First rounds of the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park produce first-time winners.
Jerett Brooks may have been starting his first Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series Pro 2 race next to his idol and in front of a whole host of drivers he’s long admired, but respect and idolatry go out the window once the green flag flies. Not only did Brooks not give an inch in starting from second position, he used every means at his disposal to get to the front and become the first driver in the series to win a Pro 2 race in his debut in the first round of 2017 at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in Chandler, Ariz.
“I got passed by [Jeremy] McGrath and kind of settled into third,” said Brooks of the early going. “I kept making some rookie moves – I kept hitting the K-rail and I finally blew my hub seal out so I had no rear brakes. It was really hard to get the truck to set.”
That seemed to be a minor setback for Brooks, who was driving hard into the right-hand Turn 3 to get to the front, first on McGrath and then on Menzies, who had led from the beginning. The move on McGrath was simple – he dived in late and took the line away. With Menzies, it was a bit more dramatic. He hit Menzies’ rear, upsetting the car and allowing Brooks to get his General Tire/Bilstein Pro 2 inside. Menzies wasn’t giving up, though, and stayed alongside so that he was below him in the big left-hand bowl turn, pushing Brooks up the track. The move backfired, however, as contact at the exit sent Menzies spinning into the infield where he took out a giant inflatable GEICO Gecko.
“I made the move on McGrath, drove it in super deep and pushed him up high, super clean pass. Then the caution came out, and I was right behind Menzies, and that’s my idol. But I knew we had speed for him. I came in and just kind of out-drove the truck – I was driving as hard as I could, I went for a door slam, he door slammed me back, then I drove him in deep, pushed him in and just got right under him – an old trophy kart move I used to do. Then he pushed me up high, and ended up spinning out. From there we just went hard, and brought home the win on a flat tire,” said Brooks.
Brooks, the defending Pro Lite champion, wasn’t the only first-time winner at Wild Horse Pass. Brock Heger, who had come very close to winning several times in 2016 for McGrath’s JM2 team, finally took home his first win.
“We had a very rough practice on Friday,” Heger explained. “I ended up getting taken out, so I went from the last practice being upside down. We put the truck back together all night, came out Saturday morning for qualifying and qualified number 1. I ended up getting a zero inversion. Starting out from pole, there’s no better way. We pretty much led it wire to wire.”
It looked fairly effortless, and neither Ryan Beat nor Brooks, who finished second and third, seemed to have anything for him.
“The truck was insanely fast, but we still need to take it back to the drawing board. I think there’s some more speed in it,” said Heger.
Heger started his ICON Vehicle Dynamics/Maxxis Toyota further back in the pack in fourth on Sunday, but ended the race with perhaps the best move of the weekend. Polesitter and Pro Lite rookie Hailie Deegan jumped out to the early lead, but kept seeing whatever gap she could build erased by a string of yellows. There were numerous cautions by the halfway point, including one immediately following a restart when Cole Mamer and Brandon Arthur got together, sending Arthur tumbling off of Turn 2 and over a fence. That allowed Brooks to close up every time, and on lap 8 he was able to find a way around Deegan.
Then it was Heger’s turn to attack until a late yellow brought the field together again. On a last-lap dash, Heger not only dived inside Deegan in Turn 3, he got under Brooks as well, going from third to first by the entry of Turn 4. Brooks’ momentum was stymied enough that Deegan was able to squeak through for second, essentially reversing the order of the top three on the final lap. Heger made a statement not only with the move, but by sweeping Pro Lite for the weekend.
Pro 4 was highly anticipated, given defending champion Kyle LeDuc’s new truck and Carl Renezeder’s final season. It turned out to be a pretty good weekend for Renezeder, but not so much for LeDuc. Renezeder started up front on Saturday alongside Rob MacCachren, with Menzies, Doug Mittag, LeDuc and Eric Barron following. Renezeder seized the lead at the start while things got messy behind him in Turn 2, forcing a full restart. On the second attempt, many of the same trucks tangled again in Turn 2, this time including MacCachren.
When the race finally got going, Menzies seized the lead in his Red Bull/KMC Wheels Ford and began to build a gap. Renezeder got a flat, but by his good fortune it was just as a caution flew for debris on the track, and he was able to get the tire changed without losing a lap. He then charged through the field until he caught up to LeDuc, who was running second. In a reversal of what seemed a common theme last season, Renezeder stalked and passed LeDuc to demote him to third.
Sunday’s Pro 4 contest was a very different race. Going flag-to-flag without a caution except for the halfway competition yellow, it was all Renezeder and the Lucas Oil/#DirtMovie Ford. Menzies was able to challenge at the start and restart, but otherwise had nothing for him. MacCachren was third and LeDuc, who had an overheating problem in qualifying, never really got up to speed.
Elliott Watson and his Fox Racing Shox/Baja Designs Alumi Craft proved unmatched in Pro Buggy at Wild Horse Pass, and ran off to double victories. Darren Hardesty Jr., the 2016 champ, opened up his title defense with a pair of second-place finishes. Rookie Kyle Aarup had strong runs on both days and finished third on Saturday, but his engine let him down in the closing stages of Sunday’s race.
Pro 2 closed the weekend with a clean, caution-free race. The Rockstar-backed duo of MacCachren and RJ Anderson started up front and Anderson grabbed the lead at the start when MacCachren got a bad run through Turn 2. MacCachren chased Anderson for the first half of the race and they pulled out a big gap on the rest of the field, with Menzies by himself in third. After the competition yellow, MacCachren began to apply pressure, and pushed his Rockstar Energy/Makita Tools Ford below Anderson in Turn 1. An error in Turn 3 half a lap later allowed Menzies to get by Anderson as well. Anderson’s bad luck continued, as a tire began to disintegrate, but he held on for third. Saturday winner Brooks ended up fifth, behind McGrath.
The Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series heads to Estero Beach resort outside Ensenada, Mexico for Rounds 3 and 4 next month.
Round 1 Winners
Pro 4: Bryce Menzies
Pro 2: Jerett Brooks
Pro Lite: Brock Heger
Pro Buggy: Elliot Watson
Round 2 Winners
Pro 4: Carl Renezeder
Pro 2: Rob MacCachren
Pro Lite: Brock Heger
Pro Buggy: Elliot Watson