Local rally event runs out of gas | SteamboatToday.com

Local rally event runs out of gas

Organizers cancel Rally Colorado after 9 years

— Jim Gill did his best to look at the bright side when absorbing the realization that his pet project of nearly a decade, the annual Rally Colorado event, wasn't going to return to Steamboat Springs and the Yampa River Valley.

"All of a sudden, I've just gotten back half of my July, most of my August and all of September," he said Thursday.

The Rally Colorado race brought some of the biggest names in rally car racing to Routt County in its nine-year run, but a change in the schedule of the Rally America national circuit that sanctioned the event left the local race off its 2010 schedule.

After spending months weighing options, the Rally Colorado board of directors opted to forgo several alternatives that would have kept the race intact.

"Some events go on forever, and some events have a finite life," Gill said. "Sometimes it's the organizers who get tired of doing it. Sometimes they end because of outside forces. Maybe the life of our event was just nine years."

Rally Colorado joined up with the national Rally America National Championship circuit five years ago. That partnership fueled the race through its ninth and final season, attracting some of the top rally racing talent in the country. Extreme sports stars such as Travis Pastrana became regular participants, and fans from Steamboat and across the county flocked to meet the drivers and watch them compete.

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Rally America opted to shift away from its nine-race format in the fall, however. The final three races on the schedule were cut and replaced with European-style rally races as the series tried to remain competitive itself. As one of the last three races in the season, Steamboat's event was cut.

Rally America organizers offered Gill and the Rally Colorado board an opportunity to continue as a Rally America regional event, meaning points wouldn't be awarded for the national circuit, and top drivers would have little incentive to come. The local board also had the chance to rejoin the national circuit as a spring race, in either March or April, or join a competing circuit, the United States Rally Championship, which also would have resulted in a change from Rally Colorado's traditional mid-September date.

The change in date proved to be a deal-breaker.

"There's a very narrow window of time on the calendar we had to do this event," Gill said. "In the summertime, you can't really do it. None of the commercial sponsors are interested in spending money in July to bring people here. There are enough people here already. Winter isn't an option because the roads we use aren't even plowed, and spring is out because it's mud season.

"Really, we want to go a little after Labor Day and before the start of hunting season, so we only have about two weeks out of the whole year."

The cancellation of the Rally Colorado race might not mean the end of rally car racing in the area. Gill said he's investigating whether there'd be enough interest from racers in the region for a one-day September event based in Hayden.

Whatever happens, though, it will bear little in common with what had grown into one of Steamboat Springs' most popular late-summer events.

"We had reached a critical mass with the event. It had a lot of synergy and the community came to like the event and support it. It was fun to watch it grow," Gill said. "It's a very bittersweet feeling."