|08-05-2005, 10:32 AM||#1|
Join Date: Oct 2003
Article on the Maine Forest Rally in the Portland Press Herald today
Maine's rally race hard to find and follow, but worth the effort
It wasn't nearly as easy to find or cover. Certainly the attendance was just a fraction of the better-known race last weekend.
If you had driven 35-40 minutes past Oxford Plains Speedway on Friday or Saturday you might have found the Maine Forest Rally.
We say "might" because the 15th annual event took two days, two states and more than 600 square miles of some of the most beautiful and demanding land in the Northeast. If you did find it, as I did, then you might just come away with the same crazy thought I did.
Namely: In its own way - and relative to its genre of auto racing - the Maine Forest Rally is as big a deal as the TD Banknorth 250. Maybe even bigger.
Whoa, did I really write that? Hope a racing deity doesn't strike me down for such sacrilegious talk but consider the following.
The Maine Forest Rally is a national event. It is one of just eight stops on the Rally America National Championship tour.
Drivers came from across New England, Michigan, New York, Quebec, Ontario, California, Washington and across the Atlantic. Overall winner Pat Richard drove 70 hours from his home in British Columbia to compete.
Like the 250 the past two years, the Maine Forest had its stars. X-Games five-time gold medallist Travis Pastrana was in a high-end Subaru as a rookie making the crossover from two- to four-wheel dirt riding. Stig Blomqvist, a 1984 World Rally champ, was second overall. And you really want star power? Then try Ken Block, who founded and owns a little apparel company named DC Shoes.
OK, maybe you're like me and you don't know DC Shoes from DC United. Go ask a snowboarder, skateboarder or just about any 17-year-old and they'll fill you in.
At the top level, the ownership and crews are every bit as committed and passionate as they are in "roundy-round" racing.
So why did only a few hundred die-hards showed up to watch the small, fast import cars go ripping around and literally flying over logging roads in Western Maine and the northeastern reaches of New Hampshire?
As Mark Goldfarb, a co-driver for over 30 years, put it, being a spectator is not easy. With the exception of the starting area at the Mexico recreation facility, seeing the cars actually perform took effort, in the form of extensive driving between stage areas usually followed by a hike into the woods to the spectator areas.
Then there's the problem of name recognition. Blomqvist and Richard, the defending North American champ, are well known in rally circles but I'd be less than honest if I said I knew anything about them before last weekend.
The third major problem is a lack of mainstream media coverage. Speed Channel shows the rallies, but they're shown during off hours. Covering a race live is a logistical and monetary boondoggle because the course is so far-flung.
That's why young talent like Pastrana and, to a lesser degree Block, is absolutely essential to raise awareness of rally racing. Pastrana spent more time signing autographs than he did driving (his car crashed on Friday). To the under-24 crowd, he is a certified star thanks to his X-Games success.
With land-use rights becoming increasingly harder to obtain (roads must be closed for safety), the rally sport in the United States needs to capitalize quickly.
The sport already has plenty of passionate and hard-working advocates, but their message hasn't been heard.
"Guys like me, we're all done," said Tim Stevens of Wells, a staunch supporter of his sport who is also a realist. "Travis, he's the whole deal right now. We need more young drivers like him."
Advanced technology also is helping. The Internet allowed reports and statistics to be posted on Rally America's Web site continually throughout the event. Several cars had on-board cameras. And the sport does have raw appeal. When the gravel starts flying right over your head, you may be ducking, but you're doing it with a smile on your face.
RALLY RUNDOWN: Stevens and his co-driver Jeff Hagan of Toronto survived the rock-strewn dangers of the Maine forest to take second place in the national PGT class. They were riding third for most of the weekend until the Nashua, N.H., team of Goldfarb and Tim Penasack were taken out by a car breakdown.
Steve Craig covers local auto racing for the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram.
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