HOUGHTON - U.P. rally racing fans can rejoice.
After a three-year relegation to the regional level, the Lake Superior Performance Rally received official word Thursday that the Baraga and Houghton county race would resume its post on the Rally America National Championship in 2013.
Today and Saturday will mark the 18th annual LSPR, but the excitement has already started for the 19th installment back on the national circuit.
The team of driver Adam Yeoman (of Hancock)?and co-driver Jordan Schulze (of Lake Linden)?go through the Green Acres stage of the 2011 Lake Superior Performance Rally in Portage Township. The 2012 LSPR?begins today. (DMG photo by David Archambeau)
"Fans and rally teams continued asking for LSPR's return to the Championship," Bill Fogg, Sr., owner of Rally America, said in a press release.
"The event has an incredible following and the LSPR organizers are top-notch. LSPR, by far, is a unique event and a tremendous addition to the Championship. Michigan's Upper Peninsula is real rally racing country and we need to be there."
LSPR Chairman Dean Rushford echoed those sentiments.
"We are incredibly excited," Rushford said. "Right now, we have 35 entrants this year, and we are looking at the high-50s or even into the 60s next year. We will get the big names back, like we did when Travis Pastrana was coming here a few years ago. Plus all of the main sponsor groups - the Mitsubishis, the Subarus - will be here. Everything gets bigger in that sense, but the race, the volunteers, the permits, all that stuff stays the same."
The event was dropped from the national calendar after 2009 to make a shorter, more cost-effective season and give Rally America an opportunity to stage closed-course "rallycross"?racing in the fall.
Rushford estimated that around 1,000 out-of-towners - racers, crews and fans - would come to the area this year.
He believes by next year, with the race back in the National Championship level, the tourists number could swell to as much as 3,000.
"Every one of them is staying a hotel, they are eating at restaurants, they are visiting stores," Rushford said. "It is just great for the area."
The promotion of the LSPR back to the National Championship stems from two reasons.
One, there was significant pressure from racers and industry veterans to return the LSPR to its former glory.
Two, Rushford believes that with only six current Championships events - and David Higgins leading the standings by 35 points with one race to go - some drama is removed from the season when someone takes an early lead.
"By adding a few more events, you can give more contenders a chance," Rushford said. "I think (Fogg Sr.) is looking to expand a bit more now too after scaling everything back a few years ago."
For today's LSPR, last year's winners Adam Yeoman (Hancock) and co-driver Jordan Schulze (Lake Linden) will start as favorites.
They will be participating in a course that claims to be the "Oldest, Toughest and Meanest," in all of rally racing.
Media Liaison Dallas Bond said that designation comes from the mouth of the drivers themselves.
"Travis Pastrana, Ken Block - the name guys, all really like it. This is their favorite course," Bond said.
"There have been more people on the national circuit that have finished first, second or third that have not ever finished at this race than any other. The terrain, the types of roads we are running is lots of dirt and lots of gravel. You have roads where you don't have stones, you have (expanded hand gesture) stones. It is just a really, really challenging course."
If the rain keeps up as it has the past few days, the challenge figures to only increase.
"We don't shut it down unless you literally can't drive through it," Bond said. "The rule of thumb is, if you can't open your car door (with water that high), then we will close that segment."
For those interested in learning more, course and spectator information can be found at lsprorally.com.