Before we get into the article here, let me say one thing. Sno* Drift rally happened ten months ago at the end of January. After experiencing one of the greatest weekends in Afterburner ever at the time. I sat down after my return home, and immediately smashed out this 2500 word story of how our weekend went and how it changed me as an automotive enthusiast. After I was satisfied with how the recap turned out, I went into editing the photos from the weekend….That’s where it all went wrong. After getting nearly all of the 900 photos edited, our hard drive crashed. I took it the next day to a local electronics repair place and had them transfer the data onto a new drive…..that took nearly six months.

There was so much data on the drive that they had a hard time transferring big bulks of it before the drive would crash and they would have to start all over again. But, here we are. I received the drive back sometime in July, but we’ve been so busy since then, that I’ve just forgotten to finish what I had started back in January. We’ve changed so much as a group since this event happened what seemed like a lifetime ago. We’ve all but moved on from our rally obsession, even though we still hold it in a dear place in our hearts. Our photography and videography has grown leaps and bounds since then. I’m almost ashamed to say that I took some of these photos. I’ve learned so much about myself, photography, cars, and life in general since then. So I guess it’s nice to have this look back, to see where we were just ten short months ago. That’s enough beating around the bush though. The time is now. I’m sorry for boring you with excuses as to why we sucked so much at getting this coverage out. However, I hope this makes up for it.

-Derek

Exhausted, that’s what I am. It’s Sunday, January 31st. As I take a seat in front of my computer and contemplate the weekend that has just past, I am stuck on one thing. Passion.

The Oxford Dictionary defines passion as “any powerful or compelling emotion or feeling, as love or hate”. I enjoy the brief explanation that I happened across in Urban Dictionary more. “Passion is when you put more energy into something than is required to do it. It is more than just enthusiasm or excitement, passion is ambition that is materialized into action to put as much heart, mind body and soul into something as is possible”.  Think about that for a moment. What drives you? What do you strive to accomplish in your life? What are you passionate about?

In today’s society, we put too much pressure on ourselves to be successful. In the sense that, you work towards making as much money, notoriety, or fame as possible. Sometimes at the expense of our personal enjoyment and satisfaction. We like to look good in front of other people, no matter what it takes. People like to do what’s popular at the time, what will get them the most support on social media, what will give them the most “E-Fame”. However, are these people really doing what they want with their life or are they just doing what they can do to make the most? All the while putting forward the least amount of effort as possible.

People feel embarrassed when the thing they aren’t passionate about isn’t “cool” or “popular”. What you are passionate about should be the thing you focus on the most in your life. You should work harder on that thing than you ever will on anything else. As the quote above states, you should put your heart and soul into what you are passionate about. That feeling came to fruition up in Atlanta, Michigan for Sno* Drift 2016.

Now, what would make sane people stand out in the snow for hours on end, in sub-freezing temperatures? Passion, that’s what.

We at Afterburner have been in and around the rally community for a couple of years now. Not just spectating and taking photos, but spending time behind the wheel as well. We like to think that we have a pretty good understanding of what makes the rally community tick. However, we still hadn’t done one major thing when it came to rallying. We had never attended a proper stage rally.

So, the decision was made in late 2015, we were going to attend Sno* Drift. After seeing videos and photo coverage from years past, we had a pretty good understanding of what to expect when we finally packed our bags on Friday and embarked on a five hour drive north, to rally heaven.

When we arrived, we were greeted by temperatures hovering around freezing and somewhere around seven to ten inches of snow. Perfect conditions. This was an occurrence of epic proportions, because in the past, temperatures are usually around zero degrees Fahrenheit. The abnormally warm temp and lack of really significant snowfall meant that standing along the stages would actually be pretty bearable, so we were pumped up for the weekend ahead.

Friday’s rallying started off with Parc Expose in Atlanta, Michigan. In what looked to be a municipal park parking lot, all of the competitors lined up their cars, then got out and perused the grounds, talked, and got pictures with fans. This went on for a couple of hours before the cars were fired up, the filed out one by one out onto the roads. To travel and compete on the stages for the day.

Now, if your new to stage rally, or are have forgotten how it works, here’s a brief explanation. These serious and focused racing machines start off life as your normal production, road going car. Basically any type of car can compete. From small front engine, front wheel drive hatch backs. To all wheel drive SUV’s can compete. There’s even a team building a Lamborghini Gallardo into an offroad rally machine (RIP Brakimghini).

Now, when a chassis is selected as a good base. Most of the interior is stripped out to make way for a roll cage. Then, the suspension is usually swapped out for something with a bit more travel, and suitable wheels and tires are fitted. Then from there, some people carry out other upgrades, such as wings, mudflaps, bigger brakes, and some engine upgrades. Then they hit the stages as flat out as they dare.

The stages, are usually closed down public roads. Yes, the same roads you drive in your car. Roads of varying surface texture, width and, elevation can be seen. Depending on the region that the rally is being held in. This weekend, the cars would be competing on tight, undulating, snow covered dirt roads.

The cars aren’t out there racing door to door (even though that sometimes happens). Cars are released out onto each stage in staggered timed increments. The goal is to see who can complete the section of road the fastest.

Now, once we left Parc Expose, we headed to our hotel real quick to check in and drop off our bags, then we headed out to the spectator area on what would be the third and sixth stage of the night. When we arrived, we were greeted the throngs of hooting and hollering rally fans. Set up with bonfires, food, and beverages. We were given a very warm greeting by all the people in the little section of the course we choose. Pleasantries were exchanged, then we got on with the serious talk.

The people in the rally community are some of the nicest and most passionate motorsports fans that we’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting here at Afterburner. Think about it. It takes a certain amount of commitment and passion to sit out in a dark, snow blanketed forest for hours on end, just to catch a glimpse of a car going by. To never see them again until you move onto the next stage. We met people from all over, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, even people from as far away as New York. And it seemed that we were the only people that were there for the first time. We found some people that have been going to Sno* Drift for five plus years, some have been even going for decades.

These people, traveling from the far reaches of the United States and Canada. Bringing with them, a sense of acceptance and family. No matter who you are, where your from, or what your story is, you are one of them. Grab a spot on the road, grab a beverage, and cheer your heart out.

With David Higgins not competing for reasons unbeknownst to anyone,  rallycross driver Bucky Lasek was given the helm of a two year old SRT (Subaru Rally Team USA) WRX Sti to give it his best in his first ever stage rally. The weekend didn’t end well for he and his co-driver Craig Drew however, having to withdraw from the event after incurring severe damage to their car.

That left the event wide open for anyone to grab. Seasoned rally veterans like Lauchlin O’Sullivan and Peter Fetela, along with guys like local hero Brenten Kelley were now given the chance to fight it out for the top spot. Farther down the order, people like Ryan Millen, Jordan Guitar, and Michael Hooper were tasked with battling for the Regional and National classes in Two Wheel Drive and the Open Light classes.

As the first cars rolled through, their headlights and spotlights piercing through the falling night, their exhausts barking like gunfire, with the popping and snarling of anti-lag. The crowds energy increased. Every car that went through, was met with cheering and encouragement. As the night wore on, competitors slowly began to drop out. It’s a truly grueling task to drive your fastest. On the edge. Though tree lined, snow covered roads. These guys and gals are the toughest in any form of professional motorsport, and most of them don’t even get paid to do it.

Unlike most other forms of motorsport, rally isn’t as popular over here in the ‘States as it is over in Europe. There isn’t much money to be made doing it, if any at all. Most of the competitors pay for most of the expenses to compete out of pocket, with some small help from their sponsors. It takes an immense amount of commitment to rally over here. It has to consume all of your extra time and money. It can be extremely expensive not just to compete at the events, but to maintain the car as well.

Rally is inherently destructive. Ninety nine percent of the roads that you will be competing on over here will be uneven, unpaved and littered with objects that like to eat tires. You are pushing your equipment to, and sometimes past it’s limits and when that happens, you have to try and carry on, no matter what. The teams are only allowed to service the cars during specific periods of time between loops of several stages. So, say that this loop is five stages long, and two stages in, you run slightly off course and puncture a tire and bend a tie rod. You and the co-driver are the only people that are permitted to work on the car. YOU. So, you either have to make the choice of not stopping and carrying on, at the risk of doing more damage to the car. OR, lose a lot of time to stop and fix the car. Back to the passion thing again.

After all of the cars passed through this first loop of stages, they had a quick service. Then were sent out again to attack the same stages again, this time in complete darkness. As the field streamed through again we began to take note of who had either dropped down the order due to problems, or had dropped out all together. When Lasek/Drew went through the first time, Bucky overshot the braking zone for the 90 degree left hand turn we were standing at, and plowed straight on into a snowbank. Luckily, they escaped without any major damage to the car. The second time through, we noticed they weren’t coming through anywhere near there were in the order before, much to Brad’s dismay.

Just as we, and the other spectators wishing him well on his first rally were about to give up hope. They came through, to roaring cheers and whistles from the crowd. Three cars before the end. With the passing through of the stage clearing crews, the spectators began the long trudge through knee deep snow back to their awaiting parked cars, and a warm nights rest.

The pair of O’Sullivan/Putnam led the field off on their second day of action and a long one at that. 11 stages and 58 miles separated the teams from the finish line. We began our day by setting up again, on the “Hunters-Agren” stage, which would be the second and fifth stages of the day.

As was the trend for the weekend, the spectator area of the stage was lined with dozens of cheering rally fans. We stood there, along the stage for most of the day. Drinking coffee, and chatting among ourselves, with the spectators around us and watching the cars go by.

After a quick lunch at the Elk Cafe in downtown Atlanta, we headed up the road about half a mile to catch the “Hungry 5” Stage, the shortest of the entire rally. After we got some good close up footage and photos of the cars, we walked back to Brenden’s Subaru and headed even farther north into the forest for the final stage of the rally. The famous “Bonfire Alley”

If you’ve never heard of the world famous stage then you’re truly missing out on one of the classic American rally stages. Bonfire Alley got it’s name because all of the spectators (I’m talking around a couple of thousand people) line up the sides of the road about halfway through the nearly five mile long stage. They light the road with a few couple hundred campfires, then proceed to almost propel the cars through the rest of the stage off their energy.

Every time a car would round the right hand turn leading onto the stretch of road where everyone was, the crowd would erupt with cheering, cow bells clanking, horns blowing, people dousing fires with flammable fluids to create a flamethrower like effect as the cars go by. It’s one of the most pleasurable experiences I’ve ever had in my life. Just closing your eyes every time you heard a car coming, the noises reverberating through the trees, crushing the stillness of the night air. It was magical. You have to experience it to believe it.

After the last of the vehicles made their way, everyone packed up their things and began the very long hike back to their cars. Just the pure commitment to get to the stage alone is massive. We probably hiked a good two miles from where we were standing to the car. Some people had to go almost double the distance we did to get back to their awaiting vehicles.

Peter Fetela and Dominik Jozwiak won the event overall in their GC Subaru Impreza a mere 0.6 seconds over the runners up Troy Miller and Steven Harrell. Brenten Kelly and Naiall Burns rounded out the overall podium. The win by Fetela/Jozwiak is the closest in Rally America history, and this year’s Sno* Drift will go down as one of the greatest to ever be held.

As we walked back to the Subaru on that cold Michigan winter night we were greeted by possibly the clearest night sky we have ever seen in our lives. Away from the light pollution of any major city and thanks to a cloudless sky, the galaxy put on a show to rival that of the rally itself.

It was truly humbling to look up, to see thousands of stars and planets twinkling away in the night sky. I stared up, as we the rally public, shuffled our way though the snow. Our faces obscured periodically by the condensation of our breath and reveling in the experiences we had throughout the weekend. I was silent though.  I began to contemplate. What would bring this many people to travel hundreds, even thousands of miles to the middle of a snow blanketed forest in Northern Michigan? It struck me. Passion.

Passion is what drives us to work harder, travel farther, and push towards our goals. The fans, the drivers, the organizers and the wonderful people of Atlanta, Michigan are responsible for making this event what it is. None of it would be possible without a passion for rally. My takeaway for the weekend is this, chase your passion. Work towards it with a vigor and strive to work for your dreams. No matter what it is. Never be ashamed of what you like, don’t let anyone tell you that your passion isn’t something special. As long as it’s special to you, what everyone else think’s shouldn’t matter.

You can view the rest of the photos in all their high resolution glory —–> HERE

 

 

 

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