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Rally Racing Hits It Big in 'X Games' -- and in Maine

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Rally Racing Hits It Big in 'X Games' -- and in Maine

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Rally Racing Hits It Big in 'X Games' — and in Maine

Rally Racing Hits It Big in 'X Games' -- and in Maine

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/5595491/5595492" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Rally-style racing, long popular in Europe, is now becoming more common in the United States. Independent producer Joshua Gleason sends an audio postcard from Maine, where street-car drivers are going off-road in the hopes of a thrilling win.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

The X Games get started this Thursday in Los Angeles and for the first time they'll include rally racing. It's a motor sport that's popular in Europe. Cars compete in a series of timed stages, often on unpaved back roads.

Producer Joshua Gleason recently got introduced to rally racing at the Maine Forest Rally.

(Soundbite of engine revving)

JOSHUA GLEASON reporting:

It's a little less than an hour before the start of today's racing. And even though its crew worked on it from late last night, Dave Getchel(ph) is still having some problems with his Subaru.

(Soundbite of man speaking)

Mr. DAVE GETCHEL (Rally Racer): It's missing. Listen to it. It's not running on all four cylinders. It's like an uneven exhaust.

GLEASON: The fact that Dave's car is giving him trouble isn't surprising, since yesterday, on the first day of racing, Dave gave it a beating driving in break-neck fashion on 26 miles of gravely, undulating logging roads. In most rally races, at least a third of the cars break down or crash and don't even reach the finish line.

Mr. GETCHEL: One second you have this beautiful, functioning rally car that is so fast and so strong. The next, you're in the ditch and you're sitting in a pile of junk, basically. What takes skill is to know how fast is almost too fast and that's where you want to be.

(Soundbite of engine revving)

GLEASON: Like NASCAR, rally racing is a team sport with service crews that work on the cars between stages. The crew for Dave's team, which is called Last Ditch Racing, sets up shop in the service lot. While they wait for the cars to arrive, they relax, eat lunch and talk about - what else? - cars. It's kind of like a big tailgate party, but all that changes fast when the cars start to come in.

(Soundbite of machinery)

GLEASON: Since pretty much all the racing happens out in the woods, it's almost impossible to watch. On this, the last stage of the day, a couple hundred people have hiked out to a small, taped off area just the side of the track. All they could hope for is a quick glimpse of the cars as they speed by.

The cars run the stage one by one, so you can't really tell who's gaining on whom or who's falling behind. It's kind of like watching planes pass overhead.

For the most part, the fans don't cheer or do much of anything. Some sit in portable chairs drinking beer. But others, like Dana Willis of Bethel, New Hampshire, just stand there, ogling the cars as they whiz past.

Mr. DANA WILLIS (Rally Race Spectator): It's fun. It's fast. You know, it seems like everyone is really getting into it. It's just a nice event.

GLEASON: Really? What makes you think people are getting really into it? I mean, I'm not seeing a lot of enthusiasm right now.

Mr. WILLIS: Well, I don't know. You know, it's just kind of different. Yeah.

GLEASON: While the fans don't seem all that excited, driver Dave Getchel, who's just finishing one of the stages, is clearly having an absolute blast.

Mr. GETCHEL: Oh, baby. That's the most fun I've had driving this car yet.

GLEASON: After the racing is done, there's a buffet dinner and an awards ceremony. Dave comes in tenth out of the 20 cars in the day's regional event. But he doesn't seem to care all that much about the results. Dave races for the sheer thrill of it. As one driver told me, there's nothing like cheating death to give you that feeling of terror and pure giddiness.

For NPR News, I'm Joshua Gleason.

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