One of the best parts of American Rally Association events is seeing some of the more unique cars and builds that people take rallying. The accessibility of ARA events allow for privateers and grassroots racers to color a bit outside the lines when it comes to car choice.
And some of those choices made the trip to northern Minnesota to attack some of the most beautiful stages in the country on the 2020 Ojibwe Forests Rally.
The first vehicle that might have stood out to you around the service area is a 1988 Chevrolet S-10, owned and driven by Scott Parrot.
Parrot bought the truck from another racer who he used to co-drive for when he decided to build a new, V8 powered S-10 to take rallying. This ’88 has had a lot of work done to it to make it ready for rallying.
“The suspension is off-the-shelf Fox two-inch suspension,” Parrot said, “the back half of the truck have been clearanced for more travel in the axles, we have a Ford nine-inch, a little bit of stuff done to run a little bit bigger tires.
“Overall it’s just a fun, durable vehicle.
Buying a pre-built vehicle like Parrot did is the popular route for first-time rally competitors, but sometimes they can pop up in strange places. Bret Hunter, a a three-time rallycross champion, can attest to this with his camouflage-painted 1988 Honda CRX. If the bright orange wheels don’t catch your attention, then the Semi-Truck horn mounted on the roof certainly will as it drowns out the B16 under the hood.
“I saved it from a junkyard. They were about to put it out in the yard then it would’ve been parted and it would’ve been done,” said Hunter.
“It was a logbooked rally car. It was a famous car up in the north west, Cody Crane’s car. I guess around 2010 he campaigned it for a couple years and had really good success.
“Then it got rolled once and on its side once, and then it got sold to a guy and it ended up in Boulder, Colorado. He wanted to race it but he was busy, and he was daily driving it. He broke an axle and left it on the side of the road.
“It got auctioned off, the junkyard bought it for probably nothing. I’m in Denver, my shop is like three miles from the junkyard, and there was a Facebook post asking ‘How did this happen? How is this car here?’”
Hunter talked to the manager of the junkyard and was offered the car for $1000. It still had plenty of good parts but needed a lot of work.
“It’s got Tein rally suspension on it; it’s got a B16 which is a real high-revving, light engine. I had to put a ton of work into it. I had to rebuild the engine or the head and a whole bunch of other things because it had not been used in so long.
“We had a little off-road park near Denver that had a local rally. Two days after I bought it I put a radiator and an axle in it and I raced it.”
Another driver competing in a car with a bit of history was Al Dantes Jr with his 1987 Mazda RX-7. Dantes bought the car after sitting with it for a decade, and got it prepped for rallying again.
“The car was previously campaigned in 2004-05. They used to have a Club Rally National Championship where all the champions from all the different regions would all meet up the following year at 100 Acre Wood. That’s what this car was built for and where it ran, and then it was mothballed for 10 years,” said Dantes.
The RX-7 isn’t sporting its original powerplant. Dantes needed to make the car cheaper to work on so he decided to take the most logical step; drop an LS in it.
“I found this car in Tulsa, and brought it up to Michigan and rebuilt it and ran it as a rotary for two-and-a-half years, but the rotary engines are getting hard to source now and are extremely expensive. So I studied up, learned how to do the LS swap and pulled it off in like 28 days, and my debut event was actually Ojibwe Forests last year.
“I ran that event with an automatic transmission. Did that for two events and it was horrible. Just within the last six months I converted it to a five-speed and that’s so much more fun.
“[It’s a] Chevy LS with a Chevy transmission in it out of a pick-up truck. The engine is from a 2003 Tahoe, and the transmission is from a Chevy Colorado.”
Being a man with a lot on his plate, Dantes isn’t able to put in the work to completely overhaul the car, but tries to make time to keep wrenching and improving it regardless.
“I actually have six daughters, so they keep me pretty busy. But every night, a couple hours a night I go out and spend some quality time in the garage. If I was to build it, it would probably be 100-200 hours to build from scratch,” he added.
“As far as required rally equipment it doesn’t have anything fancy, it doesn’t have fancy suspension, just a skid plate, racing seats and that’s about it. It’s a relatively stock car and we’re able to run in the upper half of the field.”
Another surprising rear-wheel-drive platform to see rallying is the Lexus IS, but Michael Hooper of River City Racing raves about it. An experienced car builder and racer, Hooper was renting the car out to Nathen Odle for the Ojibwe Forests Rally, but that meant he had all the more time to tell DirtFish about his unique build.
“Jarco, the big supporter on the side of the car, has been a long-time supporter, they [rebuild] engines for Toyota and Lexus dealerships,” Hooper said. “We were looking for a new car, we’d been running a BMW E30, we wanted stay rear-wheel drive, but wanted to go more modern, and I really wanted to get back into the Japanese market, that’s my background.
“I looked at the Subaru BRZ but the [suspension] travel wasn’t there, and we’re not a boxer engine company, we’re a Toyota engine company. The owner suggested the IS350, I thought it was a terrible idea, I thought it’d be too heavy. I got to looking at the numbers and it’s within a half-inch, 150 lbs, and two horsepower of an STI of the newest generation.
“It’s got a long arm five-link in the rear, we can run BRZ or Toyota eight-inch diffs in it, and it’s got upper and lower A-arms in the front so we can run Bilstein off-road shocks.
“We built it, we thought it’d be heavy, and to our surprise it’s heavy, but it’s fast. You can get away with murder in it. If you cut too deep it pops back up, go wide, it pops out. It’s just a real strong durable car that’s fast.”
Hooper’s platform works well for him. Although he didn’t compete on Ojibwe Forests this year, he was able to take the win in the O2WD class at the Southern Ohio Forest Rally, the ARA’s previous National round.
A driver who made his rally debut in a unique ride on Ojibwe Forests was Joshua Smith in his Mazda MX-3.
Smith’s previous rallying experience had only been in playing DiRT Rally, and he was excited to be able to find a car that had already been mostly built and didn’t require too much prep work ahead of his first rally.
“Finding a logbooked and ready-to-go car is impossible. I wanted a FWD car, and this one just happened to be available and was within price range that was really reasonable.
“The only thing I had to do was a clutch, and a few other small things: oil change and coolant flush, transmission fluid change because we were doing the clutch anyway. Other than that it was pretty much ready to go, all the hard work was done by the previous owner over winter.”
Smith was hopeful for his first event and was relying on the Mazda’s reliability to get him through the two-day rally.
“Compared to some other cars here, this thing has actually been really reliable for the last six months just driving it around. I’m not expecting a lot of mechanical problems with it, that’s the main thing. If I just take it slow it’ll make it through.”