Rally Racing has always eluded me in my quest for new photography adventures, but not this year. I made the jump to photograph two rallies this year. The first being the Rally in the 100 Acre Wood in Missouri.
The Rally in the 100 Acre Wood had a record 80 entries and covered 125 stage miles that brought together rally teams from all across the country and several foreign countries on the gravel roads of Missouri. It is set in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains, and contains some of the most scenic and technical rally roads on the ARA calendar.
I took the seven hour drive from Wisconsin to Missouri and arrived on Thursday evening and took to a few of the stage roads to scout some photo locations. While driving to the stages I wanted to check out, I enjoyed the amazing roads in the area. I was pleasantly surprised how great the roads were winding through the foothills, simply some of the best driving roads I have been on.
I went to check out Stage 2, which would be the first stage after Fridays Super Special in Potosi, and my first taste of photographing stage rally. I plotted points for start, finish and marked some photo locations I wanted to try to get to on Friday. I was marking locations using my overland/offgrid GPS app which I will make a post about in the future. I did explore some roads that I called dashed and dotted lines which seemed to lead back to major roads. I wanted to see if any of those were passible in my Subaru Impreza. When I got to the dotted line roads, they were too much for me as there were several large trees across the path that had been traversed by ATV’s or Jeeps, but not passible for me. I returned to the dashed line roads, which were rough, but still good for my AWD Subaru. After finding my way through the never ending forests into the night, I went to the hotel to prep for Friday’s rally.
I studied my GPS app and cross referenced the schedule and timing of stages to determine how many I could get to on Friday and Saturday. My friend Eric had suggested trying to hit every other stage during the day and possibly a service, so that’s what I planned to do.
Friday I got up early because I wanted to scout a few of the other stages that I did not get to on Thursday. I pre-ran Stage 13 & 14 to check out the water crossings and elevation changes it offered for photos. I found the condition of the roads to be very poor considering the heavy storms had passed through recently. They were rough, muddy and rutted, but they were still fun; reminding me of how my girlfriend Taylor and I enjoy off-roading our trusty Subaru’s back in Wisconsin (when we pretend to be rally drivers ourselves).
After prerunning those stages I plotted a course to Potosi to catch the Parc Expose and check out the rally cars and crowd that was in attendance. I had never seen a rally car up close before, so this was a great opportunity to check them out in all of their glory.
After Parc Expose, I went out to Stage 2 and found a nice spot to shoot from and met a friendly course marshal that let me park there. This was great for shooting the beginning, but once you are on the stage, you can’t leave until after the last car and the sweep vehicles go through. I shot from there and tried to get a few different angles.
After shooting stage 2, I journeyed over to the Super Special and service to meet up with Art in Motion – a local rally team from Wisconsin. I shot a few photos of them on the Super Special Stage and then went over to their service area. I just offered a quick introduction because they were obviously busy getting their car prepped for the rest of the day. Be sure to check them out here. After checking in with them, I took a few shots throughout the service area and watched teams change tires, fix broken parts and refuel for the rest of the day.
Friday ended at Stage 10 at night with some amazing speed in the pitch black Missouri forest. I arrived pretty early, having left service to make sure I got a good spot. I was a little disapointed how far they kept people back from this stage, but I made the best of it. Imagine you are standing there, surrounded by hundereds of people in the pitch black darkness, and you can only hear voices and movements near you until you see the bright white light of a rally car lightbar piercing the darkness. As the light shines brightly you are slightly blinded as you look through the viewfinder until the camera focuses and you can squeeze off a few shots before they continue on and you are plunged back into darkness once again. A lot of spectators were leaving early, but I wanted to try and get a few different angles, so I moved through the woods near the tight hairpin before I also retired for the night.
This was a long road into the stage, and in the darkness it made for an adventurous drive into the woods and through a water crossing until you reached pavement. After escaping the woods to the comfort of my hotel, I dumped all of my images onto my laptop and charged up the batteries for the next day. I went through the images to select some for social media publishing on Saturday. I also double checked my plan and map for Saturday as it was a full day of shooting, from 8AM until Podium sometime after 7PM.
Day 2 began early with a long drive to Stage 12 to catch the cattle guard jump, an iconic spot that is not an official spectator area, but a local land owner graciously lets people park in his field (and even serves food). It is great people like this that keep the sport alive in tough times. The cattle guard jump is the spot where in 2016 Petior Fetela crashed spectacularly. I worked my way around to different vantage points while the cars passed and tried a few different angles.
After most of the cars went by, I jumped in my car to wait in line to be one of the first allowed out of the stage after the sweep car came through. I then booked it to the next spot I wanted to shoot, which was the water crossing at Stage 14 that I scouted on Friday morning. Arriving early I found that it was a well known location with lots of spectators and media present already. I worked my way through the crowd and down the road a little bit until I found a quiet spot to shoot from. Soon I was inundated with more spectators and media, and my spot was no longer quiet, but still good enough to catch the leaders splashing their way down course. Again, I worked my way to different areas to create a variety of images before the end of the stage.
After the water crossing, I made it out of the forest fairly quickly. I soon realized that I could have made it to another stage before the podium, but I stopped for lunch in Salem to pass the time instead. Timing is everything with shooting rally I learned, because if you are shooting for the top drivers, they are at the next stage before you can even exit the last stage. It would take at least 2 photographers to cover each stage with any efficiency. After lunch, I ended up at Podium very early and was able to watch all of the cars roll in and receive a well earned round of applause.
By the time they began it was after dark, and after shooting a few images from the bleachers, I grabbed a spot up close for the celebratory champagne spray. There were a lot of media, crew, and family in the podium area and it was great to see the joy and camaraderie between all of the teams as they accepted their awards. Special attention was made for Oliver Solberg, who at only 17 placed second and was supplied with sparkling cider instead of champange, which drew loud cheers and laughs from the crowd.
Saturday ended the same as Friday for me, I stopped for a bite to eat and dumped my photos for the day and began to edit and sift through them to find my favorites. I packed up my gear and suitcase for an early morning departure back to Wisconsin, and back to reality.
As I reflected on the drive home, I definitely want to photograph more rally racing. I have several great ideas on how to improve my images at the next one, which will be either New England Forest Rally in July, or Ojibwe Forest Rally in August. I definitely need to make variety and moving between locations a priority because I see lots of photographers stay in the same spot all day which is something I try not to do. Also in the future I may try to park outside of the stages and hike in to get a better variety and to help the timing of transiting stages more efficient for me.
I hope you enjoyied this post about the 100 Acre Wood Rally and I look forward to sharing more stories with you in the future. If you enjoyed this post, please leave me a comment below.