Rally in the 100 Acre Wood: The Last Decade Part 1
This spot was supposed to be reserved for a recap of the 2020 American Rally Association Rally in the 100 Acre Wood, but with the coronavirus, COVID-19, running rampant through our communities, events are being cancelled all over the globe, including this one. The news came just a week before the event was to take place, at a time that the NBA, NHL, WRC, NASCAR, and even Formula 1 were also cancelling and postponing events. While it’s definitely disappointing, it’s the right call, the socially responsible call and hopefully this will all blow over soon. In the meantime, let’s take the opportunity to look back on the last ten years. 100 Acre Wood was my first rally experience and one I’ve attended every year since, so it holds a special place for me, filled with many memories.
2010 Rally America Rally in the 100 Acre Wood
My first trip to the forests of Missouri to witness rally firsthand was the 2010 Rally America Rally in the 100 Acre Wood. With no experience or understanding of how to spectate a rally, I spent a lot of time driving between spectator points, parking far away and arriving at the stage just in time to see the last few cars whiz by. It was a learning experience for sure, but it was still an experience that I wanted to live over and over again.
The 2010 season started with a surprise announcement, Ken Block would be leaving the Subaru Rally Team and instead be competing in a Ford. After spending the first few years of his rally career driving alongside his action sports friends, Travis Pastrana and Dave Mirra, Block would strike out on his own with the Monster World Rally Team. Rally in the 100 Acre Wood was set to be just his second event in his new car, an event that he has dominated through much of his career.
2010 was to be no different. Block and ex-Subaru teammate Pastrana were locked in a battle, late into the final day of the rally. But during the spectator special stage in Potosi, Pastrana would cut a corner just a bit too much, breaking a control arm and ending his day. This would hand Block his fifth consecutive win in the 100 Acre Wood and his first in his brand new Ford.
2011 Rally America Rally in the 100 Acre Wood
As I mentioned, that first event had me hooked, but I wasn’t the only one. My wife at the time, had also gotten the rally bug and later in 2010 we purchased a rally ready Nissan Sentra SE-R for her to compete in. The car had seen something like 38 stage rallies and needed some care. After a lot of work and a quick test event at a regional event in Texas, the car was ready for its first real test at 2011 Rally America Rally in the 100 Acre Wood.
That year would also be my first as credentialed media, setting up what would be a very busy weekend. It would turn out that the car was not nearly as ready for action as was hoped. On the way to shakedown, the recently replaced transmission decided to dump all of the fluid on the ground. Luckily it was an easy fix and nothing major was damaged. However following the opening stage of the rally, the car started suffering electrical issues that would plague it the rest of the event. Friday night was a long night (and morning) of fixing the damage to the car from getting stuck in the Bermuda triangle on Ollie’s Camel, an incident in which the passenger door was nearly ripped off the car when it was pulled out of the hole. We were able to mend the damage as much as possible and the car was once again ready to take on the final day of the rally. But that pesky electrical gremlin just kept popping up, until they would be forced to retire midway through the final day of the rally, when the car died at the end of a stage and refused to start again.
With Travis Pastrana off pursuing a career in NASCAR, 2011 would mark the debut of David Higgins and Craig Drew with Subaru Rally Team USA. Ken Block was also on a hiatus, where he was running a partial WRC season, leaving the door open for some new faces to shine. However, as a last minute surprise after wrecking his NASCAR car during practice, Travis Pastrana decided to hop in a rental Subaru for the weekend. Unfortunately, Pastrana’s rally would not last long, as he rolled the Subaru less than a mile into the second stage of the rally.
That year was also one of the wettest 100 Acre Woods that I have ever experienced. There was water everywhere and many of the access roads to stages were covered with water and closed, which made my job of getting to photo locations all that more difficult. It also added an extra challenge to the competitors, who had to adapt to the wet conditions. Higgins and Drew would put up quite the fight in their first event with SRTUSA, but the extra experience on these roads would give Antoine L’Estage and Nathalie Richard the advantage in the challenging conditions, as they bested the Subaru in their Rockstar Mitsubishi EVO X.
With all of the distractions and lack of sleep, my photography suffered, greatly, resulting in what I would consider the worst weekend of shooting in my life. Another year, another rally, and another learning experience under my belt.
2012 Rally America Rally in the 100 Acre Wood
The drive to 2012 Rally in the 100 Acre Wood, started as many of my trips to this rally do, with snow. A lot of things were changing in my life and I was looking forward to a stress-free weekend, but that was not to be. The drama began as soon as I arrived, but I’m going to leave that part out of this, as it’s neither here or there and we’ll just talk about what happened on stage (which was eventful enough on its own).
The rally got off to an exciting start for me, with my first trip to the famous cattle guard jump. After taking a year’s hiatus, Ken Block was also back in his Monster World Rally Team Ford Fiesta. This, as it has turned out would be the only time I’ve seen the HHIC fly over the cattle guard jump in the proper direction.
It would also mark my introduction to the one and only “Crazy” Leo Urlichich (we would get further acquainted the next day), as he stole the show over the jump. After suffering a puncture early on the stage and losing nearly all of his front tire, he still flew over the jump in his Subaru, which was appropriately named “Beast”.
To start Saturday’s rally action, I had chosen a nice quiet spot nestled deep on one of the forest roads. The sun was shining, as the glorious sound of rally cars began echoing through the trees. In front of me, about 100 yards in the distance was a fast sweeping corner, where the first cars just slightly sideways and then flew past me, showering the road behind me with a spray of rocks. Ken Block’s Fiesta had encountered a rock earlier on the loop and was missing a front fender as it flew by.
The roads that year were especially rough and many cars had close encounters with large rocks, Block was not the only one. I mentioned above that Crazy Leo and I would get further acquainted, and so we did, maybe a bit more closely then I would’ve liked. As they rounded the sweeping corner in front of me, I notice they are well off line from the cars that had been in front of them. After snapping a shot or two, I notice the front wheels are both pointed in and they are headed directly for me. I promptly turn and run further into the forest, just in time as they slam into the tree that I was standing behind, knocking it down and coming to a rest up against the tree that had been directly behind me, just a foot or two from where my camera bag lay on the ground. Luckily everyone escaped with out injury, well everyone except Beast, the rally car. Beast had damaged a front steering arm earlier in the stage and it decided to let go just as they rounded that corner, causing Leo to lose control of the vehicle and leave the road.
To this day, this is the closest call I’ve had on stage and in a spot that should’ve been perfectly safe. It serves as a reminder to always be on your toes, have an escape route and be watching for things that have gone wrong, because you never know what can happen.
With last year’s winner, Anotine L’Estage, suffering from transmission failure early in the event, the battle came down to Block and Higgins, who had wrapped up his first Rally America title the year before for Subaru Rally Team USA. Block, with five 100 Acre Wood wins in his pocket, took advantage of his experience to best the reigning champs and take home his sixth 100 Acre Wood title.