Words by Pat Schutte
Photos by Chris Hord
The 2012 Traxxas TORC Series, presented by AMSOIL, returns to Bark River Raceway this weekend, Aug. 11-12, for two rounds of racing action on the famed track located in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. And you can bet that the epic 2011 PRO 4×4 battle between current point leader Ricky Johnson (Red Bull/Ram/Mopar/KMC Wheels) and local favorite Johnny Greaves (Monster Energy/Toyota/Maxxis) is going bring back all the fans from last year’s record attendance weekend at Bark River – and then some!
The thrilling rivalry between Johnson and Greaves came to crescendo at Bark River in 2011. In front of a record crowd at the northern Michigan track, then rounds eight and nine of the 2011 Traxxas TORC Series, presented by AMSOIL, two of the world’s best short course off-road racers took it to the last turn of the last lap of the PRO 4 final where Johnson made hard-hitting pass on the then-leading Greaves, sending the PRO 4 points leader into a concrete barrier while Johnson raced to the checkers for the victory, while Greaves was done.
At the victor’s podium Johnson received a rousing chorus of boos from the homeboy Greaves-friendly crowd in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
Said Johnson on the podium: “I honestly didn’t think I took him (Greaves) out. I thought he was going to be right there with me at the finish line.” The 500-plus fans that packed around TORC podium let Johnson have it even more. The consummate pro, Johnson gathered himself and said: “You know, I like the fact that you hate me right now. That shows me you have passion for this sport. Well so do I … and nothing pleases me more than seeing your passion right now.”
That passion also (again) came to a flashpoint between the camps as Johnson’s team and Greaves’ guys brawled in the spotter’s area just off the track following the incident. And one could certainly point to Bark River as the turning point for Johnson wrestling the TORC PRO 4 title away from then defending champ Greaves. For a quick refresher view of the incident, link to (watch the opening RJ/Greaves montage, then FF to the 33:00 mark):
For 2012 Johnson and Greaves have taken different paths to Bark River. Johnson’s been absolutely dominant, winning five of seven possible races (with one round being rained out @ Crandon) and recording five Oakley Bomb Awards for the fastest PRO 4 lap time. Greaves on the other hand has suffered through his worst year since TORC’s inception in 2010, scoring only one podium finish while dealing with some serious mechanical gremlins from the Charlotte opener to this past round in Chicago.
“While everybody blames somebody, we’ve had a bad batch of materials that have led to some failures – mostly drive train-related. Crucial parts that we relied on somebody else to make,” explained Greaves. “But we’ve managed to combine some 2011 parts (with what they have now) to make things work. And we can run the truck as hard as we want now and not worry about it.”
This is good news for fans at Bark River. Greaves, who holds the track speed record there, will pull out all the stops to sweep the PRO 4 class this weekend. “We’re definitely looking forward to it – and have a good package for that track. Bark River suits my driving style and we’ve been doing a lot better mechanically. Our confidence is back.”
Johnson for sure has other plans, and would like nothing better than to put who he calls “Green Bay Johnny” on a lower rostrum rung. “I know we’ll play a little cleaner … but sparks are still gonna fly,” said Johnson, who was quick to remind TORC fans of Saturday’s race at Bark River last year where Greaves took him (Johnson) out. “I don’t think either shot last year was from one driver going out of their way to take the other one out. You almost can’t pass at Bark River without some sort of contact.” – By Pat Schutte … photos courtesy of Chris Hord