HOUGHTON - The pack of racers converging on the Copper Country are ready to expect anything in this year's Lake Superior Performance Rally, which begins this afternoon in Houghton.
Not only does the annual event feature as wide a variety of stages as can be found on the Rally America circuit, but its location and timing provide a completely unpredictable landscape.
"You run an event in the Keweenaw in the second week of October and the weather could be anything," Heath Nunnemacher said.
Nunnemacher's co-driver Mike Rossey knows exactly how varied the LSPR stages are. His job will be to guide Nunnemacher around the event.
"This race has everything, from very technical, like Burma, to Delaware which is just fast and wide open," Rossey said.
Perhaps the event's signature stages are the only ones in the entire series to take place on asphalt - a pair of runs up Brockway Mountain Drive.
Nunnemacher saw the 2004 LSPR while studying as an undergraduate in mechanical engineering. After a year as an event worker and helping in the service areas, he was co-driving by the beginning of the 2006 season. This is his fourth LSPR and he's run the full circuit three times. This year, he's back at Tech, where it all began, in pursuit of his Masters in business administration.
School has kept him from running the full Rally America circuit this year, but he said the event has a little bit of something for everyone, especially in the college community.
"I saw LSPR Friday night when I was a spectator and saw that and said, 'Yeah, that's pretty (darned) cool,'" he said.
Rallying and the rallying community has given the drivers a reason to keep coming back.
"It's very challenging," Rossey said. "You never know what to expect, and the relationship that you build and continue building is something, when you're not doing it, you miss it. When I have to skip an event, I feel almost like a resentment because I really want to be there."
Nunnemacher and Rossi's goal is a podium position for their 2007 Subaru STI in the Super Production class. They'll face formidable competition - namely, the defending LSPR champions, Ken Block of Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., and co-driver Alessandro Gelsomino of Los Angeles.
Block and Gelsomino dominated last year's event, winning by more than a minute.
Teammate Travis Pastrana of Annapolis, Md., who finished third in last year's LSPR has dominated the 2009 season in a similar way, locking down the season points championship two races ago.
Mason Moyle, a 16-year-old Houghton High School student, is just getting his feet wet in rally racing. This is his first year behind the wheel, but the young driver is already seeing some success. Moyle was first in his class in the Ojibwe Forest Rally in Bemidji, Minn., in August.
He's been a spectator at LSPR several times and is excited to run these roads.
"I really just want to do good in front of the everyone here because it's my hometown crowd. I'm really excited for this weekend and I really just want to do well and not crash," he said.
Moyle said the key to his big weekend in Bemidji was recognizing just how far he could push his car, a 1999 Subaru Impreza.
"I set a lot faster times in the later events because I wasn't lifting as much," he said.
Rallying isn't all about going fast behind the wheel. Moyle has received a crash course in car repair.
"It's a lot more maintenance than people think. If you take it out for a day, you have to spend at least a day or two to get it back to where it was before you took it out and started playing with it," he said.
Moyle's cousin Jeff was a rally regular before a 2008 parasailing accident took his life.
"It means a lot to pretty much everyone in the Moyle family because that was his latest passion," Moyle said.
Even though it's his first LSPR, Moyle's excited to take on Brockway, saying the jumps and corners make it the most-fun stage in the whole event. He hopes that his newfound confidence will pay off on the way up.
"A lot of drivers get nervous for that and I'm hoping to make up a lot of time," he said.
Parc exposes in Houghton this afternoon and Calumet Saturday morning will give fans a chance to see the cars up close before they hit the roads. The event goes throughout southern Houghton County and the Ottawa National Forest until late Friday night before attacking the Keweenaw Peninsula Saturday. The victory celebration will be in Copper Harbor at about 6 p.m. Saturday.
For more information on the event and directions to spectator areas, visit the Rally America Web site at rally-america.com or the LSPR Web site at www.lsprorally.com.
Brandon Veale can be reached at email@example.com.