Central Upper Peninsula Rally holds its first championship race despite rain

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The predicted storm clouds were nowhere in sight when volunteer registration for the Central Upper Peninsula Rally opened at 8 a.m. on June 15. This is the third year of the CUPRally, and the first year they haven’t had rain on race day. The rain storms that had drenched the roads for most of the week prior were replaced by sunshine, but damage to the course already had been done.

The CUPRally is a one-day rally race held once a year that starts on the backroads of Powers, Michigan. Roger VanDamme, the chairman of the CUPRally and former rally racer/co-driver, is responsible for finding the roads and kicking off the rally.

Rally racing is essentially “taking a street car, putting some safety equipment in and going really, really fast down some really tight roads,” VanDamme said. “Think of logging roads. Just twisty back country roads primarily on gravel.”

The combination of rain, mud and deep ruts in the roads where logging trucks had driven made sections of the course nearly impossible for a rally car to drive through, said Roger VanDamme. This is a situation rally officials are familiar with, however, and the team was able to successfully reroute the course in time for the race to begin.

This year the CUPRally was selected by NASA Rally Sport as the championship event.

“I think that’s one of the reasons we’re getting guys out of Georgia and Pennsylvania to come out to race our roads,” said VanDamme. “And I think once they see the roads . . . they’re gonna be back. I’ve seen a lot of rally trails, but none of a total rally that are as nice as this when its dry.”

The CUPRally course is around 100 miles total about 90 of which are stage miles, which are miles the drivers actually race on. This is a relatively short amount of total miles for a rally course, but a large number of racing miles, said Bill Westrick a former rally racer and the Clerk of Course for CUPRally. Westrick is in charge of planning out the course, creating the maps and the event schedule.

“For a regional event, which is what we are, we put up almost 100 stage miles,” Westrick said. “A typical regional rally is somewhere around 50 stage miles so we have a very high stage mile number.”

Westrick relates rally to a game of golf. In golf the goal is to make it from the tee to the green with the fewest strokes possible, and in rally the goal is to get from the start to the finish with the lowest time possible.

Right to left: Driver, Adam VanDamme, and his co-driver, Jacob Carlson, standing with their car at the Parc Expose before the CUPRally. Photo by Taylor Haelterman

Adam VanDamme, a racer out of Rock, Michigan, and son of Roger VanDamme, took third place overall and second in his class at CUPRally this year. It was his second event in his new car.

“It’s an ’85 Volkswagen Golf Diesel and it’s got a Diesel out of a 2002 . . . really there’s nothing too special about it,” he said. “It’s an ’85 Golf with some heavier suspension on it and a roll cage.”

That’s the thing about rally cars, they can’t be “too special.” The cars have to be recognizable as the make and model they are from the outside, and road legal for the transit sections of the rally. Transits are sometimes held on unclosed public roads and are used to get the divers from one racing stage to the next. When in transit sections the drivers must follow the laws, including the speed limit.

The CUPRally is put on entirely by volunteers, which is the best way to get your start in rally said Al Dantes Jr., a racer from the L’Anse and Baraga, Michigan area. Dantes Jr. has been rally racing since 2012, but he was unable to finish this year’s CUPRally due to motor issues according to NASA Rally Sport.

“The biggest thing is to get to an event and volunteer,” Dantes Jr. said. “There’s so many elements to successfully rallying. You can’t just go buy a car and a helmet and go rally. You need to learn the ins and outs, and all the different places you have to go.”

Anyone interested in volunteering, racing, or attending the CUPRally next year can go to the NASA Rally Sport website, the CUPRally website, or theCUPRally Facebook page for information.

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