INSIGHT: Off-road racing waiting for the crack of the bat

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INSIGHT: Off-road racing waiting for the crack of the bat

Insights & Analysis

INSIGHT: Off-road racing waiting for the crack of the bat

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It’s as if auto racing has morphed into baseball. You need a scorecard to keep track of what the hell is really going on today. For all of us, even those of us supposedly “in the know,” this is a confusing and volatile time in an industrial society that works best with long-term planning, solid dates and a clear path toward the future.

The totally unexpected seventh inning stretch we are living through represents anything but those modern fundamentals.

Meanwhile, with the boys of summer still sidelined during the best days of spring 2020, off-road racing is doing its best to step up to the plate.

(An off-road racing / baseball comparison is totally viable: Bobby Patton, one of the sport’s newest and most enthusiastic supporters, also happens to be a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers ownership group. He said it was OK …)

In all aspects of life, the past few weeks have been both tumultuous and unusual. Despite being unshackled by the vast financial and executional implications of America’s pastime, off-road racing is still searching for the right line-up in shaping, then reshaping, the 2020 season. The natural tendency is to compress championships into less time; but the sport can’t logistically run double-header weekends (or back-to-back events in short-course off-road racing) to make that happen.

So, who’s on first?

The SCORE International business model is based solely on holding events on foreign soil, which by its very nature, foregoes total control of any event. Luckily for racers, teams and their fully-immersed fandom on both sides of the border (outside of the gas-crisis year of 1974), off-road racing has gone on in Baja continuously since the inaugural 1967 NORRA Mexican 1000. That record will stay true in 2020, but the pandemic has forced organizers to compress an already light four-race series into just a trio of races this year.

The original hope for the 52nd BFGoodrich SCORE Baja 500 was to run the rescheduled was on June 20th, the same weekend as the Crandon Brush Run debut of the new Championship Off-Road (COR) series. With much of Baja locked down with even tighter restrictions than the United States, the revised 2020 SCORE World Desert Championship now will start on July 14-19, with March’s traditional SCORE San Felipe 250 moved to September 22-27 and the previously announced season-ending BFGoodrich SCORE Baja 1000 to November 17-22.

The SCORE Baja 400 has been cancelled for 2020. Sadly, the current economic issues forced SCORE to revert the Baja 1000 back to a loop race in and out of Ensenada instead of the more expensive trans-peninsula race as originally scheduled.

A wide array of race vehicles like this Rothsport-prepared Porsche will separate this October’s annual Yokohama NORRA Mexican 1000 from all others. Image by Bink Design

Thankfully, for those looking for the full pull, NORRA has remained committed to its 2020 five-day romp from Ensenada to the rapidly-expanding (sadly) seaside hamlet of San Jose del Cabo, which is a 45-minute ride to the northeast of the tourist resort of Cabo San Lucas. While it has created an attractive retro vibe by harboring a place for vintage off-road machinery, the Yokohama NORRA Mexican 1000 has classes for all modern trucks, buggies, UTVs and motorcycles as well. Event organizers are still committed to the new dates of October 3-10, and it looks like the self-proclaimed “Happiest Race on Earth” will take place as rescheduled.

The Best In The Desert (BITD) group, which bases all of its events in the American Southwest, is also trying to manage the shifting sands of change, including dealing with incohesive rules of event engagement in two states (Nevada and Arizona). Last week series management hosted its first virtual town hall, fielding various questions from racers and media, along with laying out new guidelines for event operations moving forward. These included staggering registration to keep group size at a minimum and using the online town hall concept to host virtual driver’s meetings.

Now run by co-owners Bryan and Daryl Folks (sons of the late founder Casey Folks), the first looming event on its horizon is the VT Construction Silver State 300. BITD claims it has two possible dates on the table with the BLM and other local officials for early and late June; the better bet is that it will take place over the later weekend of June 27-28. They also confirmed plans to move forward with the Maxxis Tire Vegas to Reno race in Nevada, August 12-15. Parker, Ariz., will host the BlueWater Desert Challenge Oct. 22-25.

Contextually, the ability to actually host a race is an entirely different ballpark for American short-course racing. Both the Lucas Oil Off-Road Series (LOORRS) and the start-up Championship Off-Road (COR) want to be the first to host opening day in 2020. At this point, Chandler, AZ, is first up for LOORRS on June 5-6 as a dual nighttime race to help offset the oppressive summer heat. LOORSS needs to start up the content-generating machine that feeds its entire operation, which means it likely will run even without fans buying hotdogs and beer.

At this time, Crandon International Raceway (photo at top) has announced it is opening up the track for pre-season testing next Monday, May 11, in preparation for the Father’s Day Forest County Potawatomi Brush Run weekend on June 19-21. Those in charge of the new COR series say that many of their racers are anxious and comfortable kicking off their year, which by design (and the Midwest’s fickle weather) can only be held from June until Labor Day weekend.

The Brush Run will also host several classes in the Ultra4 series, which is counting on the Crandon date to open its economic fortunes this year. The question is, of course, can Crandon’s legendary fan base be allowed to enter the facility’s golden gates for racing and bratwurst?

Whatever next few weeks bring, perhaps it’s time to grab the bat, flash some solid signals and relish that first sweaty crack of a 1,000-horsepower V-8 firing up race morning. In the words of that late great baseball philosopher Yogi Berra; “If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.”

On the other hand, he also once surmised, “If the people don’t want to come out to the ballpark, nobody’s going to stop them.”

Confused? So is everyone else. Welcome to the clubhouse.

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