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High-speed race set for DL Saturday

Driver Nick Roberts of Minneapolis will be competing for the Super Production Class Championship during the Ojibwe Forest Rally Saturday. DL NEWSPAPERS/Brian Basham

Driving the back roads at breakneck speeds without a worry in the world except when to make the next turn is every driver’s dream. Life on the edge. A single stone, a fallen branch or just too much speed can easily push you over.

Those drivers who have been to the edge and back will be putting their skills on display during this weekend’s Ojibwe Forest Rally, a timed road rally that takes racers through many little-used gravel back roads of Becker and Clearwater Counties, the Buffalo River Race Park and even a stage through the streets of Detroit Lakes.

Several meet and greet driver events have already happened earlier this week, but the race itself will start Thursday at the Buffalo River Race Park with a driver meet and greet at 6 p.m., with a race stage set to begin at 7 p.m.

“We’ve got 45 teams entered,” said rally chairman Erick Nelson. “The big names, we’ve got Travis Pastrana, who’s the big motor cross X-Games star. He’s the name in the sport right now.”

The festivities will move to Detroit Lakes Friday with a Parc Expose, where all cars in the race will be parked along Veteran’s Memorial Drive for spectators to view, beginning at 3 p.m.

The drivers will then start their Friday evening and night stages from downtown Detroit Lakes at 4:30 p.m.

Saturday will have a full day of racing along the back roads of Clearwater County with several spectator points set up along the stages.

But the main event of Saturday will be the final stage of the rally run on West Lake Drive along the Detroit Lakes beach between the Becker County Fairgrounds and the Detroit Lakes High School parking lot.

The relatively short stage has been the most talked about and needed the most preparation, according to Nelson.

“We’re telling people to be down (to West Lake Drive) by 6 p.m. or so,” Nelson said. “The race really won’t start until 7 p.m., but we really don’t know how many people to expect. We’re planning for thousands.”

Nelson said several businesses along West Lake Drive will have spectator areas set up, but spectator safety is a major concern for organizers, and several areas will be off limits to spectators. The race will pause every 10 cars to allow foot traffic to cross West Lake Drive, he added.

“If you’re being told something by a person with a black shirt with green Ojibwe Forest Rally writing on it, please listen,” he said. “They’re not telling you not to stand somewhere or do something to be mean. They’re doing it for your safety. This isn’t just a parade down the street. This is full speed.”

Nelson said the race itself could have some interesting drama. The Subaru team of David Higgins, whose foot was run over at last year’s Ojibwe Forest Rally, and Craig Drew have already clinched the Rally America National Championship.

“David (Higgins) won this event years ago, but his co-driver has never won, so they want to win,” Nelson said.

He added that the very competitive and aggressive Pastrana still has yet to win a rally this season, and is hungry for a checkered flag.

“Travis (Pastrana) has never won since he’s come back on the season. He wants to win bad,” Nelson said. “And he can win. He’s got the speed for it. So I can see (Higgins and Pastrana) fighting it out pretty hard.”

But the super production class is where the championship is still up for grabs, Nelson said. Drivers Nick Roberts from Minneapolis and Dylan Van Way are battling for the championship in that class. Nelson said Roberts needs to win the Ojibwe Forest Rally and the final race of the season to claim the title, while Van Way will take it if he wins here.

“So that’s easily the most exciting race this weekend. Nick (Roberts) has to win. He’s doing so much preparation ahead of time,” Nelson said. “He’s doing everything he can to make that car perfect.”