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Drivers prep for Ojibwe Forests Road Rally

A rally car speeds along a dusty road in northern Becker County during the 2012 Ojibwe Forests Rally. The timed road race is coming to Detriot Lakes Aug. 21-24. BRIAN BASHAM/RECORD

Get geared up for the return of the Ojibwe Forests Road Rally, revving into the area with races on Friday, Aug. 23 and Saturday, Aug. 24.

According to race coordinator Erick Nelson, the event has been held annually for more than 30 years and took place in Bemidji for a majority of that time.

However, after a hiatus in 2011, Nelson said several other sites were explored for the rally.

“After talking to, specifically, Carrie Johnston at the Chamber, we really didn’t have a choice,” Nelson said. “I mean, everybody was just so welcoming, why would we go anyplace else?”

Receiving enthusiastic support from local committees and businesses, Nelson added, “It just makes it even better for our event to have a community that welcomes us.”

The Ojibwe Forests Road Rally has been incorporated into Rally America, making it the sixth of seven events in a national series, and this year Nelson said, “We’re going to have a much, much larger event.”

Several well-known teams will be competing, and Nelson predicts around 55 entrants.

“We have a lot of kind of the regional guys, and they’re fairly local, you know, more the amateur side than anything,” Nelson said, though he noted that all competitors need experience and knowledge of the sport to be successful. 

“We do also have quite a few national, professional, this-is-all-they-do drivers, so that’s the part that’s really interesting this year and makes it a little bit more fun,” he noted.

In addition to driver experience, the event also boasts a range of vehicle classes.

Nelson said there are “multiple, multiple classes, and it goes anywhere from the real high performance — I couldn’t even want to guess at how much some of the big teams spend on their car, but I’m guessing between a quarter and a half million on a car — to the guy who literally built it in his basement and it cost him $5,000 dollars, so there are big, big differences.”

“So you know, it makes it quite exciting, the different classes,” he added.

Because the Ojibwe Forests Road Rally is the sixth out of seven events in the national series, Nelson said, “We could actually decide the entire championship next weekend.”

While the races don’t begin until Friday, activities leading up to the main event will start on Wednesday, Aug. 21 with the Subaru Autograph Session at 3:30 p.m. at Muscatell Subaru in Moorhead.

Also on Wednesday, Muscatell Burns Ford in Hawley will host another meet and greet, starting at 5:30 p.m.

“That’s one of those great events where people can come and get autographs and the teams will have t-shirts to sign,” Nelson said of the event in Hawley.

Thursday will provide an opportunity for drivers to view the tracks, driving legal speeds for a test run.

A kick-off party for the event will be held at Docks on the Lake on Thursday night, beginning at 9 p.m. The celebration will feature live music and will be open to teams enrolled in the rally and the community.

Though the restaurant and bar won’t officially open until next year, Nelson said, “Basically, we’re the kick-off for Dock’s.”

“It’s really us supporting the local community and forming a relationship with a new business,” he added.

Spectators will be provided with the chance to get a closer experience with the drivers and cars before the competition begins.

“Friday afternoon we get to close the two blocks on Washington in downtown DL with all the cars lined up there before they start, so that’s another great opportunity for people to come out and meet everybody and see the teams,” Nelson said. The cars will line the road beginning at 3:30 pm.

The rally gets underway as the drivers take the stage on Friday, beginning at 4:30 p.m. in the forests north of Akeley.

Drivers will be accompanied by a navigator riding along in the vehicle, equipped with detailed instructions and description of the course.

Competition begins again the next morning at 10 a.m. in the Buffalo River area on Saturday.

Nelson estimates the total distance of the tracks will be between 120 and 140 miles, making the Ojibwe Forests Road Rally the longest event of the national series.

“There’s one deficit to that,” Nelson said of the distance, especially for spectators. “Because we put the event in Detroit Lakes and we go all the way past Park Rapids, it does take a little while to get out there.”

Nelson addressed three possible methods for spectators to view the race.

Areas will be labeled for free sites to view the race in the spectator guides, available online and at various promotional locations.

Tickets for other areas are also available for purchase for $5 per person, though Nelson said a bountiful supply of give-away tickets will be utilized during promotional events.

For those wishing to view the race in greater comfort, a VIP package is available for $79 per individual.

In partnership with Dock’s and Anderson Bus, Nelson said, “you go to the Holiday Inn on Friday, they pick you up in one of their cool limo buses and they bring you out to two separate locations that are not publicized in the forest.”

Food will be provided, along with return transportation on both Friday and Saturday.

“You don’t have to park, you don’t have to drive there, you don’t have to mess with anything. You just get on the bus and have fun,” Nelson added.

Plenty of volunteer opportunities are still open, and will provide an ever closer experience with the racing.

The marshaling position helps to ensure that no cross traffic interferes on the course, reducing the possibilities of collisions or accidents, and volunteers are needed to help with live-scoring and posting results online.

“If somebody wants to be out in the forest really knowing what’s happening before anybody else, even me, knows,” Nelson said, the live-scoring position is ideal.

Additional medical personnel are needed as well, though Nelson said the event organizers have been working closely with local law enforcement and emergency medical services, and that safety of competitors and spectators is a top priority.

The rally will finish at Dock’s on Saturday night, with awards and a victory celebration at 8:30 pm.

Nelson credited Docks on the Lake owner, Jeff Jasperson, with being an integral force in the organization of the event.

“The guy is just so, so wonderful to work with,” Nelson said of Jasperson.

Nelson also extended thanks to the sponsors of the rally, and said, “We’ve had a lot of great support from the community.”

“Muscatell has been really integral in making this thing happen in the last two years,” Nelson said. “Without their help and their advertising, we really wouldn’t have the same level of promotion.”

He also credited the Holiday Inn for assistance with providing meeting facilities, parking, and lodging for the competitors.

In partnership with sponsors and volunteers, and with the support of the community of Detroit Lakes, this year’s rally is sure to be exciting for people of all ages.

For more details about the event, visit or check out for more information about the series.

Libby Larson | DL Newspapers