As the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series enters its fifth season, the series is looking at some of its biggest changes yet. While the schedule looks much the same – new venues in Missouri and Texas don't come online until next year – the face of the paddock will change greatly with a tighter program, familiar drivers in new equipment and classes and more drivers doubling their efforts.
When the transporters roll into Firebird International Raceway for this weekend's season opener, trucks carrying Limited Buggies and SuperLites won't be among them. Those classes have moved to the burgeoning Lucas Oil Regional Off Road Series with the intent of streamlining the LOORRS show by including only the pro classes – Pro 4, Pro 2, Pro Lite and Pro Buggy – and the karts.
“We're making a conscious effort to take a little time out of the day and speed up the program. We're trying to get folks in and get folks out, and not have people working 14 or 15 hours a day trying to pull this off, for the teams as well as on the officiating side,” explains new Series Director Ritchie Lewis, who comes to LOORRS from the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series. “In the beginning, there was a lot of pushback; but now that people are accustomizing themselves to that, the logistics and how they run their program, it seems to be working out quite nicely.”
Running two fewer classes will allow for two practice sessions on Friday of each race weekend, with qualifying and racing on both Saturday and Sunday at each venue. That means more time for the racers to put on a show, and that show should be no less than last year, with several improvements and additions.
For drivers who can't get enough of Carl Renezeder vs. Rob MacCachren, two of best in the short course off road biz, there's good news. MacCachren is adding a Pro 4 program, so the Pro 2 battles will carry over. That brings to three the number of drivers double dipping in the big trucks, with Greg Adler continuing his dual effort. There may be one more, but we'll get to that in a moment.
Those drivers may still be chasing defending champion Kyle LeDuc and up-and-comer Eric Barron for wins, though. LeDuc shouldn't lose anything from last year, and Barron's program is only improving. Look for a new paint scheme on Barron's Toyota, reminiscent of that of another famous Toyota off-road racer.
In addition, Brandon Bailey moves from Pro Buggy for Stronghold Motorsports. Corry Weller has now purchased her Pro 4 from Renezeder, and Todd LeDuc and Josh Merrell are continuing as well.
The other possible double dipper isn't a two-wheel driver adding a four-wheel-drive truck into the mix, but the other way around. Kyle LeDuc appears to be looking to add a Pro 2 program this year, although it's not clear if he'll have everything together for Firebird. That should add excitement to the Pro 2 ranks, if that's possible after last year's four-way fight to the finish between eventual champ Brian Deegan, Marty Hart and MacCachren. Renezeder struggled a bit early last year with his new Nissan program, but came on strong toward the end of the season. Adler took a victory last year, and Jeff Geiser was consistently at the front if not challenging for wins.
The Pro 2 field is quite deep, with any of a dozen drivers able to stand on the podium on any given weekend, including Rob Naughton – in his second year with Hart & Huntington – Jeremy McGrath, Rodrigo Ampudia, Patrick Clark and Robby Woods.
Newcomers to the class include Austin Kimbrell, who finished fifth in the Pro Lite standings in 2012 with a win in the opener; Drew Britt, who had some strong performances in SuperLite last year; and defending Pro Buggy champ Mike Porter.
As always, Pro Lite includes a host of rookies, but they'll still have to contend with defending champion and Driver of the Year RJ Anderson, now with LoanMart sponsorship. Brian Deegan looks set to continue racing in Pro Lite in addition to Pro 2 as he seeks his first double title. As in Pro 2, the talent pool is deep in the Lites, with Chris Brandt, Casey Currie, Justin Smith, Bradley Morris, Jacob Person, Ryan Beat and Kyle Lucas all able to run at the front. Plus SuperLite champ Sheldon Creed has revamped his truck in preparation to attack this season.
There are some promising new arrivals that may shake things up, though. Kyle Hart should be strong if his performance in karts is any indication, especially with father Marty guiding him. Oscar Rodriguez is stepping into Kimbrell's Lite.
With Porter leaving for Pro 2, Pro Buggy is the one class without a defending champ. But Steven Greinke, Larry Job, Dave Mason, Geoffrey Cooley and, new to the class, but not to buggies, Bradley Morris and John Fitzgerald, are all capable and eager to fill that void.
“There are some pretty cool things out there,” says Lewis. “I think we're in for a changing of the guard as far as people winning races. The cream will still rise to the top, but the true form of competition is going to be better than it's ever been.”
The 2013 Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series will have a very similar schedule to last year, with two exceptions. One is the Speedworld race in Surprise, Ariz., changes weekends and venues, moving to Las Vegas a week later with Speedworld's closing. The other big change is the final race, along with the Lucas Oil Challenge Cup, will move to Lake Elsinore, which now hosts two events up from last year's single.
The series continues to enjoy strong sponsorship, with Rockstar Energy, Mickey Thompson Tires, LoanMart, E3 Spark Plugs, ReadyLift Off Road, Optima Batteries, General Tire, Geico and Toyota all returning and, in several cases, stepping up their programs. Hart & Huntington sponsor Lunarpages is also on board as a series sponsor this year.
For the fans who can't make it to the track, more than 100 hours of television programming covering the series will be available on CBS, MAVTV, SPEED Channel, CBS Sports and NBC Sports Network. Look for Pro 4 and Pro 2 from Firebird on CNBS on April 20.