A Stage Rally in your Backyard: 100 Acre Wood Rally '16
I have always been enamoured by the sight of a rally driver piloting his vehicle on the edge of grip down narrow, windy roads. No shoulders. No runoff. Just trees, fences, and spectators line the road. Until a few years ago, books, magazines, and the internet were my only window into this world. I told myself that one day I would travel to Europe to witness it first hand. Then I was introduced to the 100 Acre Wood Rally.
Little did I know, the 100 AW Rally had been going on since 1977. A four hour drive was all that separated me from watching rally videos on Youtube and seeing it in person. Located in the Mark Twain National Forest in Missouri, it is the second of eight rounds for the Rally America National Championship. Competitors ranged from grassroots rookies to full blown professional rally teams.
Day one began with the Park Expo. Teams gathered in a small park just outside of Steelville, MO offering chances for the fans to get a closer look at some of their favorite vehicles. Marc Feinstein's '91 Porsche 911 was looking quite dapper wearing a classic livery.
If the 911 wasn't enough, Paul Johansen's '90 Audi Coupe Quattro transported me to a different era.
All the way from Oregon, All Fours Rally Team brought down their '16 Subaru WRX STI.
Method Race Wheels were abundant. They were fitted on many of the cars entered into the rally. They definitely have proven themselves in recent years to be a top off-road and rally wheel brand.
Subaru really cares about their fans. On display at their trailer was '15 Super Production Rally Car built by Vermont SportsCar, the same company that builds their Rally America and Global Rally Cross cars.
This cutaway gave fans the opportunity see how things work on the inside of Subaru's much loved Boxer engine.
The 100 AW Rally is an immersive experience for both the teams and their fans. Midway through the Park Expo some familiar faces showed up. Travis Pastrana hopped out of his rally car and started greeting fans as if they were old friends.
David Higgins' co-driver, Craig Drew suiting up next to the car he spent many days in last year. Higgins' not only won the 100AW Rally last year, but the overall Rally America National Championship.
We headed to our first stage for some classic hairpin action. Nick Robert's 13' STI is a fan favorite. This car is a sensory overload. The Mondrian inspired livery was complemented by unbelievably deep exhaust pops between each shift. You feel them in your chest.
Lauchlin O'Sullivan's '09 WRX STI entered into the hairpin in true rally fashion - totally sideways.
Rally America brings out a diverse group of cars. Of course their were plenty of AWD vehicles entered, but FWD cars like Cameron Steely's '15 Fiesta ST were putting down some fast stage times as well.
We moved on to the Super Special Stage as the grey sky above started looking more and more turbulent. The rain held out, but we reminded of the crazy weather we experienced the year before - a massive snowstorm ended up cutting the rally short.
The Super Special Stage can be likened to many of the Rally Cross events held every weekend around the country. A very short and technical course offers the fans a chance to see the drivers navigate the entire stage.
It was a spectacular sight seeing Higgins slide his car through the turns and power out on the short straights. The course hardly resembled the county fairgrounds which it was held on.
This was the last time we saw Nick Robert's car in action. He would later drop out due to engine failure.
Again, the diversity among competitor vehicles was very entertaining. The last thing I expected to see was a rally prepped Toyota Rav4. It ended up being one of my personal favorite.
All Fours Rally Team brought a lot of speed to the Super Special. This photo was taken moments before driver, Agatino Fortunato, left the course and somehow managed to drive his car perfectly between a wooden telephone pole and it's steel support cable. After watching the rest of the field we decided to retire to our cabin for the evening.
The next morning we headed to the Service area to catch back up with the teams. Since we had last seen them, they had done a night stage and several stages that morning. The cars were definitely showing wear and tear. The teams hurried to check components and swap out faulty or broken parts.
Rally fans are crazy. This homemade device appeared to be a horn, but we were too afraid to ask.
The level of maintenance that was pulled off in a short amount of time was nothing short of impressive. SRT USA moved quickly and silently. Every mechanic had a purpose and they did their job with great focus.
We left the Service area and headed to set up camp at Spectator Point F. Here we would be able to catch a view of the cars as they navigated down a long straight into a wide right hand turn. The teams would come by twice, first during Stage 12 and then again for Stage 15 several hours later. Knowing that, we brought some hammocks along to kill the time.
This shot was taken moments before Higgins car passed in the video above. That video captures the experience perfectly. The sounds of the fans, the car, and the environment all play into what makes these events so much fun.
A few mins after this was taken this blue bugeye wagon rolled over. Both the driver and co-driver were unharmed. The video below shows just how brutal stage rallies can be. There were several other big wrecks, but thankfully no one was seriously injured.
As the cars rounded the corner they threw all sorts of dust, dirt, and debris, mostly into the crowd. We just cheered and laughed as we were hit by gravel and dirt clods. We cheered because we were having an absolute blast and it seemed like the louder we cheered the harder the driver's pushed. The camaraderie felt between every other spectator and the passing cars was surreal.
All Fours Rally team at it again. Did we mention that their car was equipped with the OEM suspension. A true testament to the rally legend the STI has become. As the stage drew to a close we packed up our things and headed back to the cabin.
It seems that we couldn't escape the world of rally. The spectator's cars were just as admirable as some of the rally cars. We snapped this shot of a lifted Subaru Baja from the balcony on our cabin. As the rumble of it's exhaust faded into the distance, it couldn't have been a better ending to a long weekend. Until next year.
Check out the 100 Acre Wood Rally page:
To learn more about Rally America, visit here:
To learn more about Subaru Rally Team USA, visit here:
To learn more about Method Race Wheels, visit here: