For a pair of champions, it was just about putting an exclamation mark on the season. In most of the classes of the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series, it was about claiming a title as the racers squared off on a new track at Firebird International Raceway in Phoenix, Ariz on Saturday.
Although the Pro 4 and Pro 2 Unlimited titles had been settled, several other classes still had battles to be fought. In most cases, it was about preserving a lead. Marty Hart (LEFT), Jeremy Stenberg and Justin Smith claimed the Pro Lite, Super Lite and Limited Buggy championships by running conservatively and making sure they finished where they needed in order to maintain their lead in the points.
Cameron Steele, on the other hand, started the day behind Menzies Motorsports teammate Larry Job. Needing to finish four places ahead, Steele was practically there at the start. Not satisfied with that, after the mandatory competition yellow he took the lead from Bobby PeCoy and never looked back. Job, on the other hand, got caught up in a big pileup in Turn 2, leaving him empty handed.
“They took a kid out of the surf ghetto and gave him a shot,” said Steele on the podium. Steele, of course, made his reputation as a desert racer before sampling short course off road racing last year.
Earlier in the day, the duo's Limited Buggy teammate, Justin “Bean” Smith, took his own title with a third-place finish behind Bruce Fraley in first and Kyle Lucas in second. Smith had been battling with Hart & Huntington's John Fitzgerald all season, but this wasn't Fitzgerald's day.
New Pro Lite champion Marty Hart had had some bad luck in the middle of the season, but chief antagonist Chris Brandt had his own run of foul fortune toward the end of the year, leaving Hart with a decent lead to preserve. He needed to be within five places of Brandt to secure the title, and at one point Hart was back in fourth while Brandt led.
“I was just waiting and saving my truck, and if I needed to get after it, I would have gotten after it,” said Hart, explaining he had plenty in reserve. “I didn't want to abuse the truck, because I already knew the transmission was leaving me.
“It's great for me and for the whole Stronghold Motorsports Group; it's what we worked for all season. It's priceless, really. I feel 100lbs. lighter because it's hard to go out there and finish fifth or better. You're just hoping everything stays together. I wasn't caring about winning, and it's hard to race for a championship like that.”
Brandt's lead didn't hold – Brian Deegan took the lead from him and ran to the checker, with Brandt in second and Matt Loiodice in third.
Jeremy Stenberg wasn't racing for a fourth place in Super Lite; that seemed pretty clear as hard as he was pushing the truck. But he couldn't match pace with Kyle LeDuc, making his second appearance in the Super Lite class. But finishing one spot behind Chad George, in third, was all it took. Dawson Kirchner, coming on strong at the end of the season, finished second.
Tyler Herzog and Chad George preserved their points leads to win SR1 and Unlimited UTV. George won his fourth UTV title with a victory, while motocrosser Ryan Beat took the SR1 win.
Rick Huseman had already wrapped up the Pro 4 title, and it looked like someone else was going to take the win today after Huseman and Adrian Cenni came together in Turn 3 in the early laps. But Huseman had other ideas, and once again charged through the field to the front. He had a little help when Carl Renezeder, who had led after taking the position from Michael Johnson, broke after the competition yellow. Kyle LeDuc was second and Travis Coyne third.
Renezeder looked like he was going to redeem the lost victory in the Pro 2 race, but a rock stuck in his transmission linkage kept him from using third. So Rob MacCachren came through to take the lead and put the exclamation point on his championship season. For about half the race, those two had been chasing Rodrigo Ampudia, but Ampudia broke just before the halfway point. Robby Woods took third, another in strong run of podiums to close out the season.
Brock Heger and Mitchell DeJong had sealed up the Junior 1 and Modified Kart titles, but Sheldon Creed was in a tight battle with Chad Graham in the Junior 2 class. Creed finished right behind Graham, more than enough to take the title. The pair rounded out the podium behind Maxwell Ries. Heger won Junior 1 and Creed won in Modified.
If you're going to decide a championship, it's best to do it where no one has a home field advantage. For the newly crowned champs in the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series, no one had that advantage because they were racing on a brand new track that none had seen before.
Built in a corner of the Firebird International Raceway, the 0.8-mile track included a big jump and a double step-up that confounded a few drivers. Also tricky was the split section between Turns 4 and 5, where drivers had to choose entering Turn 4 whether the wer going to go high or low, and carry that decision all the way down the ensuing straight. The high line was longer but smoother. The low line threw the trucks and buggies around a bit more. Unless forced otherwise, most chose the low line in Saturday's races.