Looking for international rally flavor? Try the Boone Forest Rally

By J.A. Ackley
Sep 26, 2023 | ara, Backroads of Appalachia, Boone Forest Rally

Photography Credit: Matthew Stryker/Vermont SportsCar

Want to see a stage rally with participants from places such as the U.K., France and Ecuador? Just go to the land of London, Paris and Florence. No, not Europe. Head to Kentucky, where this past weekend they held the Boone Forest Rally, an ARA regional event, in McKee, Kentucky.

Rally racing in Kentucky–we’re on the cutting edge,” says Brian Anderson, a McKee, Kentucky, native who serves as Clerk of Course for the Boone Forest Rally. “We’re just getting the interest piqued in Kentucky [for rally racing]. Rally hasn’t been a popular sport here in the United States. But internationally, rally racing is number two behind Formula 1. It’s going to be on the rise [in the U.S.].”

Boone Forest Rally Clerk of Course, Brian Anderson. Photo by J.A. Ackley.

Florian Barral flew in from France to serve as co-driver with Patrick Gruszka. Many on the team speak Polish as they work on their Hyundai i20 as Patrick comes from a family of Polish descent. Florian speaks zero Polish, but fortunately the two can converse in English. Kentucky may be unlike southern France where Florian lives, but he loves the area.

It’s my first time here in Kentucky,” Florian says. “It’s different to race in France compared to here in the U.S. In France, we have over 100 cars every rally. Here it’s a bit less, but the people are passionate about motorsport … they’re here to have fun and really enjoy their time here.”

Rally co-driver Florian Barral. Photo by J.A. Ackley.

Adolfo Espinoza, a professional co-driver with WRC experience from Ecuador, worked with fellow countryman Duncker Felix Jr. at the Boone Forest Rally. Adolfo clearly stated why he headed to Kentucky: “It’s a good rally,” he says. “Good roads. Very good roads.”

Robert Sanders originally lived in Martin, Kentucky, moved away, and has since returned to the Bluegrass State. He takes pride in his state and one of its key attractions, its roads.

A lot of times, when they make a road, they have to cut a hole through the mountain and the mountain’s full of coal,” says Robert. “This is one place in the country where they make money building roads. Then, the roads were originally made for coal trucks. So, coal trucks have been running up and down these roads for years. [The roads are] packed down harder than you could ever do with equipment.”

Rally driver Robert Sanders. Photo by J.A. Ackley.

Vermont SportsCar prepares rally cars for the likes of Travis Pastrana and has won three consecutive ARA national championships, including this year’s. The team carried Kentucky’s colors, despite hailing from the Green Mountain State. They sported that livery in conjunction with the Backroads of Appalachia organization for the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) to highlight the economic impact rally racing could have for the region.

[Using motorsport tourism to boost an economy]

The roads here are spectacular,” says Lance Smith, president of Vermont SportsCar. “We came down here for a test and the roads are very twisty, with nice gravel, and they stand up to the abuse–they don’t degrade very much. To find a state that has interest in having these cars run around the forest is rare now. The people here are nice, open, hospitable and … they like racing.”

Vermont SportsCar's co-driver Keaton Williams, driver Conner Martell and president Lance Smith. Photo by J.A. Ackley.

In total, 26 cars participated in the Boone Forest Rally. Vermont SportsCar’s Conner Martell and his British co-driver Keaton Williams won overall. Full results can be found here.

Next year the Boone Forest Rally will use more open roads and become an ARA Super Regional event. Rally organizers hope to grow it to the point it becomes an ARA national event.

Boone Forest Rally Expose in downtown McKee, Kentucky. Photo by J.A. Ackley.

Rally driver Keenan Phillips. Photo by J.A. Ackley.

Jamie and Lauren Lambert. Photo by J.A. Ackley.

Young fan in the rally car driven by Pete Schaefer and Kevin Dobrowolski. Photo by J.A. Ackley.

Boone Forest Rally Expose in downtown McKee, Kentucky. Photo by J.A. Ackley.

Class podium celebration. Photo by Keith Kreatives/Backroads of Appalachia

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Colin Wood
Colin Wood Associate Editor
9/26/23 10:10 a.m.

It's really cool to hear such high praise from European rally drivers.

As always, I can't wait to see what else is in store.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯ UltimaDork
9/26/23 10:16 a.m.

Psst- that's Jamie and Lauren Lambert there in the photo.

Captdownshift (Forum Supporter)
Captdownshift (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
9/26/23 10:40 a.m.

Backroads of Appalachia really has organized the best incubator for hillclimb and stage rally in North America. 

J.A. Ackley
J.A. Ackley Senior Editor
9/26/23 11:09 a.m.

In reply to ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ :

Fixed. Thank you. The results had different names.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯ UltimaDork
9/26/23 11:11 a.m.

In reply to J.A. Ackley :

There was a last minute change and Lauren hopped in to codrive for Keenan, I think.

J.A. Ackley
J.A. Ackley Senior Editor
9/27/23 8:51 a.m.

In reply to Captdownshift (Forum Supporter) :

Indeed! They're making Appalachia the place to be for motorsports. 

J.A. Ackley
J.A. Ackley Senior Editor
9/27/23 8:51 a.m.

In reply to Captdownshift (Forum Supporter) :

Indeed! They're making Appalachia the place to be for motorsports. 

Captdownshift (Forum Supporter)
Captdownshift (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
9/27/23 12:29 p.m.

In reply to J.A. Ackley :

I'd go as far as to say that they're making Appalachia a destination for motorsports, which is a realization of their goal. The region is ripe for a rallypark and school to open that also offers storage and service for people from the southeast, Mid Atlantic and Northeast to both train and practice on site and also not have to tow their vehicles back and forth for each event, as a 2-4 hour drive is a lot better than a 8-14 hour drive...each way. 


Factor in the number of tire manufacturers in Greenville, SC, and TN and auto manufacturers in SC and TN and add in an off road park and driving school for jeep types and I honestly suspect that it'd be a winner. 

DavyZ New Reader
9/27/23 3:05 p.m.

I am so glad that KY is taking a keen interest in this!  With a lot of other states prohibiting this kind of racing, I am loving the idea of US Rally races relatively close to me (NC).  The Appalachian hill climb events are awesome too.  I want to enter one of those once my 240Z is 'finished'.   The southern states have the forests, the roads, and the desire to make it happen laugh

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