You might’ve read the recent Answer of the Day for the Ten Best Racing Series That Nobody’s Watching where Rally America was billed as number one. Some of you were offended. Others agreed. Well, I’m taking a stand and taking another stab at stage rally spectating to prove my point once and for all.
With Rally America’s Susquehannock Trail Performance Rally rapidly approaching, I realized I had a golden opportunity to make my point of rally über alles. Only problem was, I was (and still am) out of a car. No problem! I did what any normal rally-infused teenager would do. I stole the keys to the family’s Subaru and booked it to central Pennsylvania.
Of course, I couldn’t go alone. After begging almost everyone I knew to join me on my journey, it came down to just myself and my only true enthusiast friend, Brian Silvestro. See? No problem!
We were unable to spectate day one at STPR, which meant that we would miss the great STPR jump. Oh well. I took off at 3:00 a.m. (the morning of STPR day two), picked up Brian, soldiered on through the lightning and rain showers, and we were on our way to day two of the event.
Following a fuel stop at Sheetz, an eatery and gas station favored by locals, we had arrived in Wellsboro, the center of the rally and the location of the first event of day two: Parc Expose.
Almost immediately after entering Wellsboro, we spotted the Broken Motorsports Nissan 240SX and ran into Raphael Orlove. Raph was kind enough to drop some spectating tips upon us. He also informed us that the 240SX that he had been co-driving caught fire the day before, and that they could only pray to make it through day two.
After parting from Raph so he could mentally prepare himself for what would hopefully be a full day of rally for him and the Broken Motorsports team, Brian and I took a walk over to the Parc Expose.
Parc Expose is an opportunity for the locals and rally spectators to see all of their favorite cars up close, meet the teams, and shake hands with the drivers and co-drivers. No pit pass required. This is just one of the many factors that allows stage rally to stay true to its grassroots theme. As a spectator, it makes you feel welcome and part of the scene, which is something that I feel is rather unique to rally compared to other forms of motorsport—professional, amateur and semi-professional.
There, Brian and I got our first in-person glimpse at what would be running through the stages of STPR day two. Most exciting for us were the #75 Subaru Rally Team USA car, the Twisted Nutz Racing Porsche 944, a very cool Volvo 240 rally car, as well as what seemed to be hundreds of caged Subarus, preparing their attack on the local trails of the Susquehanna forest.
It quickly started to seem like all of this was a mistake. The first stage was a half hour from the town center of Wellsboro, excluding traffic. Because of the lack of phone service in the area, we were left with only the spectator guide and the navigation stylings of Brian Silvestro to get us from stage to stage. We met traffic leaving Wellsboro, on our way to the first stage of the day. Once we actually got to the stage, we were forced to park a mile from the spectator area.
If it sounds like I’m complaining, it’s because I am. This was hellish. Park the car, walk a mile, watch four cars get a little opposite lock, then walk back to the car? Not to mention the severely humid weather and the obscenely large flying insects. Call me a city boy, but this isn’t what I consider fun.
It wasn’t all that bad though. As the day progressed, we realized that there would be some stages we would not get to see at all. Some just didn’t have official spectating points and some we had to skip if we wanted to make it to the next stage. Once we figured this formula out, spectating actually became a rather enjoyable experience.
The best part of the day was possibly the Super Special stage. The whole town of Wellsboro came out to watch. The STPR Super Special was located at the Tioga County Fairgrounds. The stage was made up largely of mud ruts, with elevation change and some serious speed. Basically, it was your average muddy SCCA rallycross stage on steroids.
The Super Special was scheduled right after the last service of the day. After the cars were prepped, they began staging. The organizers had some of the slower cars run first, in pairs that seemed to be organized by make, if not by similar power outputs and drive-wheels. This was all leading up to the fastest cars of the weekend, David Higgins and Craig Drew in the #75 car and Alex Yeoman and Jordan Schulze in the #425 car. Guess who won? At least it looked close.
Overall, it was an incredibly enjoyable experience. I’ll always remember the feeling of being surrounded by hundreds, if not thousands, of other car enthusiasts who are all there for the same reason that I am: to share the love of the sport, meet the drivers, and watch modified versions of their own daily drivers get swung sideways through forests and get jumped over crests.
Even though there aren’t bleachers set up at each corner on every stage, there aren’t huge parking lots with elevators and there are no shuttle buses to bring you places, it’s all part of the sport. If you’re going to be spectating rally, just remember to bring comfortable walking boots and some bug spray.
Check out the video up top for some video action from the event. I’ll go ahead and apologize in advance for stumbling over words. I’m working on it, I promise. You might want to just mute me. Yeah.