The Stadium Super Truck series (SST) held its final race of the 2018 season at Glen Helen Raceway in San Bernardino, California. Glen Helen offered the racers a full dirt course that embraced the challenging natural terrain found there. In addition to the steep jumps and technical turns, the track climbed near-vertical hills before plunging right back down equally steep, heart-pounding drops.
Right off the land rush style start, the trucks funneled down while clinging to the off-camber Talladega turn.
Of course, the track also contained Robby Gordon’s signature, crossover jump that has trucks squeezing through the gap between take-off and landing ramps while others fly over their heads.
The course supplied non-stop action. Drivers didn’t have a second to catch their breaths, and the trucks were pushed to their limits.
The night before qualifying, Mother Nature dumped heavy rain for hours that created a soupy mess of the track. The crew jumped into action Friday morning to get it back in shape. Instead of qualifying, crews were working throughout the day to push the mud out of the way and prepare the course for racing.
Qualifying was postponed until Saturday morning, but Robby Gordon volunteered his young protégé Sheldon Creed to go out and see if the gap on the crossover jump was doable. Creed has tons of seat time in the trucks and is a two-time SST champion, but he has been racing stock cars this season, earning the ARCA series championship. He hadn’t raced SST since the opening rounds in January.
Creed sailed the jump with ease, as did a pair of bike racers – Travis Damon and Jeff Loop – who also braved the leap for the first time. In addition to the trucks, motocross bikes, UTVs, Super Buggies, and kids UTVs would be racing at the event.
By the time practice kicked off on Saturday morning, the track was just about perfect. The heavy rains were a blessing in disguise as the deep soaking of the track provided the optimal consistency. It was soft, tacky, and devoid of dust, and the SST field was loaded with talented drivers who grew up racing on dirt.
Sheldon Creed and Blade Hildebrand’s earliest racing experiences included racing motorcycles right there at Glen Helen. Jeff Hoffman, Gavin Harlien, Cole Potts, Christian Sourapas (who filled in for Aaron Bambach), Robby Gordon, and Jerett Brooks all have extensive racing experience on dirt.
That left Matt Brabham, Arie Luyendyk Jr, and Erik Davis to represent the pavement racers. Casey Mears is a special case as most of his racing achievements have all come on pavement, but he has dirt racing in his genes, and lots of time in the dunes. He was wearing a helmet with the same graphics his dad Roger used to run.
When racing kicked off, it didn’t take long to get the crowd in a frenzy. While leading the race, Robby Gordon tipped over on his side at the top of the highest hill, named Mount St. Helens. Rolling down the hill from the top, nearly 100 feet up, is every racer’s worst nightmare. Jerett Brooks and Sheldon Creed came flying around the turn and barely got stopped before slamming into Robby’s roof.
The quick-thinking Brooks gave Robby’s truck a tap with his front bumper; that was enough to roll him back onto his wheels. Gordon jumped on the throttle to get him pointed straight down the hill, and regained the lead. The gasps heard from the crowd when Robby was so perilously perched turned to loud cheers as Gordon, Brooks, and Creed continued the battle. Creed got past Brooks and closed in on the bumper of Gordon.
With little regard for Gordon, Creed muscled his way around him for the lead. Once out front, he was putting on a display of his amazing talent behind the wheel. The sounds coming from the V8 engine under his hood were intoxicating as he used the throttle to squirt around turns, and launch the truck off the huge jumps. He was sailing the truck off the steepest drops and landing sideways at the bottom in near-reckless abandon.
The thing was, though, Creed was in total control. He was squeezing every ounce out of the truck and having a blast doing it. The crowd watched in awe as he dissected the track, putting a sizable lead on the rest of the field.
The depth of Creed’s talent seemed to know no ends, but the poor engine under the hood was unable to survive the constant hammering. Within sight of the finish on the final lap, we heard a metallic clanking and smoke erupting from the exhaust pipe.
As Creed rolled to a stop right next to the grand stand, smoke came billowing out from the front end of the truck to the surprise of no one. The bleachers went nuts, surrounding Creed and his truck after the race. He didn’t get the race win, but he sure won over the crowd.
Also out were Gordon and Brooks. Glen Helen is known for being tough on equipment. Taking the win was Jeff Hoffman, followed by Matt Brabham and Arie Luyendyk, Jr. Both Hoffman, and Luyendyk were missing their hoods. Anyone who made it to the finish did not have an easy time of it. The race gave fans a performance to remember, but we still had another full day of racing to go on Sunday.
Sunday morning was bright, sunny, and with a slight breeze; perfect weather for racing. The track was still in great shape with only a little attention needed from the water truck to keep the dust down. Everyone was looking to add the final race win of the season to their resume, but there were also championship points at stake.
The top three points positions after the previous rounds in Sydney, Australia were Matt Brabham leading, Gavin Harlien in second, and Robby Gordon third. Brabham had a great season this year with five fast qualifier awards and five wins. His podium on Saturday dispelled any ideas about his inexperience on dirt compared to the others, but Gavin Harlien in second place has much more experience; he’s been racing in the Pro Lite truck class for years. Third place Robby Gordon was a threat on any surface, to say the least.
The other classes entertained the crowd for hours with hard-fought battles and exciting finishes. RJ Anderson, Matt Brister, Chase Carr, and Josh Grant were all winners. As the Stadium Super Truck drivers lined up for the land rush start, the crowd was already primed for some great racing. The sound of rumbling engines let us know that the trucks were ready to go, but many had battle scars from the day before. There was a pile of twisted steel and cracked fiberglass in the pits Saturday night. Some lined up without hoods, but everyone knew that the fiberglass was going to be sacrificed as soon as the green flag dropped; the gloves were off.
Getting the holeshot was SoCal local Blade Hildebrand. Hildebrand and Creed rode together as kids, and followed each other through the ranks, with both landing in the SST trucks. He could not be left at the front. The others would have to chase him down. Right off the bat, Harlien and Hoffman got tangled up, leaving the trucks locked together in turn two.
The full course caution came out to get the trucks separated. When racing resumed, Jerett Brooks took the lead with Hildebrand 2nd and Gordon in 3rd. The top two held their ground on the next lap, but Cole Potts moved past Gordon into 3rd.
The race settled into the typical grind that happens after several laps of green flag racing. The trucks got spread out on the track, so everywhere you looked they were flying through the air, banging fenders, and pulling off near-catastrophic stunts. The crowd could be heard in unison drowning out the sounds of the trucks with ooh’s and aah’s. Somehow, there was one truck that was still in pristine shape. With all the carnage going on, Matt Brabham managed to dodge all of it. He somehow completed the race without a scratch anywhere.
It was bizarre, as everyone else was battered. And it wasn’t as if he was in the back of the pack; he finished on the podium with another 2nd place on the weekend. Gavin Harlien took the win, and Jeff Hoffman was back on the podium in 3rd.
Brabham’s light touch did nothing to curb his speed. It is the same precision that gave him the overall win on the weekend, and the season-long points championship. Jeff Hoffman was second overall. Gavin Harlien’s win (and 4th place finish on Saturday) earned him 3rd place overall. As mentioned before, Brabham took the championship. 2nd place Harlien and 3rd place Gordon remain in those spots, but the final tally needs to be done to determine the remaining places in the Top 5 as Cole Potts and Jeff Hoffman were extremely close.
Stadium Super Trucks race at incredible venues all over the world. Let’s hope they plan to come back to Glen Helen next year, as the racing action was world-class.