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Get Out There

(page 8 of 8)

BEHIND THE WHEEL
With Double D

Double D behind the wheel. Photo courtesy Paul Robinson.It takes a big dose of courage—and maybe a shot or two of crazy—to get behind the wheel of an off-road race car. So it should come as no surprise that the extraordinary life of driver Paul “Double D” Robinson has been full of courage—and a little bit of “loco,” too.

After growing up surfing along the Southern California coast and then learning to ski at Sun Valley, the 54 year-old with long ties to the Wood River Valley has made a name for himself in off-road racing.

Since most of us will never get the opportunity—or have the nerve—to drive an off-road race car, Double D shares what it’s like to sit behind the wheel as the dirt flies.

STARTING LINE

“So much work goes into getting ready for a race,” says Double D, who does everything from rally up sponsorship to build the car, assemble the team and then do the driving. “So when I finally get in the car to start the race, that’s the best part.”

The car is a Pro 9 model (which runs anywhere from $7,000-15,000 in racing shape). It’s open-wheeled and has a four-speed, 95-horse, 1600-cc stock Volkswagen engine purring under the rectangular hood—a “VW on steroids,” as Double D puts it. There is no windshield. There are two seats, one for the driver and one for the only person whose sanity could be more questionable than the driver’s, a navigator.

They’re both wearing helmets, fire resistant race suits and are harnessed into the seats like they’re practically wearing straightjackets. “It can get a little claustrophobic at first,” says Double D, who started racing cars at the age of 16.
The average off-road race runs about five non-stop, bone-rattling hours across hot, dry desert terrain. The driver alone will sweat off about 10 pounds.

On average, only a little more than half the cars will even finish a race. But those kinds of odds don’t bother Double D. He’s spent most of his life defying such statistics.

As they roll up to the starting line, Double D isn’t worried about just finishing, he’s thinking about making the podium (something he’s done over 40 times in his career). “I’m a nervous wreck until we hit that starting line. Then I’m fine,” says Double D, whose first dance with danger came when he was diagnosed with bone cancer as a teenager. “Then it’s just time to do my thing.”

Double D (left) launches toward a 5th overall finish at “The Battle at Primm.” Photo courtesy Paul Robinson.

Double D (left) launches toward a 5th overall finish at “The Battle at Primm.” Photo courtesy Paul Robinson.

 

A DUSTY DOWNHILL

Like a ski racer exploding from the starting gate, the car takes off. Speeds will hit up to 100 mph. Sand, sagebrush and the carnage of crashed cars fly past.
“The best way to explain it to someone who skis is, imagine you’re running down the famous Hahnenkamm downhill for five hours straight, except it’s all bumped up like Exhibition,” Double D says with a grin. “It seems like nothing else is moving but you.”

Despite growing up on a surfboard, Double D actually got his nickname from skiing. After high school, he left the coast for the friendly confines of Ketchum where locals taught him how to ski. He eventually became a solid ski racer and even made appearances as a skier in beer commercials. Sometime during his skiing heyday, Double D earned his well-known nickname. Some say it stands for “Downhill Dillman,” others say “Dare Devil”; either way, he got it for his near-reckless abandon on skis. It’s the same trait that serves him so well on the racetrack.

“When I get in that car I think, I’m going to war—with the other racers, with the car. There’s only so much it can take,” says Double D, who has not only overcome cancer, but has also survived a couple near drowning experiences. “You’re not letting off the throttle when a bump comes up. You just jump it.”

Of course, jumping dirt mounds is nothing to a guy who once had to jump from a burning house. He was caught in a natural gas explosion while shellacking a house on Knob Hill back in 1989. He was knocked down and engulfed by flames, but managed to make it out. Double D suffered 3rd-degree burns on 75% of his body, but he kept right on skiing, surfing and racing.

“I thrive on challenge and off-road racing is about as challenging as it gets. It’s the most brutal sport on four wheels there is,” says Double D, who credits his dirt driving skills to his time swerving through the snow of Idaho.
“It’s a lot like driving in snow. That’s why I’m so good at it,” he laughs.

THE FINISH LINE

Dirt-covered, exhausted, drenched in sweat, but lucky enough to finish intact, the race comes to a close. It usually takes about three days for the driver and navigator to feel normal again. Double D can barely even lift his arms to get out after most races, but he usually finishes—and more often than not makes the podium.

As Double D, who named his team 9 Lives Racing in honor of his several crazy run-ins with death, explains, “I’m just as lucky a person as you’re ever going to find.” -Mike McKenna

 

 

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