Meet Chrissie Beavis, Travis Pastrana’s new co-driver – driving for Subaru Rally Team USA (SRT USA) in the Rally America National Championship.
Chrissie Beavis walked around the paddock with quiet confidence during the 2014 Oregon Trail Rally’s first night at Portland International Raceway. It was warm and breezy as the sun set, but spring in the Pacific Northwest means rain is never far away.
Beavis is small, but not delicate, with long, curly brown hair, and she considers herself an introvert. The arms of her patch-free, black Alpinestars fire suit were tied around her waist. As co-driver, she was preparing for the first stages of the race that night while her driver, Travis Pastrana, gamely signed autographs and posed for pictures with fans at a table a few feet away.
When Pastrana, 30, decided to return to race in the Rally America National Championship after a four-year absence, he chose longtime friend Beavis, 33, to take the seat to his right. Rally is a close-knit world, and Beavis and Pastrana have known each other for years. As Vermont SportsCar (SRT USA technical partner) President Lance Smith said, “There was no tiptoeing around each other and no transition time” when she was brought on board. “She was selected by Travis because of her reputation in the sport. She’s a reasonable and levelheaded co-driver.”
Bitten by the Rally Bug
During a service break on the second day of the Oregon rally, in Dufur, Oregon, Beavis noted, “There’s not a lot of top-level co-drivers to choose from.” Especially not with as many years of experience as Beavis has. She officially started racing as soon as she got her license, at age 16. But she’s been around rallying literally all of her life.
Beavis’s mom, Paula Gibeault, was bitten by the rally bug as a university exchange student in Scotland in the early 1970s. Her mother and stepfather, Mike Gibeault, organized and were involved with the Rim of the World rally for 24 years, beginning in 1984. Her dad, George Beavis, is a rally racer with a machine shop in California.
Beavis and her two sisters, Michelle and Karen, were involved in rally from the time they were toddlers. While growing up in Ridgecrest, California, the girls learned to drive on their parents’ laps, and all three girls learned rally-style navigation.
Beavis’s first car was a Datsun 510 (which her parents still have) that blew a head gasket. So she signed up for auto shop and learned to fix it. “I call her my can-do girl,” Paula Gibeault said. “She can take anything and run with it.”
Ups and Downs and Upside-Down
In her first race, Beavis won her class and came in third overall as a co-driver for family friend Terry Stonecipher of Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico. “I was 16,” she said, “and I got to spray champagne!”
In her second race, also with Stonecipher, the car rolled off a cliff. “Nobody could see them at the bottom of the canyon,” Gibeault said, still sounding a little like a worried mother. “They were both okay. The roll cage was phenomenal.”
Beavis remembers her door flying open and wanting to shut it – despite her rational brain telling her that reaching her arm out of a rally car rolling down a cliff would be a bad idea. When they finally came to a stop – upside-down – Beavis had had enough. She popped her belt and dropped headfirst onto the roof, much to the driver’s amusement. “That caused my only injury,” she said.
Acclaim, If Not Yet Fame
Since her start, Beavis has racked up a laudable list of achievements as a co-driver: gold at X Games 13 and silver the next year; an overall win at the 2005 Pikes Peak International Hill Climb; and the 2006 United States Rally Championship Co-driver Championship. She’s navigated for Tanner Foust, Rhys Millen, and Ramana Lagemann, and she’s successfully raced her own race-prepped rally car in the California Rally Series as a driver. She was also recently named to the X Games Top 50 Female Athletes in Action Sports.
Over a vegetarian lunch in SRT USA’s motor home, Beavis attributed her skill as a driver to spending so many hours in the co-driver seat. She modestly mentioned paying attention to how drivers take on stages and drive the car.
That was when Pastrana abandoned his own lunch to set the record straight: “Most navigators cannot drive well after watching drivers from the passenger seat.” Beavis attempted to argue, but she had lost this fight.
Co-driving the #199 WRX STI with Pastrana seems to be the job for which Beavis has spent a lifetime preparing.
In the Key of Two Flats
On the final day of the Oregon Trail Rally, #199 WRX STI was 6 seconds ahead of David Higgins and his co-driver Craig Drew. “We knew we had to drive the next two stages flat-out or there was no way” they could keep Higgins from taking his sixth Oregon Trail win, Beavis noted.
But #199 managed to get two flat tires, the second bursting two turns after the first. Flat-out racing plus flat tires threw off the fuel tank pressure. The car painfully idled through the last 3 or 4 uphill miles of that stage and ended the three-day rally in 2nd place during a torrential Northwestern downpour, behind Higgins and Drew.
Beavis considers the best part of rally racing to be the people. Everyone at a rally, from the stars like Pastrana and fellow Subaru team driver Higgins to the guys who race regionally in home-built machines, has dirt racing in common.
As competitive as she is, and as meticulous as her work can be, Beavis will always be in rallying because of the community. She still volunteers at regional races, doing whatever is called for, including strapping on a yellow vest and directing traffic. She’s never even tried any other kind of racing, preferring the rally family to any other. As her mom Gibeault said, “We’re all competing against the elements and the road, not each other.”
Women have been a part of rally since its beginning, and Beavis grew up with a mother and sisters who competed alongside the guys. This is her community, and it’s obviously where she belongs.
In August, Beavis married 2WD-class driver Matthew Johnson, whom she met … where else? … on a rally. Naturally!
Before joining Pastrana in 2014, Beavis was called to race the 2013 Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles in Morocco as a co-driver with pro surfer Bethany Hamilton, who lost her left arm at age 13 to a shark attack. Beavis had trained to do the all-women’s rally in 2012, but ended up not running the race. So when she had the chance to co-drive for Hamilton with a month-and-a-half’s notice, she was up for joining the team. Beavis admitted she had to look up who Hamilton was to find out what she was getting into.
“The Gazelles rally is not about driving fast,” Beavis said over another hasty lunch, this time in the midst of her day job as a fabricator. “It’s about driving straight.”
And Hamilton did that well, according to her navigator: “She was a better driver than most.” Beavis found Hamilton to be very competitive, yet relaxed, letting the co-driver do her thing. Hamilton is well known as an adventurous woman in her own right who relished the chance to try something new in the Moroccan rally.
“It’s a navigator’s race,” Beavis explained, “and I love maps.” She even named her dog Naqsha, which is Hindi for map. The Gazelles rally is notable not just because all drivers and co-drivers are female; it also forbids modern technology. No GPS allowed, no nav system in the console. “It’s not new or modern in any way. I love that,” Beavis said.
They placed 8th overall, which is not too shabby for first-timers, especially when the driver had zero off-road experience.
Beavis has worked with so many drivers in her career that she can train new drivers from her navigator’s seat. She’s also made a specialty of keeping stage notes, stating, “It’s an art form.”
Beavis is also keen on tracking what changes were made to the Subaru team car as well as whether or not the changes worked on the stages.
She also claimed the job of co-driver is most difficult when you’re not on a hot stage – getting the timing right, making notes about the car, navigating through transits, and immediately noting disagreements about stage times in the official log. If you don’t do these things as soon as the car is off the stage, Beavis said, they won’t get done.
“I enjoy the precise record-keeping, though sometimes I have to remember to relax when it’s not time to be like that,” Beavis commented.
Her mom, Paula Gibeault, echoes the sentiment: “Chrissie is very analytical, very mathematical, and she doesn’t suffer fools gladly.”
SRT USA team owner Lance Smith observed that “One of a co-driver’s key roles is to balance out the driver.” If the driver is down, she has to encourage him, or if he’s too amped, she has to calm him down. It requires mutual respect for any team to work. “In [their] two rallies together, Travis is much more serious about racing this season than he was four years ago. It’s why they’re going so fast already.”
It also helps that, if there’s a problem with the car on a stage, Beavis is able to hop out and fix it enough to get them to the next scheduled service. She’s kept her mechanical skills sharp, and when she hears a noise on a stage – say the whump, whump, whump of a tire about to come off the rim – she runs through her mental Rolodex® of what might be the problem. “Oh, that’s the wheel about to fall off,” she’ll say to herself, and then she’ll decide whether or not to have Pastrana pull over so she can fix it.
She also helped Vermont SportsCar technicians repair mechanical issues early in the season, according to Smith. “Not that Travis isn’t mechanically inclined, but he took a back seat. She held her own. She was a real benefit to us.”
In the mid-2000s, Beavis appeared on a few episodes of “Monster Garage” as a fabricator on the all-star build team. She supports her race habit with her own fabrication shop in San Diego, though her projects there are architectural rather than mechanical – thus her lunchtime interview at a build site.
Beavis had to wait until after college, when she had a paying job, to enter and drive her own rally car in races. Like all racing, rally is a notoriously expensive sport. She’s raced professionally since 2001, but she noted that it’s not a big money-maker.