Each year a fresh crop of rookies comes into the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series. Some come from outside the sport, some are moving in from the Regional series or from another class, or up from karts. The primary destination for new drivers is Pro Lite.
With half the horsepower, a smaller truck and less weight – not to mention a much smaller budget – than Pro 2 or Pro 4, Pro Lite is much more manageable for the rookies. Yet it still gives drivers an opportunity to test themselves against drivers that have proven themselves such as Chris Brandt, two-time Pro Lite and defending Pro 2 champion Brian Deegan and defending Pro Lite titlist RJ Anderson. Add in other irrefutable talents like Casey Currie, Ryan Beat, Bradley Morris and Sheldon Creed, and Pro Lite is quite the battleground, especially with up to 28 trucks on the track at one time.
This year's crop of rookies comes from desert racing, karts and even oval racing, Each has his eyes set on a prize of some sort, whether it be championships, wins and podiums or perhaps a top-10 finish in the points or maybe just some consistent race finishes. Let's meet a few of them and find out what makes them tick.
Mike and Chris Lawrence
Brothers Mike and Chris Lawrence both work in the family business, founded by their grandfather who, fortunately for them, has a passion for off-road racing. That company, Lawrence Equipment, manufactures machinery that produces tortillas, flatbreads and corn chips on an industrial scale.
They built their trucks themselves, making some of the parts on the same equipment used to manufacture the tortilla machinery. Both have previous racing experience, but this is their first full foray into short course off road.
Mike has been racing in the desert for six years in Class 10. His grandfather loves Baja and desert racing, but the short course was a tough sell.
“We had to twist his arm a little bit – he called it soccer mom racing. But now that we've got him out here and he sees how action-packed it is, he's into it,” says Mike, who adds that the television time was what brought them into short course.
“It's getting harder and harder to get sponsors for desert,” Mike says. “But I love this. It's motocross with trucks.”
Mike's goal is simple: have fun and learn. “I'm definitely going in as humble as possible. I just want to get points and be fair to everybody. I don't want to make any enemies; I just want to go have fun and be competitive.”
Chris raced watercraft when he was younger. But then life stepped in with his first child, and he went to work in the family business as well. The timing was right when Mike decided to try short course, and some Lucas Oil Regional Racing Series events last year sealed the deal.
“My brother races in the desert and I've done a couple of races down there with him; but I've got duties at home and in the business,” Chris explains. “Between Little League and school, it's tough to get out there. I've just been drawn to short course. It's easier for my family to get out here and have a good time.”
Kyle Hart is doing what most 15-year-old high school sophomores can only dream of. But when your father, Marty Hart, is one of the best short course racers around, the 2010 Pro Lite champ and a current front-runner in Pro 2, it opens a few opportunities. Add to that the fact that Kyle proved himself a capable driver in his own right last year in Modified Karts and no one's surprised that he's fast and already has a podium to his credit with four races completed.
“Dad's always been there for me,” says Kyle. “Watching him be so successful and seeing how much fun he has with it makes me want to do it and be like him.”
When he's not racing, Kyle plays baseball – shortstop and second base – for the Caldwell Parish Spartans. It's a bit early to tell where life is going to take him, but of course he'd like to make a living at short course racing. “There are very few guys that can do that,” he says. “It's just a hobby for now, and we'll see where it goes.”
As the president of LoanMart, it's easy to see how Oscar Rodriguez got into short course – the company sponsors several drivers, starting with Austin Kimbrell in Pro Lite last year and continuing with Kimbrell in Pro 2 and adding Corry Weller, RJ Anderson and Ryan Beat to the stable this year, along with himself in Pro Lite. The title loan lender is also sponsoring the September race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Racing isn't new to Rodriguez; he's done some dirt track oval racing previously. But John Kimbrell didn't know that when he invited him to drive Kimbrell Racing's Pro Lite at a test last year.
“He later told me he didn't think I was actually going to drive,” says Rodriguez. “He thought once I got up to the first jump, I was going to stop. I was the opposite. I was like, 'If you're crazy enough to give me this truck, I'm going to put my foot down.' I took off and I jumped, and I jumped again and went around the track like I was racing. I did about 40 laps and at the end of the day he said I was good enough to race.
“A year later, there's my truck. I've been practicing and practicing and I'm pretty pumped up.”
Rodriguez hasn't had the easiest of introductions to short course off road, but with the help of Kimbrell Racing, he's on the right track.