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Thousands watch final stage of Ojibwe Forest Rally on the streets of Detroit Lakes

The winners of the rally sprayed each other with champagne during a brief awards presentation at the end of the race. DL NEWSPAPERS/Brian Basham1 / 6
The team of driver Arkadiusz Gruszka and co-driver Maciej Sawicki kick up gravel on a forest stage of the rally on Saturday afternoon. DL NEWSPAPERS/Brian Basham2 / 6
Hundreds of spectators cheered as a rally car speeded past a forest stage Saturday. DL NEWSPAPERS/Brian Basham3 / 6
Subaru team driver Travis Pastrana signed autographs for fans lined up on Veteran’s Memorial Parkway last Friday afternoon. DL NEWSPAPERS/Brian Basham4 / 6
The Ojibwe Forest Rally’s Parc Expose, where all racers display their cars before the start of the race. DL NEWSPAPERS/Brian Basham5 / 6
The rally team of driver Peter Fetela and co-driver Dominik Jozwiak speed down West Lake Drive during Saturday’s final stage of the rally. Thousands of spectators lined the streets to watch the short stage. DL NEWSPAPERS/Brian Basham6 / 6

The 2014 Ojibwe Forest Rally was bigger and better than ever, according to race chairman Erick Nelson.

There were vastly more spectators this year, he said. And although there were fewer cars entered, more cars finished the entire race this year than in previous years. Both conditions combined to make a very happy race chairman.

“We’ve had people writing in, thanking us for bringing (the race) to Detroit Lakes so they could see the race closer to town,” Nelson said. “We feel pretty good about it. Overall, I think it went just fantastic.”

“I’ve seen a lot of video from the forest and there’s more people (spectators) than we’ve seen in years out there.”

Fewer cars entered and fairly dust-free roads during the rally helped keep the race on time and helped keep drivers and their cars running the race, Nelson said.

“Our rally is almost always hot and dusty,” he said. “The competitors were really happy because they weren’t fighting a competition because they couldn’t see that it was so dusty. The roads were great.”

While 99 percent of the rally was run on gravel back roads north of Detroit Lakes, the one percent that was run through town was very noticeable and significant. Thousands lined West Lake Drive Saturday night to catch a glimpse of the final stage of the race.

“Everybody loved it, Nelson said. “Even the guys who crashed, they had a great time.”

“We need to move and use a few more barricades next time. That’s something we learned. We want to keep the area protected a little better. How do you know until you do it? And there’s a few places we need to put more volunteers next time.”

Local law enforcement was admittedly a little apprehensive about the event, as the course ran in town instead of the usual out-of-town routes.

“But what sold me was the amount of volunteers they had,” said Detroit Lakes Police Chief Tim Eggebraaten. “And that’s what made it from my perspective, was the intensity that they brought with careful detail on where people were going to be and the safety precautions they took.”

Warnings rang out of the loud speakers continually throughout the event against people who might think about being on the road or in areas they shouldn’t.

“And to our knowledge, nobody did,” said Eggebratten, who says EMS and the Detroit Lakes Fire Department were also on hand in case anything happened.

And as far as the race volunteers go, Nelson said he’s very happy with the work they put in.

“We’re finally starting to get the permanent volunteers that can help us run this thing. We’re finally starting to get the people who want to stay involved,” he said. “And that’s really what we need to help keep this thing moving and growing.”

Nelson said he’s already got big plans for the 2015 Ojibwe Forest Rally and is working on new ideas for next year’s race.

(Reporter Paula Quam also contributed to this article.)