The idea of spec racing is nothing new. The concept of using identical cars for every driver has been tried in just about every form of motorsports, from motorcycles to road racing to IndyCars. If done right, it removes the car from the equation – it's all up to the driver.
Some of the more successful examples are the Star Mazda Championship for up-and-coming road racers, the Legends/Bandolero formula for young circle track drivers and the SCCA's Spec Racer in amateur competition. They're built around the same basic formula – a spec chassis and a sealed, spec engine. It's a formula that has worked well, especially as a proving ground for young racers.
So, there's no reason it shouldn't work in short course off-road racing. That's what John Harrah's Speed Technologies has done with the SuperLite Championship that runs as part of the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series. It's a spec series using a spec Mazda rotary engine, and the series has its own tech crew to ensure compliance. The trucks are engineered much like the Pro Lites and Pro 2s, at a much lower price point.
“Three years ago, John Harrah says to me, “I want to create a Mickey Thompson-like series,” explains Chuck Dempsey, chief sales guy for SuperLite and a respected off-road shoe himself. “We thought about it and talked about some different ideas. Three weeks later, a company approached me to come drive their truck. I drove a truck that was a lot like these things and thought it would make a great fit for what John's trying to do.”
They made a lot of changes to the truck, including removing a seat, adding a newer-style fuel-injected engine, and even had short course ace Johnny Greaves work on the thing. Greaves' son, CJ, now races one in the Lucas Series, and is third in points behind freestyle motocrosser Jeremy “Twitch” Stenberg (RIGHT) and defending UTV champ Chad George with one race left in the season.
Aside from the spec nature of the class, there's one more thing that really sets the series apart. While rent-a-racers have always had options, especially in the buggy classes, arrive and drive hasn't been done to the extent that SuperLites has brought to off-road.
“Any guy can come in, he brings his helmet and suit, we prep the car for him. He gets hospitality, he gets the 18-wheeler and he gets the mechanics. After the race is done, the car gets taken away and prepped for the next race. The guy has the opportunity to race the whole season like that, or just a one-off. He can come in and get his feet wet.”
Several drivers have taken that dip-a-toe-in approach, and it's also been used as a way to bring in some celebrity drivers and for drivers in other classes to get more seat time. Some of the drivers and celebrities who have made appearances include pro surfer Sunny Garcia, Drifter/Rally driver and TV host Tanner Foust, and Lucas Off Road regulars Brian Deegan and Kyle LeDuc. In fact, LeDuc and Dawson Kirchner put on one of the best shows of the weekend at the last Las Vegas round.
The arrive-and-drive costs $7,500 for a weekend, with a volume discount if a driver commits to the whole season. That includes the truck ready to race, a set of tires and fuel. Of those who prefer to own, a complete turnkey package is $67,000. A further advantage is that Speed Technologies brings a fully stocked parts truck to every race, meaning owners don't have to maintain a large and costly store of spares.
Ricky James (no relation to the author), the defending class champion, is one of those who has taken the owner approach and, after almost two years competing in SuperLites, has praise for the truck and series.
“It has all the key components of a race truck,” James says. “The spec motor is the big thing. That's a big cost. It's hard to compete against the Pro Lite guys who have $20-, $30- or $40,000 motors and have to keep up with them all year long. It's more of a driver's class and it's a good proving ground to show if you can do good in a truck or not.
“It handles like all the other trucks out here,” James continues. “It's a little underpowered, but that's good. It has a good feel to it. It's good practice for a Pro Light or a Pro 2, without all the expense.”
And that's the point, Dempsey says. It's a great training ground for the other classes at a reasonable cost. And the field shows it – seven of the top 10 are rookies looking to advance to other classes.
“It's such an affordable program. If you don't have the big bucks or big sponsors, it comes back to affordability,” says Dempsey. “Where somebody can have a lot of fun and get the great experience – the trucks are only running a second off Pro Light, which is only another second and a half off Pro 2. With the power-to-weight ratio, you're doing the same type of speed. You see Twitch, for instance – there's no way he can come in and go Pro 2 right off the bat. It's a good steppingstone to climb the ladder.”