It's a long way from hauling off cars for scrap to being a regular visitor to the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series podium in the toughest class in short course off road. Yet that's the strange path that Robby Woods' career took and, while the route may be circuitous, he has certainly arrived in style.
Woods, driver, owner and fabricator of the No. 99 Lucas Slick Mist/Superchips/General Tire Chevrolet, didn't really expect to be contending for wins in Pro 2 Unlimited when he started out. But, as he sits in his pit area at Glen Helen Raceway looking over the time sheet for morning practice, his name is at the top.
“We were the only truck in the 45-second range,” he says. “I'm looking at the list…Robby Woods, Rob MacCachren, Carl Renezeder, Robby Gordon, Rodrigo Ampudia, Rob Naughton, Jeremy McGrath, Jeremy Stenberg and Brian Deegan…. These are guys that I grew up looking up to. Most of them have been racing five, 10, 15 years longer than we have. To be up front three years in, it's a really good feeling and I'm really thankful for everyone that makes it possible. Without sponsors and family, there's no way I could be doing it.”
The journey to this point from when he decided to tackle short course off road, and do it in the sport's toughest class, wasn't easy. And the racing bug goes back farther. Woods' story, like many in the sport, begins with motocross and Woods as a rising star, regularly racing and winning against the likes of Josh Grant and James Stewart. It ended, also like many other riders, with a devastating injury, in this case while training.
“The track was a long ways out in the middle of nowhere,” explains Woods. “It was raining, it was windy, and they had a hard time getting the helicopter out there. I shattered my tibia and fibula – had a compound fracture with the bone coming out the side of my leg. I lay out there and almost bled to death. While I sat out there, I really re-evaluated and though about whether this is worth what I think it's worth. Is it worth the ultimate price? And the answer was ‘no.' I knew after a year-and-a-half recovery, I was never going to stand a chance to be the best motocross racer that ever lived, And I really wanted to be the best at something, I want to have the opportunity to do that.”
Woods saw short course and fell in love with it. A life success development course he took while recovering challenged him to set and accomplish a 90-day goal. His was to build the most successful short course program within his means. Unfortunately for Woods, those means weren't great.
With his father having competed in stock cars, Woods had access to race shop machinery and the knowledge to use it. His father's junkyard gave him the materials to practice on as he built pre-runner bumpers and long-travel suspension kits. He took computer-aided design courses to learn that part of fabrication. But he still didn't have the $150,000 or so he needed to buy the parts.
Then opportunity knocked with a drive to clean up his hometown of Pahrump, Nev. Non-registered, junked automobiles would no longer be tolerated on people's property. Woods and his father answered opportunity's call by hauling the cars or other junk away and selling them as scrap. It helped that demand for steel in China was driving scrap prices to unheard-of levels.
“We did that for 10 months and raised right around $230,000; that gave me the capital to buy the parts to build my first truck. A group of my best friends and I got out in the shop and started bending tubes and laying stuff out. Luckily I had a knack for it and it worked out pretty well. We put money down on a semi and went racing. About two years into it we got a couple of podiums, got a little bit of success and had some really great companies that have become family friends got behind us. Now we're racing with the big boys and it's definitely been a cool adventure,” he says.
“We just wanted to get out here,” he continues. “As we progressively got better, the truck got better. We cut the front half off of it and made some geometry changes. Cut the back half off. Now we have three motors and three transmissions and rear end gears and underdrives. We've got enough stuff we could crash this truck five times and go race. At the first race we had a truck and two spare tires. That was it. We had six wheels. And the body that was on the truck…I didn't want to hit anyone because that was all we had.”
It wasn't Woods' goal to be the best, but to do the best he could, an important distinction when it's a struggle just to get through the weekend. Now, since regularly appearing on the podium toward the end of last season, he's rarely been off it. It's an unusual weekend when he doesn't stand on it at least once. Of course, now that he's had a taste of success, he wants more.
“To be honest, I'm sick of being second and third. I want to win,” he emphasizes. “I feel like it's all starting to come together. There's always been one little element missing to take that final step. One thing I can tell you is we've never, ever been hands-down faster than Rob MacCachren; he is always the guy to beat. I've never felt that today is my day to beat the king. Looking at this time sheet, I feel today is my day.”
On that sunny Saturday at Glen Helen, it wasn't. He was sidelined after seven laps with a mechanical failure. The following day, while running fourth, he collided with Brian Deegan while MacCachren passed both of them. He finished sixth, his truck looking a little worse for wear. A tough weekend, but everyone has them. It's been ups and downs for Woods this season, either on the podium or well down the order.
Still, he's racing. He's doing it in a truck he built himself from scratch. He's raised his team and his program from nothing into a regular force to be contended with. Not many can say that. As an added bonus, is team is filled with family and friends, and that's important to him.
“I think the biggest thing I strive to do in live is to make my family and my friends proud,” he says. “When I can come out here and put on a good show, walk with a little humility and make my dad proud at the end of the day, that's all I can really do.”