There are rookies, and then there are rookies. In the sport of short course off-road racing, someone's always trying a new class, or tasting the sport for the first time.
At the last round of the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series at Speedworld Off Road Park in Surprise, Ariz., there were a few rookies in both categories. UTV ace Austin Kimbrell (LEFT) was taking a run in a Pro Lite Unlimited truck for the first time. Drifting and Rally star Tanner Foust was a guest of the Metal Mulisha Rockstar squad, driving their SuperLite truck in his first shot at short course.
Two drivers. Two different backgrounds. Two divergent racing futures. Two different weekend results.
Kimbrell is seeking a career in short course. Perhaps not a living – the 19-year-old is a student at Arizona State University majoring in communications – but he has his heart set on racing in this sport for years to come. Starting off in UTVs in a Yamaha Rhino three years ago, he moved to the Kawasaki this year with Monster sponsorship and had a miserable start to the season with four straight DNFs. But he came on strong with five straight wins, and is now in a tight battle with defending champion Chad George for the Unlimited UTV title.
Just as George did this year, adding SuperLite (and leading the championship with three races left) to his repertoire, Kimbrell began looking for the next step. Earlier this year the team purchased a Pro Lite chassis, made some changes and went testing. Kimbrell's first competition outing in the truck was at the end of September in Surprise. The reason for waiting so long? Kimbrell wants to make a run for the Rookie of the Year title in Pro Lite in 2011, and can have no more than six race starts this year in order to qualify as a rookie.
“I want to win Rookie of the Year next year,” Kimbrell says. “My eventual goal is to win a championship in Pro Lite, then move up to a Pro 2 or a Pro 4. We'll see how it goes. Definitely a championship in the Pro Lite in the next couple of years. I don't think that's too big a goal.”
Unfortunately, his Pro Lite career got off to an inauspicious start. Felled in his first race by a hose clamp, the resulting engine damage due to lack of water was too much for him to make another attempt on Sunday. But between testing, practice and qualifying, he has had enough seat time in the Pro Lite to make a good comparison between the truck and the UTV.
“It's busy – a lot busier in the truck,” he says. “There's so much stuff going on. The trucks are bigger, there's more mud – I ripped off all my tear-offs the first lap – the shifting. The two-wheel drive, too – the UTVs are four-wheel drive. And five times the horsepower.
“The truck you have to keep your momentum up a little bit better; take [the turns] wide – you can't pinch it off. The UTVs are four-wheel drive, so I could throw it down underneath someone.”
Kimbrell wasn't under the impression that moving to the trucks was going to be easy, but there are a few things that surprised him.
“The competition's a lot better. We're on the top of our game in UTV, and we need to get on the top in Pro Lite. It'll take a year or two. The competition's a lot stiffer – everyone knows what they're doing.”
Kimbrell will come back at Las Vegas, then Firebird, to prepare for next season and, he hopes, win the Unlimited UTV championship in the process.
Foust had a slightly better experience in his first short course outing. Stay tuned for his thoughts on the experience.