About this site

My name is Ian Holmes. A few years ago I discovered the branch of motor sport known as road rally. Along with my wife, Lorrie, we road rally our 2014 Ford Focus in regular road rallies and my 1976 MGB in classic road rallies. In 2015 I took over the co-drivers seat for local rally driver Dan Little. This blog describes my adventures in all forms of rallying.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Running with the big boys.

I think I have told you before of my liking for stage rally, of my wanting to sit in the navigators seat screaming instructions to my driver as we speed down a forest track to a winning time on a stage. Well this weekend I kind of got an insight as to what that would be like.
But more of that later...
This weekend was the Ojibwe Forest Rally up in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota (hereafter referred to as DL), a round of the RallyAmerica national championship. I had thought about volunteering to help before in previous years, lured in by the thought of standing feet from the cars as they zipped through the forests getting views other spectators don't. But vacation and work schedules had stopped me, much to my annoyance and disappointment. But this year when an impassioned plea for volunteers went out Lorrie and I decided that we would help even though we could only work the Saturday.
It was a long, tiring drive up to DL after a hard day at work and we were even too tired to hit the hot tub at the hotel when we arrived. It was straight to bed to be up early to get to the Saturday morning meet up point somewhere in the middle of a forest...
When we awoke and got out to our car we figured we were in the right place when straight in front of us was the Nick Roberts Global Rally car transporter.
We must be in the right place then...

It was almost an hours drive up to the Bad Medicine Lake meet up point and we were one of the first to arrive, though the Subarus already parked there clued us in this was the place to be. A friendly group of people offered us donuts as we waited for the organizers to show up.
When the organizer, Joe Lipinski, arrived we were treated to a good natured, informal briefing about what we could expect to do and what was expected of us. We even got free T-shirts, Green for working  in the forest and a bright orange to work the "Subaru Street Stage" in DL that evening.
We were "unassigned workers" and would be given jobs by any stage captain that needed us. Most likely we would be guarding protected intersections on the trails to stop unauthorized access by the public. Somehow though, we didn't, for when we reported to stage Captain Barbara Steencken she asked if we and a couple of others would like to work the start of stage 8 & finish of stage 12!
To be honest I was very nervous about this, as far as I was concerned this was some serious stuff, starting the competitors off on time and recording the finish times correctly. Supposing I made a mistake and recorded a time wrong and someone lost a place by .1 second?
I needn't have worried Barbara and Ed, her husband did such a great job of explaining the process to all four of us (we were all novices) that I felt quite confident and with Lorrie assigned the duties of logging in the cars at the stage start I was looking forward to playing "rock, paper scissors" with the others as to who was going to do the countdown to let the cars go.
Then things took a very strange turn sideways. For I had my camera bag open and ready in the hope that I'd still be able to grab some shots of the cars as they arrived and left. Barbara saw the contents and said.
"Oh. You've got a good camera. You can take the photos."
When it comes to an instruction like that, well I don't need twice telling. I love photography and if someone wants me to take photographs then that's what I'll do. No complaints.
I hid myself away in the undergrowth and waited for the action to start, and when it I clicked away merrily. You can find an album of my photos here on flickr.
Nick Roberts kicks up a little dirt as he leaves start 8.
The minutiae of the start preparations are not for this post, it would go on forever if it was. Once the pre-check vehicles had passed through everything was very quick. About 35 cars lined up and leaving at minute intervals meant that they were away in less than three quarters of an hour. The sweep vehicles came though and we were clear to move on to our next location. Finish 12.
To get to the location we had to drive along the same forest trail that the rally cars had just been running on. Their grippy tyres had really done a number on the trail, with grooves carved into the trail as they sought the best lines. We were bouncing along this all rather nervily at 30 mph or less. It was a sobering thought to think the rally cars had been doing comfortably twice that speed and more that in places. For a moment I had a re-think of my dream of being navigator in a rally car screaming down forest trails...
We arrived at our finish site and set up all the appropriate signs, and were assigned our duties (I was photographer again). Finish 12 was a cramped location and there wasn't a lot of places for a good angle. I was considering climbing a tree but there wasn't any suitable ones.
So we set up, had our lunch, and waited... and waited, and waited.
There was a problem further down the stage with some trees overhanging the course and the decision had been made to cut them back. All in all, it was a good hour long delay before the cars sped by for us to record the times. Waiting in the forest with little idea of what was going on was about the only downside to the day.
Eventual race winner David Higgins speeds through finish 12.
Having my camera was quite handy as in addition to the official recording sheet in the scoring car we had a backup sheet at the stage finish line and I would photograph each car as it came through to confirm its number with the timer. This was pretty invaluable as the "big boys" sped past in a blur, I think I corrected the car number once. It wasn't so important for the less powerful two wheel drive cars as they went through. Still, I felt I was contributing using something I really enjoy doing.
You may well be familiar with the famous saying. "If a tree falls in a forest and no one ids there to hear it, does it make a sound?"
What about "If a Rally car crashes in a forest and no one is there, does it make a sound?
Well the answer is a resounding "Yes". We were stood at the finish line waiting for the next car to arrive, we could hear a car speeding though the forest, accelerating and braking. Then we heard it stop   and frantically go into reverse, (you can tell from the sound believe me) before a strangely revving car limped over the finish line.
If a rally car crashes in a forest and no-one is there to hear it, does it make a sound...
With our work in the forest done, it was time to head back to DL to man the Subaru Street stage.
Things were quite hectic as our caravan of stage workers arrived minutes before the start and our team of workers were scattered all over the stage. Our two colleagues who had been working the stage 8 start were accorded the honor of starting the final stage, Barbara and Ed worked the finish timing. Lorrie and I were called on to be marshals at the two chicanes. What was really special about this for us was that we ended up driving the street stage! Along the lake front in DL, under the Red Bull arch in front of thousands of spectators. I would be lying if I said that I didn't gun our car just a little bit at one point. That really made my day. Marshaling was pretty cool too, there was a lot of people along the stage who had no idea what they were watching, some people thinking they were watching a street race, so time was spent explaining what was going on and what had happened over the two days. The street stage in the daylight was cool to watch but at night, under the street lights was quite special.
Night time on the Subaru Street stage
So that was it. With the last cars finishing the street stage we retired to the DL pavilion to watch the presentation and get sprayed with champagne from the victors before heading inside for a well deserved meal. Volunteers are well looked after.
Victory celebrations 
So, was attending a rally everything I thought it would be? Yes, without a doubt. To be stood feet from a car as it sped past was quite exhilarating. That's the great thing about rallying is the proximity of the spectators to the action. The cars are something else as well, to hear the turbo's whining as the cars accelerate and chattering as the cars slow, it's amazing. If you have a love for cars you probably should try to volunteer at a rally.
In closing this post. I want to thank everyone we worked with. We were made to feel very welcome every step of the way. Drivers always acknowledge the stage workers for they know without them there wouldn't be a rally. It was a great experience to be part of such a cool event,  and we definitely hope to be back next year.


  1. Great post! We couldn't do it without you volunteers, so thank you! And if you ever want to talk co-driving, contact me!

    1. Thank you Susi. It looks like we will get to talk co-driving soon.