By Eugenia Jones
The countdown has begun until Saturday, April 30, 2022 when McCreary County will host Kentucky’s first ever official gravel road rally competition for rally cars-now dubbed the McCreary Gravel Rally. Bernie Obry, who lives in upstate New York and is one of two main organizers for the event, recently spoke to The Voice regarding the upcoming event.
According to Obry, the McCreary Gravel Rally is a stage rally composed of twelve timed races (or stages) conducted on isolated gravel roads that are closed to the public during the rally car races. In a stage rally, each rally car team begins (from standstill) approximately one minute after the next. Passing of rally cars during the stages is rare, and the competitive outcome depends primarily on the skill of the driver and teamwork between the driver and co-driver (navigator.) Except for resident notification, specifics about which gravel roads will be used during the McCreary Gravel Rally cannot be announced too far in advance in order to limit practice on the roads by participants; however, stages (races) will take place in the low residential areas of Bell Farm, Cowhorn, and Little Rock Creek. Some stretches of road will be driven more than once. Special effort has been made to select areas with few or no residents and no mailboxes.
“We try not to inconvenience anyone in the community,” Obry commented.
The registered participants (teams) will be allowed to drive the roads on Friday prior to the event in what is known by rally enthusiasts as reconnaissance. During reconnaissance, the driver has an extremely brief introduction to the roads, and the co-driver (navigator) makes observations and takes notes about the roads. The navigator can then read the notes to his/her driver during each stage of the actual rally. Reconnaissance allows the driver to anticipate the road in advance during the race. Teamwork between the navigator and driver during the race is a key component of the competition.
In all, participants will race a total of 92.35 McCreary County miles to determine the winner. The winner of the McCreary Gravel Rally will be the entrant with the lowest cumulative finish time after all twelve stages (races) are completed. Entrants must follow all driving laws and regulations as they travel to and from the various stages conducted in different parts of the county.
There will be one or two spectator areas. One fenced off spectator area will be established at the beginning of one stage (race) so spectators can observe the count-down and launch off. Organizers also hope to find and establish one additional spectator area where the public can safely watch as racers make turns around a corner of the course.
Safety is deemed as the top priority during rally events. Organizers will work closely with the two local amateur radio clubs, EMS, and police to ensure a safe event. Knowledgeable volunteers serve as marshals to help ensure the safety of cars, spectators, etc.
Vehicles competing in the race must be road licensed, tagged, and insured. The race vehicles are modified allowing them to speed up properly and safely. The vehicles have roll cages built to international standards. Seats, seatbelts, racing suits, and helmets must be recognized as safe by industrial standards. The vehicles also have safety fuel cells, special suspension systems, and special tires to maintain control and safe maneuvering. Drivers must have spill kits and fire extinguishers on board.
The sanctioning body for McCreary Gravel Rally is NASA Rally Sport which is one of two sanctioning bodies for the sport in the United States. In addition to racers’ having their own insurance, the sanctioning body provides special insurance covering the county and community. Additional partners include Backroads of Appalachia, Haltech, and McCreary County. The McCreary County Park will serve as the Rally Headquarters and Servicing Park.
Participants for the McCreary Gravel Rally are expected to begin arriving on Wednesday, April 27 and/or Thursday, April 28. Inspection and reconnaissance are slated for Friday. A parc expose for the community is scheduled for Friday night in Stearns. During the parc expose, all teams will parade their vehicles into an open area for display. Much like a festival, community members will be able to mingle with the teams, enjoy food, music, and view the cars.
“The parc expose is one way we involve the community,” Obry observed. “Of course, the rally is the next day on Saturday.”
Obry expects 30 to 40 teams to register and participate in the event.
“This is generally a family type event,” Obry explained. “You will see entire families in the service area because they just love to do the crew work. Basically, expect each crew to bring 4-6 people with them and about 150 volunteers. All of those people must have food, supplies, and accommodations for about three days.”
Obry estimates a dozen states will be represented in the event. Registration fees and information will be posted on the McCreary Gravel Rally website soon.
McCreary County is not funding the event. Local EMS and police will be on stand-by during the rally on Saturday, and road crews may do minor maintenance to the gravel roads after the rally if there is a need. The county is optimistic the rally will provide local businesses with a temporary boost in revenue as well as promote McCreary County as a tourist destination. The rally is viewed as a significant step in promoting McCreary County as a motorsport venue for future events.
“Part of rally culture is to give back to the community,” Obry shared. “Our goal is to leave things even better than we found them.”