Championship comes down to the final lap and ends in a points tie; LeDuc takes the title on wins.
“It’s an all-or-nothing scenario,” said Kyle LeDuc after clinching his third straight Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series Pro 4 title, and fourth total. “Literally all or nothing. You either win or lose. I love that. That’s what we live for, that pressure. It was no more pressure than Saturday at Reno, It was just a race you can’t throw away. You push and risk the best you can, but you just can’t throw it away. We battled to the end, and the trucks didn’t break. Mine was hot, I’m sure his was hot, and we were just shredding!”
It wasn’t looking like LeDuc had much of a shot after qualifying. Coming into the final points race of the season at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, he and Carl Renezeder (leading LeDuc, top) were tied on points, and Renezeder scored the pole, with LeDuc ending up fifth. There were a couple of tough guys that LeDuc was going to have to pass just to get to Renezeder, much less get around him.
Renezeder jumped out to an early lead, followed by Rob MacCachren and Eric Barron. LeDuc pushed his Monster Energy/Toyo Tires Pro 4 to fourth past Bradley Morris in short order, but Barron was going to be another story.
“I hate to ever say no, but it was like, man, I don’t got it. I don’t have what I need right now. I kept looking at the back of Barron – he drives drastically different than I do, so it’s hard to get in your rhythm,” LeDuc said.
He managed to get by Barron by taking a wider line through Turn 2, getting a better run toward Turn 3 and grabbing the inside line in the right-hander. His pass of MacCachren, immediately after the restart following the competition yellow at halfway, was a little more forceful and the two banged hard, but both continued. Then it was down to whoever won between Renezeder and LeDuc. Although Renezeder had gained two points in qualifying and leading at halfway, with a two-point difference between first and second, if LeDuc got around him, they would tie on points and LeDuc would take the title based on wins.
LeDuc tried every which way with no success, until they approached the white flag. Renezeder came off the front-straight tabletop sideways, allowing LeDuc to get a run.
“There’s a giant silt hole right at the bottom of the jump on the front straight coming out of Turn 4,” Renezeder explained. “You don’t really know what’s in there, because it’s just a bunch of silt. I hit something in there and got squirrelly, and that cost me some time.”
“He made that mistake; it didn’t give me the win, but it gave me the opportunity to pounce,” LeDuc said. “He came out of that rut and the truck flew crooked and that set him up wide for [Turn] 1, and I came down, all hell breaking loose. We banged, smoking down the backstretch. You can’t write it better. It was epic!”
LeDuc got alongside out of Turn 1, got a better run out of Turn 2 and completed the pass on the entry into Turn 3 on the final lap of the final points race of the season to tie the points and claim the championship.
Pro 4 wasn’t the only tight battle with an improbable outcome. Defending Pro Buggy champion Garrett George had a two-point lead over Mike Valentine, with Darren Hardesty Jr. still in the championship fight seven points behind. But with Hardesty Jr. starting second, George starting fifth and Valentine seventh, anything was possible.
“It was going to be a challenge,” Hardesty Jr. said. “We just had to work at it. We worked our way to the top on the third corner of the first lap, and just made it happen.”
Then all he could do was keep his Bilstein/Mickey Thompson Alumi Craft out front and wait. When the competition yellow came out at halfway, Hardesty had one more point, and with George still in fifth, the championship was his. Then George found a way around Bud Ward for fourth, a position that would create another points tie. If George picked up on more position, he would retain the title. But he couldn’t make any more forward progress, and couldn’t even gain ground on Kevin McCullough in third. Hardesty (above) won, followed by Elliot Watson; with the win had three victories to George’s two, and thus the championship.
“We took the lead and never looked back. Here we are on the top of the box, got the championship…it’s the greatest feeling in the world. I can’t explain how happy I am right now. It’s ridiculous,” Hardesty Jr. said.
Jerett Brooks (right) merely had to start the Pro Lite race in his Rigid Industries/General Tire truck to claim the Pro Lite title. Once he did, he was free to go for the win and, no matter what happened, the title was his. So he hounded Brandon Arthur’s Competitive Metals Pro Lite as best he could, but couldn’t make any headway as Arthur took his third win at Wild Horse Pass in 2016. Ronnie Anderson finished third for his third podium finish of the year.
Hailie Deegan had to do more than start her Dirt Princess Mod Kart, depending on where closest pursuer Trey D. Gibbs finished, but the two ended up battling for the win. It was clear Deegan wanted to wrap up the championship in style, and beat Gibbs to the line. In claiming the Mod Kart title, the daughter of multi-time Pro Lite and Pro 2 champ Brian Deegan became the second, second-generation champion in Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series history. (The first was Myles Cheek, who won the 2013 Mod Kart title following his father Chuck Cheek’s 2009 Pro Buggy championship). She also became the first female Mod Kart champion.
With Rob MacCachren having already clinched the Pro 2 title and following a bunch of close championship battles, the final race of the day was bound to be a bit anticlimactic. RJ Anderson probably didn’t feel that way when he took the lead and held it to the finish for his first victory of the season in his Rockstar Energy/Polaris RAZR Pro 2. Renezeder pursued him for most of the race and attacked late, but an error let him fall back into the clutches of Rob MacCachren, who took over second position.
With the championships decided, the finale is followed on Sunday by the Lucas Oil Challenge Cup, which culminates in the Pro 4s and Pro 2s going head to head in a handicapped battle that usually turns into a knock-down, drag-out fight. The other classes will have their own races with big prizes on the line.