What makes Olympus the crown jewel of US rallying

ARA has eight National rounds – but there's good reason why Olympus is the most revered of all


There are 3.797 million square miles of land from coast to coast in the United States. But a mere 1,051 of those belong to the nation’s prime rallying roads: Mason County, Washington. Welcome to the home of the Olympus Rally, America’s crown jewel rally.

From 1986 to 1988 it was a round of the World Rally Championship; Markku Alén, Juha Kankkunen and Miki Biasion will forever be on the winners’ list alongside Ken Block, Travis Pastrana, David Higgins, Oliver Solberg, Brandon Semenuk and more.

But there’s more than its brief WRC dalliance to Olympus Rally’s reputation. What gives it the right to be considered the biggest, most challenging American Rally Association event of the year? We asked some past competitors for their opinions – who also happen to be instructors here at DirtFish Rally School.

Jack Harrison, head instructor at DirtFish Rally School, drove the ARA Regional element of the rally back in 2019 with fellow DirtFish staffer Eric Schofhauser in the co-driver’s seat. Having emigrated to the Pacific Northwest from the United Kingdom many years ago, he can’t help but notice some strong elements of Wales’ WRC round to the event’s stages.


With all that mud, this photo of DirtFish instructor Eric Schofhauser co-driving for Neil Dana could easily pass for a shot of Wales...

“I think the weather is obviously a big one, just right away in the Pacific Northwest,” says Harrison. “It’s a well-known wet rally, and I think it’s a real car killer. The roads that we have around here are very much similar to Welsh roads. You get that wet, grey gravel, lots of sill built into it, as well as the big rocks.

“Plus, I think just the length of it, too. Having stages like Nahwatzel, 20-odd miles long, 150 stage miles through all of it. It’s one of the closest rallies that we have to proper European and WRC length.”

Meanwhile, Schofhauser, who also finished third in the L2WD on the Olympus Regional Rally last year, has had to point out to DirtFish students past and present taking on the rally that it’s another step up relative to the other events on the calendar.

“We’ve had students that have come through the class that have done other rallies and we’ve had to warn them, like, when you go to Olympus, it’s a different animal. The nature of the roads, how rocky they are, how unpredictable and crowned they are, and how most of the roads are just so narrow and so tree-lined. And then you have the cliffs right next to it as well.”

Program operations manager Nate Tennis, a lifer at DirtFish and a competitor in the PNW for over two decades, knows the Olympus roads very well. Like Harrison, he likens them to the UK: “Think ‘Killer Kielder’ and that should provide an impression of Olympus roads,” he says. But there’s an added twist.


Nate "The Great" Tennis knows a thing or two about the Olympus Rally roads!

“When they aren’t technical, they’re extremely fast,” adds Tennis. “Many of the technical sections are linked with mainline roads used for large logging trucks to transport at speed, some as wide as a four-lane highway. In the not-too-distant past, speeds on local events climbed in excess of 130 miles per hour in regionally prepared cars…”

“Also, the last world championship round to run Group B cars in anger was Olympus in 1986. If the wind is just right with an acute ear, the fierce battle between Alen’s S4 and Kankunnen’s 205 T16 can still be heard resonating through the old-growth timber.”

Then there’s the sheer scale of it. It’s got an itinerary that wouldn’t look out of place in the modern WRC. In a decade-long co-driving career Michelle Miller has seen it all in North America – and nothing comes close to the intensity of an Olympus weekend.

“It’s the longest rally in the US championship, the longest stage in the championship with Nahwatzel this year at 22.8 miles,” explains Miller. “Wildcat was always a long stage, not just in length but also in duration because of its technicality. And the schedule is pretty compressed, so it’s a very intense weekend with recce being from seven in the morning until eight at night on Friday and then we’re back up for parc expose at eight the next morning and run until past dark.

430 Car-3

Michelle Miller was co-driving for Lucy Block on the 2022 edition of Olympus

“I like that challenge. It makes it hard; I love long stages because it tests your stamina and endurance, but you’re very tired when Monday comes around, that’s for sure.”

It’s easy to think that Olympus would be a pale shadow of its former self given its status as a world championship event is long gone. Not so; the opposite is true. Over the last decade and a half the event has only grown in size – partially aided by DirtFish’s involvement in cultivating the US rallying culture.

Harrison picks up the story: “I remember when I first volunteered at the Olympus Rally, that must have been 2008,” he says. “I think it was like 40 cars in total that were coming through, and seeing how DirtFish has pushed rallying in this local region, how we’ve helped out building the event up.

“Last year, they had entries capped just shy of 100 cars, and it sold out in like 15 minutes. The growth of rallying in this area, the effort and the love that the school has put into building rally up is having a noticeable effect on the amount of volunteers that are coming out, the amount of competitors that are coming out, and it’s a very showy event.”


The Olympus field is always packed with DirtFish alumni who honed their skills in Snoqualmie

And Tennis concurs: “The greatest impact I’ve seen is simply the accessibility to both the event and rally in general,” he adds.

“Whether it’s students, participants of local rallycrosses held onsite, or attendees of events, they are more aware of rallying and our National round – because we tell them! It’s also extremely gratifying to walk through parc expose and see familiar faces who have participated in some form of training at DirtFish. And even better when the first-timers rush up with tired eyes for their first event, happy and nervous about being there, bragging that they made it. Like a kid showing a good grade to a parent, absolutely love it!”

If there’s one place in the United States to sample rallying, whether as a spectator or competitor, for the first time, there’s nowhere quite like the Olympus. Those 1,051 square miles of Mason County are unparalleled.

“Having such rally history, being a previous Group B era event and part of the World Rally Championship in our back garden, you can’t help but be proud that it’s here,” says Harrison, summing it up nicely. “We show up every year and try to get as many people as possible because we just love it so much. I want everybody else to love it as much as we do. Come out! Come to the event, come volunteer, come check it out.

Juha Kankkunen Story

Oh, OK then. We've namedropped the WRC era a few times now, so here's Juha Kankkunen on his way to victory in the 1987 edition in a Lancia Delta HF 4WD

“We’re in the most beautiful part of the world. The forests up around here are just unparalleled, out in the mountains. You’re driving in the most beautiful area in the US, on some of the best roads in the US, and then you get to see cars bomb through it at 100 miles an hour. It’s just a completely incomparable experience. I really think it’s one of the emeralds of the national calendar.

“If you’re going to go check out an event, this is the one to go to. This is proper rallying at its best.”

Olympus Rally 2024 takes place between Saturday, April 20 and Sunday, April 21.