The Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series is looking at perhaps its biggest growth spurt since its inaugural 2009 season with increased entries, new races and more than 230 hours of television coverage. That television includes a significant increase in the time on CBS and the addition of Erin Bates to the broadcast team.
All of last year's tracks remain on the 2012 schedule, and each event remains a doubleheader with two days of racing. However, each track will see action only once, with the exception of Firebird International Raceway in Chandler, Ariz. that both opens the season this weekend and closes it with the finale and the Lucas Oil Challenge Cup Races in October.
In addition to the familiar spots, two new tracks are being added. The first is Lake Elsinore Motorsports Park. While the location is familiar, the facility is all new, and between the motocross tracks and new short course off road track, it's shaping up to be one of the finest dirt motorsports facilities in the country. LOORRS Competition Director Tony Vanillo says it will be a bit faster track than most of those currently on the circuit. It will host LOORRS on April 21-22. The other new track is in Reno, Nev. Vanillo describes the Reno track “very Chula Vista-ish,” built into the side of a hill with some good elevation change. That event is on Aug. 25-26, moved from its original scheduled Labor Day weekend date.
While the schedule looks a bit different – and shorter, ending a month-and-a-half earlier than last year – it's the competition where things are going to change fairly radically. New trucks and new sponsors for familiar faces in Pro 2 and Pro 4, and a lot of drivers moving into Pro Lite and Pro Buggy from other classes means the grids are going to look quite different in 2012.
First up, Pro 4. While the class continues to struggle a bit in terms of sheer numbers compared to the others, it seldom lacks for excitement. Most of the familiar drivers remain, but for many their trucks will look very different. The most significant new driver in the class is 2011 SR1 UTV champion Corry Weller (LEFT). She brings longtime sponsor Tilted Kilt up into the pro ranks, driving Carl Renezeder's second truck. She becomes the first woman in the pro ranks, but it's a big step from UTV to Pro 4.
2011 champ Renezeder will remain in his Lucas colors, but they will be on Nissan bodywork as he seeks his ninth short course title. Renezeder is hooking up with his old manufacturer, running a Titan in both Pro 4 and Pro 2. Kyle LeDuc moves to Monster Energy sponsorship on Toyo Tires. Carey Hart returns to Hart&Huntington with eBay Motors signage on the truck, while teammate Josh Merrell will carry MavTV logos. And the series will welcome back Travis Coyne, who missed the last half of 2011 recovering from a desert racing accident.
It's musical chairs in Pro 2. Three-time and Challenge Cup winner Rob Naughton is out at Stronghold Motorsports, and in his place is 2010 SuperLite champion Jeremy “Twitch” Stenberg with Supercross.com sponsorship. Stenberg also missed the last half of 2011, his rookie year in Pro 2, after an injury at the X Games. Naughton is hooking up with a new team, Alexander Ford Racing. Jeremy McGrath returns to Stronghold to partner with Twitch. The Stronghold Pro 2s will be on Toyo Tires, which seems to be coming on strong in 2012, also putting the rubber on Rodrigo Ampudia's Pro 2.
Marty Hart returns to LOORRS, this time in Pro 2 and partnering with ReadyLift in a Ford. Justin Davis is also looking at competing in Pro 2 for a full season in the Green Army machine. Robby Woods is building a new truck, but it may not make it to Firebird with him. Pat Clark is coming to Pro 2 for the full season and Jeff Geiser will be sporting new Mickey Thompson tires for 2012, the first driver on the new project rubber.
Even with movement and new blood, the title is likely to be a three-way fight between the last three champions – Brian Deegan, Rob MacCachren (now with Makita on board in addition to Rockstar) and Renezeder.
Pro Lite looks like it is about to experience explosive growth, with nearly 30 trucks on tap for the season opener and a host of new drivers coming in. Much of the growth seems to be fueled by the V8 movement. While the championship could be interesting, likely coming down to Chris Brandt and Deegan again, it's the fight for Rookie of the Year that could be absolutely phenomenal.
The rookie class of 2012 starts with RJ Anderson (LEFT) and Sheldon Creed. Anderson, although not technically a rookie with six starts last year, will be campaigning his first full season in Pro Lite with Stronghold Motorsports and Monster sponsorship. Anderson was third in SuperLite last year and first in Unlimited UTV. Creed stepped from karts into SuperLite at the end of last season and immediately impressed, landing on the podium in his first weekend and winning in only his fourth start. Anderson has more experience, but Creed has certainly shown talent.
Another UTV racer joining Anderson is Doug Mittag, who was always quick. Kyle Lucas moves from Limited Buggies and SuperLite into Pro Lite with Speedco backing. Justin “Bean” Smith had a couple of Pro Lite starts last year while nearly winning the Pro Buggy title in his rookie season. With his new Team Competitive Metals, he should shine. Chad George has come up with Discount Tire sponsorship. Steadily growing, the 2011 SuperLite champ could have a breakthrough year in Pro Lite. Adding to the list of champions from other classes seeking glory in Pro Lite is Limited Buggy winner Curt Geer. From Ultra4 racing comes Shannon Campbell with a ProAm-backed truck. Jerrett Brooks comes to Pro Lite from karts, and Bradley Morris trades in his Limited Buggy.
The new guys only add to a crowded field of talent, with Matt Cook – running with Stronghold/Supercross.com – Austin Kimbrell, Aaron Daughtery, Ryan Beat – in a Premiere Motorsports Group Dodge – Todd Cunningham, Casey Currie, Jimmy Stephensen, Jacob Person and Adam Wik.
Missing from that list is last year's third-place finisher Cameron Steele. Steele jumps back into Pro Buggy, where he is the 2010 champion, with Monster sponsorship. Teammate Brandon Bailey will run Supercross.com graphics. They join expected returnees such as 2011 champ Mike Porter, Jerry Whelchel, Steven Greinke and Doug Fortin.
The rookie class in Pro Buggy is very interesting as well. Geoffrey Cooley and Dave Mason Jr. move from Limited Buggies with AlumiCrafts as part of Team Competitive Metals with Justin Smith. Kart ace Mitchell DeJong is making the transition to Pro Buggy as another rookie.
The 2012 Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series season gets underway at Firebird International Raceway in Chandler, Ariz., this weekend, with two full days of racing. Gates open at 9 a.m. both days.