There are always risks in trying something new. The resistance to change, especially in racing, where going too radical often leads to mechanical breakdowns, can be high. Still, there is the need to innovate or watch your competitors get faster as you stand still.
The introduction of V8 crate engines into the Pro Lite class is one change that may prove to be a great move, but the jury is still out. The less-prepared V8s promise greater ease of use, lower costs to run and a smaller chance of mechanical difficulties compared to their built-up, high-strung four cylinder cousins while producing a bit more power.
For Casey Currie, the decision to run the V8 in Pro Lite could have been a no-brainer. He won a championship in the Midwest running a V8. But he'd built a four -cylinder truck and felt he had a good package. Even when the V8s were allowed for the first time at the third weekend of 2011 at Glen Helen in May, he planned on sticking with the four cylinder in the No. 2 Monster Energy/Motive Gear/Currie Enterprises Nissan. But before the Friday practice and qualifying sessions were done, he'd switched to his V8 truck out of necessity and discovered it worked rather well.
“We had some motor problems in practice and, basically, it was one of those deals where either we didn't run qualifying at all and start in the back, or run the V8 and see how it goes,” he said at the time, after qualifying third quickest. “I was honestly hoping for a top 10, and to be in the top three, it shows the V8 package is the way to go.”
One race weekend later, at Miller Motorsports Park in Utah, Currie had his first Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series victory, and the first for a V8 in Pro Lite. It happened in Round 7, and perhaps not in exactly the sort of circumstances Currie might have preferred. After a rough qualifying session, Currie started in the back. By the time the competition yellow waved, he was third, behind Brian Deegan and leader Cameron Steele. But the battle between the top two got a little too intense on the final lap; Deegan was black flagged after knocking Steele out of the way, and Currie was the winner.
“I saw Cameron and Deegan up front battling and I knew something was going to go down. I was watching mistakes happening and I was closing the gap,” he said. “I'm excited to win and to be the first to win in a V8 is awesome. It just shows the V8s are here to stay and I'm excited to get more of them on the track.”
That statement begs the question, “So why not just plan to run the V8 as soon as you could?” Of course, it wasn't that simple. The engines weren't allowed until the third weekend of the 2011 season. Currie had already built a four-cylinder truck and was coming to grips with it.
“I'm here to win a championship and I didn't want to come and run around in fifth place,” he explains. “I didn't want to take a chance to run the V8, so my intent was to come with a competitive package. I've got the best four-cylinder package there is. I've got the best tranny, the best rear end, everything is the best. What I don't have is the seat time in it to be as fast as the other guys. I think I'm one step behind in not running it last year. Now, coming out and doing some R&D over the winter, getting those trucks to work, I still think the V8 is the way to go.”
Currie, who builds all his own equipment, says it's not as simple as adjusting your right foot to move between the two trucks; it requires a different driving technique.
“The four cylinder is finicky; it's on the edge and it's a lot of fun. You're revving the thing to 10,000rpm, you're on the edge, and you have to shift the manual transmission. It's very fast and everything happens quickly. With the V8, you're shifting less – it's an automatic, so you're focusing more on the driving instead of worrying about what gear you're in. You're thinking more about how far you can drive into the corner, how late you can get off the gas. In the corners in the four cylinder, you're on and off [the throttle] all the time controlling the truck. With the V8 and the torque converter, you're off once and on once. It's two totally different driving styles.”
The V8 is one change Currie is bringing to the table this season. Others include 16in. wheels and new General tires that hadn't been raced. It's taken some adjustment time, and he was frustrated with his results earlier in the season, making the victory at Miller, in a class that so far this season has been dominated by only two players, Deegan and Chris Brandt, that much sweeter.
Also making Currie proud is the fact that he does it all himself. He became a team owner at a young age – he's 27 now – and builds all his own equipment, along with building trucks for other racers. The expertise of the family business, Currie Enterprises, which builds custom rear ends for off-road applications, helps in that regard. Casey Currie is an off-road racer, that's what he does. Period.
Although he has done some desert racing, including a second in class at the Baja 1000, he prefers short course off road racing. Perhaps in part because of his motocross background, but as much as it has to offer over desert racing.
“Short-course racing brings a lot more to the table, with fans being able to sit and watch in the grandstands. Short course is a family sport, and I'm a huge believer in family.” Currie's goal is to bring the sport into stadiums, as he did when he brought some Pro Lites to put on a show at Anaheim Stadium during a Supercross event earlier this year.
When he's not racing, the single guy from Anaheim, Calif., is on a dirt bike, or racing human-powered two-wheelers. As part of his training, he's been racing both mountain bikes and road bikes. Not only does it help with his physical conditioning, it gets him into race mode more regularly.
“Instead of racing once a month, you get the adrenaline rush more often. The fact that there's the starting line, all this stuff happening… it makes racing a more daily activity, instead of there being this rush, where you're anxious. I think it's working,” he says.”
If it keeps him up front in one of short course's toughest classes, then, yeah, sounds like he's right.