Two championships in the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series may have been settled at the last round at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, but the Pro 4 and Pro 2 drivers will be battling each other for a big purse in the Rockstar Energy Lucas Oil Challenge Cup at Firebird Raceway in Chandler, Ariz.
Rick Huseman ad Rob MacCachren have secured the Pro 4 and Pro 2 titles, respectively, but they'll be battling each other and a big field of mixed Pro 4 and Pro 2 drivers for a shot at $30,000 to win the Rockstar Energy Lucas Oil Challenge Cup. Big money will be at stake in the Pro Lite vs. Pro Buggy race, with the winner of that contest taking home $20,000.
But before the big money races on Sunday, there are several championships to be decided, including Pro Lite, Super Lite, Pro Buggy, Limited Buggy and UTV.
It will all take place on a new 0.8-mile track just completed on the southeast corner of the Firebird Raceway property, which also includes an NHRA drag strip, multiple road courses and a lake to accommodate both circle and drag boat racing. According to Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series Competition Director Tony Vanillo, the course will be a little longer than Glen Helen, but shorter than Las Vegas, with the best elements of both.
“The dirt is very heavily clay based, which we're very happy with,” Vanillo says. “No rocks. The viewing is going to be fantastic.
“It's probably got the biggest jump/drop situation we've ever had, which is going to be cool. It's going to have some neat features to it,” he adds. The track was built on the site of an amphitheater originally built by Stevie Nicks' father, near the motocross course. “It was kind of a catch-all area, and we were pleasantly surprised when we got in there and cleaned it all up how well it shaped up and how good the dirt was.”
Multiple line choices, big step ups and some other unique features should challenge all the drivers and produce some exciting races as titles come down to the wire.
With 51 points available for Saturday's race (50 to win and one for leading at halfway), the title chase is wide open in many classes. But a driver can still get more than half those points finishing 13th, so in reality things aren't as tight as they seem.
In Pro Lite, it has come down to Marty Hart or Chris Brandt, with Brian Deegan still in with a shot at defending his title, although he's 27 points down to Hart, who leads with 620 to Brandt's 607. Brandt had a rough weekend at the last event in Las Vegas, allowing Hart to carry the momentum into Firebird. As long as Hart finishes seventh or better, it doesn't matter what Brandt or Deegan do.
Menzies teammates Larry Job and Cameron Steele are sitting atop the Pro Buggy points, with Doug Fortin in third, only 20 points behind Job. For Steele to take the title, he's going to have to finish six places ahead of his teammate; otherwise, the championship is all Job's.
Jeremy “Twitch” Stenberg has a pretty solid lead in Super Lite, with 528 points. But 2009 UTV champion Chad George's 506 and CJ Greaves's 503 give them a decent shot at wresting the title away should things go wrong for Twitch on Saturday. Given the last race at Las Vegas which featured some pretty rough driving, that's a real possibility – Stenberg, Jacob Person and Jeff Kargola all left Sin City on probation.
Limited Buggy is tight at the top, but it's a two-person race – pretty much the way it's been all season. While other drivers have stolen a win here and there, this year it's been all about Justin “Bean” Smith and John Fitzgerald. Separated by 13 points, this one will come down to which driver can adapt to the new track quickly and put a flawless buggy on track.
Tyler Herzog has all but locked up the SR1 UTV title, with 28 points separating him and Corry Weller. Chad George hasn't sealed it in Unlimited UTV – Austin Kimbrell is still in it – but 12 points is a solid cushion when there are only 10 UTVs on a good weekend.
Brock Heger and Mitchell DeJong have locked up the Junior 1 and Modified Kart titles, respectively, but there's still a battle in Junior 2. Sheldon Creed leads Chad Graham by 10 points, making this one of the closest championship battles.
After the championships are decided on Saturday, every class will have a chance to win something big on Sunday. Limited Buggy, UTV and Super Lite will all have their own money races, before Pro Buggies go head to head with Pro Lite trucks in a battle unique in short course off-road racing. Then the big horsepower trucks duke it out, with either a Pro 4 or a Pro 2 driver reigning supreme.
In both races, the top 10 in points in each class are guaranteed a spot in the Challenge, but will be inverted, with 10th in points starting first. Eight other drivers will have a chance to get in through a last-chance qualifier. Finally, two more spots may be available to other drivers at the discretion of the series.
Last year, Pro Buggy champion Chuck Cheek won the race between buggies and Lites. Cheek has had some struggles this year, but always remains a threat. Job, Steele and Jerry Whelchel will be trying to prove they and their buggies are faster than the Lites of drivers Brandt, Hart and Deegan. Deegan is one of a few drivers that could run both races, if he decided to try to qualify his new Pro 2 truck in which he was quite quick in Las Vegas.
Pro 4 champ Huseman will be starting pretty far back thanks to the inversion of the top 10 added to the fact that the Pro 4s will start behind the Pro 2s. But his record this year in coming from the back of the field can't be ignored, so there is a very real possibility that he can do it here. It won't be easy; he'll have to get past fellow Pro 4 pilots Kyle LeDuc, Adrian Cenni and, if he decides to run the four-wheel-drive truck, 2009 Challenge Cup winner Carl Renezeder. Then he has to move through the Pro 2 field, including Rob MacCachren, Todd LeDuc, Bryce Menzies and Rodrigo Ampudia.
Whichever class and whichever driver comes out on top of these unique races, the championship battles and Rockstar Energy Lucas Challenge Cup events should produce an exciting weekend of racing at a challenging new venue that is going to remain a fixture on the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series schedule. Spectators can join the fun beginning Friday for practice and qualifying. For those who can't make it, Sunday's Challenge Cup races will air on CBS on Saturday, Jan. 8. SPEED will begin airing the championship races on Jan. 9.