it so appealing to them.
“It’s truly an experience like no other, and it’s an extreme privilege to participate in it,” said Jody. “Being able to rub shoulders with past and present champions is very cool, and simply being associated with everyone at each and every event, including competitors, media, officials, organizers, volunteers, fans and spectators, is a great honour.”
The brothers may be perennial Canadian rally champions, but they continue to dream big. They hope to one day compete in the mother of all events, the Dakar Rally. They also dream of a day when their rally careers present the opportunity to raise both money and awareness for the Canadian Paraplegic Association and the Rick Hansen Foundation.
With Jan at the wheel and Jody co-driving, it’s a sure bet that their dreams are just around the next bend.
Because there are no rally events here in Manitoba, the Zedrils have crisscrossed Canada and the U.S., towing their rally car
behind their van.
2009-2010 Canadian National 2wd Champions
2008 Canadian National Production Class Champions
2007-2008 North American Production Class Champions
2007-2008 U.S. Rally-America National Production Class Champions
Rallying, also known as rally racing, is a form of motorsport that takes place on public or private roads with modified production or specially built roadlegal cars. The events aren’t run on a race track, but rather in a point-to-point format where participants drive between special stages. Rallies can be won by pure speed within the stages or by driving to a predetermined optimal journey time within the stages.