In a couple of classes in the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series presented by GEICO, it was not a good weekend for the frontrunners. Both Rob MacCachren in Pro 2 and Ryan Beat in Pro Lite could have come out of the Mike Thompson RV Super Store Southern California Nationals at Glen Helen Raceway Park with unassailable leads in their respective classes, only to see big chunks taken out their substantial leads. While it’s unlikely that either will be caught in the final round at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park next month, neither has a lock on his championship.
It was, however, a good weekend for first-time winners in Pro Lite. Two competitors found the top of the podium for the first time after a couple of years of trying, and both did it in commanding fashion. On Friday night, just a couple hours after he took his first win of the season in the Production 1000 UTV, Mickey Thomas (pictured above) jumped into the lead from his outside-front-row starting position and was never headed. Not only that, but he stretched out quite a gap in his Maxxis Tires/Mickey Thompson Racing Chevrolet. Behind him, Brock Heger was all alone, having put a gap on the rest of the field. Beat would end up third for his ninth consecutive podium finish of the season.
“I think Glen Helen is my new favorite track,” Thomas said on the podium. “Two wins today feels awesome. We’re definitely moving in the right direction. It’s just a really a big relief to be up here on the top spot for my first win.”
On Saturday it was Cole Mamer’s turn to win in his Falken Tires/Bilstein Pro Lite, as he started on pole and was never headed. It was not only Mamer’s first win, but the first for Falken Tires in the series as well. Behind him, though, was where the action was. A few laps in, a big pile-up in Turn 3 collected a lot of trucks, including Beat’s Chevrolet. Beat left the track for the pits, and although he returned, he was three laps down in a race with almost no attrition and found himself in 17th place, meaning his championship lead over Brandon Arthur took a 28-point hit. Heger, who spun out of second in Turn 3 in the middle of the race, would eventually work back up to that spot, with Arthur finishing third. Beat leads Arthur by 13 points heading into the finale.
In what was the largest Pro 2 field of the year, RJ Anderson started dead last on Friday due to a problem in qualifying. It didn’t portend well for his points battle with Rob MacCachren for the championship, and if he didn’t make up some ground, his slim chances went to none. Bradley Morris started on the point, with fast qualifier MacCachren in sixth. What followed were some of the most intense and chaotic laps in Pro 2 history.
Morris jumped to the lead, but he was followed by Pro Lite regular Arthur, making his second Pro 2 appearance of the season. Arthur passed a bunch of people including Bryce Menzies, Jeremy McGrath and Jerett Brooks at the start. Anderson made up a bunch of ground in the opening laps as well, and was up to seventh, ahead of MacCachren.
Up front, Morris was doing everything he could to keep Arthur behind him, but on the fourth lap, Morris bobbled and slipped to third, promoting Arthur to the point. After the halfway caution, Arthur continued to lead with Menzies and Morris following, until he made his own error a few laps later, which also slowed Menzies, and Morris seized on that to take the lead back.
But only a lap later, Morris and Menzies had a tangle in Turn 4, and all of a sudden Anderson’s Rockstar Energy/Polaris RZR truck was in the lead, followed by Arthur. MacCachren, itching to make the podium and running fourth behind Rodrigo Ampudia, made a last-lap bid for third, sending it hard off of the big tabletop between Turns 4 and 5 to try to get inside Ampudia for the final turn onto the front straight. But the two touched, sending MacCachren’s nose high, and he landed on the back of the truck, putting him into a tumble. Ampudia held on for third behind Anderson and Arthur.
“That was insane,” said Anderson. “I don’t know how many trucks started tonight and I started dead last. Literally on the green flag, I didn’t even push the gas because I didn’t know what was going to happen. It was a wild first lap; I picked off a bunch of guys and just kept my head down. If you knew what my guys have been through in the last 48 hours…we’ve had a tough go, so I’m happy to bring this home for them.”
MacCachren’s luck got even worse on Saturday, as he had an engine problem in qualifying, necessitating a pre-race change. Then another mechanical problem took him out of the race at halfway, leaving him with 11th-place points. Up front, Anderson led early, but Brian Deegan, who said he had a front-row seat for one of the best Pro 2 races he’d ever seen the night before, was charging hard. He passed two trucks and two fell out for him to get from sixth to second. He went inside Anderson in Turn 3 to make the pass, much to the delight of the crowd, and held on to win in the Monster Energy/Mickey Thompson Toyota. He was joined on the podium by Anderson and Brooks. It was a big weekend for Anderson to try to close what seemed an insurmountable gap to MacCachren in the championship points, but he still needs to make up another 27 in the final round, which would be quite the task.