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High-speed race next to the DL beach

A competitor at last year’s Ojibwe Forests Rally hits a fast turn at the Buffalo River Speedway during a leg of the event. DL NEWSPAPERS/Brian Basham1 / 3
Well-known rally driver Ken Block gets some air at the Buffalo River Speedway during a stage of the 2013 Ojibwe Forests Rally. DL NEWSPAPERS/Brian Basham2 / 3
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If you feel the need for speed, West Lake Drive along the city beach will be the place to be on Aug. 23.

Some cars are expected to reach speeds of 100 mph or more on that stretch of roadway as part of the final stage in the Ojibwe Road Rally this year.

The timed race will involve one car at a time, starting with a loop at the county fairgrounds and going from Rossman Avenue to West Lake Drive to Washington Avenue down North Shore Drive along City Park, ending shortly before Roosevelt Avenue.

“These are real race cars, street legal,” said Erick Nelson, chairman of Ojibwe Forests Rally. “We race one at a time — typically in forests, but also at the Buffalo River (Speedway) … This is a national event for us, so there will be varying levels of competition, but there will be half a dozen or so that do go quite quick, obviously they’ll have to slow down at curves and corners…”

Concrete K-rail barricades will be set up to block any out-of-control cars at key points, including the corner at West Lake Drive and Washington Avenue, and the corner at Washington Avenue and North Shore Drive.

Barricades will be set up at connecting streets and vehicles will be used to block streets and driveways where needed.

The Detroit Lakes City Council voted 7-1 on Tuesday to approve the race, with Alderman Jamie Marks Erickson voting against it. She worried about safety and potential property damage along the route.

“This does cause me some concern,” she said, and since business owners and residents along the race course had not yet been notified, she asked that the vote be delayed until there was time for feedback.

At the end of the presentation, Alderman Marty Waller echoed those concerns, but Alderman G.L. Tucker successfully pushed to move ahead with the vote.

“There’ll always be complaints about something,” he said. Special summer events are “part of the package of living in Detroit Lakes.”

The Ojibwe Forests Rally has had a presence in Detroit Lakes the last two years, but this is the first time an actual stage of the race will be held in city limits.

Safety will be a prime concern of the two-dozen-or-so volunteers and radio operators at the event, said Nelson. Side streets will be barricaded and spectators will be kept back a safe distance, he said.

He estimated as many as 5,000 people could attend the in-town race if the event is properly marketed by the racing group.

The Ojibwe Forests Rally is part of the Rally American Championship, and NBC Sports will nationally televise it a few weeks after the rally. Since most other stages of the race are in forested areas, he expects the scenic and unusual final leg of the race in Detroit Lakes to get prominent TV attention.

“Have you ever been involved in a similar setting?” Alderman Dave Aune asked at the City Council meeting.

“Not exactly through a town like this,” Nelson relied. But races have been held in city parks, and a race “was done with great success in a town in Maine,” he said.

Detroit Lakes Police Chief Tim Eggebraaten spoke in favor of the request at Monday’s City Council meeting, saying the racing group has earned a solid reputation in town the past few years and has been working with him on the request.

“We’re satisfied they’ve done their homework and know what they’re doing,” Eggebraaten told the council. “Erick (Nelson) has been very diligent — we’ve been discussing it quite a bit,” he added.

“From a public safety standpoint, yes, these cars will be going very fast, but I’m satisfied we’ll have a lot of help for crowd control.”

Public Works Director Brad Green also signed off on the request.

The biggest issue is shutting down West Lake Drive on a Saturday in the summertime, and making sure the street is clean and clear of parked cars, Eggebraaten said.

The Boats and Bars fundraiser is also slated for that day, and short gaps in the racing will be scheduled to allow people to go to and from the bars.

Nelson said the actual racing will only take about an hour. His group has rented the Pavilion for the day, and has been responsible for filling motels in the city during events the past two years, he said.

“This will be the very last race this year,” Nelson said.

“It’s more for the fans, not the competition part of it.”

For those who want a closer look at the racecars, the Ojibwe Forests Rally will hold a ceremonial start and pre-event car show on Veterans Memorial Parkway.

Washington Avenue, where it was held last year, will be undergoing a reconstruction project this summer.