Midwest Dirtfest 2019 Brought West Coast Prerunner Fun To Heartland

Just send it! The phrase has come to take on a totally new meaning for many here in the Midwest. Part of the reason for this slang shift has been in large part due to the opportunity for a different style of off-roading.

Building prerunner-style rigs here in the Midwest was not really beneficial in the past. Given the geography of the area, there just wasn’t a strong need for huge travel numbers and massive bypass shock setups. However, all of that is changing. A big part of the driving force behind that change is people’s desires to break the mold and try something new.

Doing It Their Own Way

Tyson Ahrens, Luke Walker, and Ryland Rodman, creators of Midwest Dirtfest.

Luke Walker, Tyson Ahrens, and Ryland Rodman are examples of enthusiasts that don’t accept that they have to do one style of wheeling. Instead, they decided to go their own way. We ran into them July 20th at the third annual Midwest Dirtfest in Stanton, Michigan, and got the story about how it all came to be.

Tyson is the original founder that got things going. “I attended a similar event in California with my truck and thought it was one of the most fun days of my life,” he said. “When I came home, I decided that I needed to find a venue that would allow us to take over their motocross track for a weekend.”

Tyson is the original founder of the event.

“As a driver, there not many opportunities out here to drive your truck on a motocross track,” added Ryland. “Actually, I’m not aware of too many opportunities to do this anywhere in the country. When we go to Silver Lake, there isn’t always a guarantee that the dunes will be shaped for jumping either. So having a place with well-shaped jumps and landings provides a type of driving we don’t usually get.”

Turning A Challenge Into Opportunity

Thus, Tyson pursued a partnership with a local dirt bike and four-wheeler track: Valley Motocross. “Tyson and I started off just trying to find a track that would let us destroy their track with heavy trucks,” Luke admitted. “Basically, Steve Mooreland at Valley Motocross was the only dude that was cool with it. And for that we thank him! You’re the man, Steve!”

While some saw the terrain of the east coast as a limiting factor, the staff at Valley Motocross in Stanton saw an opportunity. They took the track and facilities that normally accommodated cycles and quads and tailored them to trucks with long-travel suspension.

An opportunity like this doesn’t come too often, and for people like Blake Wilkey, this is the perfect type of event. “The Midwest Dirtfest is such a special event I drove over 2,000 miles to attend,” Wilkey explained. “From San Diego to Michigan during the summer heat is no joke with the 42-foot trailer fully loaded.”

“Ripping on a Moto track is perfect for the bug and so much fun flying off huge perfect lips,” Wilkey continued. “Valley Motocross had a tip-top track which was safe and fun which everyone enjoyed! Super stoked to see the Midwest scene grow every year and help bring a few partners in to help out with the cost of the event. Gladiator Tires stepped up to be the title sponsor along with Method Race Wheels, Boxo USA Tools, Rigid Industries Lights, and PRP Seats as presenting sponsors. Without Tyson, Luke, and Ryland as well as those partners this event would have never been as big of a success as it was for drivers and spectators alike!”

The Birth Of Something New And Exciting

The result was the birth of the Midwest Dirtfest. That was three years ago, and this year’s event was the largest yet. With big-name sponsors, on-site food, camping, bathrooms, and vendors, this event had something for everyone. Saturday’s event included time trials, a pit bike race, and a long-jump finale.

The Valley Motocross campground was stuffed with participants and their families. Every camp offered smiles and food to share. Not only was this a great chance to see a type of off-roading uncommon to the Midwest, but it also felt much like a family gathering.

The event ends Saturday night with a long jump competition.

“This event is epic because it brings all these guys that have unnecessary vehicles together at one place to do the thing we love,” Luke explained. “Thrashing our vehicles, pushing our personal limit of our driving skills, and most of all hanging out with good friends.”

The Details

The Midwest Dirtfest provides a lot more than just a chance to bash rides. It also gives builders and enthusiasts the opportunity to test their builds to the limit. In addition to big sends by prerunner-style trucks, the event also caters to UTVs.

UTVs also got in on the action.

The first part of the event kicks off with practice laps for the trucks. This consists of a few laps for participants to familiarize themselves with the track. Then it’s time for the UTVs to get out and send it a bit. Once everyone has a chance to see what the track has to offer, it’s time to get out the stopwatch. Timed laps were completed for both the long-travel trucks and two classes of side-by-sides.

Plus, all this happens directly in front of a large audience that loves this hobby. Big air, long sweeping corners, and challenging hill climbs are all visible from the spectator area. There is also a large spectator area in front of the track’s large tabletop jump. This gives all attendees a first-rate view of all of the highflying action during the event’s long jump finale.

Family First

While most off-road-centric events are friendly and welcoming, the Midwest Dirtfest takes it to a whole new level.

There are always plenty of people willing to lend a hand if something goes wrong.

“The sense of community this event brings is great,” Ryland said. “There’s competition with the racing events and long jump contest but in the end, those are just for bragging rights. We’re all just excited to be driving our trucks out there. When one guy breaks something, there are five hands out with tools offering to help.”

“As a spectator, you don’t get to see trucks and UTVs get driven like this too often either,” Ryland continued. “Even at the dunes, you could go a whole season without seeing big jumps as you see at Dirtfest. We give spectators the opportunity to see all the action from the comfort of their lawn chair. It also gives them a chance to see the trucks up close and personal.”

Being from out west, Ryland also has a unique perspective on the area. He shared that, “When I first took my truck to the dunes for the 2015 Silver Lake Prerunner Invasion, I quickly noticed the sense of community out at the dunes.”

Ryland really enjoys the strong community of off-roaders that attend Dirtfest.

“When I used to go to desert races and events, it was all about who had the nicest truck and if it didn’t have the nicest parts, it was unworthy,” Ryland said. “At Silver Lake, it was more about building the small community up. Then we could all go have fun together. The prerunner group has nearly quadrupled in the last four years. As you may have noticed at Dirtfest, the community feel has only gotten stronger.”

A little bit of rain showed up for just long enough to make things interesting at the track. In fact, the rain also added to the fantastic feel of the event, as pit bikes raced in the mud puddles for bragging rights. As we stood with all of the other spectators on a hill overlooking the pit bike race, we were overcome with how much fun everyone was having.

Throughout the Midwest Dirtfest, heat indexes were over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Lows during the event stayed close to 80 degrees Fahrenheit at night. There was sunshine, but there were also thunderstorms severe enough to halt the event. Local power outages occurred frequently. Still, none of these nuisances affected participants in a negative way; in fact, most seemed to thrive from the adversity.

What’s Next

“This year was great as far as sponsors,” Luke said. “Gladiator Tires steps up every year. Method Wheels was a new sponsor this season and they came through huge! I’d love to see more sponsors bring more prizes for the competitors. Nothing beats a dude who hand-built a truck in his garage walk away decked out with badass prizes from great companies.” Luke also hopes that people are inspired to build their own projects. He wants people to come to join the off-road community in Michigan.

Luke and the other event organizers all got plenty of air time, along with the other participants.

“Personally, I have some repairs to make on the truck,” Ryland admitted. “My power steering blew in practice the first day and I broke both motor mounts during the time trials event. I was forced to use a ratchet strap to hold my engine down for the long jump contest. It’s my favorite event of the weekend. I couldn’t miss it. I spend my free time in the garage making upgrades to vehicles. For our family, this hobby lasts all year long.”

The spectator area had plenty of sponsors and vendors, as well as the opportunity to get up close to the trucks running in the event.

“I do it for my friends, the off-road community, and myself,” Tyson said. “I’ve yet to make a dollar from this. The thanks and praise I receive is more than enough to compensate for my time. The demand for multiple events isn’t high enough to justify the work involved, but I think that we can pull off two.”

The trio all agrees that any additional growth of the event should be slow. That’s because they really enjoy the family feel and the ability to really get to know the attendees. Any of the event attendees can walk into the staging area and meet the drivers and see the rides up close. It’s a totally unique experience that is just plain fantastic.

About the author

Christie Materni

As a photographer, and self-proclaimed "magic maker" for over 12 years, Christie loves to create anything from amazing images to great chocolate chip cookies. Traveling the country with her camera, husband, and sometimes a dog, in search of fast cars and tough trucks is her favorite way to spend the day.
Read My Articles

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