How an ARA Champion's Crew Chief Came to Compete on Sno*Drift
Two-time American Rally Association East Regional L2WD champion Santiago Iglesias often rises to the top of the most restricted class in the ARA. His Subaru BRZ is one of the best looking cars in the field, and has beaten the FWD competitors in class on the slick Sno*Drift stages multiple times in the past.
This year however, Iglesias found himself stuck in Spain with no way out to the season opener in Atlanta, Michigan. And with a team already prepped for the rally, he decided to give his crew-chief the weekend of a lifetime.
“Rally for me began after putting a set Blizzak WS 50s on my first car.” Erik Buetow, crew-chief to Iglesias told DirtFish. “My passion and appreciation for snow driving was realized by my father and mother, Paul and Cindy Buetow, who took me to my first Sno Drift in 2004. I spectated the event year after year dreaming of one day being a competitor. Year after year I told myself I needed to build a car.”
“I looked up to these men and women driving and co driving a lot and questioned if I could really do it.”
Buetow met Iglesias after the 2019 event when he pulled over to see if Iglesias, whose tow vehicle was experiencing transmission problems, needed any assistance. From there the two quickly bonded, and Buetow became Iglesias’ crew chief before the Southern Ohio Forest Rally that same year.
While Iglesias was unable to race, the opportunity of a lifetime formed for his crew-chief. “[Iglesias] told me Wednesday the 16th at 8am that I will be the one driving his car, not him.” Buetow told DirtFish. “It didn’t seem real until I saw my name on the entry list!”
“He told me to drive tidy, look where I want to go (not the tree I don’t want to hit), and don’t bin it.”
Boyd Smith, who was co-driving for Spencer Sherman at this year’s Sno*Drift lent Buetow his spare helmet and HANS device so that he’d be able to drive, and Buetow was officially ready to race.
“My family was as over the moon as myself, knowing what a dream come true this opportunity is. Santiago believed in me and so did co-driver Robert Kassel. Robert began teaching as soon as we hit Recce and things started clicking for us from there.”
“My experience racing in motorsports is zero and seat time in [Iglesias’] BRZ is from the trailer to tech inspection and back,” Buetow admitted to DirtFish.
With that in mind you have to appreciate the absolute trial by fire Buetow was about to go through with some of the slickest, most treacherous Sno*Drift conditions to date. Even a fan of snow rallies had to be a little hesitant.
“The road conditions were not ideal due to the thick ice, but I thoroughly enjoyed the learning process of managing the car on some gnarly terrain,” Buetow said. “After four spinouts on stage one, I quickly realized the importance and narrow gap of brake and throttle control necessary to keep the car moving forward.”
“[It was an incredible moment] when Robert [Kassel] told me we had the second fastest time in L2 on SS6 and again on day two.”
Buetow is left with a weekend of memories he’ll have for a lifetime. He cites the first time they caught someone on stage and passed them as a feeling that he might actually be able to compete. The feeling of the heat from the fires of Bonfire Alley in the car and the emotion as he finished the final stage could only have been surpassed by the excitement of a podium finish with champagne spray in his first ever rally.
On top of that, the crew-chief succeeded in not giving himself too much more work, as the car survived every spin and every snowbank collision with only a bit of damage to the front fascia. Bitten by the rally bug, expect to see Buetow at more events in the future.
“I hope to drive a car of my own next year at Sno*Drift and perhaps a gravel event this year, and attend a program at DirtFish Rally School.”
While an incredible opportunity for himself, Buetow’s story stands out as a testimony to the tight-knit grassroots rallying community in the US. Every step of the way Buetow was there to help others, and others were there to help him.
“My advice to anyone passionate about rally with desire to drive or co drive is to get involved and just do it,” he told DirtFish, “because there will be good people to guide you along the way.