Carl Renezeder's ambitious program for the 2011 Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series season could have easily backfired. Instead he came away with one championship – bringing his short course total to eight – and led the points for much of the year in another. Even so, the outcome could have been very different.
“It started with a new crew chief, Bill Smith,” says Renezeder. “We've made a ton of changes to the trucks – suspension changes, powerplant changes, drivetrain changes. We've changed everything possible you can think about changing, except the driver. That was questionable, but they decided to keep me,” he adds with a grin.
“We made more changes in this season than probably most guys in their careers. I went from an automatic transmission to a manual transmission, with special changes to suit my style of driving that's different from anybody else. Probably did a few things that really shouldn't have worked the first time out, but did – geometry changes, shock changes…just about everything to try to go faster.”
Those sorts of wholesale changes are the stuff of nightmares, things that most racing veterans will say is a bad idea. Change one thing at a time, see how it works, then move on to the next thing, they say. Otherwise you're chasing your tail when something doesn't work, trying to figure out which changes had the desired effect and which ones did the opposite.
“It could have been a recipe for disaster, but that's a testament to how good our team is. We do it right. We're not totally dialed in still,” said Renezeder right after clinching the Pro 4 Unlimited title in Round 14 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, before hinting that there was one more thing he wanted to try for the final round at Firebird. As the old saying goes, “In racing, if you're not moving forward, you're going backward.”
There was one particular competitor that helped spur many of the changes Renezeder implemented in 2011, and that's 2010 Pro 4 champ Rick Huseman, who was killed in a private plane crash along with his brother, Jeff, In October. Renezeder was champ in 2009, but Huseman came in and absolutely dominated in 2010.
“I've said it before…for a lot of years, I was kind of his target, maybe a little bit of his mentor. Then in 2010 he set records of races won and the roles changed a little bit. He became the teacher and I became the student and I had to go back to school. And that's good. He pushed us hard, our whole team. But we've worked really hard and it's paying off,” says Renezeder.
Huseman's death, along with dealing a huge blow to the short course of road community because of their love and respect for the man, made Renezeder's championship bittersweet. Renezeder was leading the points at the time of Huseman's passing, but he would have preferred to carry on the fight with one his toughest competitor.
“It's really sad. I would have felt a lot worse if he was leading the points and I wasn't. Nevertheless, I dedicate this to him anyway. We had a lot of good raced and I'm going to continue to have great races in his honor and continue to dig deep and do the best I can to keep that desire to continue to win.”
The only other racer with a real shot at the Pro 4 title was Kyle LeDuc. LeDuc had more wins than Renezeder in 2011, but he was a lot more likely to have a bad finish. He was off the podium six times compared to Renezeder's two.
“We tied up the championship to where we didn't have to race the final race and we did that with a win,” says Renezeder. “That means a lot to me because Kyle was really fast this year. Rick was really fast. We had good battles with Rick, but midway through the season, we showed we had the speed to dice with Rick. But then Kyle took another step beyond that. We had to pick up our game again even more to do it.”
Renezeder's bid for another double championship, like in 2009 when he won both Pro 2 and Pro 4, seemed like it might be successful at the midpoint of the season. But Pro 2 is both more competitive – there were six winners in 2011 compared to three in Pro 4 – and a little rougher. It's much easier to be in the wrong place at the wrong time with no way out.
“Our Pro 2 truck is fast. It's the lightest truck out there and we have the smallest motor. It works, but there are times when I have to hold on the first few laps and then the truck comes in. Qualifying's tough, but if you look at my lap times in the races, toward the end I'm considerably faster than most of the guys,” he says.
The trick, then, is to make it to the tail end of the races with your truck intact and in a position to win. But, “Guys get into you and you don't have the front wheels to pull you around, and you go to the back. It's a circus. It's really disappointing to see what happens in the back. You cannot race from the back. You just can't do it,” he adds.
Perhaps that's one reason why he chose to race his Pro 2 in the season-ending race with the Pro 4s in the Lucas Oil Challenge Cup, where the Pro 2s start ahead of the 4s. He almost pulled it off, but a hard battle with Jeremy McGrath on the final lap turned ugly. Renezeder recovered and continued, thinking he had finished second. But the officials decided otherwise. They determined he was the cause of the three-way crash that also involved Doug Fortin, and moved him to the back.
Despite that disappointment, it was a good year for Renezeder, with the Pro 4 championship and a third-place points finish in Pro 2. And with all the changes he made in 2011, surely he's going to start 2012 with the same equipment that he's worked so hard to dial in.
Well, if he needs to change one more thing, he could always switch manufacturers, returning to Nissan. Care to guess what Nissan recently announced?
Looks like one season of change wasn't quite enough for Carl Renezeder.