With several championships still in contention as the final points-paying round of the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series opened at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park on Saturday, the racing in most classes mattered for much more than trophies. Some of the titles were still in play as the white flag flew for their respective races, and in the case of Pro Buggy, it wasn’t decided until the final corner.
Jerett Brooks had to finish three positions in front of Rodrigo Ampudia to claim his first Pro 2 title, but had a big task ahead of him. With two different engine packages in use for Pro 2, the series has utilized a split start all season to try to equalize them. Ampudia was starting on the outside of the front row in the lead group; Brooks was on pole for the Unlimited trucks, with five of the Midwest-spec trucks in between he and Ampudia, not to mention a time gap.
Ampudia fell to third behind Andrew Carlson and Keegan Kincaid in the Midwest-spec group at the start, making Brooks’s job a touch easier. Brooks quickly closed the gap and was into the Midwest-spec trucks after two laps when the yellow flew for Brian Deegan stalled on the course.
At that point, Brooks was seventh overall. Two laps later, Ampudia had found his way back to second and Brooks was in fourth. On Lap 6, Brooks was up to Ampudia and attacking. He went inside at Turn 2, and he and Ampudia came together, pushing Ampudia to the outside and he lost several seconds. When the halfway competition caution flew, Brooks was in championship position, leading overall with Ampudia having once again fallen behind Kincaid and sitting in fourth. Once RJ Anderson in the second-place Unlimited truck got by Ampudia, Brooks was fairly secure in the championship. Brooks wheeled his Rigid Industries/Bilstein Pro 2 to the win and the championship, becoming the youngest class champion at 22, followed by Anderson and Carlson.
“This feels super surreal,” said Brooks “This has always been a dream of mine, ever since i came into Pro 2. Winning a Pro 2 championship … I feel that this is the premier class to win, You’ve got Rob [MacCachren], [Brian] Deegan, RJ [Anderson] … this is a class I’ve watched since I was little. I thinks it’s pretty awesome. I came into today knowing I had to go for it, go for broke — that’s kind of what I’ve been doing all year. To be honest, this was kind of a breaking point for me, my family my team … we’ve had kind of a rough two past seasons in Pro 2. We did a lot of off-season testing and it paid off. If this year didn’t pay off, I’d probably be done next year.”
One of the most bizarre and drama-filled deciders was in Pro Buggy, but with Chris Nunes and Eliott Watson coming into the weekend tied on points, it was surely going to be. The two ended up battling for third for much of the race, with Nunes doing everything he could to keep Watson behind him. It all seemed to be over for Watson with three laps to go when the two came together in Turn 1, sending Watson into the outside berm and onto his roof. The buggy was undamaged, however, and the safety crew got him turned over and he rejoined the field at the back.
Watson moved rapidly through the field on the restart. He was up to seventh when the white flag flew for the final lap. He got a gift, though, when Bud Ward rolled in Turn 2. In an unusual move, given that it was the final lap and the field was past the incident, officials called a caution. With Ward out, Watson was now sixth. He picked up two more positions instantly when the green waved and was now on Nunes’ tail. He tried to go inside Nunes at Turn 3, but the two came together again; this time Watson’s left-side wheels were on top of Nunes’ buggy. Watson, though, got the worst of it and fell back. It looked over until Nunes tangled with Zach Drapkin in Turn 4, spun and stalled. Watson sailed past in his Tom Watson Inc. buggy for a third-place finish and the championship, while Trevor Briska took the win in his JDRF Funco.
“When it rolled over, it was rough,” said Watson, who had gone from upside-down to champion in the course of three laps. “I was just trying to pass Nunes clean the whole time, and he just got a little excited and I ended up on my lid.We’re points racing, I totally expect it, but it was a hard hit and I got jumbled up. I was upside down and I thought, ‘I’m not losing again.’ We’ve been at this for so long … something clicked and the guys in front of me worked with me really well. I got up to Nunes on the last lap, and he tried blocking me again like he did the whole race. I was tired of it and I gave him what I learned the last couple of years in Pro Buggy Racing. I raced against some great guys in this class and I’ve learned a lot over the years.
“I didn’t see what happened, I didn’t know if he was under me, if I was up on two wheels the whole time, all of a sudden I hear cheering from my spotter – when I flipped I lost communication, couldn’t talk to him – but I just heard screaming and out of the corner of my eye I go past Nunes. It was crazy, I honestly didn’t think it was possible. But you never give up.”