A new season of racing always promises new things: the promise of new competitors and new winners, the hints of excitement to come as the season progresses. So when the Lucas Oil off Road Racing Series convened at Firebird International Raceway for the first two rounds of the season, much was expected.
In the end, though, it was a weekend of wins by defending and past champions (and an almost-champion). Carl Renezeder generally dominated the proceedings in two classes, with three wins and a second over the course of two days. Only Pro Buggy produced new winners, with Bradley Morris, a rookie in the class, winning on Saturday and Geoffrey Cooley, in his second year in the class after coming close several times last year, taking his first win on Sunday.
New rules came into force this season, and they certainly played a part in the racing as teams learned to cope with them. Gone is the mandatory caution to regroup the field mid-race. While in most of the races there were still plenty of cautions, the yellow laps no longer counted toward the race distance. That particular development played a big part in Sunday's Pro Lite race.
However, for the first time, a LOORRS race ran caution-free. The Pro 4 race on Sunday didn't have a single yellow-flag lap. It looked like Kyle LeDuc, who qualified on the pole and drew a “0” for the inversion, was going to run away with it until he experienced a mechanical problem and slipped back. Renezeder, running in second with a comfortable margin over Eric Barron, slipped his Lucas Oil/General Tire Nissan into the lead for the win, with LeDuc hanging on for second over Barron.
Renezeder, an eight-time champion with more than 100 short course wins, had a similar gift on Sunday in Pro 4. Rob MacCachren showed promise for his new Pro 4 program by taking the lead at the start, but Barron slid inside of him. MacCachren took the outside lane in the split section, which proved to be a bad choice and he lost a lot of ground, letting Renezeder and Kyle LeDuc close in and get past.
LeDuc charged into the lead, with Barron and Renezeder giving chase before the race was interrupted by a massive barrel roll by Josh Merrell that caused a red flag. Merrell was shaken up by the crash and transported to the hospital as a precaution, but appeared to be OK.
When the race resumed, LeDuc and Barron, racing hard, suddenly slowed, allowing Renezeder into the lead. LeDuc and Barron were still going at it, though, and came together in Turn 2, spinning both and dropping them far back. LeDuc was given a drive-through penalty for the contact. That let Todd LeDuc and MacCachren onto the podium.
“It was kind of like the twilight zone,” Renezeder said of the incident where he took the lead. “For a second I thought I lost my radio and they threw a yellow or something. I was like, ‘What the heck's going on?' I came through Turn 2 and looked back and they were still there, so I just kept going.”
Renezeder had to work much harder in Pro 2, though. On Saturday, Robby Woods was fast qualifier and started on pole, while Renezeder started in fourth behind MacCachren and Marty Hart. Renezeder immediately had contact with Deegan in Turn 2, dropping both back into the field while Woods ran away after a short yellow for Rob Naughton's parked truck. But Woods' first victory was again delayed when a bearing went in his transmission, leaving Hart in the lead. Meanwhile, Renezeder had worked his back to fourth behind Jeremy McGrath and MacCachren.
Renezeder's cause was helped when MacCachren and McGrath got together in Turn 4, leaving him to pursue Hart. But chase was all he could do, as Hart took the first victory of the season in his ReadyLIFT Ford, perhaps setting him up for redemption of last year's narrow miss for the Pro 2 championship.
For a while, it looked like Sunday's race was going to be a repeat for Hart. Starting on outside pole next to McGrath, he jumped into the lead and started drawing away. Had this race run caution-free, or perhaps had the yellow laps counted, the story might have been very different. But instead there were numerous yellow flags that broke up the race and continually bunched up the field. So Hart could never maintain the lead he would put between himself and second place – McGrath or MacCachren for most of the first half of the race, while Renezeder stalked in third.
When MacCachren left the race after seven laps, Renezeder started hunting Hart. Several times he attacked without success. It looked like he might get it done when Hart caught a rut in Turn 3, but it took a couple more laps before Renezeder took the lead in Turn 4. Hart, beginning to smoke, still pursued, but had to settle for second ahead of Jeff Geiser.
Brian Deegan missed out on the Pro Lite title last year, although he repeated as P2 champ. He made his intentions to not let that happen in 2013 by almost dominating the first round of Pro Lite competition. In contrast to the Pro 4 race, Saturday's Pro Lite event had its share of yellows, as is going to happen when 26 trucks are thrown onto a 1.1-mile off road course. But through it all, Deegan kept out front, losing the lead only briefly as 2012 champ RJ Anderson nosed by him. Anderson hounded him for the first half of the race, but problems for the defending champ left Deegan to take a seemingly effortless win in his Rockstar Energy Drink/Makita Ford.
“It was an awesome battle,” said Deegan. “That's why I come, for those intense moments, and we had fun. I thought it was the Baja 1000 for a little bit, it was going on so long. I thought I was going to run out of gas.”
His words were a bit of an omen for the second round a day later. That race also had plenty of yellows, plus a red, extending the length of the race considerably. Bradley Morris led early while Anderson and Sheldon Creed battled, but a visit to the pits after contact left him out of contention, although he did work his way back into it to battle in the top five with Deegan for a while.
When Dan Kelly rolled in Turn 2, the field was brought to a halt on the front stretch while the safety crew cleaned it up. Creed, in second behind Anderson, shut of his engine to conserve fuel in what was turning out to be a long race. After the restart, Creed snatched the lead at he restart for what many thought was going to be a green-white-checker dash, but actually went three laps. That final one was crucial, as Creed's truck started sputtering. Anderson scooted by in his LoanMart Dodge, and Creed, last year's SuperLite champ, ran out of fuel on the cooldown lap after finishing second. Deegan finished third.
Rounds 3 and 4 of the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series will take place at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on April 27-28. Look for coverage from Firebird on CBS on Saturday, April 20 at 1 p.m. Eastern.
Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series Round 1 winners – Firebird International Raceway, Chandler, Ariz., March 16 Pro 4: Carl Renezeder
Pro 2: Marty Hart
Pro Lite: Brian Deegan
Pro Buggy: Bradley Morris
Modified Kart: Cole Mamer
Kart Jr. 2: Hayden Kling
Kart Jr. 1: Ray Roben
Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series Round 2 winners – Firebird International Raceway, Chandler, Ariz., March 17
Pro 4: Carl Renezeder
Pro 2: Carl Renezeder
Pro Lite: RJ Anderson
Pro Buggy: Geoffrey Cooley
Modified Kart: Travis Pecoy
Kart Jr. 2: Parker Porter
Kart Jr. 1: Kali Kinsman