As a whole, the current state of off-road racing is as strong as it’s been in a long time. With the 2020 season already underway, there are a lot of positives bolstering the entire industry, with many builders and manufacturers operating at capacity.
Not everything is a picture of health, however.
The ultimate promise of short course off-road racing is still to be achieved, despite decades of effort and financial investment by various sanctioning bodies both in the American Southwest and Midwest. At the end of the 2019 season, longtime short-course stalwart Lucas Oil pulled the plug on its short-lived Lucas Oil Midwest Short Course League, leaving the loyal and enthusiastic set of Pro and Sportsman racers in America’s heartland back to square one yet again.
Stepping into this void is the new Championship Off-Road series (COR), owned and operated by the same Minneapolis-based ISOC group that injected life and stability into a failing snowmobile series in 2008. Understanding the immediate need for knowledge and respectability, ISOC President Carl Schubitzke hired off-road racing veteran Frank DeAngelo to be the new series director, a somewhat surprising move loudly applauded by many as an aggressive step toward success.
Like IMSA’s recently retired Scott Atherton, DeAngelo is one of off-road racing’s most respected “suits,” a corporate-level manager who clearly understands the needs of sponsors and racers. Yet DeAngelo much prefers to wear cowboy boots and jeans – a better fit in a remote desert pit location of Baja.
Inducted into the Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2013 (he also sits on its board of directors), DeAngelo started his 41-year career driving a pit support truck for BFGoodrich. His role with the brand expanded as BFGoodrich’s investment in the sport grew, eventually leading him to start his own agency to manage Ford’s fondly remembered “Rough Rider” campaign in the early 1990s. He eventually returned to work with the BFGoodrich brand via the Jackson Motorsports group and is still involved in the tire company’s support of the all-important SCORE Baja 500 and Baja 1000 events.
A few short weeks into his new role we had the chance to discuss his new role, it challenges, and what is really the state of short-course off-road racing in early 2020.
RACER: What’s the first impression you have of running the asylum?
Frank DeAngelo: Well, I have a lot of history in motorsports, but especially in the off-road world. I spent a bunch of time in the old Mickey Thompson series, and even in the SODA series in the Midwest. Look, there is a lot that goes on, and you have to realize that in the past decade or so there have been a lot of people who thought they had the answers for short-course racing. I don’t think they did, and that shortcoming is what has resulted in where we are today.
I felt coming in that I had a lot to learn, but also that I knew a lot. In that sense there was a much flatter learning curve. I don’t know everything, but I do know the people to talk to and where to find the best advice the sport has to offer. This has served me very well and will continue to do so.
Your role in this is to be an optimistic cheerleader in moving the ball forward. Are you?
FD: I am because so many people are. That’s surprising considering all that’s gone on in this side of the sport. When I am reaching out to people I haven’t spoken with in a while, I am pleasantly surprised at the positive response. We are checking the boxes here quickly, but there is a lot more to do. We are not running around with our hair on fire though.
That said, it’s exciting to rebuild relationships with the tracks, and with the racers. It’s been fun being the man in the middle of those things, instead of being the guy there to support just one brand. In essence I am supporting a lot of brands now and can be friendly to everyone.
That’s surprising considering that the new series is essentially a start-up with an ownership group not familiar with the sport.
FD: Well, that is the single most crucial key here that most people don’t understand, at least not yet. Carl and the ISOC group have an outstanding team of racing professionals in place that know how to put on professional events. The other clear message here is that we have a lot of corporate interest despite reaching out to them four months after 2020 budgets have been set. Does that mean they are all jumping in? No. But, they are finding creative ways to fund involvement with the teams, tracks and series.
The truth is that short course racing, outside of what Crandon has been doing the past few years, has flatlined. It hasn’t been healthy. We are bringing a sense of vibrancy to it now. Combine that with ISOC’s proven track record of success, the sport’s long history, a huge Midwest fan base and people are paying attention.
One thing that was unusual was COR releasing its first set of rules, then almost immediately sending out a revised version based on racer feedback.
FD: Rules in this sport are tough. Racers are racers — they are going to have strong opinions on everything related to rules. We listened, found out we had made some mistakes in both judgment and understanding, and fixed the issues almost right away. It was just the right thing to do.
In a nutshell, what is the cornerstone to the new COR series going to be?
FD: It’s not really one thing, but three. In order to sustain a series like this there must be a level of affordability and also a level playing field. On top of that, you must excel at today’s motorsports model that calls for excellence in creative social media content and top-level live stream production. We will have all of them in place for 2020 and beyond.
Many of us involved with this thing are racers as well, and racers don’t ever want to lose. That said, I feel we are all on a path to winning that will a great ride. I can’t wait to see what the next few years will bring.