Patrick Clark should probably be racing something on asphalt – motorcycles, karts, cars… something. But the dirt called to him. The challenge of racing on an ever-changing surface seemed more appealing. It's proven a pretty good choice for the man who's now the 2012 Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series Pro 2 Rookie of the Year.
Clark grew up in racing, but on the asphalt side of things. His family has long been involved in motorsports – his father runs one of the top teams in AMA Superbike racing and his brother, Chris, races on that team alongside Ben Bostrom. So Clark's early days were spent on asphalt in Junior Dragsters, Bandoleros and karts. But the Las Vegas native thought his true calling was on dirt.
So he began in late 2010 with the SuperLite class, taking advantage of the arrive-and-drive arrangement they offered. He liked it, bought a truck and did the Lucas Oil Series full time in 2011, finishing second in the points with a win at Miller Motorsports Park and four other podium finishes. The soft surfaces seemed to agree with him.
“I grew up racing on asphalt and learned a lot and had some of the best racing of my life,” he says. “But on dirt it all changes. Coming through one lap, it's perfectly fine. You come by the next time and there could be a two-foot rut right in your race line and you have to change it up. You have to rely on your skills more than just an extremely well prepared car. On asphalt you've got to be consistent. It was a lot of fun, but to challenge myself with a different atmosphere of racing and a different technique of racing and to be battling these guys is a huge accomplishment.”
The “these guys” that Clark refers to are his new competitors in the Pro 2 class that he joined in 2012, which includes some of the legends of off-road racing such as Rob MacCachren, Carl Renezeder and, quickly joining the ranks of the elite, Brian Deegan. The highlight of his year, he notes, was holding off MacCachren to finish second in Round 9 at Glen Helen.
Pro 2 has been a learning curve for Clark. He took the smart route by finding a good team to hook up with, Jerry and Aaron Daugherty at Live Fast Play Dirty Motorsports, to prep the truck he bought from Speed Technologies. “We didn't know enough to be on a team by ourselves and we didn't want to spend a year or two working out the bugs. As a driver that can be frustrating, if you know you can run with these guys but you're always chasing problems. So we were trying to find a team that was willing to take me in as a driver and teach me racing and prepping the truck. It's a great team and I really couldn't be happier with the performance and the time they've spent with me and the effort they've put into the truck,” Clark says.
Still, even with a bunch of experience behind him, he's had much to learn in making the transition form SuperLite to Pro 2. He even had to compromise the truck a little to get used to it and comfortable driving it. But now he's back to moving it the other way as he learns its quirks and gets accustomed to the differences.
“To get it to how I drive and the techniques I learned, we had to change up some stuff,” he says. “We changed the front geometry a little bit so that when it lands, it stays planted. At first we had the truck really, really stiff because the SuperLite doesn't have a lot of body roll. The SuperLite stays planted, whereas the first time I drove a Pro 2, you get in the corner and the truck needs to roll over, so I had to back out and slow down. We tightened up the truck so I was used to it. I got more seat time and got used to the truck, so we started to loosen it up, let it roll over and get it to carry the front end – you really need to load up the outside tire.
“When you get comfortable with the truck leaning more, it grips a little more and you can use more power. So we played a lot with the handling of the truck trying to get me comfortable as a driver and get comfortable in my equipment, to throw it in the corner and know exactly what it's going to do.”
Now Clark just needs to bag that elusive first victory. It didn't happen in his first season in Pro 2, but that would be unusual with the type of competition in this class. However, to come as close as he did, with two podium finishes, is fairly remarkable under the circumstances.
“It's a monkey on my back and nagging at me. To finally get a win will be huge,” he says. “A lot of it is setup and I've got to be on my game 100 percent. Some of it boils down to luck – you get up front, or you end up in back and have to dodge the squirrels. I've had both. It's going to take a huge drive from me, to want it enough to take it past that 100 percent.
“There are some good guys out here that can win on any occasion. I'm glad to be up there with them. Maybe there's a secret these guys know that we haven't found yet. But, next year I'll be battling.”