CHANDLER, Ariz. – With the 2012 championship season now complete, all that remained this year for the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series was the ever-popular Lucas Oil Challenge Cup Sunday at Firebird Int’l Raceway.
In this series of unique, one-off races, drivers compete for big money prizes and bragging rights, and to close out the season, we have the two most-anticipated races of the season: the two shootouts. That’s right, we pit class against class, as the Pro Lite Unlimiteds first take on the open-wheeled Pro Buggy Unlimiteds, followed by the high horsepower battle that is Pro 2 Unlimited vs. Pro 4 Unlimited.
With a total of $109,200 on the line, everyone would be desperate to come out on top, and carry some strong momentum into the off season. Crowds packed the stands to capacity throughout the day, and everyone will be going home talking about today’s races as some of the best to-date.
Once again, the day’s festivities would get kicked off with the Junior 2 Karts, but in a unique twist, the race distance would be extended from the usual ten laps to a lengthier 15 laps.
Those 15 laps would give all the drivers a shot at the unique honor of calling themselves the winner of a Lucas Oil Challenge Cup race, as well as a chance at some of the once-a-year prize money: $500 for first place, $250 for second, and $100 for third.
Broc Dickerson took the early lead in his #1 Eibach Springs/CMI machine, with Travis PeCoy, fresh off of a win in the Junior 2 Kart Cup Race, running in the second spot in his #211 King Off-Road Racing Shocks/McKenzies kart. Madix Bailey sat in third in his #217 Madix Racing Carburetion/Loctite entry, with new Junior 1 Kart champion Conner McMullen fourth in the #288 Monster Energy/Foddrill Motorsports kart. PeCoy got inside of Dickerson and made a pass for the lead at turn two on lap three, with McMullen also moving up and into third spot shortly afterwards. McMullen then set his sights on the two frontrunners, PeCoy and Dickerson, and by lap six, he’d tacked himself onto the back of that duo, making it a three-way race for the lead. A rollover by Roben then forced a full course caution, which also served as the Competition Yellow, and at this point, the running order in the top five was PeCoy, Dickerson, McMullen, Bailey, and Darren Hardesty in the #231 Bilstein Shock Absorbers/RC10.com truck.
On the restart lap, Dickerson and McMullen got inside of PeCoy at turn one, and both drivers went by to take over first and second places. Bailey also got by PeCoy in the next corner, and by the end of the lap, Hardesty had done so as well. Hardesty then got around Bailey for third shortly afterwards, and on the next lap, both PeCoy and Bailey spun at turn eight, causing those behind to have to swerve in different directions to avoid any possible collisions. Kamrin Dickerson emerged from this mess in fourth in her #223 Black Rhino/Walker Evans Racing truck, with PeCoy cutting quickly back into traffic to stay in fifth. PeCoy then moved up to fourth on lap eleven, while further forward, Hardesty was closing on the two leaders. By lap twelve, Hardesty had reached McMullen’s back bumper, while further back, Bailey had re-gained fifth spot. On lap thirteen, McMullen got by Dickerson at turn two to take the lead, and from there, he hung tough to come home the winner, backing up his 2012 Junior 1 Kart championship win with another victory and the $500 top prize in the Challenge Cup here this morning. $250 and second place went to Dickerson, and rounding out the podium was Hardesty, who picked up $100 for his efforts. Fourth place went to PeCoy, and Bailey finished the race in fifth.
The final race before Opening Ceremonies was Modified Kart, this one was definitely an exciting one. It was an all-girls front row, with Isabella Naughton and Brooke Kawell starting side by side at the head of the field, while the top two in points, Cole Mamer (second in points) and Myles Cheek (2012 Modified Kart champion) started back in ninth and tenth. Sheldon Creed came through the field quickly on the opening lap, and slotted into first in his #574 Trophy Kart/Kar Tek Off Road machine, followed by Naughton in the #554 Be The Match/Duncan Racing truck, Jeff Hoffman in the #547 Cactus Asphalt/BRT Signs kart, Mamer in the #535 Mamer Racing/Simpson entry, and Blake Lenk in the #521 Team Associated/Walker Evans Racing truck. Hoffman and Mamer moved into second and third on lap two, and Naughton then rolled coming out of turn five on lap three, ending her race early. This put Lenk up into fourth, and Scotty Steele now ran fifth in the #548 SDHQ Off Road/Foddrill Motorsports kart. As the field charged towards the halfway point of the race, the sight of these young drivers flying sideways off the big jump into turn two, sticking the landing, and holding that sideways position and maintaining a full four wheel drift through the long corner was truly an impressive sight; anyone who doesn’t think that these kids are the future stars of this sport had better think again.
Lenk moved up to third shortly before the Competition Yellow, and as the field bunched back up behind the Sanderson Tomcar Pace Car, it was now Creed, Mamer, Lenk, Hoffman, and Steele running in the top five. Steele moved up to fourth on the restart lap, while up front, Creed was quickly opening up the gap again, just as he’d done early in the first half of the race.
Meanwhile, new class champion Cheek had moved up to fifth on lap eleven, and picked off Hoffman for fourth on lap thirteen. Just ahead, Lenk closed on Mamer in the race for third with a strong run through low line at the multi-line section, and got alongside at turn five. Despite holding the outside line, Mamer held tough, though, and the two stayed side by side all the way to turn two, where Lenk clipped Mamer, nearly causing him to swap out and crash. Mamer pulled off an excellent save, though, and even managed to maintain his second place.
A bad crash involving Hoffman and Gavin Harlien in turn one then brought out a full course caution. Both drivers were ok, but while Harlien was able to continue, the entire rear swing arm/axle assembly had come loose on the Hoffman machine, and his race ended on the tow hook- a tough break after putting together a solid race early on.
Following several laps of yellow flag running, race officials called for a green-white-checkers finish as racing resumed. Cheek had gotten by Lenk for third just before the yellow flag, and despite Creed’s getting a good restart, Cheek had a better one, and was quickly closing on Creed to challenge for the win. Creed held him off to the white flag, but on the final lap, he again took his preferred high line at the either/or, forcing Cheek to again choose the low line.
Creed’s luck ran out, though, as he bicycled in turn four, losing just enough momentum to allow Cheek to make up ground on the low line, and jump into the lead by the final corner. Cheek went on to back up his 2012 Modified Kart title with a win in the Challenge Cup, and grabbed the $400 prize that went along with his first place finish.
Second place and $300 went to Creed, with third place and $100 going to Steele, who edged Mamer by a nose at the line. Mamer finished fourth, and rounding out the top five was Lenk. Unfortunately, results in this class are still classified as provisional, as post-race tech must check out a few questionable parts early next week.
Following Opening Ceremonies, racing resumed with the first race of the afternoon on the full-length track here at Firebird: Limited Buggy.
After his dominant run to the title this season and an inversion of the top ten points finishers to determine today’s starting order, John Fitzgerald would start dead last in this, his final race in his tried and true little buggy; next season, he’ll be moving up to the Pro Buggy Unlimited ranks in an all-new ride. Fitzgerald would certainly be aiming to go out with a bang, but there was a hungry field of other drivers, all of whom were shooting to knock off the class’ top man and take today’s $4,000 first place prize.
Jordan Poole, one of Fitzgerald’s most consistent challengers this season, got the early lead in his #310 No Fear Energy/Yokohama Fraley, with Bradley Morris, Fitzgerald’s other close challenger, running second in the No. 304 Lucas Oil/K&N Penhall. Fitzgerald ran third in the No. 314 BFGoodrich Tires/Simpson buggy, while Kevin McCullough was fourth in the No. 389 General Tire/Broken Cartel Geiser, and Jim Price was fifth in the #383 General Tire/PRT Wheels Lothringer. Five different chassis ran in the top five spots, showing just how competitive this class can be.
Fitzgerald got by Morris early on lap two, and Morris was then forced wide, off the track, and into the big blow-up Magnaflow banner out of turn three. A long recovery dropped Morris well back behind the leaders, while up front, the race for the lead was on in earnest. On lap four, Fitzgerald hit Poole as he jumped out of turn five and onto the front straight from the low line.
Both drivers got away cleanly, and Poole continued to lead. Just behind, McCullough was now quickly closing in on the two frontrunners, and by the end of lap five, he’d tacked himself onto the back of Fitzgerald’s car. McCullough then spun coming out of turn four on the next lap, dropping him back to fourth as Lindsay Geiser went by.
McCullough passed her back on the next lap, and up front, Fitzgerald made a move on the inside at turn three, and took the lead by the exit of the corner, moving ahead just before the Competition Yellow. As the field “re-racked and re-stacked” behind the ReadyLift Off Road Suspension Toyota Tundra Pace Truck, Fitzgerald was the new leader, followed by Poole, McCullough, Geiser, and Price.
On the restart lap, Poole caught his right front tire on the inside burm in turn three, causing him to spin in and over the burm, which dropped him back to last place. As a result, Geiser now ran third, with Price fourth and Morris fifth.
On the next lap, Geiser got a bit wild coming out of turn four in the low line, and Price, running right behind her, seized his opportunity and pounced, going by in the same narrow low line and moving up to third. Geiser wasn’t giving up easily, though, as she hounded Price to try and get her position back, but Price was running well today, and he gradually began to pull away, while Morris was now closing in on Geiser from behind.
On the penultimate lap, Morris tried to out-brake her into turn three, and though he successfully nosed ahead, Geiser kept her cool and held her line and momentum, and moved back ahead going into turn four. Up front, Fitzgerald was having another great race, and he kept clean out front to pick up the win and the $4,000 check, just ahead of McCullough, who took second and a $2,000 prize.
Third place and $1,000 went to Price, who had his best race to date, and was very close to the frontrunners, which bodes very well for his chances next season. Geiser also drove a very impressive race, as she held off Morris to the checkers to take fourth; Morris rounded out the top five.
After wrapping up his series-record fourth class championship here at Firebird yesterday, 2012 Super Lite champion Sheldon Creed looked to go out of this class with a bang by winning his final Super Lite race, the Challenge Cup, before moving up into the Pro ranks in 2013. To take the win, and the $6,000 prize that went with it, Creed would have to survive some serious carnage, as all of his competitors were also looking to knock off the class’ top dog.
Jessie Johnson got out to the early lead in his No. 15 LoanMart/Kimbrell Racing truck, followed by Cody Rahders in the No. 16 Superchips/Toyo Tires machine, Drew Britt in the No. 7 Universal Technical Institute/San Tan Ford entry, Creed in the newly-numbered No. 1 A.M. Ortega/BFGoodrich Tires machine, and Dustin Jones in the No. 12 Zero To Inzane/Safety-Kleen truck. On lap two, Johnson had a scary spin off the top of the big Lucas Oil jump out of turn two, and the elongated spin lasted nearly all the way down to turn three.
As Johnson struggled to re-gain control, the rest of the field tried their best to avoid him, but Britt couldn’t avoid contact, and crashed into him just as the spin was coming to an end. Britt also briefly collected Creed, who quickly got away with what appeared to be minimal body damage, and at the end of the lap, as the full course caution came out, it was Rahders, Johnson, Creed, Jones, and Trenton Briley in the No. 17 Black Rhino/Kal-Gard entry in the top five.
Britt managed to re-fire just as the field had returned to green flag racing, but at a lap and a half back, he was pretty much out of the running. Creed moved up from third to first on the restart lap, but sticking close to him was Rahders. Coming off of that same big Lucas Oil jump on lap five, Rahders, who was already up to second, was now alongside Creed, and after the two bumped in mid-air, Rahders came down and made an awkward landing.
Rahders was sent into an ugly barrel roll crash, and with Joseph Kirsch also having crashed just earlier at the start/finish line, there would again be a full course caution. Both drivers were ok, but neither of their trucks was fit to continue.
Under caution, the running order up front was now Creed, Johnson, Jones, Ryan Hagy in the No. 27 General Tire/Metal Mulisha machine, and Brent Fouch in the No. 21 Fouch Racing/General Tire truck. On the restart lap, both Garrett Poelman and Briley moved up, taking over fourth and fifth spots, respectively, with Briley then getting around Poelman for fourth on the following lap. The field then began to spread out a bit over the remaining laps, and up front, Creed was again the class of the field, as he brought home the win for the eighth time this season, taking the $6,000 check in the process.
Second place and its $3,000 check went to Johnson, and taking third and $1,000 was Hagy. Briley had a nice return to the class after an absence of several races, taking fourth in a strong run, and rounding out the top five was Poelman in the No. 62 Supercross.com/Loctite entry.
In what must be the most unique race of the year, the Pro Lite Unlimiteds are pitted against the open-wheeled Pro Buggy Unlimiteds, in a shootout where $20,000 is on the line for winner. So far, buggies have won all three editions of this very tough event, but with nearly the entire field of trucks now running V8s, and subsequently turning quicker lap times, the usual protocol of starting the buggies half a lap behind the trucks has been scrapped.
Instead, the trucks would now only be given the inside starting row, with the buggies starting on the outside row, and both fields having their top ten points finishers inverted down the first ten rows. In short, tenth place points finishers Noah Fouch (truck) and Dave Mason (buggy) would start on the front row, while newly-crowned champions RJ Anderson (truck) and Steven Greinke (buggy) would start back on row ten.
After a rollover by Matt Cook forced a single-file restart of the race, it was Mason in the No. 65 Romney/Ryan 2012/General Tire AlumiCraft who was out front, with Mike Porter second in the No. 8 Mickey Thompson/Speed Energy AlumiCraft running second. Fouch was the frontrunning truck in the No. 52 BFGoodrich Tires/Fiberwerx Ford, and was followed by two more trucks, Brian Deegan in the #38 Rockstar Energy Drink/Makita Power Tools Ford and Casey Currie in the No. 2 Monster Energy/Magnaflow Performance Exhaust Nissan.
A rollover by Doug Fortin in turn three forced a full course yellow at the end of lap one, and after the return to green, Currie got by Deegan for fourth on the restart lap. The top five then held their positions through lap six, with Mason and Porter already starting to gap away out front. On lap seven, Currie forced Fouch out wide coming out of turn five, and took over third place as a result.
Deegan also got by Fouch on the next lap, and a full course caution then followed on lap nine, the result of a rollover and flash fire onboard Aaron Daugherty’s truck. Daugherty was able to re-fire and continue, and on the restart lap, Porter made a desperate dive on Mason into turn five, making the pass stick to take the lead.
Mason got back by Porter in turn one, though, just ahead of another full course yellow, this one for Greinke’s having come to a stop in the middle of turn three. On the restart lap, Porter was dodging and weaving to try and find a route to make a pass on Mason in the first few corners, and pulled off a beautiful sliding pass in turn three, re-taking the lead in the process.
Mason dropped to second, with Anderson now up into third after making a good run in the last few laps in his No. 37 Monster Energy/South Point Dodge. Currie had dropped to fourth, but at the start of lap 15, Currie’s and Anderson’s races would come to an abrupt end.
Anderson jumped to the right off the big jump into turn one, coming across in mid-air and hitting Currie, sending both into a huge crash, which most of the field behind piled into. Fortunately, everyone involved was ok, but damage to both the trucks involved in the initial crash was substantial.
Those caught out also suffered varying degrees of damage, but most were able to continue with only cosmetic issues, and some of the drivers just behind the wreck had managed to squeak by without getting touched. Following a red flag to clear up this big mess, the field filed back into line behind the Pace Truck, as the announcers brought to everyone’s attention the fact that in this race, caution laps would not count towards the overall lap count.
This brought about the concern of fuel: would these drivers have enough to go the scheduled 20-lap distance? Right now, everyone would just have to go for it and hope for the best, and as racing finally resumed, it was Porter, Mason, Deegan, Fouch, and Bradley Morris (truck) in the top five.
On the restart lap, Deegan got into Mason coming out of turn three, sending Mason sliding across the track, and with an apparent steering issue, Mason’s race was over by the end of the lap.
Mason’s teammate Geoffrey Cooley had come to a stop down in turn three, bringing out yet another caution, and as the field lined up to have a go at another restart, it was now Porter, Deegan, Fouch, Morris, and Chris Brandt (truck) in the top five. Porter’s car was still looking almost as clean as it had at the start of the race, with only some mud on the hood to give any real evidence that he’d been in this race, while nearly everyone else behind had varying levels of damage.
Deegan had a folded number plate, Fouch had body damage, and Morris’ front was smashed in, but with the ability to take more contact, the bevy of trucks behind the lone buggy of Porter was looking hungry to finally take home a win for their side in this race. Porter was slow on the restart, and Deegan shot by and into the lead out of turn one.
Porter quickly battled back, though, and the greater speed of the buggies quickly became apparent, as he got back alongside Deegan out of turn three, before braking deep and re-taking the lead into turn four. From there, Porter held on, as he did the buggies proud by keeping their perfect record in this race intact, extending it to 4-0 over the trucks as he took the win.
Porter might not have been able to defend the Pro Buggy Unlimited championship that he won last year, but this win, and its $20,000 reward, must’ve been a couple of pretty nice consolation prizes. Deegan was the runner-up for the second time in three years, and still got $10,000 for his efforts, while third place and $5,000 went to a surprising Fouch.
Morris came home fourth in the No. 24 GoldStar Asphalt!/Lucas Oil Ford, and rounding out the top five was Brandt in the #82 BFGoodrich Tires/National Concrete Cutting Toyota, one of only two 4-cylinder trucks that ran this weekend.
The most-anticipated race of the year is undoubtedly the big truck shootout between the Pro 2 Unlimiteds and the Pro 4 Unlimiteds, and with all that horsepower on the track at once, it’s easy to see why. The Pro 2 Unlimiteds would again be given a half lap head start over the Pro 4 Unlimiteds, and everyone would be vying for a total of $53,500 in prizes at race’s end. The starting orders in each class would again be based on points, with the top ten points finishers being inverted, and the remaining drivers starting behind, according to their year-end points position. This put Justin Davis and Robby Woods on the front row in Pro 2 Unlimited, and Ryan Beat and Josh Merrell up front in Pro 4 Unlimited. Other notables included the absence of reigning two-time Pro 2 Unlimited champion Brian Deegan from this race, as well as Greg Adler’s choosing to run his 2wd as opposed to his 4wd, while Carl Renezeder made the opposite decision.
Woods was out front early in his #99 Lucas Slick Mist/General Tire Chevrolet, ahead of Patrick Clark in the #52 General Tire/Team Losi Racing Chevrolet and Rodrigo Ampudia in the #36 Toyo Tires/Lucas Oil Ford. Chasing from the back, Beat was the early frontrunner in the 4wds in his #46 eBay Motors/Hart and Huntington Ford, with Merrell second in his #22 MavTV/Hart and Huntington Ford, and Carl Renezeder third in the #1 Lucas Oil/General Tire Nissan. Merrell and Renezeder both passed Beat on lap two, with Renezeder and Kyle LeDuc then overtaking Merrell for the top two spots in the Pro 4 Unlimited running on the following lap. Up front, Rob MacCachren was up to third overall in his #21 Rockstar Energy Drink/Makita Power Tools Ford, but at the end of lap four, a full course caution was thrown following a crash at the top of the Lucas Oil jump (at the exit of turn two) by Ryan Hancock. After several laps under yellow, racing resumed on lap eight, and in the overall hunt, Renezeder moved from eleventh to seventh in a single lap, with LeDuc in the #99 Monster Energy/Toyo Tires tucking in and following right behind. At the head of the field, MacCachren got around Clark for second early on lap ten, while behind him, Renezeder continued to cut through the field, his truck working perfectly, as he passed four drivers in the space of only a few seconds on the same lap. He was now up to third overall, and with the caution flag having taken away the starting handicap, combined with a slick track, the 2wds were sitting ducks, easy prey for their 4wd brethren. MacCachren moved up again on lap eleven, passing Woods for the lead, but it was a lead that would be short-lived. On the next lap, Renezeder, who’d also gotten by Woods on the previous lap, went inside of MacCachren at turn two to take the lead, and was now looking good to become the first two-time winner of the Lucas Oil Challenge Cup.
The Competition Yellow came out at the end of this lap, and the running order was now Renezeder, MacCachren, Kyle LeDuc, Woods, and Todd LeDuc in the 4wd No. 7 Rockstar Energy Drink/Makita Power Tools Ford. Kyle LeDuc overtook MacCachren on the restart lap, with his brother Todd getting by Woods and up to fourth, making it three 4wds in the top four.
Kyle LeDuc then got by Renezeder coming out of turn one on lap 15, and just like that, we had a new leader! Todd LeDuc got by his teammate MacCachren on the same lap, but just when it was liking to be a dominant race by the Pro 4 Unlimiteds, Kyle LeDuc’s luck took a turn for the worse. LeDuc had been going for the low line in turn one on lap 16, but ended up on the high line, where he wasn’t set up right to take the extra jump that sat in the outside line. He nosed into the next big jump, sending him into a crash that landed him halfway atop the outside k rail.
Just as quickly as the race for the lead between LeDuc and Renezeder was starting to heat up, LeDuc’s day was done, and Renezeder re-assumed the lead under a full course caution. Behind Renezeder, it was now Todd LeDuc, MacCachren, Woods, and Clark, and on the restart lap, MacCachren was really pushing hard to keep up with the two 4wds up in front of him. MacCachren was able to keep LeDuc close, but Renezeder was a little too quick for either of them. LeDuc then spun out in turn one, dropping him well back, while another Pro 4 Unlimited, Ryan Beat, was now charging up the order in his #46 eBay Motors/Hart and Huntington Ford.
Beat sat in third after lap 20, but Woods wasn’t letting the position go easily, as he and Beat were beating and banging together hard in turn three on the next lap. Beat eventually pulled clear, but was running out of time to try and catch the two leaders. More beating and banging was still going on behind, as the race for fourth was now on between Woods, Clark, Jeremy McGrath (2wd), and Rob Naughton (2wd).
Woods’ truck was getting pretty battered, and he eventually fell by the wayside in the final laps, while McGrath and Naughton moved up to fourth and fifth. Up front, Renezeder had opened up a good gap, and he came home the big winner, becoming the first driver to win either of the big class vs. class Challenge Cup races more than once (he won the inaugural Pro 2 Unlimited vs. Pro 4 Unlimited Challenge Cup back in 2009).
Renezeder also got the big payout, taking home $30,000 for the win, while MacCachren grabbed $15,000 for second, plus a $1,000 bonus for being the top finisher in the class that didn’t win the race outright. MacCachren did about as good as any 2wd could expect to do in coming home second, and he leaked the news on the podium that he hopes to have an all-new Pro 4 Unlimited finished in-time to join the class at the start of next season.
Third place and $7,500 went to Beat, who again showed his tremendous talent despite running a limited schedule while sharing his ride with Carey Hart this season. Fourth place was the No. 2 Monster Energy/Toyo Tires Ford of McGrath, and last year’s winner Naughton came home fifth in the No. 54 Lunarpages Web Hosting/Hart and Huntington Ford.