|A Saab driven by John Groo of Hartford, Conn., picks up speed
in a straightaway. Highly modified rally cars often top 100 mph
on dirt roads during performance rallies like the Trespassers Wil
and 100 Acre Wood rallies held in Ellington and Salem in February,
The woods are silent except
for the quiet conversation of a small group of spectators and volunteers
waiting near the intersection of two dirt roads in rural Crawford County.
When not passing the time talking they stamp their feet to fend off
the cold, shiver and look down the road.
Suddenly someone hears a faint drone from a nearby valley and announces,
Here they come!
The distant sound becomes
a high-pitched whine as a Mitsubishi sports sedan tops a nearby hill,
crunching gravel under its tires. The car barrels down the road until
the driver locks the brakes, sliding the car sideways through a sharp
As quickly as it arrives
the vehicle disappears in a shower of dirt. Just as the din of the departing
cars engine fades into the next valley, another is heard approaching.
The 100 Acre Wood rally is
underway. For the second year in a row, amateur sports car enthusiasts
from around the country descend on south-central Missouri to claim bragging
rights in the obscure world of club-level performance rallying.
course marshall checks Phil and Dallas Smith onto a night stage
of the Trespassers Wil. Husband and wife, the Smiths traveled
from Ohio to race their 1968 MGB.
Held on a cold, wet weekend
in February, this years 100 Acre Wood and a companion rally called
the Trespassers Wil attracted 44 teams, each consisting of a driver
and co-driver, to the Missouri countryside. The 70-mile Trespassers
Wil began and ended in Ellington on Friday while Saturdays 100
Acre Wood left Salem for two 120-mile laps through Viburnum and Potosi
and back to Salem. Together,
the two rallies passed through portions of five counties, Feb. 21-22.
Unlike traditional motor
sports in which cars race wheel to wheel in packs, or road rallying
that involves little more than a timed Sunday drive from checkpoint
to checkpoint, this event combines the excitement of racing with the
structure of a rally.
Popular in Europe and championed
in action-packed video games, performance rallies include transitional
stages run on public highways, where drivers must obey traffic laws,
interspersed with so-called special stages. Here, on roads closed to
other traffic, drivers push their cars and their own skill while co-drivers
call out every turn and hazard on dirt and gravel two-track lanes.
There was a car running
last year that was clocked at 130-plus on a dirt road, says Bryan
Cohn, a rally car co-driver and manager of club racing for the Topeka-based
Sports Car Club of America (SCCA),
which sanctions the event. Theyre taking corners at 30 to
40 mph, which doesnt seem like much but try it. Its fairly
reigning U.S. Formula Ford racing champion, Pritchard describes
his experiences driving Ozark back roads. The England-born driver
took up performance rallying to again experience the fun of learning
a new motor sport.
Drivers enter stages at predetermined
times, spaced one minute apart, with the fastest teams going first to
minimize passing. About half of the event is run at night, behind blinding
headlights. The course is secret until the drivers check in and are
given a route book detailing every hairpin turn, cattle crossing and
yump, the rally term for a rise in the road where cars go
Performance rallying was
an annual ritual in the Ozarks during the late 1970s and early 80s
after the Pooh Corner Rallye Team hosted the first 100 Acre Wood. As
rally enthusiasts turned their attention from racing and toward raising
children the event stopped. In 2002 it was resurrected as the national
club-level rally championship for the SCCA.
Both events are named in
honor of A.A. Milnes tale of Winnie the Pooh. The fictional bear
and all his friends lived in the 100 Aker Wood and Trespassers
Wil is all that remained of a sign nailed to Piglets tree.
While lost on anyone but a Pooh fan, the 100 Acre Wood name is fitting
for this event that runs through the heart of Missouris forests.
From the competitors
point of view we have the greatest roads in the country, says
Kim DeMotte, a nationally ranked pro rally competitor from St. Louis
who chaired this years event. Theyre smooth and fast
and theyre tight and twisty.
The SCCAs Cohn and
British-born driver Justin Pritchard are veterans of road racing but
newcomers to performance rallying. The two got their first sense of
racing on Ozark roads when they entered Pritchards right-hand-drive
1966 Austin Mini Cooper in last years 100 Acre Wood rally.
Scott of Lake Orion, Ariz., drives his Mitsubishi Eclipse down
a rural road near Salem during a shake-out stage which allowed
drivers to check their cars prior to the start of the rally. Drivers
do not know the rally course until they arrive at the event. Scott
and his co-driver, David Hackett of Reno Nev., won the Production
GT class of the event.
were going down a straight-away section and I noticed, all of a sudden,
he lifted off the gas, Cohn says. I looked over and we were
doing 95 mph and he decided this is fast enough. In this car, for this
road, lined by trees, this was fast enough.
Although the diminutive Mini
Cooper is no match against the turbo-charged, all-wheel-drive Mitsubishi
and Subaru sports coupes that dominate performance rallying, the team
still competes. Pritchard, a two-time U.S. Formula Ford champion, captured
the historic class title, beating a 1968 MG and a 1972 Corvette that
was not able to finish.
The Corvettes team
was not alone in its fate. Of the 44 cars entered in Fridays Trespassers
Wil, just 35 made it to Saturdays rally. Only 26 teams finished
the 100 Acre Wood.
Driven by St. Louis performance
car shop owner and first-time rally driver Doug Jenkins, the Corvette
was one of just two cars entered by Missourians. The team of Shawn Teegarden
of Peculiar and Robert Hamlin of Branson entered a 1987 Dodge D-50 pickup,
one of only three trucks in the event. A broken transmission took them
out of the running.
Although most of the events
organizers live in the St. Louis area, nearly all the competitors travel
at least 500 miles to participate. Many, including several teams of
top drivers from Ireland, are based on the East Coast.
The chance to showcase the
Ozarks to visitors from across the country is welcomed by community
leaders who roll out the red carpet for the rally.
residents braced cold and rain to see the cars exhibited during
a "parc expose" held in downtown Salem.
Its a significant
event for us, says Sharon Tubbs, Salems economic development
director. Its a really good marketing opportunity. Were
able to show our community to people throughout the whole nation.
Besides the hotels and restaurants
that filled to capacity, businesses and community groups throughout
the area pitched in to welcome organizers, competitors and their crews.
Dent County Motors in Salem
emptied its showroom and became rally headquarters for the weekend.
In downtown Ellington, Black River Electric Cooperative director Walter
Baker kept his business open late Friday night as tech crews lined up
for welding service at Baker Machine and Sales following the first half
of Trespassers Wil. In Salem townspeople braced rain hinting at snow
to attend a display of the rally cars downtown.
The amount of community
input and cooperation we get is almost embarrassing, says rally
chairman DeMotte. The whole rural community just opened up and
said, Sure, this looks like fun. Lets try it.
The public cooperation begins long before rally weekend. Organizers
spend nearly the entire year between events planning the race course
and seeking permission from every land owner and resident along closed
course competitive stages. They also work with county road commissions,
fire departments and ambulance districts to prepare the roads and provide
no question that the economic impact is critical to their help,
DeMotte says, adding that this years rally brought about $100,000
into the area.
rally team of Justin Pritchard and Bryan Cohn, driving a 1966
Austin Mini Cooper, accelerates out of a corner while rally marshalls
and spectators take photos. The tiny car was a favorite of crowds
throughout the weekend.
Now that means absolutely
nothing to the guy who lives along a road we want to race on who gives
us permission to do that. He does it because its exciting.
Indeed, the arrival of nearly
50 high-performance race cars and their crews to towns like Salem and
Ellington certainly goes a long way to brighten a cold, dreary February
weekend. While the winter weather kept crowds at spectator points down,
those who braved the cold were treated to the sights, sounds and sensations
that only champion-level motor sports provides.
Its not often
that a professional type event comes to your town, says Rob Benowitz,
a Salem merchant who never strayed far from the action during rally
weekend. Its spectacular. Its really something to
The 100 Acre Wood will
return to Salem through 2005. For more informatin visit www.100aw.org
or www.scca.org on the Internet or
call the Salem Chamber of Commerce at (573) 729-6900.