By: Ray Bouchard
When one thinks of northern Michigan in late January, one thinks of skiing, snowmobiling, shoveling, ice fishing and other activities, but one thing that many don’t think of is rally-car race watching.
Deep in the woods of Montmorency County, there are several roads that are unpaved and very seldom traveled, but that all changes during the last weekend in January when Sno-Drift comes to town. Sno-Drift is a two day, 17 stage event that brings in over 30 cars competing and hundreds of fans watching.
Montmorency County has a population under 10,000 people, but for this one weekend the county gets a couple thousand fans driving to secluded locations in order to catch a glimpse of these cars ranging from a 2016 Subaru WRX-STI to a 1988 Ford Mustang.
The course is made up of several stages in various locations all throughout Lewiston and Atlanta. Cars start at one-minute intervals and drive through the course at high speeds through tight corners on snowy and icy roads. Roads that are rarely driven on during the other 51 weekends of the year will have cars lined up over a mile.
I have been going up there for just about my entire life and only found out about Sno-Drift in 2012. This year marked its 50th anniversary and after a brief hiatus in previous years, it has been going on every year since 1997. It has professional drivers as well as amateur/novice drivers. The cars have two driver teams and they are crowd pleasers. People come from all over the Midwest to watch these cars maneuver through the woods. Drivers come from all over including a couple drivers this year from Finland and China.
Hand warmers, foot warmers, layers and layers and layers of clothes are definitely recommended. In order to get a good spot to view the race, you need to get out there about 30-45 minutes before the race starts. That’s 30-45 minutes standing in temperatures as low as -15 before wind chill effect. This year’s weather was beautiful with temps getting into the high 30s. Groups of people weather the storm, while others fight it with their own bonfires going just mere feet off the road while the cars race by. In fact, one of the most popular stages for fans has become what is known as “Bonfire Alley.” This is a stage where at one point where the spectators are awaiting the action, they line up and start several fires. To add to the excitement, many of the fans throw an accelerant onto the fire as each car approaches adding excitement for the drivers as they go through the course.
This is one of those classic Michigan events that the phrase “Under the Radar” was created to describe. Put it on your bucket list, dress warm and you’ll be a Sno-Drift Fan for Life.
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For more information: http://www.sno-drift.org/