By Brendan Relaford
For The Sentinel 

The 'craziest drivers' come to Goldendale

Travis Pastrana and a cadre of crazed racers return to barrel across land, water-and in the air


Chris Daley photography

They say there's a hierarchy of insanity in motor sports. Normal people think all racers are looney. Folks who race sedans think people in open-wheel cars are daft. People who race cars of any kind think motorcycle racers are out of their heads. But there's one group that everyone agrees is made up of the absolutely craziest people in racing-rally racers.

Apparently, Travis Pastrana is the craziest of them all. According to Dana Peck, executive director of the Goldendale Chamber of Commerce, Pastrana is the Michael Jordan of rally racing. An American professional motorsports competitor and stunt performer, Pastrana is known not only for his driving skills but also for his outgoing personality and desire to connect with the locals at every race. With a special love for both Goldendale and the Oregon Trail Rally, he will be one of some 70 rally racers behind the wheel when the 129-mile rally event takes place on May 31 to June 2 in Portland, Goldendale, and Dufur, Oregon.

Portland area rallyists formed the Oregon Rally Group (ORG) in 1995. Some of ORG's founders had experience in stage rally abroad and some in racing in the Puget Sound area. Others with a love for aggressive forest rally action came from local rally backgrounds. With the help of their brethren in the Olympia area, ORG set out to establish a base for rally activity in Washington and Oregon. It chose to call its first rally race the Oregon Trail Rally in honor of the first national stage rally in Oregon in 1984.

Rally vehicles are production-based cars and trucks from manufacturers around the world. All competition vehicles are equipped with mandatory safety features such as roll cages to protect the competitors. The race takes place only on "special stages," challenging back roads temporarily closed by local authorities for the event. Unlike many motor sports, the vehicles are not transported to each event by trailer under the supervision of a crew chief. Instead, they arrive at the next destination through "transit stages," when the racers drive at normal highway speeds, obeying all traffic laws. Vehicles can be serviced and repaired only at designated locations and for set periods of time.

Doug Heredos, chairman of the Oregon Trail Rally, heads the all-volunteer group that travels the region producing the event for love of the sport. Heredos said that the group's mission flows from the racers to the volunteers. "If you are broken down on the side of the road, if you are too sick to walk or sleep derived from driving all night to get to the next race, you press on, regardless," he emphasizes.

Not unlike stages of bicycle racing in Europe, the rally is a timed event, with the runs starting about one minute apart for the 129-mile competition. The action starts Friday, May 31, with the Fan Fest Spectacular from 5 to 9 p.m. at the Portland International Raceway. After battling the bendy roads of the raceway on Friday, the next day the racers take on the steep hills near Goldendale, where in 1911 roads entrepreneur Sam Hill built the Loops, a twisting stretch of road off the Maryhill grade that ascends 850 feet in 3.6 miles. A few more stage miles take place on Oak Flat Road and Dalles Mountain Road before the rally crosses the Columbia River on Sunday onto the wide sweeping plains to Dufur, Oregon.

The rally gets really fast on these flowing roads, and teams even ford a river at race pace. Sunday also features the Boyd Jump, a chance for drivers to fly 120 feet or more. With drivers using a technique known as drifting, in which they intentionally oversteer to cause loss of traction yet stay in control as they make the turns-speeds can reach over 100 miles an hour.

While there's a charge for the Friday night event in Portland, all spectator areas in Klickitat County on Saturday and Wasco County on Sunday are free to the public. The best vantage point for local spectators is the turnout a mile shy of Milepost 4 on Highway 97 South, which has an excellent view of the Maryhill Loops downgrade. On Saturday at 6:30 p.m. there will be an end-of the-day rally social at Pete's Pizza in Goldendale, where fans can meet and mingle with the rally drivers, including Travis Pastrana.


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