There are few things that can drown out the roar of an F-22 at full throttle taking off from Nellis Air Force Base, but a huge field of Pro 4 Unlimited or Pro 2 Unlimited trucks will do it. With the bright lights and towering hotels of Las Vegas' famous strip to spectators' backs, the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series put on a show at Las Vegas Motor Speedway with full races of trucks and buggies to christen a new season and a new venue.
The promise of the track and the possibility for racers to test themselves and their trucks in the heat of competition brought out many new faces to the Lucas series, including Johnny Greaves, Jeremy McGrath, Scott Douglas, Rick Huseman and Ricky Johnson, reuniting many old short-course rivalries. The Pro 4 Unlimited field nearly doubled from most races last year.
The new one-mile track, built specifically for the Lucas series, was demanding, exciting and sometimes unkind to the racers. But those who figured it out were rewarded, as were the spectators. Ricky Johnson in Pro 2 Unlimited was one of those who mastered the track, and was a double winner as a result. Doug Fortin was another double winner, in Pro Buggy Unlimited, as were Brian Deegan in Super Lites and John Fitzgerald in Limited Buggy.
Inclement weather overnight between Saturday and Sunday's races meant a muddy, tricky track that canceled Sunday morning qualifying. As a result, the starting order for Sunday's races was determined by finishing position from Saturday. That was bad news for some who had unfortunate luck the first day, including double defending champion Carl Renezeder in Pro 2 Unlimited, who retired after eight laps, and defending Pro Buggy Unlimited champ Chuck Cheek, who left Saturday's race with a broken fuel pump while holding a commanding lead in the early going.
Renezeder did come back from starting near dead last on Sunday to finish fifth in Pro 2 Unlimited, but up front it was Ricky Johnson (left) fighting off Rob MacCachren both days. On Saturday, MacCachren was relentlessly pursuing Johnson for the entire race, getting alongside him on the final lap as the two turned near-identical lap times, but it wasn't enough as Johnson held him off. Rodrigo Ampudia finished third both days, making it an all-Ford top three. Sunday, with the inversion of the top six from the previous day, Rob Naughton jumped out to an early lead with Ampudia following. The race was briefly halted after a spectacular crash by Robby Woods, who finished fourth on Saturday, before Naughton continued to run up front. Following the midway competition caution, though, Johnson was on the attack, dispatching Ampudia by Turn 3 and then taking the lead as Naughton slid wide in Turn 4, letting several trucks by. From then, it was a repeat of Saturday, with MacCachren putting as much pressure on Johnson as he could, but still falling short.
In Pro 4 Unlimited, Scott Douglas took the early lead on Saturday, followed by Greaves, Kyle LeDuc, Renezeder and Huseman. LeDuc moved up to second, only to roll in Turn 1 and drop to sixth. Following the competition yellow, Renezeder began to make his move on the restart, but Huseman getting sideways in front of him resulted in him dropping well down the order. Douglas led over Greaves, Huseman, Kyle LeDuc and Curt LeDuc. Greaves dropped out, and Kyle got past Huseman and started chasing Douglas. Kyle turned the pressure to 11, but Douglas ran an error-free race to win. Renezeder passed Huseman, who had shredded a tire at the finish, to salvage third. On Sunday, with a top-four inversion, it was all Huseman's Toyota from start to finish. Renezeder challenged early, but was then passed by Douglas for second. After the restart, Kyle LeDuc passed Renezeder for third and then Douglas for second before he hit the wall and broke his suspension leaving the finishing order Huseman, Douglas, Renezeder, Adrian Cenni and Greaves.
Chris Brandt dominated Pro Lite Unlimited the first day, with Marty Hart challenging hard but coming up short. Brian Deegan finished third and Ampudia fourth in what was a fairly uneventful race at the front. Sunday was quite a bit different. A big crash at the start, with trucks landing on top of other trucks and Brandt's truck at the bottom and damaged, led to a red flag. When the race got restarted, Matt Loiodice and Casey Currie battled for the lead. Loiodice bicycled in Turn 3 and lost several positions. Hart came up to challenge Currie and took the lead, with Ampudia following. After the post-mandatory caution restart, Hart's truck broke, leaving the lead to Ampudia, followed by Currie and Loiodice. Adam Wik was in the mix as well, but spun and dropped to sixth as Ampudia and Loiodice battled for the win. Ampudia took the checker first, followed by Loiodice, Brandt, Wik and Leroy Loerwald. Unfortunately, the wheelbase on Ampudia's Ford measured a fraction of an inch too short in post-race tech, leaving Loiodice with the victory.
Chuck Cheek jumped out to an early lead in Pro Buggy Unlimited's first race of the weekend, but a broken fuel pump left Doug Fortin in the lead. He lost it briefly to Cody Freeman, but took the point back after the restart. Cameron Steele took third from Rich Ronco, setting the top four. Larry Job finished in fifth. On Sunday, Steele grabbed the early lead followed by Fortin and Job. After the restart, Fortin made a move on Steele, but couldn't complete it until Steele missed a shift, leaving Fortin to take his second win of the weekend with Steele in second and his Menzies teammate Job in third.
RJ Anderson won Unlimited UTV on both days. Mitchell DeJong had a first and a second in Modified Kart, with Bradley Morris taking the win on Sunday. Last year's Junior 1 Kart champion Sheldon Creed moved up to Junior 2 Kart with a good start, winning on Saturday. Brock Heger won both Junior 1 Kart races.
The new Las Vegas Motor Speedway track, which is scheduled to host races again in May and November, was well received, although some competitors said it was hard to pass in this weekend's conditions. The track was rushed into completion at the last minute following the season opener's move to LVMS from Lake Elsinore, announced only a few weeks prior. The track features eight turns, including five hairpins – notably the very wide Turn 1 and the high-banked Turn 3 – and a challenging, off-camber right-hander, plus several big tabletop jumps and a whoops section that quickly earned the nickname “double-double.” It also featured permanent Musco lights, which came in handy for a late kart practice on Friday evening.
“They've done a fantastic job with this place, and it's only going to get better,” says Pro Buggy Unlimited competitor Cheek. “Right now I'd rate it a 9, but it's going to be a 10.”
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