I covered the Rally of The 100 Acre Wood this past weekend, and boy, it was a great time. I’m lucky I got the chance to do it – back in mid-January, Eric Blumberg, KOMU’s assistant sports director, asked if anyone knew about rally racing after he received an email from a viewer asking if we’d be covering it this year. I said something to the effect of “Hell yeah” when Blumberg asked about it. So I immediately went on Rally-America.com and went through the media registration process. I was thrilled I’d have the chance to finally get to a rally – in all places – about 2 hours from our station.
I’ve always loved watching the World Rally Championship – I have about 15 old VHS season review videos and “In-Car Experience” montage videos in a box in my closet – and I basically grew up watching this stuff without ever getting the chance to see it in person. When Cablevision added Speedchannel to my family’s cable package in the mid 00′s, I was finally able to watch guys like Colin McRae, Carlos Sainz, Marcus Gronholm, and other legends duke it out. I vaguely remember catching some of Speedchannel’s coverage of Rally America back then, too. So you can imagine how pumped I was to hear about the rally in Missouri. To be honest, though, I haven’t followed the WRC lately because Speedchannel has cut back big time on their coverage and essentially only shows NASCAR. But I knew Travis Pastrana had been competing in Rally America along with Ken Block and a few other “bigtime” guys, and that Subaru has always been a big entrant in the series. What I didn’t know was that now Ford has been making a BIG effort to get the Fiesta competitive – it seems they have a big budget for R&D, promotions, and signing one of the most popular American drivers in Ken Block and entering him in both the American series, and selected WRC rallies.
For the whole week up to the rally, I was pumped. I barely slept the night beforehand, even though I had to be up at 3AM to get ready, get to the station and get the gear, then hit the road, so I thought i’d be tired – but that’s nothing 2 big coffees from Quik Trip can’t solve! The drive down to Salem was fun – I’d never been down Highway 63 past Jefferson City – I’ve been east on Highway 50 for a ways, but I hadn’t experienced the fun of the one-lane-in-each-direction driving through steep, winding hills that is Highway 63 south of Jefferson City. I crossed over I-44 in St. James and from there, it really got fun. I could see just why the area was perfect for a rally – tons of hills, curvy, tight roads, and plenty of nature. I arrived in Salem very early, around 7AM, and figured I’d get breakfast, so I hit up the “Red Hen Breakfast Cafe” where I enjoyed a big homemade omelette. After I finished up there, I made my way over to where the “parc expose”, or basically where all the cars would park, and got acquainted with the media contacts from Rally America.
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After that, I made my way up and down the street checking out all the cars as they rolled in. A good crowd had already gathered to check out the cars and try to get autographs by this point – about 8:30am. The crowd mobbed Travis Pastrana and Ken Block, so I figured I’d try to interview more amateur/shoestring budget type guys. I found some great interviews – Burak Tuğlu, driver of a 2001 Ford Focus, and Jason Grahn, codriver of a newer Subaru Impreza, then two volunteers – Thomas McDonald and Matt Smith, who had both driven down to Salem from Columbia, making the story even more interesting since they were 2 local guys getting involved. Meanwhile Tuğlu and Grahn had both traveled long distances to get to Salem, so it really added that unique angle as well to have them in the story.
So with all my interviews done, I waited around to head out to the stages. I went with a convoy of “inexperienced” photogs and headed out to a stage. After a lot of waiting around, the stage finally began. I set up on the inside of the 1st corner so I could have a full shot of the cars going uphill at full tilt. Of course, it made for awesome video and I was really happy with what I got. After the stage ended, we rode out to the service area. It was here I hooked up with Ford’s Brent Maurer – the account director and PR manager for some of their racing exploits. I basically rode around with him for the rest of the day in his luxurious rented Ford Escape – a nice ride. After hanging out at the service area and grabbing lunch from the always-great Caseys General Store in Viburnum, we headed to Potosi for the superspecial stage. There was a little more freedom here to move around and shoot where ever we wanted. I also shot a standup here where I talked about the modifications to Ken Block’s Fiesta that make it different from a typical street car.
The first guy off the blocks in the superspecial was Travis Pastrana, and on his 2nd turn of the loop, he broke a piece of his Subaru’s left-rear suspension. He struggled to the end of the stage and pulled off by the exit of the park and got out. From my vantage point up on a hill several hundred yards away, I could tell his Subaru was in trouble. His delay, and eventual retirement from the rally boosted Ken Block into the lead – a major shakeup in the rally and the championship standings. Had Pastrana held the lead and gone on to win, he would have built a commanding lead in the drivers’ championship, but with his retirement Block became an immediate contender in just his 1st season with Ford. I shot just a few more cars on the stage, then headed down to Pastrana’s car and got some video of him and his codriver trying to fix the suspension. I grabbed the stick mic and went over to Pastrana to ask him what happened, and he seemed happy to oblige for a quick interview – he was pretty funny, he said something like “Hi there!” in a tone I didn’t expect from a guy who just wrecked out of the rally. He blamed his exit on himself and overall had some great emotion – a great bite.
We took off from the superspecial and made our way back to Salem via Viburnum for a quick stop at the Ford service area, where the crew was working on Block’s car and getting it ready for the next few stages of the night, as by this point in the day the sun was setting. Maurer dropped me off in Salem, and we exchanged contact info. I think he’ll be a great contact to have in the racing industry – of course that’d be an awesome area for me to potentially work in the future.
I made the drive back to Columbia via Jefferson City and a stop at Kate & Ally’s Pizza – of course, a necessary part of any trip through there! On Sunday I began putting the story together and eventually we had it run in the news portion of the show instead of sports because of the Olympics shortening our time. Here’s the finished product, and I was really pleased with it. I got a lot of great feedback on it.