Chillicothe, Ohio ~ The American Rally Association crisscrosses the United States with eight national events, dubbed the Green APU National Rally Championship. It also encompasses three regional championships, including 12 Super Regionals (8 are held in conjunction with the national events) and nine regionals.
One of those upcoming events is the ARA's fifth round of the Green APU National Rally Championship: The Southern Ohio Forest Rally. Registration for the event opened in May, and 73 cars will rally this weekend. Here's an ARA: First Look at SOFR and who will be starting tonight in Chillicothe:
"The roads in the Ohio forest, dating back to the 1980s, were some of the best in America. Smooth and twisty, they were awesome for a driver!" - John Buffum, 8x winner of SOFR
In 1973, the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) sanctioned the first Pro Rally National Championship in the United States. Seven events comprised that inaugural championship, including the Sunriser 400 in Ohio.
National events were prominent in Ohio over the next three decades, and of the sport's biggest names found their way to the Buckeye State, including the eight-time winner and hall of famer John Buffum. They were swayed by the challenge of driving on roads that mixed a perfect harmony of speed and driver ability. Elevation changes, hairpin turns, and deep, dark tree cover made each drive a challenge.
Many of the stages that made up previous Ohio events returned to action in 2017 as the Southern Ohio Forest Rally. More of the historical roads were brought back in 2018 with the addition of Tar Hollow State Park. The SOFR crew and Ohio Forestry Department worked together to add Shawnee State Forest in 2019. That same year, with the collaboration of the City of Chillicothe, SOFR brought back a teaser of the infamous City Park stage in downtown Chillicothe's Yoctangee Park, where the 2023 event will kick off on Thursday night.
The weather will be mild for southern Ohio standards in June, but it will also be dry and with very little wind. Dust could play a factor as SOFR will cover 123 miles (115 for regional) over 20 stages. Talent will be abundant at Ohio, with a deep group of contenders for the Green APU National and the ARA East Regional podiums.
Brandon Semenuk and Keaton Williams are in control of the national championship in 2023. The Subaru Motorsports USA entry has been flawless this season, including a perfect 19 stages at Oregon Trail three weeks ago. If they handle SOFR without incident, it will mark the first Subaru win in Ohio since SOFR returned in 2017.
Barry McKenna is a two-time SOFR winner, but he and co-driver Leon Jordan will be using their Open 2WD 1977 Ford Escort MX2 and not the O4WD Ford Fiesta that McKenna drove in Missouri this past March.
There's no doubt McKenna will be fast in the Escort, but his chase to catch Semenuk will also be challenged by a pair of quick Rally 5 cars. Tom Williams and Ross Whittock (2022 Ford Fiesta) were a last-minute entry into SOFR but have been fast all season despite bad luck in the first three rounds. Patrick Gruszka and Florian Barral will pilot the Green APU Hyundai i20 this weekend. Gruszka sits second overall in the driver's championship and will lean on the knowledge of his father, Art, who won the SOFR event in 2017. Allen Dobasu (Jared Hudson) returns to the ARA after two rounds, driving his 2023 Ford Fiesta Rally2, and will start fifth on the road.
McKenna's historical retreat in a 1977 Escort will be matched by the return of Seamus Burke (Martin Brady) and their 1977 Ford Escort. SOFR will be the first national Burke has entered in 2023, but he did enter the Bristol Forest Rally last month. McKenna and Burke will have an entire field of fast Open 2WD cars to deal with in Ohio. Lia Block and Rhianon Gelsomino have been sensational in their 2013 Subaru BRZ this season.
Michah Nickelson and Tyler Ptacek (1986 VW Golf) have won both ARA national O2WD events they've entered this season (Sno*Drift and 100 Acre Wood) and finished fourth overall nationally in Missouri. Michael Hooper and Michael Hordijk are fully prepped to return to the top, and Nick Allen and Matt James are fresh off a podium finish in Oregon.
Dylan Murcott (Keegan Helwig) leads a feisty LN4 field that includes Lucy Block (Alex Gelsomino) and Arek Bialobrzeski (Aris Mantopoulos)
Southern Ohio will also count towards the ARA East Regional championship, with 43 regional entries this weekend.
Jon Kramer has been really good at SOFR. He won the overall regional in 2021 and finished second in 2022. He and co-driver Jason Smith will be the highest-starting regional team this weekend (14th on the road).
As good as Kramer has been at SOFR, Adam Kimmett has been his equal. Kimmett and co-driver Krista Skucas won last year's regional overall, and Kimmett took home top honors in 2019.
Phil Wearn and KJ Miller teamed up to finish first in L4WD and second overall at the Bristol Forest Rally in May.
Ryan Rethy returns to action after winning the Rally in the 100 Acre Wood overall regional in March. He and co-driver Daniel Zopatti are making their SOFR debut.
2022 ARA East Regional O2WD champions Daniel Downey and Samantha Downey are the top-ranked two-wheel drive cars and will have their hands full with 2022 SOFR O2WD winner Ryan George and co-driver Heather Stieber.
Spectators will have ample opportunity to see the Southern Ohio Forest Rally up close. Thursday night will host a parc expose and a Super Special Stage at the Yoctangee Park in Chillicothe. In addition, there are two official spectator areas on Saturday (both on SS 4/8 – To Gun North) and Sunday (SS 10/15 Courtney's Webb and SS 11/16/10 (Power Stage) America's Best). For more information and directions, please download the SOFR Spectator Guide.