Racers ready to rally

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— Flying down a county road at 90 mph and fishtailing around corners with only dust clouds visible in the rearview mirror. It's hard not to smile when riding in a rally car.

Grins may have been plastered on the faces of amateur passengers, but experienced rally drivers and co-drivers remained focused as they tested their vehicles' grit during practice runs north of Steamboat Springs on Friday.

Thirty-three rally teams will hit the dirt today and Sunday for the fifth annual Colorado Cog Rally -- the seventh of eight races in the Rally America National Championship Series.

Volunteer Bruce Weinman travels throughout the U.S. to help the series. Although he likes all types of racing, performance rally is the most exciting, because drivers cannot practice on the race stages before the competition, he said.

"Rally is just so much more intense to me because they (drivers) only see the curves once," Weinman said.

Each rally team has a driver and navigator, who follows a course book to keep track of locations and upcoming hazards, such as crests and sharp curves, which are represented by symbols in the course book.

But the book doesn't predict everything, such as slick spots in the road or heavy dust that was slow to settle on Routt County Road 44A on Friday.

The high-speed racing takes place on stages, or county roads, that are closed during the event.

Racers travel between stages on transit segments, which are open to the public. Rally drivers must abide by traffic laws on these segments.

Drivers begin stages in one minute or more intervals, depending on conditions.

"The biggest thing about rally is controlling your emotions," said Doug Robinson, an experienced racer who is driving a test car in the event. "Because you're not driving side by side with someone, you always think they are going faster than you."

For Robinson, finishing a rally is more important than setting a speed record.

"That's really what it's all about," Weinman added. "You can go really fast and crash, and nobody remembers you."

Performance rally cars are street-legal but have been modified for safety and performance. All classes adhere to the same safety standards and have equipment such as roll cages and fire-suppression systems.

The extent of performance modifications depends on a team's pocketbook.

The fastest, most powerful cars are made almost entirely of specialty parts.

"You can't just go to the local parts store and pick something up," Niday said.

Crews for some teams disassemble the cars between practice sessions to make sure all parts are working smoothly, Robinson said.

Rally spectators have a variety of options for seeing the different cars in action. The SuperSpecial at Dry Creek Park next to the Routt County Fairgrounds in Hayden is among the most accessible and popular stages.

Spectators will be able to see the entire one-mile stage, complete with a jump and tight turns, from the bleachers. The stage begins at 11:04 a.m. today and at 11:25 a.m. Sunday.

Other areas for high-speed viewing include Elkhead, about 19 miles north of Hayden, Sage Creek, about 6 miles south of Hayden, and Breeze Basin, about 30 miles west of Hayden.

Directions to stages and a full event schedule are in the spectator guide, available at the fairgrounds and local businesses, including Sheraton Steamboat Resort, Action Motorsports, Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant and The Bottleneck.

-- To reach Tamera Manzanares call 871-4204 or e-mail tmanzanares@steamboatpilot.com

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