ACTON — Dirt was flying at Yellowstone Drag Strip in Acton, as drivers from Yellowstone Region Sports Car Club of America tore up a rally cross course on Sunday.
“I think it’s starting to grow in popularity. As the word gets out there, people do realize that you don’t have to have a special car for it. Show up in what you drive every day and race it," said club member Lane Baumann, 27, of Laurel, who brought a Subaru sedan to race.
The club has a decades-long history racing on on pavement. In auto cross events, the drivers weave between cones in courses at parking lots in the Billings area. But this year only marks the second season for the rally arm of the club.
"We get to do it in the dirt, in the snow, in the mud. Same thing. Drive whatever you want. It doesn’t have to be a race car at all. Three quarters of the cars here you wouldn’t call race cars," Baumann said.
People can bring just about any car, as long as it will pass tech inspection and is deemed mechanically sound, Baumann said.
While the drivers do compete for the best time around the track, there isn't a prize to be won, other than bragging rights. The relaxed atmosphere means drivers will often take spectators out for a spin, after they've signed the liability waiver.
Sarah Murdock, 25, of Hardin was at the event to watch Baumann, who is her boyfriend's brother, to race. Baumann eventually convinced her to hop in his Subaru for a ride around the bumpy dirt track.
“At first, I thought I might get sick. I don’t think if you had a weak stomach you could do that all day. But it’s way faster when you’re in the car and you’re kind of getting thrown around, but it’s a lot of fun and before you know it, it’s over," Baumann said.
It is relatively accessible for anyone to race race for either the club's rally or auto cross events. All you need is a car and $35 for a club member and $50 for a non-club member.
Since the rally arm of the club is still new, rally races don't quite have the popularity the auto cross events usually see, Baumann said. About 20 drivers were at the event in Acton, where a typical auto cross day sees about 45 drivers, Baumann said.
“You can race on pavement a little bit easier. Out here, you’re in the dirt and it’s a little harder on cars. So people don’t really want to race their cars in the dirt or they don’t think they can. They don’t think that, hey my (Subaru) Legacy isn’t made to go on the dirt. But you can come out here and watch anyone out here race their car on the dirt. Auto cross is definitely more popular at this time, but hopefully rally cross starts gaining popularity and gets up there too. It’s always more fun having more people," Baumann said.
Truly any car is probably up to the rally cross challenge, as long as the driver is okay with the car receiving some dents, dings, and maybe needing to replace some suspension parts after a few fast runs. As evidence, a traditionally non-sporty car, a Toyota Prius, was spotted clocking lap times at the event.
Among the field of mostly all-wheel-drive cars, there was a standout, a 1971 Chevorlet Chevelle driven by Joel Dietrich, 32, of Billings.
"I brought the Chevelle because I felt like seeing if anything was going to break on it," Dietrich said with a laugh.
Other than a few odds and ends, Dietrich said his car is mostly stock and it was the only V8 engine and the only rear-wheel-drive car in the field.
"It runs pretty strong. So as long as the suspension holds up, I should be able to make it through the day," Dietrich said.
Dietrich had a passenger in his afternoon laps around the track. Over the course of his five years racing, Dietrich said it's always a family-like atmosphere at the track.
“I’m always willing to let somebody ride along with and then there’s me and a bunch of other people who are willing to let new people race a car if you didn’t bring one to race. Then we’re always willing to fix cars if they break down and whatnot. It’s a pretty tight-knit community," Dietrich said.
The next track day is scheduled for January 23 at Yellowstone Drag Strip in Acton. To learn more about Yellowstone Region Sports Car Club of America, visit its website by clicking here.