For Anthony Concha, rally racing has always been in his blood.
“Growing up, my grandfather was really into racing,” Concha said. “He pretty much promoted it within his family.”
As a young boy in Ecuador, Concha and his cousins attended races and helped their grandfather in the pit, activities that eventually spurred into a lifelong passion for the Bustleton resident and Archbishop Ryan grad.
Today, driving is still a family affair. With the help of his brother, John, and his cousins, Concha put together a rally car in the hopes of turning his hobby into a full-time career. He bought his 2001 Ford Focus from another driver, which he later customized for prime racing condition.
“One of my biggest inspirations is Colin McRae, a legendary rally driver who unfortunately passed away about five years ago,” Concha said. “He was a world rally champion and then moved to Ford, where he drove a Ford Focus. I always wanted to race one, and it ended up being the same car that I got.”
Opportune as the acquisition of his dream rally car was, Concha still faces struggles. Not coming from a “big name” or company, rally racing gives him the opportunity to race at a grassroots level. When he learned of Ford’s Octane Academy, aimed at reaching young and unknown drivers, he said he was intrigued.
“I really never really thought about doing it too much because [I thought] there’s going to be a million applicants and I’m never going to get a chance,” Concha said. “But after encouragement from family and friends, I figured…the main goal is to get exposure and let them see what I can do.”
The Octane Academy is the most applied-to racing program to date, with more than 6,000 applications and over 850 video submissions. According to Ford, the number of applications submitted in the first four days alone broke previous records.
But Concha said he remains hopeful, relying on friends and family to give him exposure for the program.
“We’ve been going to a lot of car shows recently and have taken his race car there, standing in front of it and handing out flyers,” said John Concha, Concha’s brother and fellow racer. “[We’ve been] talking to people, letting them know what rally racing is all about.”
Octane Academy is Ford’s way of reaching out to a younger audience.
“Today’s millennial generation is extremely influential, so our job is finding new and inventive ways of communicating and connecting with them,” said Jim Farley, Ford group vice president of global marketing, sales and service, in a press release.
Giving fans the chance to work with idols in the sports world such as Ken Block, Tanner Foust, Brian Deegan and Vaughn Gittin Jr., Ford will cast 32 participants to be divided into teams with their favorite driver for a weekend, affording them the opportunity to get behind the wheel.
“[It will feature] risk-taking scenarios that take both the pro drivers and everyday Joes out of their comfort zones in the name of entertainment,” said Peter Vesey, FUEL TV vice president, advertising sales, in a press release.
Octane Academy is also slated for a 13-episode run on FUEL TV, with three episodes dedicated to each team. The first, beginning in November with Brian Deegan, will extensively feature the cars being used and also offer the winner a new Ford vehicle of their choosing.
For Concha, Octane Academy could provide more than just a platform for his own dreams. He also is dedicated to exposing Philadelphia to the world of motor sports.
“We have such a rich history of sports here. However, nothing really for motor sports,” Concha said. “I want to show that we can be prominent in something other than baseball, football and other stick-and-ball sports.”
“Anything I do going forward, I’m representing Philadelphia, especially Northeast Philadelphia, where I was pretty much born and raised,” Concha said.
Before he can do that, Concha must overcome the first obstacle: getting picked for the program. On Octane Academy’s website, contestants posted self-made video submissions, allowing their peers and the public to vote for them. The kicker? They were not allowed to showcase their driving skills in the videos due to liability purposes.
Additionally, Concha faced the challenge of a lack of proper practicing space.
“Practicing is a little bit difficult because this sport is off-road. Usually we have sanctioned spots [that are] crossed off for public transportation,” Concha said.
“There is only one practice facility for this type of racing and it’s in New Hampshire,” Concha said. “I’ve only been out there once.”
Concha also faced a much more immediate hurdle: funding. He depends on family members and himself to financially support his hobby and is hit hard when either event fees are due or his rally car malfunctions.
“If something goes wrong with the car and we can’t fix it, then that’s the end of the day for us,” Concha said.
With written letters to Ford CEOs and constant Twitter updates, Concha is maintaining his goal of becoming a professional rally car driver. With help from his family, he wants to be recognized as the person that put his city on the map for motor sports.
“There’s one person here, one person there [that may be interested] in New Jersey or New York, but putting Philadelphia on the map will give me some exposure,” Concha said. “And it’s definitely something I want to do.”
Kirsten Stamn and Pamela Seaton are students reporting for Philadelphia Neighborhoods, the publication of Temple University’s Multimedia Urban Reporting Lab.