The Southern Ohio Rally that finally went right

After two difficult years, ARA’s most technical rally at last got to run in all of its glory this year. Here's the story.


If you attended Southern Ohio Forest Rally in 2020 or 2021, there’s no chance you’ve forgotten about your experience.

Not just because rallies are awesome and unforgettable to begin with, but because despite a well-planned event by organizers, both years quickly went off the rails and needed saving.

In 2020, this was the debut event for Subaru Motorsports USA’s new team of Travis Pastrana and Brandon Semenuk, who were expected to be battling hard with Barry McKenna’s new Skoda Fabia R5, Joseph Burke’s Open class Mitsubishi Evo, and Ken Block’s Escort Cossie V2.

Unfortunately, this battle would end early for Pastrana, as in the first loop, on the stage that’s now named “Disco Inferno,” (you may draw your own conclusions there) Pastrana’s Subaru WRX STI caught fire, and quickly became an all-out inferno.


The stage was red-crossed, and the car burned for hours. The word in the service park was that after the cars finally regrouped behind schedule, went through service, and went back out on the stage again, the car was still on fire.

The rally, already running well past midnight, was now far off schedule due to the disruption, and just when you thought it couldn’t get stranger, the zero car pulled a massive rock into the middle of the final stage, just a few turns from the end, and there it stayed.

While Ken Block was able to miss the debris, both McKenna and Semenuk suffered suspension failures that they limped to the finish on, almost as salt in the wounds of an already exhausting event.

In 2021 it was time to shine for SOFR. The first ARA rally back with spectators, a two-day event again, and an exciting entry list, things looked up for the most technical rally on the schedule.

While day one all went well, apart from a hesitant showing from competitors at the new Yoctangee Park Super Special, in day two organizers were hit with an unbelievable nightmare, all radio communications between stage and race control went down.

The repeater that was being relied on had stopped working, and out of the first six stages of the day, only one ended up being run.

Organizers and volunteers sprang into action to get a back-up plan together, and within just a few hours a fix was implemented and cars were back on stage. But still, the rally ended up falling off schedule, and only running three stages over and over again in lieu of the more unique stage line up that was planned.

It was an extremely impressive fix by all involved, but it goes without saying that everyone involved wishes this hadn’t happened.

I guess they say third time’s the charm right? After all, the SOFR Board deserves a break after the past two years.

Well thankfully for them, 2022 was the year it all finally clicked.

SOFR this year joined Oregon Trail Rally as the second three-day event on the national calendar, moving the Yoctangee Park Super Special to its own evening, maintaining a full day of Portsmouth stages, and adding a day of stages in the Zaleski Forests for the first time since it was a regional event.

Though we didn’t see any significant barriers get in the way of the rally this year, that doesn’t mean the forces at play didn’t try.

Wednesday night, before the start of the rally on Thursday evening, the skies opened up as huge storms swept the area. Trees fell all over stages, blocking them off for competitors who got up to recce as soon as stages opened, but even then, by 10am everything was cleared and all but one stage was fully passable.

I say all but one, because the final stage of the Saturday loop had a bit of a problem left that couldn’t be solved with chainsaws and a truck.


A low water bridge that the prior day had been about two inches deep had flooded over to be an all-out river. Wading into the water you would be waist high before event reaching where the water line had been the day before.

As the last barrier in the way, we could only sit back and hope that the water level would die down to an acceptable height, and boy did it.

In fact, come race day, word reached competitors that there was no water on the bridge. Not low water, not a normal amount of water, the entire river that had been there just two days prior had lowered itself down to being completely off the road.

No weather-related cancellations here now.


I’d tell the story of how the event went smooth once racing started, but unfortunately without drama or problems, there’s not too much to say.

There was a small communication issue with RallySafe transmitting times over air on Friday that made for some slower than average results, but honestly, all things considered, that’s not really a huge deal, and it didn’t get in the way of anything.

Finally the organizers of SOFR got their break, and we got to see the ARA’s most technical rally in all of the glory it deserves to be.

No fires.

No massive delays.

No cancelled stages.

No massive equipment failures.

Just rallying.