Thunder roared the weekend of April 22 to 24, at least at the Lake Elsinore Motorsports Park, as the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series, presented by GEICO, returned for their first visit of the 2016 season.
The racing series began in March this year at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in Chandler, Arizona, with Rounds 1 and 2, and the action continued at Lake Elsinore with Rounds 3 and 4, the “Rockstar Energy US SoCal Shootout.” As always, the racing fans were treated to enthusiastic driving, close calls and near misses (as well as several instances of actual body-to-body contact), and edge-of-your-seat action as the weekend proceeded under mostly sunny skies.
While race teams were moving in and setting up their pit areas for truck preparation, several drivers met with members of the local media on Friday for panel discussions and one-on-one interviews. This format for a Media Day presentation was well received and fostered numerous conversations centered on the recurring theme of “rubbing IS racing.”
Although the majority of these drivers are fast friends off the track, when race day comes and they put on their game faces, these same drivers become totally focused on being the first to reach the checkered flag. Their confidence and experience frequently leads to aggressive driving which, in turn, leads to rubbing and bumping between vehicles.
There are race officials in the stands who will immediately “black flag,” or disqualify, a competitor for unsafe driving, but most contact is considered under the mantra of “rubbing IS racing” and the show goes on and new stories are written.
Following the Media Day presentations, all action moved onto the track as drivers made practice runs to sort out vehicle, driver and track readiness. On the Lake Elsinore short course (just under a mile), there are three left-hand turns and one near-180 degree right-hand turn, numerous table-tops that cause the trucks to become airborne, and one large catapult between turns two and three that launches the Pro 2 trucks into the air at a height between 25 and 50 feet for a distance of almost 200 feet.
For vehicles weighing 4,000 pounds and powered by 900 horsepower engines, these trucks spend a lot of time in the air! Accordingly, these practice runs are crucial elements in race preparations to ensure that the drivers know what lines to take drifting into a turn, where the braking points are as they set up for the turns, and how much speed they can carry into areas where they will become airborne.
The schedules for race days on Saturday and Sunday called for early morning qualification races to determine starting grid positions and allowed the drivers one more look at the course and a final examination of their vehicle’s condition.
With Mod Kart races at 1 p.m., and Opening Ceremonies at 2 p.m., the stands began to fill with enthusiastic race fans and the pre-race excitement built up in anticipation of the day’s races. After the crowds had been warmed up with the preliminary Mod Kart races, the National Anthem had been sung, and the fireworks had blazed into the sky, the day’s races began with the big boys: Pro 4 trucks!
Oh, boy! A weekend total of 10 races filled with all the fun and excitement of the loud reverberations of revving engines, the incredible amount of dirt and debris thrown from the track, the pungent smell of racing fuel, and the thrill of watching professionals at work – that’s racing!
With five vehicle classes and five races each day, there are too many victors to report here, but a complete listing of all race results can be found at www.lucasoiloffroad.com. Of local interest, two former Canyon Lake residents and their families figured prominently in the events of the weekend.
Jeremy McGrath ran well on Saturday in the Pro 2 class and just missed the podium with a 4th place finish. On Sunday, he earned the No. 1 pole position with his qualifying laps and jumped out to an early lead in the Pro 2 final event of the weekend. Leading after 8 of 16 laps, McGrath suffered a broken suspension and had to withdraw from the track in disappointment and frustration.
Brian Deegan managed a 3rd place finish in Pro 2 on Saturday and followed up with a 2nd place Pro 2 finish on Sunday. His daughter, Hailie, was first to the checkered flag in Saturday’s Mod Kart race, collecting her second win of the season.
The 2016 off road racing season continues at a fast pace as the drivers visit Utah Motorsports Campus in Toole, Utah; Estero Beach in Baja California; Glen Helen in San Bernardino, California; Wild West Motorsports Park in Sparks, Nevada; and then returns to the Lake Elsinore Motorsports Park for Rounds 13 and 14 on September 23 and 24. If you haven’t seen Short Course Off Road Racing, you haven’t seen racing!