Famous race driver rare rally car burns down at New England Forest Rally

Episode 222

July 22, 2018

New England Forest Rally does not disappoint

With a star-studded line up and 55 entries combined with hot, dusty forest roads, the New England Forest Rally (NEFR) gave some drivers fits, fans lots of action, and used up several race cars.

Ken Block (left) with Last Ditch Racing crew member Jake Davee prior to race. Dana Dickson photo

Ken Block garnered much of the pre-race talk with his vintage 1991 European-spec Ford Escort Cosworth RS rally car. Many wondered how the Gymkhana You Tube star would fare against the modern rally cars.

Ken Block in action on the early stages of the New England Forest Rally headquartered at Sunday River Resort. This high-flying photo was taken by Joel Sanford

Block was running third in the standings when in his words on Facebook, “Wild day for Alex Gelsomino and I. We were running in 3rd overall in the New England Forest Rally (with a gear box problem), pressing on to finish Stage 4 when I turned into a tighter left corner and downshifted. The box didn’t shift when I wanted it to (because mechanical issue), and when it finally did, it threw me into the inside of a corner and into a big rock.”

“That rock sent us rolling over twice. We landed on our wheels, and I was ready to get going again because we were shiny side up. Buuuut as you can see, a fire started REALLY quick. Alex and I got out safely, but the car thoroughly burned right there on the stage. Luckily the in-car action was caught on my helmet mounted GoPro.”

That action may be viewed here:


Bangor’s Cassidy second in  regional portion of New England Forest Rally

Despite suffering damage in Friday’s third stage requiring them to not finish, Bangor’s Last Ditch Racing team spent a good portion of Friday evening working on their rally car. Rally racing rewards those who finish not always looking or running as well as they started, however, running.

When I asked Last Ditch Racing’s veteran driver/owner, John Cassidy about the races he replied, ” Here’s a rundown on our weekend.”

“The National event comprised the stages of both days. There are two Regional rallies, one on each one of the two days. The Maine Rally is Friday and the New Hampshire Rally is Saturday.”

Bangor’s Last Ditch Racing Subaru getting air at the New England Forest Rally. This is one reason suspension wear can be problematic. Justin Soderberg photo

“After pushing on Concord Pond on Friday, we landed hard on a freshly rebuilt rear strut, causing the shock oil to be expelled. That essentially left us with no damping on that corner. On the second stage, we suffered an electrical issue with the fusebox. Smoke was coming out. We decided to run the second stage anyway, ready to pull over should there be a fire.”

“We rolled the car into refueling after it started and then, after jiggling some wires, made it to stage three. We were able to start the stage, but then the car died at speed. We got it started it again, but then it died shortly thereafter.”

“We made the decision to pull it off the stage. We were able to drive it back to service after the stage was completed, saving the crew a long night of recovering the car in the woods. The crew rebuilt the strut on the workbench in the service truck, with the help of Jon Bolduc. They used FaceTime on their iPhones to get it done. They were successful!

Duncan Matlock with the help of Jon Bolduc rebuilding the rear shock on the bench of the race trailer after it expelled all its oil following a hard hit after a large jump. John Cassidy photo

“We pulled the power for the fuel, ignition and fan relays out of the melting fuse box and ran power supplies directly from the battery. We also unplugged one of our two cooling fans to reduce power draw.”

First loop of day two went well. Second not as well. The handling and grip were going away due to tires wearing and the rebuilt shock being set firmer than the sister strut on the rear.”

“We changed tires to a fresher set for the last stage, but we couldn’t make up the 23 second deficit to first place on a three-mile stage. We made up 3 seconds, I think.

“We were the only car in our class remaining in the New Hampshire Rally, so won an award for that and took second overall for the day. We were listed as DNF for the Maine Rally on Friday.”

New England Forest Rally marks the debut of John Cassidy V as co-driver

John Cassidy V and IV at New England Forest Rally. This was Cassidy V’s debut as co-driver with his Dad. Dana Dickson photo

As mentioned in last weeks episode, the NEFR was the first rally run as a father/son team. Rally requires a co-driver who reads course notes via an intercom system to allow the driver to proceed quickly through a course which may be unfamiliar.

This race saw John Cassidy IV driving as usual, however the usual co-driver Dave Getchell stepped aside for John Cassidy V to work alongside his dad.

How did this relationship play out in the race? Cassidy V said, “Having my son co-drive was an amazing experience. Surreal, stressful and proud. All sorts of emotions.”

“He’s been involved with the team and going to rallies since I got involved in the sport 19 years ago. He co-drove like he’s been doing it for years, which was amazing.”

“He was part of the service crew for many years, and I think he had a new appreciation for how tiring the work in the car is as well. He had co-driven for some other drivers at some rally sprints and regional rallies, but this was the first event that we could race together.”

“I told him after one stage that we had redlined in 6th gear, which is about 114 mph. He said, ‘It didn’t seem that fast.'”

Of course Cassidy cannot accomplish much at an event of this magnitude without help. Though the names may have changed over the 19 year career of Cassidy he still gives much of the credit to his crew. The team consisted of Dana Dickson, the den mother who kept everyone fed and hydrated, Duncan Matlack crew chief, and crew members, Jake Davee, Elliot Matlack and Drew Simpson.

Cassidy said that he will be back for year 20 at the New England Forest Rally July 2019 after a lot of work on the car. I am looking forward to seeing what they do as they prep the car and crew for another go.

Oh by the way, who won?

After visiting Vermont Sports Cars and getting my final tour of their old shop in Colchester, Vermont in Episode # 209 in April 2018, I predicted that one of the two Team Subaru USA cars would win. This team does not race to lose whether it is the David Higgins #75 or Travis Pastrana in #1!

I hope to get to tour the team’s new headquarters in Milton, Vermont when I am there in August.

Team Subaru USA #75 driven by David Higgins and co-driver Craig Drew on route to overall victory in New England Forest Rally. Joel Sanborn photo

The winner of the NEFR is no surprise. David Higgins used his superior driving skills and Vermont Sports Car prepared Subaru to finish ahead of Jeff Seehorn and co-driver Karen Jankowski from Spokane, Washington.

After a miscalculation resulting in a ten minute penalty, the #1 Vermont Sports Car Subaru driven by Travis Pastrana and co-driver Robbie Durant placed third. Pastran as you may recall is fresh from the Evil Knievel jumps he performed July 8.

Valvoline Fast Track to Fame national winner is from Maine

Wyatt’s white car is the one he used for the contest profile.  He was considering this pose for his senior class picture. Alexander graduated from Ellsworth High School in 2017. Oh by the way… he did not use this for his yearbook photo. WAR photo

That is correct. If you have not heard by now, Wyatt Alexander from Ellsworth, Maine is the 2018 Valvoline Fast Track to Fame winner. After months of voting by fans, the voting culminated on July 3rd while Alexander and his family were racing at Spud Speedway’s Firecracker 200.

Valvoline announced Tuesday that the University of North Carolina-Charlotte sophomore was the grand prize winner of the contest. As a result, Alexander will receive:

  1. Cash $10,000
  2. Valvoline products $5,000
  3. Safety equipment $5,000
  4. Tires $5,000
  5. Branding which could include car wrap, helmet wrap, crew shirts, etc $5,000
  6. Industry support such as PR support, full motion simulator, custom hero cards, online racing subscriptions, access to seminars, and travel. $13,000

It is still quite soon after the announcement by Valvoline and Wyatt is working his way through the process of getting everything in good order. He said, “So far I have been in contact back and forth with the people at Valvoline doing some paperwork and such but that is it so far.”

“I don’t think it will affect my day-to-day too much but hopefully it will open up some doors. I am not sure where I will be going with them yet, but there has been some talk about marketing opportunities that would include travel to events.”

Northern Maine Fair features motorsports activities

The popular truck and tractor pulls will be two days only at the 2018 edition of the Northern Maine Fair. Northern Maine Fair photo

The 164th Northern Maine Fair will be hosting five events which may appeal to the motorsports enthusiast. Events include:

  1. International Truck and Tractor Pulls July 27 & 28
  2. Rods, Rides, and Relics Show July 28 & 29 in the Forum
  3. Tractor Rodeo July 30 Forestry Building Area
  4. Summer Motor Mayhem August 3rd at the grandstands
  5. Demolition Derby August 4th at the grandstand

My goal is to attend the pulls and the Forum show. More details about the events can be found at :


Rick Arbeau on left with Ricky Bobby 100 race winner Ryan Messer at Speedway 660 , Geary Woods, New Brunswick. RYAN Motorsports photo

RYAN Motorsports wins at a special night at New Brunswick’s Speedway 660

The Street Stock Division at the track put together a special race, the “Ricky Bobby 100” to benefit long time race fan, Rick Arbeau. Arbeau, nicknamed “Ricky Bobby”, has been diagnosed with stage 4 small cell cancer which has been determined inoperable and terminal.

The feature in Street Stock had 25 cars and a large payout, $1500 to win. Winner of the race was Luc McLaughlin followed by Shawn Hyslop. Rounding out the podium in third was Riley Goodwin.

Only one point separates Pro Stock Division leader veteran driver Dave O’Blenis from two-year man Ryan Messer after Messer won the Pro Stock feature that was part of the “Ricky Bobby” Saturday evening at the Geary Woods, New Brunswick race track.

“The Pro Stock race was also a thrilling race,” said RYAN Motorsports crew chief Robb Messer. “Ryan went toe to toe with a couple of the veterans of the division and managed to come out with the win! Ryan is currently sitting second in the points, only 1 point behind the leader (Dave O’Blenis).”

RYAN Motorsports is back in action next Saturday for the “Christmas In July”  100 lap  Pro Stock feature race. Santa Claus will be making a special pre-Christmas visit to the track.

Record at Loring Video

I thought you might like to see what 259 miles per hour looks like in the record-setting RecMech Motorsports Corvette driven by Eastwood, New Hampshire’s Jason White.



Let’s go racing,

Tom Hale

Soli Deo Gloria







Tom Hale

About Tom Hale

Tom wrote 14 years as freelancer for the Bangor Daily Sports covering motorsports in Maine. Now blogging and concentrating on human interest stories about people and places in racing. He races Champ Karts and owns HTF Motorsports in remote Westmanland, Maine