HAM Radio 101

Public Service Events: Ham Radio at the Southern Ohio Forest Rally

The Southern Ohio Forest Rally (SOFR) races on roads that cut through the forests of Vinton, Ross, and Hocking counties. The 2022 race featured 95 rally car entries enjoying lots of racing action.

Rally cars race through stages on closed roads, proceeding individually and timed on how long it takes to complete each stage. The car that has the shortest time at the end of the event claims the trophy and bragging rights. Along the way, each driver is linked by headset with a passenger who has race-supplied notes on the course.

Hams provide an important “safety net” for the rally, but before we get into the role amateur operators play during the race, first a little history:

From the history of the Southern Ohio Forest Rally: Ohio has hosted American national championship stage rally events on 22 occasions, beginning with the establishment of the SCCA Pro Rally Championship in 1973 and ending in 1996. Many of the stages that made up previous Ohio events returned to action in 2017 as the Southern Ohio Forest Rally made its Rally America debut. The following year brought back even more of the historical roads by including Tar Hollow State Park.

For 2019 the Southern Ohio Forest Rally moved to the sanctioning of the American Rally Association, a USAC Racing entity. While 2020 was an “odd” year, they managed to pull off a successful one-day event. The 2021 SOFR was an ARA National Championship event.

For the 2022 rally (June 9-11), volunteers had many different opportunities to help out for all three days of the event or just one. Most positions were a full-day commitment, and the volunteer’s group, or “stage crew,” were in the woods all day.

Rally Car pic
Volunteer badge for Rally Cross volunteer

There are many people involved and it takes precise teamwork. The biggest tasks include communications between stage start and stage finish and keeping communications open between rally officials. Radio operators need to provide their own radios and usually need a car to get them to their positions in the forests.

Volunteer working at Southern Ohio Forest Rally

As stage workers at the SOFR, ham radio operators are in the middle of the forest for an entire day with volunteers from other groups. If you’re thinking of participating, besides your radios and antennas you should bring:

  • Food, snacks, and beverages
  • Waterproof clothing and boots plus a jacket or sweatshirt
  • Flashlights and extra batteries
  • Extra power for cellular devices since volunteers will have a little downtime (although you may not have a signal)
  • Markers and ballpoint pens—The Start and Finish Crew will get these, but it is good to have extras
  • Clipboard with light
  • Camera to document the fun
  • Gas—Fill your vehicle before leaving
  • Toilet paper/Kleenex/baby wipes (there are no facilities in the woods!)
  • Sunscreen and bug spray—A hat is recommended to avoid possible falling ticks
  • Chair
Cars racing in Southern Ohio Forest Rally
Volunteer truck at Southern Ohio Forest Rally

On a sad note, the sport lost one of its greats. Pro rally driver and Hoonigan Industries co-founder Ken Block was killed in a snowmobile accident on January 2, 2023, at the age of 55. I watched him race during the 2022 SOFR and it was an amazing piece of driving. He will be missed.

Questions? Share them in the comments below or email me at KE8FMJ@gmail.com.

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