Tips, Tricks & Trends

Here’s How You Can Attend Your First US Rally Race

While there aren’t any WRC rally races in the US, rally racing still goes on here. And while the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has curtailed spectatorship, the return of in-person attendance might be right around the corner. So, if you’re interested in seeing rallying with your own eyes, here’s what you should keep in mind.

Get to know the rally race area and schedule

The black-blue-and-white #75 Subaru Rally Team WRX slides through the dirt at the 2017 Susquehannock Trail Performance Rally in Pennsylvania
The #75 Subaru Rally Team WRX at the 2017 Susquehannock Trail Performance Rally in Pennsylvania | Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

Attending a rally race is less like going to the Daytona 500 and more like getting to the King of the Hammers. Rallying typically takes place in and around deep-wooded and/or rural areas, rather than at dedicated arenas. And these races often incorporate public roads, too, Roadshow reports.

On the plus side, this puts you right next to the action, Men’s Journal explains. Being from urban areas and public transportation, though, can make it difficult to get there and get around, Automobile explains.

So, before you head out to the race itself, make sure you have detailed maps of the area on hand. That also means updating the maps stored on your phone and GPS. And, if you’re concerned about losing signal, invest in some paper maps. Luckily, the race organizers prepare a close-up map of the area beforehand.

That close-up map is also accompanied by a rally race schedule. That brings up another difference between rallying and circuit racing: the stages. A rally race is split up into multiple stages spread out throughout the day and area, Car and Driver explains. Thus, you’ll start in one spot, then move to another a few miles away, and so on, Jalopnik explains. And each stage’s start time is listed on the schedule.

Naturally, you won’t be able to catch every single rally race stage—there’s just not enough time in the day. So, before you get to the race, plan out where you want to be and when. That will give you enough time to find a parking spot and hike out to the vantage point.

Being a rally race spectator means having the right gear

Race spectators in coats and hats at a snowy 2017 SnoDrift Rally forest stage
Race spectators at a 2017 SnoDrift Rally forest stage | Matthew Skwarczek

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Even if your spot is by a public road, attending a rally race means you’re exposed to the elements. Which, if you’re attending an event like the Sno*Drift Rally, means dealing with ice, snow, and low temperatures. But even if you’re going to a warmer locale, you’ll be standing deep in the woods or by the side of a road for long periods of time. And, as we just said, you’ll usually have to hike out there first.

So, before you go to a rally race, have the local weather forecast ready. Wear comfortable and weather-appropriate clothing, including some sturdy shoes. If it’s going to be sunny and hot, bring a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, and something to shield you from the sun. If you’re going somewhere cold, follow the winter motorcycle rider’s guide to layering up. And bring a folding chair or a blanket to sit on.

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As we stated earlier, rallying puts spectators extremely close to the racing action. Back in the heady days of Group B, racing fans sometimes ran onto the racecourse itself. Nowadays, though, each stage has a designated spectating area cordoned off with yellow and/or orange high-vis tape, The Drive reports. These areas’ locations are important to know if you plan on shooting photos or video of the race, because you may need a telephoto or similar camera lens.

Also, make sure you bring snacks and beverages with you. True, races like the Sno*Drift Rally are sometimes close to small towns and villages, so you can stock up on supplies. But bringing a cooler with you makes passing the time between stages easier. And because you’ll be outside for most of the day, you’ll need to keep up your energy and hydration levels.

Be prepared to socialize

Rally races aren’t just for watching cars slide through forests and jump over hills. They’re also for meeting new people, Autoweek reports. Especially toward the end of the day, when many rallies turn into big parties, Ars Technica reports.

A blue Subaru Impreza WRX sliding at a 2018 SnoDrift Rally forest stage as spectators watch
Subaru Impreza WRX sliding at 2018 SnoDrift Rally forest stage | Matthew Skwarczek

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Being a rally fan requires a certain level of dedication, given all the hiking and prep-work. But that’s especially true in the States since the sport doesn’t have the same popularity as it does elsewhere. However, while the US fanbase is tight-knit, it’s also welcoming, CarThrottle reports. I’ve even run into people at rallies that I previously only knew through online community message boards.

You can also start rallying as a participant or volunteer

Being a spectator isn’t the only way you can attend a rally race, though. Races are always on the lookout for volunteers, and it’s a great way to get behind-the-scenes, The News Wheel reports. Plus, it can set you up for the next stage (no pun intended) in rally attendance: participating.

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That’s right, if you have the car, the money, the time, and the dedication, you can compete in a rally race. Places like DirtFish offer training in both driving skills and understanding pace notes, Roadshow and Automobile reports. And as long as your car follows the regulations and passes the safety inspection, you’re golden.

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