With the start of the new year imminent, and awards season growing closer and closer, plenty of the greatest athletes, actors, artists, etc, are preparing for large galas and nights of recognition.
We figured why not join in? Our team decided on a set of categories and award winners for the American Rally Association National Championship for a bit of fun, and a bit of recognition where it’s due.
Join us as we relive some of the highs of the season and recognize just a few of the people who made it possible.
Guest driver of the year: David Higgins
The ARA National Championship had many different guest drivers join for an event, including the likes of Marty McCormack and Callum Devine.
While many of these turned into multiple appearances, such as in Tom Williams’ case, one really stood out among the rest.
David Higgins is of course no stranger to the American Rally Association, but after a few years away having been Subaru Motorsports USA’s main man for so long, he returned for New England Forest Rally behind the wheel of Barry McKenna’s Ford Fiesta S2000, and despite the time away was able to take the win.
Honorable mentions go to Josh McErlean for his strong performance at Olympus Rally, as well as Hamed Al-Wahaibi for impressing everyone at Oregon Trail with fourth overall, and even an interrupted interview by Travis Pastrana to sing songs of praise.
Best Event – New England Forest Rally
Basing this award solely off the excitement from the event, New England Forests Rally is the clear winner. While the events all had great organizers and volunteers, the amazing competition and drama that came from NEFR was unmatched by any other, with McCormack visiting, the return of Higgins, Jax Redline’s first rally, and Pastrana’s last minute DNF to name a few of the memorable moments.
The first honorable mention goes to 100 Acre Wood, which featured Ken Block’s season debut behind the wheel of a Skoda Fabia R5+, and of course, the debut of McKenna’s WRC Fiesta.
Another honorable mention goes to Oregon Trail Rally, for the exciting RC2 competition, and the redemptive win Brandon Semenuk pulled off.
Press on Regardless Award – Southern Ohio Forest Rally Volunteers and Organizers
The phrase “press on regardless” has been the spirit of US rallying for years, and also as the name of the most infamous rally from the SCCA ProRally Calendar.
It’s a testament to the rallyists’ never ending push to finish the rally no matter what hardships they face. While there were plenty of mechanical issues that competitors pushed through this year, the greatest embodiment of the press on regardless spirit came from the organizers and volunteers of the Southern Ohio Forest Rally.
SOFR started off without a hitch for the evening stages on day one, but when day two came, the radio repeater that organizers had bought failed, and seemingly all hell broke loose.
While race control was unable to make contact with the stages, competitors were transited through a few stages and held at service while dozens of people worked frantically to fix the issue to allow the rally to continue as best as possible.
Considering the circumstances, as well as the humidity, heat, and scattered downpours, the organizers and volunteers did a fantastic job of getting as much rallying in as possible before the roads had to be returned to the public.
While there weren’t too many huge offs or mechanicals that stood out from the rest, a few honorable mentions I recall from the season include Texas Dave (Dave Carapetyan) rejoining day two of Ojibwe after a roll on day one, Paul Rowley suffering misfires while battling for second at LSPR but pulling through, and Mark Piatkowski losing third gear while trying to earn points at the same event.
If you have a favorite press on regardless moment from the season, feel free to let us know!
Maximum Attack 2WD awards: Brad Morris and Seamus Burke
Inspired by the now defunct Max Attack! championship, this category was designed to recognize some of the best of the two-wheel-drive National competitors of the year in both front and rear-wheel-drive.
For front-wheel-drive, Brad Morris takes the award. His efforts in his Mitsubishi Mirage and Mitsubishi Lancer landed him third in the 2WD championship, and the highest FWD placement for 2021.
Rear-wheel-drive unsurprisingly goes to Seamus Burke, for yet another year of domination in the coolest MkII Escort anyone has ever built, as well as the 2WD championship. An off-season rebuild going into 2022 will ensure it’s a difficult car to take down in the future as well.
Honorable mentions for FWD go to Andre D’Orazio and Lucy Block for their performances in O2WD, and Roberto Yglesias for winning the L2WD Cup.
RWD honorable mentions go to Derick Nelson for impressive performances on the west coast, Michael Hooper for a strong early season, and John Hall for living out the spirit of fun RWD rallying in his MkII Escort.
Limited 4WD Cup – Bardha Racing
While there are ARA championships for 4WD overall, 2WD overall, RC2, Limited 4WD/NA4WD combined, as well as a L2WD Cup and NA4WD Cup, there’s no L4WD Cup.
The ARA has its reasons for this, and often events suffer low L4WD National entries, but it’s still worth recognizing Ele Bardha and Corrina Roshea for their performance this season, and their win of what would be the official L4WD Cup if there were one.
Best individual performance – Josh McErlean
This award is meant to celebrate those moments when a driver is in the zone, and have an amazing stage, loop, or even rally that impresses even if it might not win the overall event.
This year we want to recognize Josh McErlean for going into what might have been the most daunting stage of the year, Wildcat at Olympus, and coming out with a win, despite being his first time rallying in the country, and being in a Hyundai i20 R5 up against the likes of Subaru Motorsports USA and Hoonigan.
Being one of only seven stage winners in the whole ARA year puts the Irish star in a very special class of drivers, and we hope to see him visit us again.
Honorable mentions go to McKenna for making up 90 seconds at 100 Acre Wood on the leaders after a puncture put him out of competition, and Al-Wahaibi for his breakout US performance in Oregon.
Biggest Upset – Jimmy Pelizzari
If there’s one thing I love, it’s a well-built grassroots car punching above its weight. Jimmy Pelizzari of Blind Deer Motorsport is no stranger to this phenomenon.
Pelizzari’s performance at Sno*Drift this year would put him as the fifth fastest time in the National Championship had he entered as a National Competitor, but having a regional team outpace R5 cars is even more impressive. This finish pushed his speed factor so high that his next event, Southern Ohio Forest Rally, had him seventh on road.
Honorable mentions for Biggest Upset include Texas Dave making the overall podium at LSPR in a Limited-class Subaru, Javier Castro outpacing R5 cars in his R4 at Oregon trail, and Regional Limited 4WD competitor Matt Brassfield putting in the fastest overall L4WD time at Olympus.
Best interviewee – Texas Dave
While I’ve never had a bad time talking to any of the competitors in the ARA, some stand out as better interviewees than others. I don’t think anyone would dispute Texas Dave as the most entertaining competitor outside of the car. His interviews are always insightful, transparent, smooth, and arguably most importantly, hilarious. Peppered with jokes, impressions, and accents, Texas Dave is always a joy to interview.
Honorable mentions go to Pastrana for many of the same reasons as listed above, save for impressions, Rhiannon Gelsomino for always being a huge joy, and Ryan Booth for always being excited to talk, and having a great sense of humor.
Best Regional Runners
Last but certainly not least, I want to recognize some of the best of the regional competitors for their efforts and achievements this year. It’s too much to pick just one, so here’s a few from each region who stand out.
For the East Regional Championship, the podium finishers were Greg Healy, Kevin Allen, and champion Dylan Gondyke. Al Dantes Jr and his LS swapped RX-7 “Rexine” took the top 2WD spot, Ryan George, and Kevin Schmidt in tow. Pat Gruzka and Santiago Iglesias also deserve recognition for their dedication and efforts in the L2WD class, where they finished one and two.
The West Regional Championship was led by Matt Brassfield, Josh Gierman, and Spencer Crabb. In stark contrast to Dantes’ Rexine, Julien Sebot won the 2WD championship for the region in his Fiesta R2, while Chris Miller pulled off second in his 2000 Ford Fiesta.
Henry Gillow-Wiles and Alex Ramos also helped carry the lower-budget spirit of rallying in the L2WD class, taking home top spots in the championship.