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2010 subaru forester lifted with roof tent

Road Tripping To See Subarus Battle It Out At The Oregon Trail Rally

By Ben Boxer

Every year I make the trip out to Goldendale, WA and Dufur, OR to watch the Oregon Trail Rally. This event is a three day race that is part of the ARA National Championship that takes place yearly.

I had spectated at the OTR all the way back in 2018 but didn’t get hooked on it until 2020 when I spectated at the Boyd Loop in Dufur Oregon. This spectator point puts you up close with the cars as they come ripping through the course at full speed. Ever since that day, I’ve made it out to the rally every year without fail.

I now live substantially further from where the rally takes place than I did when I first began spectating. But I still block out my schedule and camp out to see the Dufur and Goldendale days even though it’s roughly 500 miles of driving.

Meeting Up With Old Friends & Making New Ones

While the Portland stop of the OTR is a blast to visit, it’s on a Friday and the drive is extremely far from where I live. So I can’t make it in time with my work schedule. Instead of spectating during the PIR day, my rally experience always begins on Saturday in Goldendale, WA at the Maryhill loop spectator point.

This is where I typically meet up with my friends that have agreed to enjoy the rally with me and camp out for the event. This stage is awesome because you get to watch the drivers come up and around one of the most perfect roads for driving in the Pacific Northwest. This road isn’t open to the public which makes the experience even more special.

In addition to watching world-class drivers push their skills to the absolute limit, this spectator point lets you see a ton of other enthusiast builds in the parking area. Here are a few of the cars I enjoyed most:

2018 wrx with offroad wheels and tires
lifted rallitek crosstrek with full offroad gear
bugeye subaru wrx

Visiting The Service Area

Watching rally racing in a live setting has shown me just how much damage the cars take. When you are blasting up and down actual roads with all the hazards that come with it, it’s not uncommon for drivers to hit large rocks, large pot holes, or big defects in the road. Some of the roads are tarmac, other sections are gravel and dirt. They all present serious potentials for damage. But being able to hear firsthand the utter abuse the cars take is a whole different experience than watching races on youtube or social media.

Immediately following each of these abusive stages, drivers make their way to line up for service. It’s organized down to the minute and every team has to wait for their designated time to proceed. But spectators are welcome to observe the teams performing repairs and service on the rally cars.

While walking around the service area it’s really interesting to be able to look up close at a dent or equipment failure that you observed happen less than an hour ago. Sometimes, a team makes it through the stage needing nothing more than a power steering top off, a brake fluid check, and other routine maintenance items. In other cases, the car may need bigger repairs or even serious restructuring. I’ve watched service teams use a hammer to realign suspension components just enough to get the car back out for the next stage. I’ve watched them replace a coilover, and even press a new wheel bearing seal on a table. When you’re rallying, it’s a team effort to keep the car in the race using all methods available.

When observing the service procedures during a stage rally event, it’s important to watch without interfering with the service team’s effort. While it’s intriguing, it’s likely not the best time to ask questions or get in the work area. The expose before each day and the time surrounding the awards ceremony are the best opportunities to get close to the cars and meet the team.

Below, you can see Sam Albert and Krista Skucas’ Ferrari swapped STI receiving a quick rear diff fluid swap.

ferrari swapped subaru sti

Rally Service: Hurry Up And Wait

I had a few friends working on the service crews for a couple of teams. My good friend Mike McCallister (he owns this 2004 Lifted Subaru Forester XT) was working pit crew for a team run by Chris from Subiworks (Yes, THAT Subiworks.)

I stopped by to say hi to Mike on both days since we rarely get to see each other as we live about 3-4 hours away. He explained that the majority of their time is spent making sure everything is staged and ready for when their driver is cleared to pull in for service. They receive notes from the driver and co-driver regarding the condition of the car and begin making preparations to service the vehicle accordingly. For example, their co-driver sent them a text while in line stating “the transmission is making some faint noises and the power steering feels low.”

The service area is relatively calm throughout the day. When the cars are on their stage, the service teams are waiting around for their time to jump into action. I took this as the perfect opportunity to visit Lee Parson’s team’s service area.

 Lee is the creator of the Grootbaru which is one of the wildest Subaru builds. It’s an old GL on Toyota axles with dual cases, sitting on 35 inch tires. If that wasn’t enough, it has a full EZ30 6 cylinder engine swap from a second gen LL Bean Edition Outback.

I have been friends with Lee on Facebook and met him in passing previously. But this was my first chance to actually talk with him and see the Grootbaru up close.

Side note: Lee’s team, car 799, took first in their class!

lee parsons grootbaru

Camping Before The Final Day Of The Rally

During Saturday evening, we met up with a few friends to camp out and spectate the next day together. I finally got to meet up with Brandon. He owns Sherman the Forester who I interviewed recently.

We all met up in town and then drove way up into the hills for a night of camping. Lee even brought the Grootbaru up and camped out as well.

2010 subaru forester lifted with roof tent
lifted subaru loyale and lifted subaru outback in the forest

The majority of us camped either in our rigs or in rooftop tents. It’s surprising how much space a Subaru has for sleeping! I regularly sleep in the back of my 2006 Forester. But this year I drove my Jeep XJ just to switch it up. I slept in the back of that with a special platform I created.

Once we all got up, we headed down into town to spectate the final day of the rally in Dufur Oregon. This is easily my favorite day of the rally.

YouTube video
subaru rally car at oregon trail
subaru impreza sideways at oregon trail rally
subaru rally car kicking up dirt
subaru motorsports rally car at oregon trail rally
YouTube video

After The Rally: Awards Ceremony And Winding Down

I really enjoy the awards ceremony after the rally is finished. It’s a great time to hear and see all the vehicles after a full weekend of stage rally. Many of them have a lot of rally damage including torn bumpers, broken body panels, floppy fenders barely hanging on by a thread, and even broken windows.

Many of the drivers will even talk with you and let you check out their cars at this point. But due to the rules, they can’t open the hood of their cars until after the awards ceremony and they’ve been released by the rally organizers.

Watching the winning teams celebrate their victory is also really excited to watch. The overall “vibe” is good all the way around.

sam albert ferrari swapped subaru sti
ferrari swapped subaru rally car

If you’ve never spectated at a stage rally event, I would certainly encourage you to make it out to the closest one to you.

You can check the ARA website to find the next event closest to you.

Every year I get to enjoy the thrill of watching these machines scream through the turns at wide open throttle. It’s unlike anything else. It’s dirty, dusty, loud, and awesome. I highly recommend it!