Steamboat Springs The backroads of Routt County will become speedways this weekend.
Rally racing is coming to Steamboat Springs and Hayden for a second year, and spectators can expect to see plenty of velocity.
The 2002 Colorado Cog Rally pits talented drivers against each other on 66 miles of some of the county's least-maintained roads.
Unlike NASCAR drivers, rally participants do not make laps around a racetrack. Nothing is assumed.
"This is totally blind, driving as fast as you can on roads that you have typically never driven on before," said Mark Cox, one of the rally's organizers.
Drivers are penalized if they have driven any of the course in the past 90 days.
Because drivers are focused on getting from one point to another as quickly as possible, someone else must anticipate their next move.
A co-driver, or navigator, sits in the passenger seat and instructs the driver through the course's turns and hazards using a route book that contains precise directions.
The event's organizers hope Northwest Colorado's exposure to rally racing incites greater interest in the sport.
While Europe has embraced the rally racing, the sport is still growing in the United States, Cox said.
But spectators are easily drawn to rally racing because cars used for competition are no different than cars putting around town, he said.
"Drivers are competing in cars similar to what they (spectators) drive," Cox said. "The spectator can relate."
Rally cars are, however, modified with safety equipment that includes full roll cages, five-point safety harnesses and fire-suppression systems.
Teams consist of a driver, co-driver and service crew. One-minute intervals separate each team's start time. The win goes to the team that finishes in the shortest amount of time.
The rally course is split into transit and stage segments. Transit segments remain open to the public throughout the event, and competitors risk expulsion if they disobey traffic laws along those roads.
Organizers hired two sheriff's deputies to patrol transit segments to ensure fairness, rally chairman Jim Gill said.
"We don't want them speeding," he said.
Stage segments are closed to traffic and challenge teams' navigating and driving ability.
"That's where the competition occurs," Gill said.
Spectators can pick up a guide to rally racing at many local businesses, including Cook Subaru, the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association, Super 8 Motel, Weston Oil and the Ore House at the Pine Grove.
The guide gives directions to several designated viewing areas where spectators can observe real competition.
People who have questions about county road closures should call 879-4053. Sections of County Roads 45, 46, 51, 51D, 52, 56, 59, 61, 61A, 65, 74, 80 and 80A will close for several hours Saturday.
Event organizers chose less-traveled roads to make the rally transparent to local residents while still providing spectators enough access to watch the race.
"They are roads that are challenging and lightly populated, yet still close enough to Hayden or Steamboat," Cox said.
Event organizers hope to build on the size and scope of the event. Routt County provides an excellent setting for rally racing, Cox said, because it offers a wide variety of challenging roads and has the resort base in place to support an influx of spectators and teams.
Entries for this year's rally are still coming in, with participants from as far away as Washington.
The opportunity for Northwest Colorado to host a rally at the national level is still a few years away, but supporters of the Cog Rally are confident their event will eventually rise to that level.
The Cog Rally would need to provide a more challenging course that covered at least 110 miles of minimally maintained county roads to qualify for national standing.
"You have to walk before you run," Gill said. "We would rather do a small event well and have it grow than do a large event poorly.
"We want to send people away wanting to come back."