Where The Surf Meets The Dirt: Off Road Nights 2019 Del Mar Recap

The historic Del Mar race track and fairgrounds are no stranger to racing on dirt. However, this year brought a different kind of horsepower and dirt-throwing fun to the venue. Hosted by longtime extreme lifestyle personality Rat Sult, Off Road Nights Expo 2019 (ORN) follows the same basic formula of most “Lifestyle” events.

If you have attended one of these events before, you know checking the boxes for that formula usually looks something like this.

  • Car show with a wide range of builds
  • Live music with a variety of local bands
  • Scantily clad women, vying for the title “Miss (insert event name here)”
  • A long row of vendors, drawing you to their booth by giving away more swag than you can carry out in a wheelbarrow
  • A huge selection of cheat-day-worthy eats
  • Some sort of racing demo

For me, the last box on that checklist is where these events are won or lost.

ORN has found a winning combination to attract new fans to the off-road lifestyle and keep even the hardest-core enthusiast entertained.

As a grassroots racing enthusiast, it’s hard to pass up the chance to see great racing for a good price. These events always have the potential to bring out amazing local talent, great competition and a variety of vehicles. They range from home builds to highly sponsored semi-pro rigs. The events almost always bring out a massive crowd for local racers to impress.

Crowds coming through the gates at the inaugural Off Road Nights Del Mar Expo

There was a lot to see – UTV rhythm racing, Quad rhythm racing and “The Jump Champs” Truck Cross Time Trials filled the day. The crowd was promised plenty of action and racing. The first heat was scheduled to start a quick 30 minutes after the gates opened, so there was a brief lull through the vendor area to get trackside and settle in for the action.

Tons of dirt transformed the Del Mar Arena over the course of three days. It was all in service of Off Road Nights 2019.

The quads were the first to hit the dirt. The course consisted of a shared jump start, quickly splitting into mirrored lanes containing a series of six jumps. This first stretch delivered some great aerial viewing as the racers jockeyed toward the track’s only turn. This 180-degree U-turn is where the track narrowed to a single middle racing lane. With racers each choosing wildly different lines and angles, this bottleneck ran up against the age-old physics problem of two objects occupying the same space at the same time.

The final stretch offered two large launches to the finish. After feeling out the track during the heats, the riders sorted out their positions for the upcoming finals.

Quad Racer Auston Baxter won the race to the turnaround. Travis Work won his Heat 1 race.

A UTV rhythm racer charging to the finish. Two UTV racers coming together on the return stretch.

The UTV rhythm runs were up next and contained 800cc and 1000cc classes. Utilizing the same track configuration as the quads, the larger UTVs delivered an even hairier turn into the home stretch of the track. This resulted in a few drivers getting a chance to catch an inverted view of the stadium.

One thing that became quickly obvious was that the drivers who figured out the “rhythm” of the track early would be the ones competing for the podium spots. Tough head-to-head racing continued through out the heats as they learned the track and fought for final match-ups.

“The Jump Champs” put on a show at Off Road Nights 2019 Del Mar.

Soon, it was time to bring out the trucks. With entries ranging from street trucks to purpose-built buggies, the racers roared into the stadium for their run. The truck course occupied the outer ring of the track, offering a stadium-style oval and challenging drivers to a two-lap timed run. The first jump delivered the tone for each truck, as the more confident drivers aired it out, while the more timid drivers accidentally stuffed the front bumper into the dirt.

Exiting that straightaway quickly introduced the first turn. It was interrupted by a small whoop at the apex, which proved a challenge; a few of the drivers wound up showing off their driveline components to the crowd. As the trucks entered the second straight, they were met by another series of jumps, giving the crowd a great show. The final turn was a banked smooth radius, delivering a dirt-track-style slide generating the speed to repeat the big air of the first jump. A total of 21 drivers made up the field at the first heat, but that was quickly narrowed as the fifth-place driver sheared a hub, landing hard while coming out of the second straight.

Mark McNeil had some troubles in Turn 1. Jessica Valentine wished she had gone in with a little more speed.

With the racing heats in the books, it was time to venture out to the car show and vendor exhibits. The number of show cars was dwarfed by the number of exhibitor vehicles at the event. That being said, a few gems stood out. There was a local SoCal group of Jeep crawlers, one of which received the best Jeep award. Also there were a beautiful supercharged sand buggy and a VW Bug fit for the apocalypse. The exhibitors really stole the show when it came to the truck eye candy.

This buggy (left) won Best Sand Car. It's owned by Eric Bevin of Escondido, California. This full custom VW Buggy (right) was the creation of Sinister Garage, based in Riverside, California.

After finishing a quick round of tent hopping and grabbing a bite to eat, it was time for the racing finals to begin. Following the same running order as the heats, the racing got off to an intense start, as two quad riders tangled up after merging onto the shared lane. The UTVs roared in next, delivering more close airshows and bringing the crowd to their feet.

The truck final delivered the best show of the night, with drivers fighting for the class payout, multiple full sets of tires, and bragging rights. Several trucks were pushed to their limit and received a helping hand from the track staff to return to their pits. However, although no announcements were made about winners, the crowd was thanked for coming out.

Dirt King Fabrication vehicles dotted the landscape of vendor tents, with several trucks that really stood out. Doetsch, in partnership with Energy Suspension, showed off their amazing Can-Am Maverick X3.

Left to right: 11-year-old Corbin Shockey putting on a show in his 1:3-scale monster truck "High Risk." Tyler Winbury finds the rhythm. A little smoke would not stop the drivers at ORN.

About an hour and half later, a trophy ceremony was held with a gathering of mostly racers and vendors. Drivers hoisted their trophies high and smiled. They received congratulations from the other drivers and spectators that stuck around to the end of the event.

As with most grassroots-style motorsports, the community between these participants is what makes the lifestyle special. These events create a venue for “run what you brung” racers to get out and mix it up with the same passion and competitiveness as the “big boys.” And I, for one, am all for it.

ORN trophies waiting for their new owners to claim them

No matter if you travel around to compete in events like this between larger races, or if you only head out to a few local events a couple weekends a year with your home-built rig, my hat is off to you. Keep on racing and fueling your passion, no matter the venue.

Overall, ORN 2019 was a fantastic event. Ticking all the boxes, there was something for every off road enthusiast. I wouldn’t be surprised to see 2020 bring an even bigger crowd and more excitement to Del Mar. The next time you see a lifestyle motorsports event come to your area, do me a favor – check out the racing lineup and go cheer on some hometown heroes. Who knows, it could be the spark that makes you take the jump and participate in the next one that comes along.

Clockwise from top left: Ricky Sander's Toyota cooling off in the pits. Markus Pinto landing hard. Scott Lewis showing some serious tire compression. Reid Schultz speeding to the finish.

About the author

Dustin Singleton

Dustin is an internationally published photographer and the founder of IALS Photography. Managing a successful mobile electronics shop led him to become completely entrenched in the tuner scene.
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