There I was in my basement apartment in Vail, CO with the bright idea to get out of nursing and into racing. After a few suggestions from friends I enrolled in Dirtfish Rallly School. Between the time I signed up and the time I attended, I entertained the idea of opening a similar operation in Colorado. I didn’t know if it was something I would want to commit to and Dirtfish was as good a place as any to try and that find out.
I went to Dirtfish, as a customer. I had no ill will towards Dirtfish or ulterior motive. I was inquisitive and I asked questions about the operation, none of which were inappropriate or compromising for a staff member to answer. I reserved financial questions for the founder himself who I sought out on LinkedIn following my three day course. The subsequent messages I received from Dirtfish founder Steve Rimmer regarding the operational questions I asked of Dirtfish staff left me with an intuitively uneasy feeling. I felt intimidated. He wanted to know specifics like, who did I talk to, and what did they say? I refused to answer.
I had done nothing wrong. No one at Dirtfish had done anything wrong, so where was the aggressive inquisiton coming from? I got curious. What if Dirtfish employees were feeling the same intimidation I felt? I wanted to rule out the possibility that I misinterpreted my interaction with Rimmer so I sought out former Dirtfish employees for answers, but no one would say a word. In fact, they all said they were uncomfortable speaking with me. They all cited the reason being that they didn’t want to ruin their relationship with Dirtfish. None of them said they had signed a non-disclosure agreement with a non-compete clause which was what I was expecting. Based on those interactions I concluded that former employees either signed something, or the leadership environment at DirtFish is so harmonious that there was no need to explain, but I if were a gambler I would put my bet on the former.
I began to create a story in my mind that Dirtfish staff were trapped, like Alice in Wonderland and needed help getting out. I couldn’t ask them if they wanted to be freed. Not without them risking their job. A job so unique that chances are they wouldn’t be able to find another one like it.
If I wanted to understand the environment at Dirtfish then I had to be clever. I leveraged Instagram by using a meme and a few gifs as satire to illustrate my experience with Dirtfish. It was so strange and outlandish that laughing at it seemed like a healthy reframe of context.
It was also a set-up to see how divisive Dirtfish culture was. I wanted to see who would tattle and how fast it would get back to Rimmer. I was able to track every Dirtfish employee that viewed my satiracle meme, and the approximate time they viewed it. Within an hour of posting I had a message from Rimmer on LinkedIn confirming he had seen it. I then watched the behavior of Dirtfish staff to see who quit following me, who stopped engaging, and who has been continuing to monitor my profile since.
Have any of them been secretly crossing their fingers I might pull off opening my own rally amusement park giving them a safe haven? Or are they genuinely happy with how DirtFish is currently being managed? That I still don’t know and I’m not going to ask.
What I do know is that Dirtfish is partnered with Americas RallyCross and ARX is one of the very few racing platforms for professional rallycross drivers on this continent. Their pockets and reach run deep.
I asked a professional driver unaffiliated with Dirtfish what their thoughts were. They said they too found it odd that Dirtfish was so guarded, and suggested that attending a school wasn’t necessary to break into the sport. In fact, the courses at DirtFish relied too heavily on the tire sidewall instead of the contact patch.
Armed with this information, was building my own school even applicable, profitable, or necessary? Especially if I’d find myself battling politically in the crosshairs of Dirtfish? As of right now, probably not. Jumping down the rabbit hole only to find the Madhatter sure was interesting though and I was happy to oblige with my inner Cheshire Cat.