It was nothing a few extra fans sucking air through the radiators couldn't fix, but more than a few trucks and buggies were overheating in the scorching Arizona sun as the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series returned to Speedworld Off Road Park in Surprise, Ariz. At the end of the weekend, some drivers had turned their luck around, but not all for the better.
Carl Renezeder had what has been this year a rare double win on Saturday, winning in both Pro 4 Unlimited and Pro 2 Unlimited. He backed that up with a good battle with Rob MacCachren in Pro 2 on Sunday, finishing second to the driver who finished behind him the day before. MacCachren's solid performance and Rick Huseman's Pro 4 win on Sunday meant no gains for Renezeder in either championship. Chris Brandt, however, moved into the Pro Lite points lead thanks to a win on Saturday and Marty Hart's struggles – a blown engine on Saturday and power steering issues on Sunday erased almost sure wins for Hart.
Travis Coyne started up front for the first Pro race on Saturday, but a big pileup in Turn 4 left things in a mess, and the field was regrouped and restarted. Michael Johnson took the lead this time, and led for several laps until he came under attack by Renezeder. Points leader Rick Huseman, who never recovered after the first-lap pileup, dropped out. Renezeder, meanwhile, had air leaving his left-front tire from the first-lap mash-up, but was still able to get by Johnson. So too, eventually, did Adrian Cenni and Kyle LeDuc after Johnson had a flat himself. Despite the flat tire, Renezeder held on to win in his Lucas Oil Ford, followed by Cenni, LeDuc, Johnson, Coyne and Josh Merrell.
“First lap, coming into Turn 4, the leader spun out and we all collected up,” explained Renezeder (LEFT, Pro 2). “ I don't know if it was completely flat, but after the first few laps it was pretty much flat. I drove it exactly the way I would if it were full. I just kept going.”
Renezeder started third on Sunday for Pro 4, behind Bryce Menzies and Johnson. Kyle LeDuc, Cenni and Huseman followed him. Johnson got out in front, but it was LeDuc and Huseman making quick work of the field behind. LeDuc took the lead from Johnson with a great run off Turn 4, passing him in the air off the jump before Turn 5. Huseman moved into second a few laps later. It wasn't until after the race was interrupted by a couple of yellows that Huseman pushed his Monster/Traxxas Toyota to the front on the final lap, leaving LeDuc in second and Coyne in third. Huseman retained his rather large points lead despite Saturday's trouble.
Hart started behind Adam Wik in Saturday's Pro Lite Unlimited race, but made quick work and ran away from the field. Then his engine started sounding sour right before the competition yellow, and he could only watch the field stream past on the restart. That left Brandt and Jimmy Stephensen to battle for the win, which they did, often trading the lead a couple times per lap. It was Brandt (RIGHT) who had his MavTV/Lucas Oil Toyota in front at the finish, followed by Stephensen and Matt Loiodice.
On Sunday, Hart started right behind Stephensen, well ahead of Brandt and Brian Deegan, starting in sixth and seventh, respectively. After a red-flagged start – for Wik's and Stephan Papadakis' trucks getting literally tangled up after Turn 1 – Hart shot into the lead once again, while Brandt and Deegan worked their way through the field. Hart's luck once again turned the wrong way, however; this time a power steering problem left him wrestling the wheel. On the final lap, Deegan passed Brandt, then both blew by Hart. All Hart could do was survive for a third.
“My power steering started going about four laps from the end, I guess from fluid leaking onto the belts,” Hart said on the podium. “On the last lap, I landed crooked off the first jump and it went completely. They both got me in the next corner. I can't believe I salvaged a podium out of it. It was so violent going through the moguls.”
With the DNF on Saturday and a third on Sunday, Hart lost the points lead to Brandt. What was a two-point spread in Hart's favor is now a 16-point Brandt lead.
Bryce Menzies took the lead from Michel Johnson at the start of Saturday's Pro 2 race, but the action was behind as Renezeder and points leader Rob MacCachren moved their way toward the front. Their march forward was helped by a yellow for a crash by Kevin Probst and the subsequent restart. After the competition yellow, Renezeder went into full attack mode, taking second from Greg Adler and beginning to apply pressure to Menzies. When Menzies bobbled in Turn 4, Renezeder and MacCachren made their way through. Although MacCachren gave it his best shot and pressured Renezeder the rest of the way to the checker, he couldn't get past the Lucas Oil Ford, and Renezeder claimed his second win of the day, followed by MacCachren, Menzies, Johnson and Todd LeDuc.
“It has been a while,” said Renezeder of the double. “I've kind of missed that feeling. For a change, I didn't get collected in any kind of trouble, which has been my problem in that class. It's fun battling Rob. Last time I was here, we did battle both days. He won one and I won one.”
Spoken after Saturday's race, Renezeder's words were prophetic. MacCachren started fourth behind Todd LeDuc, Adler and Rob Naughton, but took the lead in Turn 5 on the opening lap from Adler, never looking back. Renezeder moved up to third, thanks to Todd LeDuc retiring, before the competition yellow. Adler slid wide after the restart, allowing Renezeder and Robby Woods through. Woods' time in third was short-lived, though, as smoke soon started pouring from his truck, and the race was stopped to put the fire out and make sure Woods was OK.
After the restart, another yellow for a big roll by Jeff Geiser further interrupted the race. Again, MacCachren took off on the restart with Renezeder in hot pursuit, the two turning very impressive times in the 55-second range. But Renezeder could only watch as MacCachren took the win in his Rockstar Energy Ford. With a second and a first, MacCachren only strengthened his grip on the Pro 2 title chase.
Cameron Steele, locked in a tight battle with teammate Larry Job and Doug Fortin for the Pro Buggy Unlimited points, took the lead at the start of Saturday's race and ran away. Jerry Whelchel worked his way up into second and set fast lap, but Steele and his Bully Dog/Super Clean Alumicraft couldn't be caught. Steele took the win, the first in the series for the accomplished desert racer and television host, followed by Whelchel and Job. Bobby PeCoy started on pole and took the lead on Sunday, while Fortin moved into second and started pursuing. But it wasn't until the penultimate lap, with a good run through the moguls and out of Turn 4, that Fortin was able to push his Fortin Racing Racer past PeCoy and keep the championship fight nice and tight.
Brandon Ward dominated Saturday's Super Lite race, fending of a brief challenge by Jacob Person to take his first win. Mulishaman Jeremy, “Twitch” Stenberg led flag to flag to win on Sunday. Drifter, rally racer and television host Tanner Foust made his debut in Super Lite in a guest drive. He finished 10th after a black flag for contact on Saturday and 12th with mechanical difficulties on Sunday.
Bruce Fraley looked like he was heading for a second-place finish in Limited Buggy on Saturday until Quentin Tucker rolled, handing him the win. On Sunday, polesitter Curt Geer spun and hit the wall on the warm-up lap; but with a quick duck into the pits and a little help from the Menzies crew, he was back out and in front before the green waved. It was the only scary moment of the race for Geer, as he was never headed on his way to the win.
Tyler Herzog was the only double winner of the weekend, with two SR1 UTV wins. Chad George and John Dempsey split the Unlimited UTV victories. While none of the kart racers doubled up in the same class, both Jerrett Brooks and Sheldon Creed took two wins a day, with Brooks winning Modified Kart and Junior 2 kart on Saturday and Creed doing the same on Sunday. Cole Mamer and Brock Heger split the Junior 1 kart wins.
The Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series returns to action on Nov. 6-7 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The races from Surprise begin airing on Oct. 16 on SPEED Channel, with races airing on consecutive Saturday's for the next four weeks. Check local listings for times.