The map may say “Thunder River” (or even “River Thunder”) but locals and fans probably know it better by its other name, “Bonfire Alley.” It’s just one stage of the Sno*Drift rally held near Detroit, but it’s a fan favorite and could be the first sign that stage rally in the U.S. is starting to catch on.
This year during the first race of the Amercian Rally Association presented by DirtFish National Championship people crowded the stage to cheer on some 40 drivers as they wound through icy neighborhood roads among burn bins and cheering fans. It’s a stage that Andy Didorosi knows well, he’s driven the Sno*Drift event four times now and is local to Detroit, but it’s changed every year he’s raced the event.
“Spectating is for the diehards. You’re racing through neighborhoods and people line up sometimes three or four deep to watch you go by,” he said. “When they’re clustered together, they line the road all the way through the neighborhood. First, it’s fear then elation; people are here to see us race.
“(Bonfire Alley is on) a whole other level, people dump oil and gas on their fire as you pass. So, all you see is huge fireballs when you’re racing by—just to watch 40-something cars go by—cheering next to snow statues on people’s lawns.”
Videos of the stage have popped up all over social media with people ogling the diehard fans and a spectacle that isn’t common among all American rally events. The onboard footage is something akin to European rallies, where fans pack dusty roads as cars barrel past at triple-digit speeds.
Didorosi has been a rally spectator, racer, and writer for years and says the sport is evolving in the U.S. past its humblest roots into something different.
“I used to say that rally in America was like lacrosse. But now it feels more like soccer. The grassroots support is really what sustains the sport and it’s only growing more each time,” he said.
The ARA almost exclusively relies on volunteer support to stage its eight planned rallies across the U.S. Didirosi said volunteering at a local rally puts people close to the action, where they can learn the sport, follow racers, and contribute to a growing camaraderie that manifests itself in brilliant fireballs at dusk in neighborhood streets. Although organizers call the stage Thunder River to dissuade people from igniting fireballs in neighborhood streets, enthusiasm for the stage and the sport isn’t dimming for fans—and drivers.
“The best word I can think of is ‘surreal.’ It’s a thrilling stage to drive on … and the engagement of the community by making it a big party is awesome,” he said. “Just like any phenomenon it has a great name, too.”
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