One Pro 4 champion retires, another comes charging in with a new, high-tech truck. A Pro 2 champion returns, bringing his daughter to the Pro ranks. And a multi-title winner embarks on an adventure in a new class.
In short, much of the 2017 Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series will look very familiar, while much will be brand new. And some of it won’t be seen again.
With two big changes, much of the focus will be on Pro 4 in 2017. If the tie-in the 2016 championship points between Kyle LeDuc and Carl Renezeder (LeDuc took the title on number of wins) wasn’t enough to stir anticipation, the recent announcement that this would be Renezeder’s last season, and that he’s concentrating solely on Pro 4, certainly adds some intrigue. Then there’s the fact that three-time champion LeDuc has built an all-new truck, using computer-aided design and some other new tricks, including some assistance from Robby Woods. The old one, Steelo, is now in the hands of Doug Mittag. The new one, Evvo, will reveal its potential this weekend at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park.
Of course, it’s not just those two, but Rob MacCachren, Doug Fortin, Greg Adler, Mittag and, on a limited basis in 2017, Bryce Menzies. Menzies is splitting his time between off road and desert rally raid. New to Pro 4 is RJ Anderson, who adds the class to his Pro 2 efforts.
Look for Renezeder’s final season to be a big deal. As one of the most successful short course off road racers, his storied history will be celebrated throughout the season.
“We’re going to be doing a lot for him,” says Dave Arnold, one of the announcers for the series on the at-track PA and on LucasOilRacing.tv. “His truck is going to be gold, and we’re going to have 17 [Renezeder’s number] great moments from his career that we’re going to highlight.”
Is Arnold, a long-time observer of the sport, willing to make predictions?
“It’s going to be interesting with the way Kyle came out swinging last year and having so many issues in the first six rounds,” he says. “We know the new truck has been tested, but it hasn’t been tested in racing conditions. If his truck runs, he’s going to be on the podium. Doug Fortin has been making strides. But I’m predicting – and I’d like to see – Carl, with the retirement, coming out on top.”
Eric Barron has been strong in the past, but hasn’t made much of an impact recently. Ricky Johnson is managing Adrian Cenni’s effort, which may be worth something, and it’s time for Bradley Morris to show he’s come back fully from his neck injury from a few years ago.
MacCachren’s best move in Pro 4 may be to hang back in every race and watch LeDuc and Renezeder battle, waiting for them to take each other out. But in Pro 2, if he keeps doing what he’s been doing the past few years, which is win without mercy for the competition, he’s practically guaranteed another championship. His task is slightly easier with Renezeder concentrating on Pro 4, but that doesn’t mean it’s simple, He still has Anderson to deal with, who has been getting stronger, and Brian Deegan, who is back for a full season. Other contenders include Pro Lite champ Jerett Brooks adding Pro 2 to his repertoire, and Bradley Morris. Steven Groenke is moving from Pro Buggy to Pro 2.
“I think it’s going to be a battle between the Rockstar drivers,” says Arnold, referring to MacCachren and Anderson.
Brooks returns to Pro Lite, in addition to Brandon Arthur – now running under the Stronghold Motorsports tent – and Gavin Harlien. Those three have proven they are the drivers to beat, but they have a host of newcomers to fend off in addition to battling each other. 2016 Mod Kart champ Hailie Deegan is moving to Pro Lite, as is her chief competition in Mod Kart, Christopher Polvoorde. In addition, Keaton Swayne and Mike Valentine move from Pro Buggy, and Cory Winner comes into the pro series from the Lucas Oil Regional Series.
“I absolutely believe she’s going to do very well,” says Arnold of Deegan. “I know she’s going to be in the top five. But, still, we have to see her run against Arthur and Brooks, along with Ryan Beat and Cole Mamer. Another one to keep an eye on is Brock Heger. He has really progressed and they’ve done a lot of testing.”
With a lot of drivers, such as Swayne and Valentine, moving out of Pro Buggy, some feared the class would dwindle, but that hasn’t proven the case. Many of the players such as Sterling Cling, defending champion Darren Hardesty Jr. and Bud Ward remain, with new additions such as Trevor Briska from Mod Karts, who bought Garrett George’s Funco buggy.
The big change is the addition of of Production 100 UTV, bringing the side-by-sides back to the Lucas Oil Series. Indeed, it may prove to be the largest class at any given event. Other changes include the addition of Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland, Mo., to the schedule, where the track will be nearly twice as long as many on the schedule and include a good mix of fast and slow sections. Entry fees and other expenses have been reduced, and prize money increased.
All together, it points to the 2017 season being one of the best yet in the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series. Each race will be broadcast on television, but you can also watch them live on LucasOilRacing.tv.