Crossing Over

Pro snowboarder Lynn Ott of Bend is tearing up the autocross pavement

By Mark Morical / The Bulletin / @MarkMorical

REDMOND - Lynn Ott slammed on the breaks and took the corner so hard it felt like her 1999 Subaru Impreza might tip over.

The tires squealed loudly as the white compact car peeled out and she missed the cones, cursing at herself.

I clutched the handle above the passenger window and somehow avoided an overwhelming urge to scream - partly out of fear, partly in delight - because I had promised Ott I would keep quiet so she could concentrate.

”The best part is, it's legal to drive like an idiot out here,” said Ott, after her final run in an autocross event at the Deschutes County Fair & Expo Center on Sunday.

The Autocross Club of Central Oregon (ACCO) gives ordinary drivers a chance to race their ordinary cars through a slalom-type course made up of approximately foot-high plastic orange cones in the paved parking lot of the fairgrounds.

Autocross is a driving skill contest that tests a driver's ability and a car's handling characteristics. Drivers race one at a time, vying for the fastest time through the course without missing any gates or hitting any cones - both of which result in a 10-second penalty.

Ott, a professional snowboarder who lives in Bend, first raced in an autocross event in Portland four years ago - and she was hooked.

”The first time I was scared, but when I was done, I said, 'Oh my God, I want to do it again.' ''

I had the same feeling after riding with Ott, who drove with such reckless abandon it seemed the car almost certainly would veer off into the surrounding grass. I was ready to take the roller-coaster ride again, but Ott did not want the extra weight on board for her final run, which turned out to be her fastest, 45.845 seconds. (Ott's mother, Joan, rode with her on the first two runs).

”I took my buddy once, he's about 250 (pounds),” Ott said, ”and I lost about 2> seconds.”

Ott - who won her class in an ACCO event in May and has finished second several times - is a focused competitor in autocross, just as she is in snowboarding. She puts the fear out of her mind and tears up the pavement in her Subaru in much the same way she tears up boardercross or parallel giant slalom courses on her snowboard.

”It's kind of the same thing,” Ott says. ”I think it's a good crossover for me. It's the competitive drive. But I'm not quite as competitive in autocross, it's just a lot of fun. I do some other stuff that's straight-up physical, and this (autocross) is more mental for me. This is just all glory, no prize winnings. With snowboarding, you get so caught up with everything that you forget how fun it is.”

And, perhaps, how dangerous. In January 2002, during a PGS training run in Canada, Ott slid off the course, flipped, and crashed into a tree, breaking her pelvis in multiple places. But, as the active life she leads today confirms, she has fully overcome that terrible injury.

Ott, who works at Home Depot in Bend and waits tables at Seventh Street Brew Pub in Redmond, also competes in mountain biking and cyclocross. She's hoping to compete in a national mountain bike series event in California in July before turning her focus back to snowboarding, in which she plans to vie for the world championships in boardercross and PGS next year.

”She's always trying something,” said Pat Ott, Lynn's father, who was visiting from Pittsburgh this week. ”She was the first girl on the Little League team growing up. Now that she's done snowboarding (for the season), she wants to do something fast.”

In boardercross, riders reach high speeds while flying off jumps and taking sharp, banked turns. Ott seems to have taken her skill of negotiating tight corners on her board and adapted it to autocross. She said drivers can reach speeds of up to 55 mph - safe enough out on the highway, perhaps, but downright insane in the confines of a parking lot.

”It's a lot more complicated than it looks,” Ott said of autocross. ”When you drive the course, you're like, 'Wait, where am I going?' There's some real technical courses.”

Ott said that some drivers pay as much as $200 per tire for slicker tires that grip the parking lot's surface better than regular tires. She spent $85 apiece on her tires but said she wants to eventually get a full roll cage on her car to compete in off-road rally racing.

For now, she'll continue to compete in her two-door Impreza, which currently sports a huge crack in the windshield. Two weeks ago, as she was driving behind a truck on Highway 97, a pipe fell off the truck and slammed into Ott's windshield.

”I was shaking for like an hour,” Ott said, recalling the terror of the moment. ”If it went through my windshield, I would have been dead for sure.”

Ott said she now feels safer on the autocross course, where she can earn points for being fearless and somewhat reckless - as long as she can keep it between the cones.

Mark Morical can be reached at 383-0318 or at mmorical@bendbulletin.com.