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Ojibwe Forests Rally brings fast cars to the north woods

The 2003 Hyundai Tiburon driven by the team of Derek McCorison and Paul Johansen zips by on a dusty back road during Saturday's Ojibwe Forests Rally. Photo by - Brian Basham1 / 7
The 2000 Subaru Impreza driven by Henry and Cynthia Krolikowski took first place in the 2012 Ojibwe Forests Rally, running the 12 stages of the race in 1:30:28.2. Photo by - Brian Basham2 / 7
Driver David Grenwis and his crew try to get at a bent tie rod during a pit stop break at the north end of the rally course. Photo by - Brian Basham3 / 7
Chief of scrutineering Denny McGinn, inspects Johan Bjorkquist's car prior to the start of the Ojibwe Forests Rally at the Holiday Inn Saturday. Photo by - Brian Basham4 / 7
Driver Piotr Fetela of Chicago fixes a video camera to his Subaru rally car prior to the start of Saturday's race. Later Saturday afternoon, this side of the car was smashed in by a large rock. Photo by - Brian Basham5 / 7
Derek McCorison and Paul Johansen's 2003 Hyundai Tiburon comes to a dusty stop as the team took a right instead of a left at the Big Hill spectator point during Saturday evening's stages. Photo by - Brian Basham6 / 7
Landon Vanarsdale of St. Paul used a stick to extend his video camera over the road at the Big Hill spectator point while he remained safely to the side Saturday evening. Photo by - Brian Basham7 / 7

A group of people gathers on a backwoods road in southern Clearwater County. A low rumble can be heard deep in the woods. Suddenly, a vehicle appears on the road, tearing around a corner. The crowd cheers as the car roars by and disappears into a cloud of dust.

This scene played out many times last weekend on the back roads of northern Becker and southern Clearwater counties with the 30th running of the Ojibwe Forests Rally.

A total of 30 rally cars ranging from a Ford Festiva to an old VW Beetle to a 2007 Subaru were entered into the 100-mile event, of which only 14 finished the grueling timed race.

Piotr Fetela was competing in his fourth Ojibwe Forests Rally and has been driving since 2009. The native of Poland said the last time he raced the Ojibwe rally, he competed in the open light class, but is now in the much faster open class.

"We just keep driving and getting better and better with every race," he said.

Fetela said he works on his 1998 Subaru Impreza quite a bit to keep it running in top form.

"Before every rally, I work on it to make sure everything is OK," he said. "But still, you never know what is going to happen."

Fetela clearly didn't see what would happen during the rally, as he posted a picture of his dented and beat up car on his Facebook page following the rally, saying, "The front of the car has a lot of damage. I hit a rock at 70-75 mph. We were leading the rally."

At the halfway pit stop of the race, the team of driver David Grenwis and co-driver Josh Cagle and their crew were feverishly making repairs on their VW GTI after they went off the road and saw the northern Minnesota woods up close and personal. After being pulled out, they finished their stages with a bent tie rod and bent control arm.

Grenwis has been driving on and off for about six years, while this was Cagle's first rally as a co-driver.

"I just don't want to get lost," he said.

Nearby, head mechanic David Peterson was hoping the fix he put on Mychal Summers' Mazda RX-7 would help Summers finish the race. There were two broken bolts in the rear differential mount that they quick-fixed with some ratchet straps.

"We're crossing our fingers that we can finish this race," Peterson said.

"Last time, we came home with a tree in the car, so today is actually going nice," Summers added.

Summers and co-driver Ryan DesLaurier ended up finishing the race in 10th place.

The job of the co-driver is to navigate and read detailed rally notes on the road to give the driver a better idea of where he needs to turn. The job involves a lot of reading and looking down while driving at breakneck speeds through the woods.

"I also have the patch here. That's a nausea or anti-motion sickness patch," Cagle said. "That's what I'm worried about, too."

Cagle said he'd be more nervous if the team had one of the faster cars in the rally.

"We're kind of middle of the pack, so we actually have a little bit of a comfort zone there, where some of these fast cars, they ride on the edge all the time," he said.

After the dust settled Saturday night, Grenwis and Cagle ended up taking the last finishing spot in the 2012 Ojibwe Forests Rally -- 14th place.