Drivers test their back-street skills

Steamboat Springs hosts first-ever Colorado Cog Rally

— Sunday drivers were absent Saturday from the first-ever Colorado Cog Rally held in Steamboat Springs.

Cars that might be seen driving down the street on any given day took to the back roads in Routt County to compete for "bragging rights" in one of the most demanding motor sports in the world.

"This can be a cruel sport," Kurt Spitzner, director of the Sports Car Club of America, said. "It's a different kind of racing. You're definitely not going to see this in NASCAR."

Unlike NASCAR, performance rally cars do not make laps around a track in their races.

Teams consisting of a driver, co-driver, and service crew work to finish in the shortest time in the most extreme conditions.

The co-driver, who is also referred to as the navigator, instructs the driver through the course's turns and hazards using a route book that contains precise directions.

Teams are not allowed to see the course prior to the start, so the navigator's ability to direct the driver becomes invaluable, PR director Kent Kirkpatrick said.

"In so many ways, the navigator is the driver's eyes," PR director Kent Kirkpatrick said. "The driver must trust his co-driver to lead him, because he's got his hands full trying to go as fast as he can."

Die-hard racers are quick to mention that these kind of competitions are not canceled due to inclement weather.

"We race at night," rally master Mark Cox said. "We race in the snow and the mud and on the ice. The worst of conditions make the best of conditions for us ."

Cox was one of three drivers to give sponsors a test ride on Saturday morning.

Sandy Evans Hall, a chamber sponsor, said she had no idea what to expect before she climbed into the navigator's seat.

"I've got a lot of respect for these guys," Evans Hall said. "They're able to anticipate what is coming around the next turn and over the next hill, and they do it with such calm."

Hall and the other passengers were treated to a trip down Routt County Road 45 at 90 mph.

The Sports Car Club of America, which sanctions all performance rallies in the Untied States, is eyeing Steamboat Springs as a possible site for professional rallies in the future, Spitzner said.

"Unlike 90 percent of the country, this is a place that understands tourism," Spitzner said. "And Colorado affords a lot of scenery for all this back road racing."

In the meantime, rallies like the club rally held in Steamboat Springs are a great way to introduce newcomers to the sport, he said.

"This is one of the few events where an absolute beginner can compete with the best," Spitzner said. "It gives that rookie something to shoot for."

Rally cars fall under five very different divisions, but unlike NASCAR stock cars, they can be legally driven anywhere.

"What you see in car showrooms is what these people are actually racing," Spitzer said.

They are, however, modified with safety equipment that includes full roll cages, five-point safety harnesses and fire suppression systems, he said.

One-minute intervals separate each team's start time in a race that awards the win to the team that finishes in the shortest time possible, Kirkpatrick said.

The rally course is split into transit and stage segments.

The transit segments remain open to the public throughout the event, and competitors must obey all normal traffic laws on these roads or risk expulsion from the event.

Transit segments are used to travel between the stage segments. These stages, which are closed to the public, challenge teams' navigating and driving ability.

"This is the most unpredictable race," Kirkpatrick said. "What is so neat about this sport is that is just so completely different."

To reach Danie Harrelson call 871-4208 or e-mail dharrleson@steamboatpilot.com

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