Photo: Elizabeth Werth

I have had a transformative experience. I have just attended my first rally event.

On Friday, I made my first trek out to Wellsboro, Pennsylvania for the Susquehannock Trail Performance Rally, a two-day event jam-packed with all the rally action you could ever want. We saw super stages. We hiked up a mountain to watch cars go real fast. We collected bits of debris that fell off the cars. We cooked out, camped out, breathed in a hell of a lot of dust, and lived that rally life.

And it was incredible.

I’m a very casual World Rally Championship fan, but I think the real magic of rally lies in actually going to a race instead of just watching a highlight reel online. It’s hard to capture the feeling of actually being there in person.

It’s not like other racing events. You don’t show up to a track, pick a spot, and watch cars for a couple of hours. With rally, you drive out to the boonies, slash through foliage until you find the perfect stretch of road, wait there for a few hours to watch a couple cars go by, and then head off to find the next stage.

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It’s like a pilgrimage. There might be fans of some local drivers, but a majority of people hit up a local rally because they just love speed. They’re here to sit on the edge of their chairs, watching drivers throw a car around a curve, teetering on the brink of disaster. They’re here to cheer everyone on, to sympathize with anyone who has a bad day. They’re just here to have fun.

And it’s refreshing. I love going to races—but it can get exhausting if you’re, like, a fan. I have to be invested. I have to care how a particular driver or team performs and get angry at all the drivers or teams who might rival them and generally just feel a whole lot of emotions all mingled with adrenaline and excitement.

But STPR was sick. The drivers are just a bunch of guys and gals out here in their favorite rally car looking to freakin’ send it. Not only can I respect that, but I can see how local rally events are on track to be my new favorite thing. The drivers are personable. They want to mingle, to tell you their life stories and the history of their car. What the hell does that bumper sticker mean? They’ve got a tale. You want to sit in the car? Hell yeah, dude, they’ll even take a picture. You want them to pop open the hood? They’ll show you everything that lies underneath.

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It’s what I’ve always wanted racing to be. There was something so magic about the days of Formula One where fans could wander through the pits to ask questions and then grab a grandstand seat for a couple bucks. It’s magical. You can get so caught up in international racing that you forget these local dudes are more than stoked to hit the gas every weekend and tell you all about it afterward.

Everyone needs to go. Even if you don’t think you like rally—even if you don’t care for racing all that much. Spend a weekend reveling in the passion of the little people doing big things. It kinda reminds you why we all love cars so much in the first place.