On January 29-31, 2016, fourty-two hoonigans and their dedicated co-drivers gathered in Atlanta, Michigan to plow through one of the most difficult rallies of the year: Sno* Drift. Proudly staged by Rally America, it has been the annual season opening event in the National Championship Series since 1973.
It’s an extremely challenging event and the conditions are unpredictable at best. No matter what the weather calls for — billowing fluffy snow, white-out conditions, or slush and ice — studded tires are not allowed, even in the worst of weather conditions. The 130-mile course demands full concentration from every driver and co-driver, no matter how experienced they may be, and sliding into a snowbank is almost guaranteed.
Fortunately, 2016 gave way to sunny weather conditions, but after a few passes on each course, ice began to form under the packed-down snow. Hundreds of spectators bundled up in multiple layers to brave the cold for hours on end just to see their favorite teams whip around a corner into view. Roars of cheers and the ringing of cow bells erupted as each vehicle raced by, earning extra applause with every backfire. The smell of race gas billowing through the crisp winter air made standing in the cold worthwhile — and then some. As each of 17 stages were completed, fans ran — rather clumsily with their thick snow pants and oversized boots — from their current post to get into their car and drive to the next best viewing spot, ending at the grand finale where the crowds really go wild: Bonfire Alley.
Meanwhile, the pit crews, perhaps the most dedicated participants out of any, stand by to assist their team with any repairs needed in-between stages. Fingers are always crossed hoping that nothing breaks, but with the rough terrains in rally driving, breaks seem inevitable. Pit crews are seen rolling around in the snowy slush underneath vehicles making the quickest repairs possible as to not lose time.
Buckey Lasek recently entered the world of rally racing, and this was his first year at Sno* Drift. His best time was during the first day on Stage 2 with a time of 16-minutes, 49.6-seconds, coming in second to Lauchlin O’Sullivan. Alas, Lasek’s 2008 Subaru WRX STI suffered a broken control arm on the second and final day, which took him out of the race, but he will be back for more. “The highs and the lows are so gnarly, but it's what keeps me wanting more,” he said. He spent the remainder of the day spectating with fans.
After an impressive performance, driver Peter Fetela with co-driver Dominik Jozwiak won the Sno* Drift event with an overall time of 2:27:58.9 in their 1998 Subaru Impreza STi, only sixth-tenths of a second ahead of Troy Miller — possibly the closest race in Sno* Drift’s history. Even better yet, Fetela was unable to complete his new build in time for the rally, so he opted to bring his older car just so he could enter. Another impressive time is held by driver Cameron Steely and co-driver Preston Osborn, who won first in the two-wheel-drive class with a 2012 Ford Fiesta R1, earning an inspiring overall time of 2:50:33.7.
Driver Dylan Helferich with the Relentless Rally Team reflects on the adrenaline-driven event: “It was a great weekend of competing. The courses were real slippery and the stage conditions were a challenge, which allowed for lots of opposite lock steering. We were supported by a great crew, family, friends and fans.”
The cold, wet fans drove home with smiles on their faces after a weekend of hiking in the snow, their voices hoarse from cheering: It will be an event to reminisce about for years to come. The teams headed home to immediately start prepping their cars in time for their next rally of the 2016 season, and all those who spent their weekend engulfed in the rally winter wonderland will struggle to focus as Monday approaches with the distant echo of rally cars racing through their minds.