There is something magical about waking up in the woods the day of a rally. The sun blaring through your tent, the frost coating the inside walls of your sleeping quarters and even the cold toes don’t matter so much because in a few hours, you’ll be breathing dust, dodging rocks and watching cars go blasting through the forest. Yup, I wouldn’t trade a moment of it... [read more]

The towns the Rally descends upon every February welcome the teams, spectators and volunteers with open doors and open arms. Hotels are booked months in advance in quite a radius around Salem, Steelville and Potosi. Work by the committee starts in the summer and doesn’t stop until weeks after the event. Volunteers give up their weekends to ensure everyone is safe, starts and finishes are manned and everyone has a good time. Thank you to all of you who put forth the time to make this event as great as it is!

The day before the rally sees the teams performing a myriad of tasks. From unloading and tech’ing the cars to doing reconnaissance on the stages, their day is full. Scrutineering, or ‘tech as its called, is the process where the cars are inspected to ensure they are safe and fit the class rules dictated to them. This means the roll cage, fuel cell, seats, helmets, etc are all inspected by Rally Officials who have to give their stamp of approval before the car can compete. Since rally cars also have to comply with local street car rules; things like the horn, wipers, blinkers and so on all must function as well. When was the last time you saw a Time Attack or Road Race car checked for those?

Friday February 26th, the day of the Trespassers Wil Rally dawned with clear sunny skies and a gentle, yet cool breeze. Perfect rally weather, especially for the Teams who just competed at Sno*Drift which was more ice racing then rally. The roads in the Mark Twain Forest are fast, open and unforgiving. One by one the cars exploded from the time control to wage their assault. Drifting, jumping and digging for grip they slung stones and dust in their wake as they blitzed between trees and ditches in search of the fastest time. This event also saw Ken Block’s second outing in his new Ford Fiesta Rally car…..and wow is it quick. Block started the weekend hoping to make it 5 wins in a row here but Travis Pastrana had other plans.

Under cover of darkness the teams raced on. Rally lights blazing, rotors glowing and fireballs from the exhaust lit the night as the cars screamed by. If you’ve never seen a rally stage at night, you need to! The first thing you hear is the pop, gurgle and wail of the cars in the darkness, you may catch a glimpse or two of lights diffused by trees. Then a glow starts and grows steadily brighter until the car explodes into sight, snarling, blazing and spitting gravel. In a heartbeat it’s gone, leaving a streak of brake lights and dust in its wake as the sound of power fades into the woods.

As the last finisher tripped the clock that night we found Pastrana 22 seconds ahead Antoine L’Estage who had a flat on the first stage of the day. Sitting 46 seconds back behind L’Estage planning his assault for the next day was Block. Chris Duplessis continues to prove that you don’t need all wheel drive to be fast as he flew his Volkswagen to a lead at the end of day one in Group2. 
Rally is not an easy sport on cars; fires, flats and crashes are common place in the sport and this year was no different.  Andrew Comrie-Picard was set to be first in the starting order until his motor let go during the shake down!  Piotr Wiktorczyk suffered an engine fire on the first stage of the day but was able to get it extinguished with the help of another team’s fire bottle. As the days wore on cars ended up in ditches, dragging skid plates, bumpers and even a wing or two.

February 27th dawned much the same as the previous day, crows the size of eagles beckoned my friends and I awake to frostier tents and a touch more wind. Still sunny, still gorgeous, still wouldn’t give it up. The 100 Acre Woods half of the event is much larger then the previous day’s Trespassers Wil. Pastrana started the day out strong putting the Ford of Block a minute back by the start of stage 2. L’Estage however lost his place to Block after a puncture and some difficulty crossing one of the many water features this rally has. Could this be the year that Pastrana and Edstrom de-throne King Block? The day wore on as stage after stage the teams duked it out for supremacy. One of the more unique features of this event is a Super Special Stage held in the middle of Potosi, Missouri.

Eagles Park features rolling hills and a sizable infield which was perfect for a mid day Parc Expose. The infield filled quickly with spectators, service crews and cars all waiting to see the action up close and personal. The competitors delivered it loud and clear. The deep ruts at the top of the hill drew the cars in as they fought for traction and control before spitting them out onto the loose gravel that led into the finish time control. Pastrana blasted out of the start with his horn blaring for the fans. As he came back around the upper loop for the second time the car went wide into a corner and seemed to struggle for purchase in the muddy soil. Was it a puncture, two, something more serious? Finally they dug in and got going again but the car was visibly off. Leaning steeply to the driver’s side it was evident by the sound there was a puncture. The Subaru crossed the finish but far slower then it should have. It was later communicated that not only did he have a flat tire, but also bent a control arm which put him out of the event as he was unable to continue. L’Estage took the opportunity and turned similar times to that of Block’s Ford. The day and competitors raced on into the night, covering hundreds of miles on both Tarmac Transits and Gravel Stages.

In the end Block and Alex Gelsomino were crowned Kings again and brought their Monster Ford Fiesta home to a fifth consecutive win. Block said of this feat, “This is the location of my first national rally win, so I have now won this rally five years in a row and it is a pretty good feeling to get the Fiesta home in first.” L’Estage brought home another second-place finish this season and now leads the Rally America Championship with 34 points. Bill Bacon sits in second with 28 points and can only get faster as he dials in the car. Chris Duplessis and Catherine Woods decimated the field in their 1990 Volkswagen despite having suspension problems on day one. Dillon Van Way was 6 minutes behind Duplessis and looks to have quite a challenge ahead of him as he battles Duplessis for the win.

As we packed up our camp the next day we were already planning next year’s trip, sharing stories from our stages we saw and mourning the end of yet another rally. I’ll be there for sure regardless of snow, frost, rain, mud, crows or anything else that makes Rally what it is. See you in the woods.

Photo/Editorial: Shawn Manny


  1. Excellent as usual Shawn, photos and commentary!