It's a formula for fantastic racing and amazing entertainment. Or perhaps a recipe for disaster. Whatever the result, for four years the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series has ended its season with a special race. While each of the classes has its own races with bigger purses, it's the races with combined classes that draw the attention and the crowds.
Pro Buggy and Pro Lite are very different vehicles. Open wheel vs. closed. High strung four-cylinder engines vs. (mostly) V8 engines in the Pro Lites. Light vs. heavy. But the lap times that each produces around a short course off road track are nearly identical.
The same is not true for Pro 4 vs. Pro 2. Similar in appearance, size and weight, the difference in drivetrains and chassis usually means about a second a lap. So when classes are combined, with Pro Buggy and Pro Lite, they can start side by side; but Pro 4s start well behind the Pro 2s to make it more fair.
The results are usually the same. It's rare that a Pro 2 wins the combined race, just as the Pro Buggies usually take the victory over Pro Lites. What's also almost always guaranteed is wreckage – lots of it. The intensity of the contest, the money at stake – $30,000 to win Pro2/Pro4 and $20,000 for Pro Buggy/Pro Lite – combined with the fact that the season is over and the teams have plenty of time to rebuild for next season means nothing is left on the track.
That was certainly the case in the Pro Buggy vs. Pro Lite race on the day after the series concluded its regular season at Firebird Raceway in Chandler, Ariz. This time, the trucks and buggies started side by side, with the buggies lining up on the outside, trucks on the inside, sorted by inverting the top 10 in points then filling in 11th and beyond in each class by points. So 10th place in the Pro Lite points, Noah Fouch, started on the pole, with buggy racer Dave Mason Jr. on the outside pole.
Mason jumped into the lead immediately, but behind him, Matt Cook put his Pro Lite on its roof. Then Doug Fortin did the same to his open-wheeler in Turn 3. Both were righted and continued, as did the race. Mason was pulling out a lead over 2011 Pro Buggy champ Mike Porter, who was in turn building a gap ahead of the top three trucks – Fouch, Brian Deegan and Casey Currie.
When yellows closed up the field, Mason and Porter would battle side by side. So would the top trucks, which caused the biggest crash of the race. Coming off the second jump on the front straight, Currie and newly crowned Pro Lite champ RJ Anderson hit side by side in midair, sending both into rolls. Anderson rolled right over the top of Deegan, but Deegan was able to continue. Currie and Anderson were done for the race, although Anderson, unlike Deegan, raced in the Pro2/Pro 4 event that followed.
Porter had taken the lead in the interim, and a short while later, Mason was out of the race. Deegan did his best to chase down Porter, but his wounded truck had little chance to chase down Porter's Mickey Thompson/Speed Energy buggy.
“I don't think they had anything for us,” said Porter of the Pro Lites. “We could gap a distance and were a couple of tenths faster. But [Mason and I] were having to race each other hard, harder than I would ever race somebody in a regular Pro Buggy race.
“I've been trying to do it for three years and been wrecked by the trucks the last two years. I was finally able to get ahead of them and hold them off.”
Deegan finished second in his Rockstar Energy/Metal Mulisha Ford and Fouch was third in the Fouch Racing/UTI Ford.
The Lucas Oil Challenge Cup race for Pro 4 vs. Pro 2 had its share of wreckage as well, but it seemed significantly reduced from prior years when even the victorious trucks rolled in front of the podium looking like refugees from the scrapyard.
Unlike the side-by-side start of the previous race, the Pro 2s started half a lap ahead of the Pro 4s. Justin Davis and Robby Woods led the Pro 2s; Ryan Beat and Josh Merrell lead the Pro 4s.
Woods jumped out front, but his lead was erased after a lap and a half when Eric Barron and Curt LeDuc came together in Turn 3. With less than two laps completed, officials called for a full restart. Woods jumped out front again, with Patrick Clark in pursuit.
Within three laps, the Pro 4s were nibbling at the Pro 2 field. When the yellow came out for Ryan Hancock's rolled truck, Carl Renezeder's Lucas Oil/General Tire Nissan (ABOVE) was the top Pro 4 in 11th overall. Renezeder had his choice of trucks since he races in both classes, but said he chose the Pro 4 because he's had much better luck in the truck in 2012, winning four times vs. two in the Pro 2.
Three laps after the restart, Renezeder had sliced his way through the pack and was hounding Rob MacCachren, who had taken over the Pro 2 and overall lead in his Rockstar/Makita Ford. Renezeder passed MacCachren in Turn 1, and one lap later was followed by freshly minted Pro 4 champ Kyle LeDuc, just in time for the competition caution.
With the restart, Kyle shot into the lead, but it was short-lived. He crashed heavily on the exit of Turn 1 and Renezeder reclaimed the point.
“I mis-shifted and got between third and fourth and couldn't get it back in,” explained Renezeder. “He caught me. But then I got right back on his bumper and I think I would have got him back. He went outside of Turn 1 and hit the jump too hard, bottomed out, then kicked and his bumper dug into the face of the next jump. It was a bad crash.”
Nobody else had anything for Renezeder. MacCachren followed him home as the first Pro 2 with Ryan Beat's eBay Motors/Hart & Huntington truck in third. It was quite a change for Renezeder, who was disqualified from this race a year ago after he tangled with Jeremy McGrath.
“I guess you could say it's a little bit of redemption. Last year I thought we were going to win it, but it wasn't our year. This time it was.”
The Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series will renew rivalries when the series once again convenes at Firebird Raceway in March 2013.
Lucas Oil Challenge Cup Winners
Pro 4/Pro 2: Carl Renezeder (Rob MacCachren top Pro 2)
Pro Lite/Pro Buggy: Mike Porter (Brian Deegan top Pro Lite)
SuperLite: Sheldon Creed
Limited Buggy: John Fitzgerald
Modified Kart: Myles Cheek
Junior 2 Kart: Travis Pecoy
Junior 1 Kart: Conner McMullen