The 2008 Rally Colorado kicks off tonight with a rally car display at Sixth Street and Lincoln Avenue. Racing takes place all day Saturday and Sunday on county roads in the west part of the county.

Photo by Matt Stensland

The 2008 Rally Colorado kicks off tonight with a rally car display at Sixth Street and Lincoln Avenue. Racing takes place all day Saturday and Sunday on county roads in the west part of the county.

Rally Colorado returns

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If you go

Rally Colorado 2008 Spectator Guides are available at www.rallycolorado... or at the Hayden Service Area and main spectator area at the Routt County Fairgrounds complex in Hayden.

Events open to the public:

- 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. today, Cook Subaru Technical Inspection at Cook Chevrolet/Jeep/Subaru in Steamboat Springs

- 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. today, Fireside Catering Welcome Reception, Parc Expose (Car Show) at Sixth Street and Lincoln Avenue in Steamboat Springs

- 8:01 a.m. Saturday, first car out Day 1, Steamboat Springs rodeo grounds

- 5:24 p.m. Saturday, first car in Day 1, Steamboat Springs rodeo grounds

- 6 to 8 p.m. Saturday, Miller Lite "Best of Rally Colorado" video show and car display, Sixth Street and Lincoln Avenue in Steamboat Springs

- 8:31 a.m. Sunday, first car out Day 2, Steamboat Springs rodeo grounds

- 4:03 p.m. Sunday, first car in Day 2, Steamboat Springs rodeo grounds

- 6:30 Sunday, Awards Presentation

— There's not much about rally car racing Steamboat Springs resident Mark Cox doesn't know.

Cox has been racing in top-tier rally car stage races since 1995, and eight years ago, he helped found the Routt County event that became Rally Colorado.

He was a big part of the race's growth and played a key role in its administration as it grew to become one of the premier rally races in the nation.

Still, when Cox wakes up Saturday morning before this year's race, he'll be in for a whole new experience.

For the first time, Cox will race in the event he helped create, throwing his lot in Saturday and Sunday with some of the best rally car drivers in the world.

"I've always wanted to race this race, but I've been pretty committed getting the event off the ground," he said. "Now it's to the point where it can stand on its own - it's more than to that point."

The Rally Colorado race returns to the Yampa Valley this weekend, starting with tonight's 5:30 p.m. Welcome Party at Sixth Street and Lincoln Avenue in downtown Steamboat Springs.

The race gets under way at 8:01 a.m. Saturday morning when the 26 competing cars will rip away from the Steamboat Springs Rodeo Grounds.

Racers in the National Championship Rally - Rally Colorado being the eighth of nine events on the tour - will compete across 18 different stages Saturday and Sunday. The stages are spread out between Steamboat Springs and Hayden, and the course sends each driver and his co-driver on hair-raising trips along Routt County's dirt roads.

Filling those roads will be some of the top drivers in the sport, many competing with a lot at stake. Travis Pastrana, of Davidsonville, Md., leads the National Championship Rally standings with 94 points, having won two events and finished second in two already this year. That amounts to a comfortable 32-point lead on Andrew Comrie-Picard, of Toronto.

"The top-level people are here and they've been here for a number of years now," said Jim Gill, who helped found the race with Cox. "They help us put on a good show. That's what we're trying to do - make sure our community sees the highest quality competition possible."

The weekend's racing is divided into three events. The national race will span two days, but each day's competition also will be part of a regional race. All 26 teams plan on racing both days, but only about half are registered for the national circuit.

Cox said if he's to hang with the top teams, he'll need to grow real comfortable with a new car real fast. The event will be Cox's first after a three-year layoff. He and his crew have been preparing a new Subaru STI for the weekend, but he said there's a lot more to success than a flashy car or even decades of experience.

"It's a bit of a change for me - definitely a different type of car," he said. "There's a pretty steep learning curve to both get used to a new car and to get back into racing."

Difficult or not, he said, he couldn't think of a better place to jump back in the rally racing waters.

"I can't wait to get back behind the wheel," he said. "I love going out and enjoying the competition, all the friends from all around the country and just getting that rush from racing."

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