Kyle LeDuc may not have won the Pro 4 championship, but he couldn't have scripted a better way to end the 2010 Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series on the day of the Rockstar Energy Lucas Oil Challenge Cup. Not only did he repeat Saturday's Super Lite victory, but also he bested a field of 27 Pro 4 and Pro 2 trucks to claim the Cup for himself and the $30,000 paycheck that goes with it.
Starting well back in the Pro 4 field thanks the inversion of the top 10 in points, and behind all the Pro 2 trucks, he had to work his way through the field – and dodge a lot of flying fiberglass and rolling trucks – to get to the front.
The Pro 4 drivers started at the same time as the Pro 2 drivers, but were released between Turns 3 and 4 of the five-turn, 0.8-mile course at Firebird International Raceway. The first Pro 4s crossed the start line about 16 seconds after the first Pro 2s.
Despite starting with that large a gap, most had predicted that it would be a four-wheel drive rout on the small Firebird circuit that featured a couple of 180-degree corners. Those that had a choice of trucks went with their Pro 4s. But it proved more evenly matched than many thought.
Kevin Probst and Jeff Geiser led the Pro 2s to the green, while Michael Johnson and John Harrah did the same for the Pro 4s. Probst led overall for quite a few laps while the Pro 2 points leaders worked their way up and the Pro 4s ran the 2s down.
The 4s were aided in catching the 2s by an early yellow for Nick Tyree rolling in Turn 1. But even before then, some of the Pro 4s, including favorite Rick Huseman, had run into some trouble. A minor incident at the start left Huseman far back; a much larger incident with a roll and fire in Turn 2 effectively ended his race and brought out a red flag.
At that point, Probst still led, followed by fellow Pro 2 racers Bryce Menzies, Todd LeDuc and Geiser. But by this time the lead Pro 4s were in the thick of it, with Kyle LeDuc and Carl Renezeder – who had to change an engine after blowing it in Saturday's finale – fifth and sixth overall.
Menzies took the lead at the restart while Kyle LeDuc and Renezeder continued their march toward the front. Another yellow for an incident in Turn 1 brought the field back together, just after Kyle took the lead from Menzies. When the green flew, Renezeder again started pursuing and got by Menzies to take on LeDuc; but his progress was hampered by a flat right-front tire, a big handicap on a predominantly left-turn circuit.
Menzies got back by Renezeder, but had nothing for LeDuc. Todd LeDuc also got by Renezeder briefly, but couldn't make it stick. Renezeder hung on for third behind Menzies, the top Pro 2 truck. Todd LeDuc and Marty Hart, making his Pro 4 debut this weekend, rounded out the top five. Six of the top 10 finishers were two-wheel-drive trucks.
“It was really tough,” said Menzies, who took home $15,000 for second and $1,000 for being the top Pro 2. “The Pro 4s have a lot of traction out of the corners. We started in the fifth row and ran up front for a little while. It was clean racing and a lot of fun.”
For LeDuc, his second big-money win of the day was as exciting for him as it hopefully was for the fans.
“Firebird Raceway, I hope that was an exciting race, because it was insane to drive out there on that racetrack. It was sick,” he said on the podium. Insane was right, given the mount of damage every truck exhibited. Yet LeDuc managed to stay clear of most of it, even leaving two intact fiberglass door panels on his truck.
“How, I have no idea,” he said. “There was so much smoke and chaos. I got to play with Carl and Adrian [Cenni]. We got rid of Ricky quick,” he added, referring to Huseman's misfortune.
The Pro 4 vs. Pro 2 race was preceded by an event unique in short course, the Pro Buggy vs. Pro Lite race. The two classes usually turn similar lap times, although they're achieved in different ways given how different the vehicles are to each other. Like the big truck race, most expected the buggies to have their way with the small trucks, but it was pretty tight.
The buggies started right behind the trucks – no gap as there was in the headliner. John Beyer led the trucks to the start and Mike Porter led the buggies. After the green, Sean Geiser took the lead, but it was short-lived as he retired with a mechanical failure two laps later. Pro Lite champion Marty Hart – starting 10th because of the inversion of the top 10 in points – had blown through the truck field to get to the front and open up a huge lead before the yellow flag.
When it came, Hart was leading Matt Loiodice and Brian Deegan. Justin Davis was the leading buggy in fourth. When the green waved again, Deegan got into Hart, which started a chain reaction that left Loiodice rolling and Deegan back a few spots.
“At the restart, I was nose to tail, and I should have jumped out and got alongside of him, and he kind of went slow and I hit him,” explained Deegan. “Right as I hit him, they threw the green. Loiodice and everyone jumped around me, and Loiodice rolled in Turn 1 and got on top of me. That put me back to, I don't know, sixth or so. Then I just pinned it. I passed Jimmy Stephensen, passed Cameron Steele and a few other buggies.
“I passed Marty Hart – smashed him in Turn 3. Honestly, it was the dirtiest I ever drove in my career. I didn't want to, but it's the way you've got to do it. Then there was one buggy to go. I should have passed him. I felt I was the fastest vehicle on the track and should have won that race.”
He might have had it not been for the restart incident. As it was, the one buggy was Doug Fortin, who got around Davis and then Hart to take the lead. Fortin took home the $20,000 to win, with Deegan in second as the top Pro Lite and Davis in third.
“It's the biggest payday I've ever had in an off-road car,” said Fortin. “I went inside Marty Hart a couple times and he shut the door on me and actually bumped me a couple of times to let me know he wasn't going to let me in. Then I finally made one of them stick. Once I was by him, I pulled away.”
RJ Anderson took the lead at the start of the Super Lite race, but broke three laps in, handing the lead to Ricky James. But James had similar misfortune. Kyle LeDuc, starting 12th because he wasn't a regular in the class and was outside the top 10 in points, had charged through the field and took over the lead. Chad George finished second and CJ Greaves was third.
Geoffrey Cooley started on the pole for the Unlimited Buggy race, but it wasn't long before he had champion Justin “Bean” Smith stalking him. Cooley kept the lead at the start, followed by Kyle Lucas. Smith was behind Lucas almost immediately and got past him within the space of a couple of laps. A red flag for a multi-buggy accident between Turns 1 and 2 erased any advantage Cooley had. Smith shadowed him for a while before making his move. Cooley raced him for a couple of laps, but Smith soon cleared him and was never headed. John Fitzgerald, who had been Smith's closest rival for the title, finished third.
Ryan Beat repeated his Saturday SR1 UTV win, while Robert VanBeekum won Unlimited UTV.
The Trophy kart drivers were racing for money for once, in addition to some time at a midget driving school. The money was thanks to the generosity of Pro Buggy racer Chuck Cheek of CMI Precision Machining, whose children Micaela and Myles race karts, along with Doug Fleming, Rod Anderson and class founder Nestor Berardi.
“I wanted to put up some money because we make parts for the class,” said Cheek. “In Junior 2, it's a mandated part, so we couldn't really put up contingency. We wanted to give something back.”
The kart winners counted some familiar names, including Brock Heger winning Junior 1 and Sheldon Creed winning the Modified kart race. But the feel-good story of the day was Isabella Naughton winning Junior 2. Naughton's karts were stolen a month ago in a trailer, and have not been recovered. Bella Naughton got back on track with the help of several other teams. She started second behind fellow second-generation racer Hailie Deegan, took the lead on the second lap and ran away with the victory.
• The Rockstar Energy Lucas Oil Challenge Cup races will air Sunday, Jan. 8, on CBS. The 2011 Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series begins at Firebird on March 19-20.
• Although the season is over, watch for continued coverage and features on the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series here at RACER.com.