When the fall season hits, the summertime sports wind down and the series comes to an end. No, we’re not talking about the World Series; we’re talking about the Lucas Oil Off Road Series. Coming full-circle to where it all began back in March, the final rounds –15 and 16 – shook the earth at the Lake Elsinore Motorsports Park in Lake Elsinore, California. And this was no ordinary Lucas Oil race, either. This was the Challenge Cup.
The Challenge Cup is the event fans of the series look forward to all year. Taking both the Pro 2 and Pro 4 classes and mashing them all together in a mad dash, the race may start off looking civilized and pageantic, but it takes very little time for everything to go balls to the wall once the pace trucks peel away and the green flag goes down.
We were out at the race to capture the mood as it affected spectators, racers, crews, and all other souls making their way through the bare-ground raceway. In doing so, we got to hear and see the experience as it played out on that mostly cloudy day in Southern California.
Pre-Race Anticipation Builds, People Get To Work
The spectator entrance to the Motorsports Park deposits folks into a causeway lined with short-course racing’s biggest names, both in terms of business and competition. The middle of the path is muddy, owing to a sprinkler truck making its rounds throughout the day, spouting water in front and behind. This helps keep the amount of flying dust low with everyone walking in and amongst the pit section.
Looking to the left, the displays for 4 Wheel Parts, Lucas Oil, Jeremy McGrath, Brian Deegan, and Rob MacCachren are fully up and running. Look to the right, and the tents of Rockstar Energy, Toyo Tires, General Tire, Mickey Thompson Tires, BF Goodrich Tires, and Maxxis Tires stretch the length of the entrance all the way to the stands.
Each and every one of these support stations for the tire companies is hard at work churning through dozens of tires for each of the racers. Piles of the rubberized hoops are laid out in an organized fashion, with old, muddy ones in one corner, and new, untouched ones in another. Around midday, the Mickey Thompson crew is a busy bunch as it takes brand new short-course tires and preps them for the Challenge Cup. Taylor Dawson is one of these support team members.
“The old tires are recycled by us, or sometimes the racers will take their old tires and use them for practice,” Taylor said. “We take the new tires for a particular race team and give them our treatment here at the trailer, or they may ask for a different cut and we’ll accommodate that.”
As Taylor explained it, the fresh tires will get mounted by the crew at the support station onto a race team’s wheels. The tires will then be cut (or grooved, as it’s called) all the way around, and then the team is paged to come pick up their tires that are now ready for racing. “In a weekend of racing, a team will go through about 16 to 20 tires,” said Taylor. “Take that and factor in three or four teams, and you can see why we’re always busy with moving all these tires around.”
Racers and their crews themselves were obviously not slouching around, either. Those who were prepping for the Challenge Cup had their fill of things to do as the race drew near, whether it was rebuilding the rearend, checking torque on wheel lugnuts, or inspecting carburetors for contaminants.
“This is probably the craziest race of the year,” said Bryce Menzies, a fan favorite and racer in both Pro 2 and Pro 4 classes. “I’m gonna take my Pro 4 out there this time to go all-or-nothing. It’s for thirty thousand dollars, so I’ve got to give it my all.” Menzies’ Pro 4 was a brand new truck, having only raced once just the day before the Challenge Cup.
The Engines Start And The Battle Begins
It was close to 5pm when the Challenge Cup kicked off. The Pro 2s and Pro 4s were led around the track for two laps as pace trucks kept them separated by as much as half a lap. The Pro 2s were the first to be let loose.
Drama early on saw Menzies bow out of the running when his truck crapped out on lap four, followed soon by RJ Anderson, whose breakdown caused a yellow flag to go up. This was bad news for the Pro 2 guys, as it allowed the Pro 4s to gain ground as all the trucks were led around for a caution lap.
Lap five saw #36 Rodrigo Ampudia, #97 Eric Fitch, and #2 Jeremy McGrath leading the pack. Carl Renezeder showed just how committed he was to the fight, moving up steadily to the frontrunners by lap eight. It became a big brawl for the first four positions at this point, as whoever had the best traction going into the corners – and the best speed coming out of them – had the “flow” of the race supporting him.
That man, as it turns out, was Renezeder. He battled with Kyle LeDuc for several laps, and it looked like LeDuc was going to walk away from Lake Elsinore with another trophy to add to his collection. That was before the second-to-last lap, when he spun out on turn three and left himself wide open to a fast and furious Renezeder, who swept by the unfortunate LeDuc with dispatch. So it happened that under the checkered flag went Renezeder, Fitch, and Robby Woods to cap off the greatest race of the season.
Until Next Time…
So it went that the last race of the 2015 LOORRS season was an incredible and tenacious battle. We at Off Road Xtreme had a blast getting to see the goings-on at the Lake Elsinore Motorsports Park, and you can bet we’ll be back for more come spring 2016. Stay tuned, folks.