2019 Oregon Trail Rally: Racing and Rally Culture.

Oregon Trail Rally is the state’s biggest stage rally event. It brings out both the big dogs, such as the Subaru Motorsports USA team that includes David Higgins and Travis Pastrana—as well as privateers campaigning a host of various rally cars. And if you were wondering, Higgins and his co-driver, Craig Drew, took first place overall; Pastrana and his co-driver, Robbie Durrant, took second place; and the McKenna Motorsports team of Barry McKenna and Leon Jordan took third in their very competitive 2011 Ford Fiesta. Full results can be found on the American Rally Association website.

Mitsubishi on dragstrip
The 2006 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution launches its way to corner one at PIR.

But for me, “OTR” isn’t just about who wins. It’s about embracing the full-on rally culture; seeing the vast diversity of the rally vehicles. Yes, there are some wickedly amazing Subarus that can reach 130 mph and jump 134 in length. They are, needless to say, incredible. However, I love seeing the old-school cars, such as the 1978 MKII Ford Escort, the 1989 Porsche 964, the old and new Honda Civics, the normally aspirated Subarus (including a Brat!), and the oddballs such as the Dodge Caliber SRT-4, the Toyota Yaris, or the slew of Volvos. This automotive variety keeps it interesting. I truly love it.

Travis Pastrana hitting the jump at Portland International Raceway.
Travis Pastrana hitting the jump at Portland International Raceway.

Day one of OTR is always held at Portland International Raceway (PIR). Having stage one here allows Portlanders the chance to check out the cars up close, meet the drivers face to face, and see the excitement that is stage rally.

Jeff Gamroth rounding a corner in his 1989 Porsche 964

Day two’s stages are held around Goldendale, WA. This includes dirt stages, as well as the renowned Maryhill Curves, a privately owned section of asphalt ribbon climbing the gorge’s wall.

The Maryhill Curves take drivers through deep canyons and massive windmills.

With a backdrop of flowing green and gold grass and towering windmills, the Maryhill Curves are a sight to behold.

The DirtFish Subaru WRX STI

I was actually fortunate enough to get a ride up the hill in a DirtFish rally car piloted by instructor Nate Tennis. Nate’s won multiple two-wheel drive rally championships, and has been with DirtFish since 2009. He’s a seriously good wheelman, and it showed on our high-paced run up Maryhill. The car we were in was a modified WRX STI. The engine was stock, but the suspension was upgraded, there was a roll cage, and it was on Hoosier gravel tires. Oh, and the sways were removed. Yes, removed. Why? Because it was an instruction car and they want their students to experience the car with weight transfer. Plus, it slows things down so the car isn’t as twitchy for students.

Bryan and Bianca Rodgers launch their 2005 Mitsubishi EVO over Boyd Jump.
Bryan and Bianca Rodgers launch their 2005 Mitsubishi Evo over Boyd Jump.

Day three’s routes embrace the dusty dirt roads near Dufur, OR. With rooster tails of dirt and gravel, these stages provide plenty of driving challenges for driver and navigator. One of the most anticipated areas is Boyd Jump, a hazard that can send the fastest cars sailing as much as 134 feet forward through the air. Conversely, it can send you nose-first into the dirt destined for a spin-out. Such was the case for the 2004 Acura RSX Type S with Tanveer Deen and Michael Michael Szewczyk.

After hitting the jump with much gusto, the front end came down hard leading to a spinout along with a detached a-arm, axle, and wheel/tire.

Thankfully, it was just a big spin and not a hard roll. After getting off the stage, the duo was able to get the car back onto the track to continue competition.

It’s this determination—this fighting spirit that is also the essence of rally. It’s not only you against the clock, it’s you against yourself, the terrain, and sometimes even your own vehicle.

My wife, Mercedes, and I also got the chance to go up in Subaru’s helicopter to chase Higgins and Pastrana on course. It was not only our first helicopter ride, but it was simply incredible to pace these two dirt-going rocketships across the dusty terrain. Watching them float over bumps, slide through chicanes, and blast down straight sections from the air was something that will not soon be forgotten. It’s like watching it through a whole other set of eyes.

David Higgins blasting through the Dufer stages, photographed via helicopter.

Rally is kind of like the soccer of motorsports in the U.S. It has a hardcore following, but it’s never quite caught on like other mainstream forms of motorsports. And like other niche things, it has a tightly knit, hardcore following and the people involved often end up becoming like family. In fact, many people refer to the people in attendance as their rally family. It’s a close knit community of spectators, volunteers, and racers.

John Hill getting sideways in his 1978 Ford Escort MKII.

If you’ve never experienced the energy behind stage rally, it’s totally worth the time. There’s speed, drama, community, action. It’s a heck of a good time. We’re fortunate to have Oregon Trail Rally in our backyard, but it’s worth the miles to go check out any American Rally Association Rally to experience it for yourself. You likely won’t be disappointed.

Patrick Pieper and Phil Meyers in the 1983 Volvo 244 Turbo
BMW M3 Jump at Oregon Trail Rally
Dave Clark and Jamie Willetts in the 1999 BMW M3
1985 Subaru Brat Rally Car
Jacob Sturgeon and Alex Chadney in the awesome 1985 Subaru Brat
Subaru BRZ rally car
Erik Potts and Claudia Barbera sliding in their 2013 Subaru BRZ
Dodge Caliber SRT4 rally car
This is what I love about rally: Totally unique and different race cars. This is a 2007 Dodge Caliber SRT4 driven by Karen Jankowskiand co-driven by Matt James.
Lifted Subaru Crosstrek at Oregon Trail Rally
A rally fan’s tastefully modified Subaru Crosstrek.
David Higgins with a massive dirt spray
Yes, David Higgin’s car is somewhere in there …
Rally fans
These are rally fans, not bandits, I swear.
Oversized driving lights look good on everything.  Fiat 500
Oversized driving lights look good on everything.
Justin Gladden and Eric Stodt are team Rice Puddin' in their 2006 Toyota Yaris.
Justin Gladden and Eric Stodt are team Rice Puddin’ in their 2006 Toyota Yaris.
Preston Osborn and Alison Laroza in the 2011 Ford Fiesta.
Preston Osborn and Alison Laroza in the 2011 Ford Fiesta.
2001 Ford Focus rally car
The 2001 Ford Focus ZX3 driven by Eric Bailey; co-driver is Jordan Rock
David Higgins damaged rally car
PIR day 1, stage 2: Higgins hits something on the track and causes front-end damage and a shredded tire.
Hood up Impreza rally car
Sometimes it’s hard to see the next corner in rally.
Nissan Juke rally car
Lars Wolfe and Jake Blattner campaign this very unique 2011 Nissan Juke
Volvo rally car
Having a chat after the stage.
The Subaru team blasting up the Maryhill Curves.
David Higgins and Craig Drew blasting up the Maryhill Curves.
The Team McKenna Ford sliding though the Staveout stage.
The Team McKenna Ford sliding though the Starveout stage.
The 226 WRX STI of Tony Torchia and Chantelle Torchia getting some maintenance.
The 226 WRX STI of Tony Torchia and Chantelle Torchia getting some maintenance.
 Brandon Semenuk slides the MOTUL Fiesta RS though the chicane.
Brandon Semenuk slides the MOTUL Fiesta RS though the chicane.
Retro Colin McRae Subaru Legacy livery
The retro Colin McRae livery really works on this 1992 Subaru Legacy as campaigned by Steve and Kelly Greer.
Lifted Subaru Outback
A modified Subaru Outback sits in the paddock at PIR.
If you're in the pits, a pit bike is a handy accessory.
If you’re in the pits, a pit bike is a handy accessory.
A hoodless BMW blasting down a dusty stage in Dufur.
Larry Clark and Robert Gobright blast down a dusty stage in Dufur in their 1995 BMW M3.
 Brody Anderson and Cooper Anderson round the bend in a 1998 Subaru 2.5RS
Brody Anderson and Cooper Anderson round the bend in a 1998 Subaru 2.5RS.
 Matthew Dickinson and Daniel Piker coming in for a landing in the 2015 Subaru WRX STi
Matthew Dickinson and Daniel Piker coming in for a landing in their 2015 Subaru WRX STi.
Travis Pastrana's Subaru Rally Car
Travis Pastrana blasting through the PIR stage. He and his co-driver took 2nd place overall.

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