The Salem News - Article


RALLY IN THE 100 ACRE WOOD: Rally heavyweights ready for a showdown

by Dwayne McClellan
Staff Writer
newsstaff@earthlink.net

Travis Pastrana and Ken Block, heavyweights in the Rally in the 100 Acre Wood, are good friends who are ready and excited about this weekend's event that takes place in Dent County and the surrounding area.

Both were at the Holiday Inn Wednesday night to register for today's (Thursday) events.

They were talking about the upcoming race, their friendship and why they enjoy coming back to Dent County every year. At the same time they were taking time to visit and autograph items for whoever asked.

Both signed a 2009 Rally in the 100 Acre Wood Rally banner that will be used as a fund-raiser by Project Graduation and get-well cards for people they didn't even know.

"It really makes you feel good when kids or other people ask you to sign something," Pastrana said. "We've all got a job to do and that is to race our cars, but taking the time to talk to people is what helps our sport."

Pastrana and Block have known each other for about 10 years, but have become close friends over the last six or seven years. They like to joke with each other, talk about good places to eat and take friendly jabs.

"We're both athletes doing what we want to do," Block said. "On the road we're serious competitors, but away from that we like to have a lot of fun."

One thing they both agree on is that Dent County has some of the best rally racing roads in America.

"I've always said I really enjoy the roads here," said Block, who has won four straight Rally in the 100 Acre Wood Rallys. "The surfaces are great and they're really forgiving roads, which allows you to take more challenges."

Block and Pastrana said not only do they look forward to the race, but the excitement surrounding this race and other events. It's that excitement that helps the sport, which in turn has made life good for them.

The two said the fan base has helped the sport grow. The fans are also more knowledgable than in the past, Pastrana said.

"The fans are more involved, they want to talk to the drivers more, learn more about the cars and all parts of rally racing," Pastrana said.

Block says most drivers don't mind the extra time for fans because it's good for the sport.

It's a sport that rally chairman Tom VonHatten said is getting stronger and more popular every year. He said a recent review of the web site for Rally in the 100 Acre Wood showed 2,500 hits for this year's events. Some people from Tennessee have already appeared in Salem this week with that website information.

Von Hatten said the events have become so popular with fans that more planning time is needed to accommodate those fans. This in addition to the hours and months put in for the drivers and developing the course. Planning for one year's rally starts at least a year ahead.

"We're starting to have problems with not enough room at some of the spectator points," Von Hatten said. "We had to turn some away last year, and additional planning is a must to make sure fans are safe."

The chairman said that the starting events such as the parc exposes have become so popular that the committee has to be careful not to step on anyone's toes in the communities due to vendor selections.

Von Hatten said the committee also has to think about concessions at the spectator points and someday there may be VIP sections where rides are given in and out of the spectator areas and certain seating arrangements made.

"They are all good things to worry about, because years ago we didn't have to pay much attention to a lot of things we are today," Von Hatten said.

That, he said, is due to the participants themselves and widespread information that is available, such as Block's You Tube videos and Pastrana's participation in the X-Games.

Pastrana comes to the 100 Acre Wood Rally as the overall national points leader in the Rally America National Championship series after winning the Sno*Drift Rally last month in Atlanta, Mich.

However, Pastrana faces a significant hurdle against Monster World Rally Team driver, Block who signed with the Monster World Rally Team earlier this year and is driving a 2011 Ford Fiesta. This will be the first time he will drive the Fiesta at the 100 Acre Wood.

Adding to the drama in this event, the Subaru and Ford manufacturers will face a battle from the Mitsubishi powered teams of Antoine L'Estage, Bill Bacon, and Andrew Comrie-Picard, all capable of points-paying finishes on the podium. They are currently ranked second through fourth, respectively, in the Rally America points standings and are always a threat to unseat the favorites. L'Estage is a former Canadian rally champion. Comrie-Picard is the current North American Rally Champion. Bacon finished on the podium at Sno*Drift.

PARC EXPOSE

Residents have opportunities to see Rally in the 100 Acre Wood driving teams and their cars up close and in person Saturday in downtown Salem.

A "Parc Expose" will be held on Fourth Street. Cars will line Fourth Street at 9 a.m. The first car will leave the intersection of Fourth Street and Highway 19 at 10:30 a.m. The first car is expected to arrive at 8:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.

There are also spectator points in the county where certain areas have been designated.

In Dent County there will be a spectator point south of Salem. Take Highway 19 South to the intersection of county road 6240 and 5510, turn left on road 5510 to the intersection of road 5600 and go right on 5600 to the spectator's area. Estimated times are from 11:15 a.m. to 12:25 p.m. and 7:15-8:25 p.m.

Maps of the various spectator points are available at several locations in Salem.