by Chris Leone / Website / Twitter

All eyes in the world of American stage rally will be focused on Ohio on Friday, as the second annual Southern Ohio Forest Rally kicks off at the Ohio Forestry Sawmill with its first of 22 stages. Spectators will be able to watch the rally from the very beginning, as its 60-plus entries take off at 2:20PM local time.

The Open and Super Production classes attract a lot of eyeballs with some of the best-known drivers and most powerful cars on the grid, but they’re by no means the majority of entries in this weekend’s event. In fact, to overlook the other four classes—Group 5, Group 2, Open Light, and B-spec—is to neglect some of the most exciting racing at SOFR. Here’s a look at those four classes, and some of the names to watch on Friday and Saturday:

Group 5

Seamus Burke and Martin Brady aren’t just the pairing to beat in G5—they’re among the overall favorites at SOFR in their 1977 Ford Escort Mk2. Burke and Brady paired to win five stages here last year, and are sure to be among the top 2WD competitors yet again, if not one of the safest bets for an overall podium.

In a class where the oldest and newest cars are separated by nearly 40 years, Fords represent both ends of the spectrum: while Burke drives the oldest ride, Keanna Erickson-Chang’s 2016 Fiesta is the newest, and she’ll have the well-known Alex Gelsomino handling co-driver duties. Michael Hooper’s Lexus enters the weekend coming off of sixth overall at Rally in the 100 Acre Wood, while Chris Greenhouse and Danny Norkus will also be a threat for a 2WD podium.

Group 2

At 20 entries, the G2 class is the best represented on the SOFR start order. It features the oldest vehicle in the rally (a 1976 Volkswagen Golf campaigned by Travis and Ashlee Wallick), and nine different brands are represented on the entry list, with manufacturers ranging from Porsche to Toyota on the list.

Of those entered at SOFR, Adam VanDamme and Jacob Carlson were the top G2 team at Sno*Drift, placing seventh overall. It was a different story at 100AW, where Justin Mason and Alexandra Hutchings were best at the finish in 19th; Mason will pair with Ryan Dunham at SOFR. Jordan Guitar and John Sharps were the best of this group at SOFR last year, as they finished 11th.

Open Light

As strong as the entry lists are in other classes, OL may be the most competitive of all. Four of the top seven drivers in the national championship standings coming into SOFR are on this weekend’s OL entry list: Dave Brown (second), Jimmy Pelizzari (fifth), Nathan Usher (sixth), and Arek Bialobrzeski (seventh). If they alone, were the big names here, that would be enough to write a compelling story.

But the 15-car entry list includes a number of additional front-runners. Charles Surdyke was a stage winner and exceptionally quick at SOFR last year, and after an eventual DNF, he’ll return to the event in hopes of finishing this year’s rally on the podium. Michael Engle Jr., whose father competes in Super Production, will be running his first-ever event. And Martin Spanhel, the ex-NHL player who scored the unofficial first goal in Columbus Blue Jackets history in a preseason game in 2000, will run his first gravel rally in the United States as a part of the class.


Doug Gekiere and Matthew Hoffman will go head-to-head with Chris Sladek and Alex Schum at SOFR for top B-spec honors. Sladek’s Honda Fit won the battle at 100AW two months ago, placing 24th overall and nearly five minutes ahead of Gekiere’s Chevrolet Sonic. However, Gekiere and Hoffman finished 17th here last year in a G2 Pontiac, giving them the edge on SOFR experience.