LEBANON, MAINE, Maine — It's hard not to fall in love with Maine's forests.
A hearty few, like Andrew Benson, enjoy seeing it while driving sideways at 70 miles per hour.
Benson is an engineer and a rally car driver who built a Frankenstein monster from a Subaru and parts gathered from a handful of other cars.
"People jump out of planes and do all kinds of other crazy things. I like being threatened by trees," Andrew said smiling.
NEWS CENTER Maine met up with the Bensons on a Saturday in early July. They had rented the 4x4 Proving Grounds, a compound in Lebanon, for the morning. Andrew's mother and father are about as supportive of their son's hobby as they possibly could be.
His mother, Wendy, chuckled when asked if she approved of the endeavor.
"Oh yeah, mom pays for it," she said, standing outside the massive car transport trailer. The team name, "Lost in Maine Racing," is emblazoned on the side.
Wendy and Andrew explained that Andrew's twin brother was the first to get into the sport. He was active on message boards, using the screenname "Lost in Maine."
When he died recently, the Bensons picked up the rally racing torch and immortalized the name.
There's just enough room in the Subaru for Andrew and his co-driver, Zach Stewart. The pair share a vital relationship.
They drive each course and make hand-written notes of every corner they're going to navigate. Then, while traveling at speeds upward of 100 mph, Stewart calls out what's coming up, how serious the obstacle is, even the surface conditions. It's like a different language.
"It's kind of high-speed GPS directions along with team management stuff behind the scenes," Stewart said, explaining his role.
In addition to race guidance, the co-driver sets the event schedule for each member of the team. But the turn notes are his most crucial task.
"Done effectively, you can drive in complete whiteout conditions, and you know the distance between each corner, when the next corner is about to appear, and you can drive blind with good enough notes," Stewart said.
They're about to face their biggest test yet this year: the New England Forest Rally.
The annual race, starting near Sunday River on July 15, attracts the biggest names in the sport, like Travis Pastrana, Ken Block, and David Higgins.
Despite the celebrity turnout, the weekend is completely free to attend. Drivers can often be found lingering in the garage or by their cars, many happy to sign autographs for kids and talk shop with fans.
Andrew and Zach will be defending home turf and seem to have reasonable expectations.
"I'd like to bring it home in one piece this time, but this car is competitive," Andrew assured. "The last car was-- We were putting down second place, third place times once I started feeling the car out."
Benson said the NEFR is a favorite of the drivers, which is why so many A-listers come to compete. The opening stage at Concord Pond, in particular, he said, is legendary. Massive straightaways tempt drivers into a drag race along the area's logging roads.
The cars move so fast, Benson explained. Organizers have to create turns and obstacles to force them to slow down.
And the fan turnout is especially noticeable.
"The crowds that they get on Concord Pond are amazing," Andrew said. "It’s the number one spectator stage for our event and there [are] people from one end to the other. It’s constant. You can hear them screaming over the car, and the car is loud."
Win or lose, the team will be happy to spend another weekend in the woods with their friends.
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