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It’s Not WRC, but the ARA Keeps Rallying Alive in the US

With Formula 1 firmly finding a foothold in the US, automotive racing here isn’t as dominated by NASCAR as it once was. But even so, some incredibly-popular kinds of racing have struggled to see the same kind of popularity in the States. While we have off-road events like the Rebelle Rally and King of the Hammers, rally racing itself is more subdued here. But passionate fans and organizations like the American Rally Association make sure the slides keep coming.

The World Rally Championship doesn’t hold US racing events anymore

On an international level, rally racing is organized by the World Rally Championship. WRC events take place all over the world, including Australia, Africa, Europe, Mexico, as well as Central and South America, Road & Track reports. And it’s because of the WRC that automakers have made iconic homologation specials like the Audi Quattro, the Lancia Delta Integrale, and, more recently, the Toyota GR Yaris. However, there aren’t any WRC events in the US—at least, not anymore.

In the late 1980s, there were WRC-sanctioned races in the US. Specifically, in the Pacific Northwest, for the Washington-based Olympus Rally, Autowise reports. However, although the Olympus Rally is still an ongoing event, it’s no longer on the WRC calendar. No US race has since 1988, even though American drivers like Ken Block and Travis Pastrana have raced in the WRC. But why is that?

A green-and-white WRC Skoda Fabia Evo drifts through a turn at the snow-covered 2021 Artic Rally Finland
WRC Skoda Fabia Evo at the 2021 Artic Rally Finland | JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP via Getty Images

It’s not because of a lack of suitable areas, Autoweek reports. During the Olympus Rally’s original run, many Scandinavian rally drivers likened it to the roads ‘back home.’ Plus, there’s the annual Pikes Peak Hill Climb, which used to have a generous off-pavement section and still draws huge crowds.

Part of the problem is that many race stages are located in forests and such, far from large cities. And the US is significantly larger than, say, Sweden. But the lack of US WRC races is also because American rallying regulations are different.

Plus, Americans don’t really buy the smaller cars, often hatchbacks, that are commonly seen at rally races, Automobile reports. That’s why Toyota doesn’t sell the GR Yaris here, and why Ford canceled the US-market Fiesta ST.

However, rally racing is still around courtesy of the ARA

The white #97 Ford Fiesta slides on a dirt forest trail at the 2017 Susquehannock Trail Performance Rally in Pennsylvania
#97 Ford Fiesta racing at the 2017 Susquehannock Trail Performance Rally in Pennsylvania | Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

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But rallying isn’t completely dead in the US. True, we don’t have the WRC here. But we do have the American Rally Association, Autoweek reports.

The non-profit ARA formed as a response to the US’s previous rallying sanctioning body, Rally America, The Drive explains. While the latter still exists as a media service, the ARA is the actual organizing body. And it has an extensive regular season, featuring both national and regional events.

A white Ford Fiesta racing through the snowy forest stage at the 2016 SnoDrift Rally
Ford Fiesta racing at 2016 SnoDrift Rally | Matthew Skwarczek

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It’s the ARA that’s keeping the Olympus Rally going, Autoweek reports. But it’s also organized races throughout the US, including Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, the New England area, and Indiana. There’s also a race held in Lower Peninsula Michigan called the SnoDrift Rally, which I’ve attended several times. And the slides and drifts are made even more impressive by the fact that the racers can’t use studded tires, Autoweek reports.

How can I watch the races?

Unfortunately, the ARA races aren’t quite as easy to watch as the WRC ones. You can watch WRC highlights on YouTube, The Drive reports, which ARA also provides. As do many of the competing teams. However, WRC has online streaming services, while the ARA doesn’t.

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So, if you want to see rallying in the US, you’ll have to do so in person. Which, admittedly, isn’t possible right now, what with the pandemic. And even when it was, that typically means going deep into the woods or standing in fields. Not exactly Indy 500-level amenities, as such.

But considering the kind of racing you’ll see, and the people you’ll talk to, I promise that it’s worth it.

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