Championship Titles, and Chances,
On The Line In Round 14
Following a very successful first edition of night racing here at Las Vegas Motor Speedway last night for the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series, presented by GEICO, it was time to do it all again tonight. After a somewhat hot afternoon turned into a terrific balmy autumn night yesterday, today’s weather was off to an even better start, with a nice cover of clouds keeping the heat at bay, and in response to the improved conditions, fans packed the stands early to come out and see the top drivers in the sport of short course off-road racing. Tonight marked Round 14 of the 2012 championship, and for some drivers, there was the very real possibility of wrapping up a championship title with a full round of competition left down at Firebird next month. For others, the evening’s events would play a pivotal role in keeping them in the thick of one of a few different close championship chases, and for everyone, there was the prospect of having a strong showing in front of a great crowd. In case you missed the evening’s proceedings, read on and find out what happened.
Junior 2 Kart
Junior 2 Kart got things started in a great way, with Hailie Deegan grabbing the early lead in her #438 4 Wheel Parts/Lucas Oil kart, followed closely by Dylan Winbury, Darren Hardesty, Parker Steele, and Jeremy Davis. On lap two, Parker Porter moved his #461 Redline Performance/Advantage Boats machine up to fifth in turn one, with Steele then making a nice inside pass on Hardesty at turn six to take over third in his #449 Racer X Motorsports/Martori Farms kart. Early on lap three, points leader Winbury then grabbed the lead from Deegan in his #469 Famous Stars and Straps/Black Rhino entry, with the top three then beginning to pull away from those behind as the race approached the Competition Yellow. As the field bunched up behind the Pace UTV, it was Winbury, Deegan, Steele, Hardesty, and Porter in the top five, with Travis PeCoy then moving his #411 Fox Racing Shox/Hoosier kart past Porter for fifth on the restart lap. On lap eight, Porter got back by PeCoy, just before the two touched side to side coming out of turn two. The two were sent into half spins to either side of the track, as Broc Dickerson came through to take over fifth in his #423 Black Rhino/Racer X Motorsports truck. At the white flag, it was now Winbury, Deegan, Steele, Hardesty in the #456 Bilstein Shock Absorbers/Kar Tek Off Road kart, and Dickerson in the top five, and the top three once again had a gap over those behind. In a cruel twist, Winbury then slowed suddenly coming out of turn two, victimized by a mechanical failure within only a handful of corners of the finish line. Deegan took the lead, and after hounding Winbury throughout the race, her consistency paid off as she picked up her first-ever win in the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series- congratulations Hailie! Second place went to Steele, with Hardesty taking third, Dickerson fourth, and after an early race collision, it was Jeremy Davis who came back through the field to finish fifth in his #485 Green Army/Hoosier machine
Junior 1 Kart
Next up was Junior 1 Kart, and it was defending points champion Broc Dickerson who took the early lead in his #1 Dickerson Motorsports/Walker Evans Racing kart. Travis PeCoy ran second in the #211 King Off-Road Racing Shocks/Simpson entry, with Barrett Nunley third in his #215 RC10.com/Race-dezert.com machine, Darren Hardesty fourth in the #231 Bilstein Shock Absorbers/Kar Tek Off Road truck, and Blaze Nunley fifth in the #230 RC10.com truck. On lap two, Hardesty, Blaze Nunley, McMullen, and Madix Bailey all got by Barrett Nunley as he struggled to stay in control, with McMullen then moving up to fourth in turn one on the next lap.
The top three now ran nose-to-tail, and at the Competition Yellow, the running order in the top five was Dickerson, PeCoy, Hardesty, McMullen, and Blaze Nunley. On the restart lap, McMullen made his way past Hardesty at turn one, and it was now the top four who ran in a close line at the front. On lap eight, luck fell apart a bit for PeCoy, as McMullen passed him on the inside into turn two, before Hardesty then also got by on the inside at turn three. Out front, McMullen was now really hounding Dickerson for the lead, but Dickerson drove terrifically to stay out front and keep the lead all the way to the checkers to pick up his sixth win of the season inside the category. Second went to McMullen, who was oh-so-close to his own sixth win of the season, while Hardesty rounded out the podium. PeCoy finished up in fourth, and fifth went to Blaze Nunley.
Finishing up the weekend’s activities on the shorter “kids’ track” was Modified Kart, and this one was definitely a struggle of a race. The first start resulted in Isabella Naughton getting crashed just out of turn one, forcing a full restart, and the second start ended in a big pile-up in the first corner, which brought about a third start. The third time seemed to be the charm, as everyone seemed a bit more tentative as they took the green flag again.
Bradley Morris was out front in his #504 Trophy Kart/K&N truck at the end of lap one, with Gavin Harlien second in the #555 Simpson/Team Associated kart, Sheldon Creed third in the #574 Trophy Kart/Kar Tek Off Road entry, Myles Cheek fourth in the #557 Rockstar/ThyssenKrupp Materials NA machine, and Cole Mamer fifth in the #535 Simpson/Full Tilt Trophy Karts entry. The top five held their running order for the first four laps, with a full course caution then coming at the end of lap four following a rollover up in turn one. Race officials decided that this caution period would also serve as the Competition Yellow, and when racing resumed, it was Jeff Hoffman in the #547 Kar Tek Off Road/BRT Signs truck who moved up to fifth with a nice run around the outside line in turn one. On the next lap, though, Mamer got his fifth place back in the same corner, while up front, gaps were opening between the leader Morris and second-placed Harlien, as well as between Harlien and the next group of four drivers, all of whom were engaged in a close race for third position. Despite a lot of bumping and banging between these four (Creed, Cheek, Mamer, and Hoffman), everyone held their positions for several laps, until Mamer finally broke up the order by getting around Cheek at turn one and moving into fourth. From there, the top five maintained their running order, despite a strong last-minute surge for third by Mamer, and at the stripe, it was Morris with the win, ahead of Harlien, Creed, Mamer, and Cheek. After the race, Mamer was docked two positions for rough driving, which moved Cheek to fourth and Hoffman to fifth.
Just before Opening Ceremonies, the first race of the night on the full-length track was Limited Buggy, and it was points leader John Fitzgerald who was out front early in this one. Behind Fitzgerald, it was the #334 Speed Energy/Bowden Development Inc. Alumi Craft of Zac Hunt, the #302 Race Fuel Energy Drink/General Tire buggy of Kenny Freeman, the #304 Lucas Oil/K&N Penhall of Bradley Morris, and the #398 Gear One/BFGoodrich Tires Lothringer of Dylan Ayers. On lap two, Ayers’ teammate Kevin McCullough got inside of Ayers at turn three, and finally sealed the pass as the two headed into turn five, as McCullough moved up to fifth spot.
McCullough then continued a quick charge forward, as he moved past Morris for fourth late in the same lap, before getting by Freeman for third early on the next lap, and then taking over second from Hunt on the outside at turn two on lap four. McCullough was really cutting through the field, but now had the most formidable competitor in the class, Fitzgerald, to try and contend with for the lead. Further back, Ayers got by Freeman coming out of turn four and heading into turn five, moving him back into the top five, and at the Competition Yellow, it was Fitzgerald, McCullough, Hunt, Morris, and Ayers in the top five. On the restart lap, Ayers picked up another spot to fourth after passing Morris, before a full course caution at the end of lap eight (brought out following a rollover by Jim Price in turn two) bunched everyone back up again. On the restart lap, Hunt’s race came to a disappointing end when his car came to a stop in turn seven, ending what had been one of his strongest run of the season. This moved Ayers to third, Morris to fourth, and Jordan Poole up to fifth spot, as Poole continued a nice recovery after his truck had come to a stop in turn one on the opening lap, where he lost nearly half a lap before he could get re-fired. The top five held their positions on the final lap, with Fitzgerald picking up his sixth win of the season, ahead of McCullough, Ayers, Morris, and Poole. With another strong run this evening, Fitzgerald has put himself out of reach of his competitors in this year’s championship, as he has wrapped up the 2012 Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series Limited Buggy Championship in his #314 BFGoodrich Tires/Livestrong/Weddle Racing Gears/Wiks Racing Engines/Simpson buggy- congratulations John! Fitzgerald is the first driver of the season to wrap up a championship in the series this weekend, and with six wins, eleven podiums, and thirteen top fives from fourteen races so far this season, is anyone really surprised that Fitzgerald, one of the all-time greats in this class, got another championship in the category? The real question is, will anyone else wrap up a title tonight?
Pro 4 Unlimited
After the brief break of Opening Ceremonies, it was time for some Pro class racing, and as usual, things got started with the fastest vehicles in the series: the Pro 4 Unlimiteds. The sun had gone down now, and the lights around the track were starting to become the predominant source of illumination as the trucks hit the track. Kyle LeDuc, trying to bounce back after a tough race last night, grabbed the lead early in his #99 Monster Energy/Toyo Tires Ford, with Carl Renezeder running second in the #1 Lucas Oil/General Tire Nissan, Eric Barron third in the #32 Rancho Differentials & Drivetrains/California Metals Toyota, Curt LeDuc fourth in the #43 KCHiLites/Truxxx Lift and Level Kits Ford, and Corry Weller fifth in the #18 Tilted Kilt/Maxxis Ford. On lap two, Weller got in to Curt LeDuc a bit as LeDuc came across her nose heading for turn three, and LeDuc was sent off track and down the order several positions. Todd LeDuc took advantage of a bit of confusion here, and got by them both as he moved up to fourth, with Weller still running fifth. Two laps later, while running strong in a bid to challenge Kyle LeDuc for the lead, Renezeder lost his right front tire and wheel as he landed off the jump out of turn six, ending his charge in a flash. This moved Barron to second, Todd LeDuc to third, Weller to fourth, and Carey Hart up to fifth in his #46 eBay Motors/Hart and Huntington Ford, with Curt LeDuc then getting by Hart on the outside at turn three on lap six, moving him back into the top five as a result. The race was then red flagged following a small fire onboard Travis Coyne’s truck, and the ensuing full course caution also served as the Competition Yellow.
When racing resumed, it was Kyle LeDuc, Barron, Todd LeDuc, Weller, and Curt LeDuc in the top five, with Kyle LeDuc quickly opening up a gap over those behind. LeDuc got out to a decent lead, then seemed to settle in and maintain that lead, before a rollover by Hart up in turn five brought out a full course caution. As the field bunched up behind the Toyota Tundra Pace Truck once again, a green-white-checkers finish was called for by race officials. On the restart lap, Barron suddenly slowed heavily in turn one, causing much of the field to bunch up behind him. Todd LeDuc had already gotten by Barron, and Weller was also able to squeak by on the inside, while the rest of the field scrambled to find a way past Barron. Up front, mechanical gremlins then struck Kyle LeDuc for the second night in a row, as a sudden four wheel drive issue slowed him briefly down the back straight, and it was LeDuc’s brother Todd who shot into the lead with just a lap and a half to go. Kyle was able to recover and hold second, but on the final lap, he spun up in turn three, allowing Weller to get by as well. Up front, Todd LeDuc sped home with the spoils, as he picked up his first win inside the category- congratulations Todd. In second, Weller had a right front suspension issue of her own, but managed to keep the truck together to the checkers, as she picked up her best finish in this class, ahead of Kyle LeDuc in third. Jerry Daugherty, who’d been running fourth, pulled off just before turn five on the last lap, which meant that Josh Merrell would pick up that position in his #22 MavTV/Hart and Huntington Ford, with the top five being rounded out by Curt LeDuc.
Pro Buggy Unlimited
Tonight’s Pro Buggy Unlimited race was one of the most dramatic in recent memory, and it all got underway with local Las Vegas driver Cody Freeman taking the early lead in his #2 Race Fuel Energy Drink/Wiks Racing Engines Racer. Geoffrey Cooley ran second in the #22 Romney/Ryan 2012/BFGoodrich Tires Alumi Craft, followed by Cameron Steele in the #16 Monster Energy/Horizon Hobby Alumi Craft in third, Doug Fortin in the #96 Fortin Racing, Inc./Fox Racing Shox Racer in fourth, and Dave Mason in the #65 Romney/Ryan 2012/SR Performance Alumi Craft in fifth. Fortin got inside of Steele to make a pass at turn five on lap three, moving himself up to third in the process, before he then got by Cooley for second on lap four. Cooley dropped back several positions to ninth on this lap, and Mason moved up to third, with Steele holding fourth and Greinke taking over fifth in his #23 SC Fuels/Redline Performance Racer. At the Competition Yellow, Freeman was putting together a terrific race as he continued to lead, ahead of Fortin, Mason, Steele, and Greinke. The restart was then re-called after two cars (Ken Stout and Eddie Tafoya) rolled in turn one, and on the second restart, Steele got around Mason to move into third spot. On the same lap, Cooley rolled coming out of turn three, and with smoke starting to come from his car, some drivers at the head of the field slowed in what must have been anticipation of a red flag, which is always s thrown when a car catches fire.
The red flag didn’t come, though, and the other racers did what the flag tower indicated, which was continue to race, until they reached the start/finish line, where a full course caution yellow flag awaited them. In the process, both Fortin and Mason lost several positions, and as the field circulated under yellow, these two drove alongside the lineup, next to the positions they felt they should have gotten back. Officials held their ground, though, and Mason and Fortin had to fall back in line in fifth and sixth, the positions they’d been in at the stripe when they passed the yellow flag. Meanwhile, Cooley got out of his car and was ok, and with his car quickly being extinguished and righted, and with the lineup now sorted, racing soon resumed. A green-white-checkers finish had been called for, and as the field returned to green flag racing, the running order up front was Freeman, Steele, Greinke, George, and Mason. On the restart lap, a fired-up Mason charged past George and into fourth coming out of turn two, with Fortin following suit and moving into fifth on the same lap. The white flag then came out, and as Steele tried to make a move on Freeman in turn two, Freeman spun out slightly, and the two got collected up. Both drivers spun, and as those behind scrambled to avoid further contact, Greinke surged into the lead, with Fortin following in second and Mason just behind in third. Four corners later, with two drivers already having suffered last lap woes, it was then Fortin whose luck turned for the worse, as Mason dive-bombed into turn six behind him, rear-ended him, and sent him out of control, allowing several drivers to get past before he could re-join the action. Meanwhile, Greinke kept clear of all the chaos, and after re-taking the points lead last night, he padded his own lead with a big win here tonight. As they crossed the line, it was Mason in second, George third, Steele fourth, and Robb Harvey fifth in the #18 Interstate Batteries/CMI Alumi Craft. However, Mason was punished after the race, as race officials moved him to the back of the lead lap for not serving a black flag, as well as for rough driving. Harvey was also moved to the back of the lead lap, just ahead of Mason, for not serving a black flag, and these two changes meant that the final top five was Greinke, George, Steele, Tafoya in the #51 Specialty Fasteners Lothringer, and Lonny Hart in the #77 Alexander Ford/Lincoln buggy.
Pro Lite Unlimited
Another strong field of Pro Lite Unlimiteds emerged on track next, and it was heavy championship favorite RJ Anderson who led early, ahead of Ryan Beat, Casey Currie, Justin “Bean” Smith, and Noah Fouch. As Anderson quickly started to pull out a lead, Currie was really working on Beat for second, eventually making the pass at turn five on lap three. Further back, Bradley Morris got by Fouch on the inside at turn three to take over fifth in his #24 GoldStar Asphalt!/Lucas Oil Ford on lap four. Smith then pulled off the track on lap five, and a crash and ensuing flash fire onboard the Austin Kimbrell machine forced a red flag of the race. Kimbrell’s crash landed his truck with the driver’s window in the dirt, which was a bit scary, but safety crews were there in a hurry to put out the fire, and with Kimbrell emerging to safety and his truck quickly cleared, racing soon resumed, with the yellow flag period also serving as the Competition Yellow.
When racing resumed, it was now Anderson, Currie, Beat, Morris, and Fouch in the top five, with Fouch getting back by Morris for fourth on the restart lap. Fouch and his #52 Fouch Racing/BFGoodrich Tires Ford then blew by Beat for third in turn seven on lap eight, while up front, Anderson had again opened a small gap back to second-placed Currie. Currie also had a gap of his own back to Fouch, who was now just ahead of Morris, who’d also gotten by Beat and taken over fourth. A full course caution then came out at the end of lap eleven because of a rollover in turn two by Chad George, and as the field again bunched up under yellow, it was Anderson, Currie, Fouch, Morris, and Beat in the top five. A green-white-checkers finish was called for by race officials, and on the restart lap, Fouch and Morris tangled in turn one, dropping both drivers back several spots. This moved Jimmy Stephensen into fourth in the #33 No Fear Energy/Yokohama Nissan, and Todd Cunningham up to fifth in the #6 1888Baghouse.com / Mickey Thompson Chevrolet. From there, the top five drivers held their positions, and it was Anderson who got his fifth win of the season, and his first since clear back in Round 6. Currie came across the stripe in second, with Beat third, Stephensen a season-best fourth after switching to a V8 power plant for this weekend, and Cunningham a far and away season-best in fifth.
Anderson came into tonight’s race with a monstrous lead over second place Ryan Beat in the championship, and with a dominant drive tonight, which included the N-Fab Fast Lap award, he did more than enough to secure this year’s 2012 Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series Pro Lite Unlimited Championship. This was RJ’s first full season in the class, and with the move over to the Stronghold Motorsports camp, he and his #37 Monster Energy/Walker Evans Racing/South Point Hotel & Casino/Polaris/Goodyear Dodge have had the backing and the manpower needed to run at the front in this ultra-competitive class. However, when it comes right down to it, RJ’s fantastic driving was the true key to his success, and this young man is proving why is no longer a “star of the future,” but rather, a star right now- congratulations RJ!
Super Lite Unlimited
Super Lites were up next, and it was last night’s winner and championship leader Sheldon Creed who was out front at the end of the first lap in his #74 A.M. Ortega/BFGoodrich Tires truck. Cody Rahders ran second in the #16 SuperChips/Toyo Tires entry, with birthday boy Drew Britt in third in his #7 UTI/Mickey Thompson machine, Ryan Hagy fourth in the #27 General Tire/Metal Mulisha truck, and Dawson Kirchner fifth in the #18 Speed Technologies/Method Race Wheels entry. As the early laps clicked off, Creed started to pull away a bit by lap four, at which time Britt, having worked on Rahders for the entire race thus far, finally got by and into second place. Hagy then got around Rahders and up to third on the next lap, and at the Competition Yellow, it was Creed, Britt, Hagy, Rahders, and Kirchner in the top five. A botched restart forced officials to get the drivers to try it again, and under yellow, Britt pulled into the hot pits to have his hood removed (he’d rear-ended Creed on the restart, and the fiberglass was now flapping up and blocking his view). His crews weren’t able to get the piece removed, and Britt came back out at the tail end of the field, with a running order of Creed, Hagy, Rahders, Kirchner, and Jessie Johnson in the #15 SoCal Super Trucks/Speed Energy truck in the top five.
The second restart was botched as well, and ended even worse than the first one, with Dustin Jones getting caught up in a mid-air collision off the jump out of turn one, which sent him into a hard crash that ended his race. Jones was ok, but was obviously furious with what happened, as he peeled off his helmet and pitched it against his wrecked truck. As safety crews worked to clear Jones’ wreck, race officials called for a green-white-checkers finish, and at the restart, the flagmen had both a green flag and a black flag in their respective hands. Officials had decided that Creed had jumped two of the earlier restarts, and as the field returned to green flag racing, it was he who got the black flag. Creed had until the end of the race to serve his black flag, and he waited until the last lap to do so. On that last lap, Johnson rolled coming out of turn two, with Rahders then missing a shift and dropping two spots at turn five. Creed then served his black flag, at which point Hagy moved into the lead with just a handful of corners left to run. From there, Hagy sped home to victory, his first win ever in the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series- congratulations Ryan! Second went to Kirchner, who was followed across the line by Britt. However, Britt was then dropped to the end of the lead lap by race officials for rough driving, which meant that Rahders would end up third. Poelman finished fourth, and rounding out the top five was Brent Fouch in the #21 Fouch Racing/General Tire truck.
Pro 2 Unlimited
The final race of the weekend was Pro 2 Unlimited, and what a race it was! Rob Naughton got the lead early after getting shot from the proverbial cannon in his #54 Lunarpages Web Hosting/Hart and Huntington Ford. Brian Deegan ran second in his #38 Rockstar/Makita Ford, with Greg Adler third in the #10 4 Wheel Parts/Airaid Ford, Rodrigo Ampudia fourth in the #36 Papas & Beer/Lucas Oil Ford, and Patrick Clark fifth in the #52 Exotic Engine/K&N Chevrolet. On lap two, as Rob MacCachren tried to get by Clark on the inside at turn two, he bicycled and went wide, forcing Clark to run even wider. This gave Carl Renezeder room to go by and move up to fifth in his #17 Lucas Oil/General Tire Nissan, just before a fire onboard Ryan Hancock’s truck forced a red flag of the race. Hancock was out quickly and ok, and with the flames soon out as well, racing resumed, with Adler dropping back to sixth on the restart lap. This moved Ampudia up to third, Renezeder to fourth, and Robby Woods to fifth in the #99 Lucas Slick Mist/General Tire Chevrolet. Renezeder then got by Ampudia and up to third coming out of turn five on lap six, just before Woods then pulled suddenly into the hot pits and out of the race. The Competition Yellow came out at the end of the next lap, and at this point, the running order was Naughton, Deegan, Renezeder, Ampudia, and Jeff Geiser in the #44 Tap It Brewing Co./Canidae Chevrolet in the top five.
On the restart lap, Marty Hart continued a monstrous charge as he moved up to fifth in his #15 ReadyLift Off Road Suspension/GearUp2Go.com Ford. Hart had started in the back, and then received a black flag for jumping the early restart, and was now driving out of his skin to keep his championship hopes alive. On the next lap, Renezeder made a bold pass on Deegan, as he out-jumped Deegan over the tabletop on the back straight, before diving inside into turn six to nose ahead and into second place. Hart then moved up again, passing Ampudia for fourth, while up front, Renezeder was now all over the back of Naughton’s truck as he challenged for the lead. Just behind, Hart moved up again, as he passed Deegan in turn one and moved up to third on lap twelve, with Renezeder then getting the move done on Naughton in turn five, after Naughton had bicycled twice earlier in the lap. In the next corner, Hart also charged past Naughton and into second, while further back, Ampudia then crashed in turn seven when a ball joint broke, allowing Justin Davis to move up to fifth in his #85 General Tire/Rigid Industries L.E.D. Lighting Ford. On the final lap, Clark got back inside the top five after getting past Davis, and at the stripe, it was Renezeder with the win to make it three out of four this weekend, ahead of Hart, Naughton, Deegan, and Clark. The drive of the weekend, and perhaps the entire season, had to go to Hart tonight, and the emotion of the moment got to him a bit as he was interviewed on the podium. Choking back tears, Hart said he “just wanted my driving to do the talking.” Obviously his heart is in this title fight, and whether he takes the championship or not in five weeks’ time, he put in a champion’s drive here tonight, no question about it.
The penultimate race weekend of the 2012 season has now come to a close. With just one regular season round of racing left to run, there’s everything to play for in most of our classes, and with the big money Lucas Oil Off Road Challenge Cup taking place the next day, everyone’s gloves will be out in these once-a-year, all-out brawls that pit class against class. Better yet, all of this is just five weeks away, as the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series, presented by GEICO, returns to where it all began this year: Firebird International Raceway, in the south Phoenix suburb of Chandler, AZ. Round 15, the final round of the championship season, takes place October 27th, followed by the Challenge Cup races on the 28th. Get your tickets now, as the last races of the year are often some of the best!
Written by Scott Neth for the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series