It wasn’t supposed to happen this way.
For decades, off-road racing’s unlimited Pro 4 category has represented short-course racing’s holy grail – potent all-wheel-drive race trucks purpose-built to maximize the off-road environment for short bursts at a time.
No, they cannot fly over the Baja peninsula in 20-hour marathons, but they will annihilate a desert Trophy-Truck on any short-course track in the world in terms of speed and performance.
Today’s Pro 4s feature 900-plus-horsepower engines coupled to manual Xtrac gearboxes and other drivetrain exotica and electronics, meaning they are incredibly expensive to build and operate, requiring massive amounts of time to prep between races.
Set against a shifting short-course environment that seems to shed its working structure every several years or so, finding enough Pro 4s to fill fields in two separate venues – the West Coast-based Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series (LOORRS) and whatever sanctioning group operates in the Midwest – has been an increasing challenge. Over the past several years, the Lucas organization has enjoyed strong support thanks to better team and series sponsorship, while the Greaves family and a handful of Pro 4 faithful have kept the class alive in the American heartland.
At last year’s 50th anniversary Polaris RZR Crandon World Championship Off-Road Races and Red Bull World Cup, fans and teams witnessed 15 Pro 4 trucks on the same track on the same day – a reminder of the energized atmosphere surrounding the now defunct Championship Off-Road Racing (CORR) series of the mid to late 2000s.
Since then, rumors surrounding the category in the LOORRS series was that it was in peril, a situation predicated upon the loss of Rockstar as both a Lucas Oil and race team (RJ Anderson and Rob MacCachren) sponsor in the off-season.
Then came word early last week that front-running Kyle LeDuc had opted to bring his Monster Energy-backed truck to the Midwest for 2020.
Despite representing the Top Fuel category of the sport for decades, a recently distributed press release by Lucas Oil shared this news: “Although the excitement of starting the race season is building, and things are starting to get back to some normalcy, we have been faced with an extremely difficult decision that we want to make everyone aware of. Due to lower than anticipated entry numbers, sadly, we have had to make the heart-wrenching decision not to run the Pro 4 class in the National Series in 2020. We will truly miss our Pro 4 teams this year, and wish them all the best at the Lucas Oil Regionals, or wherever their journeys may take them.”
For all participating Pro 4 teams and drivers, in 2020 that journey will consolidate everyone into the inaugural season of the Championship Off-Road (COR) series that kicks off July 10-11 at ERX Motor Park near Minneapolis.
This is sad news in terms of the overall short-course picture, but could also be the single unifying factor that keeps Pro 4 alive into the future. Competitors can now look forward to a logistically easier and shorter COR summer championship series – especially with the loss or rescheduling of races due to the pandemic. And there remains the traditional Pro 2 versus Pro 4 “Cup” weekend finale races alive at Crandon International Raceway’s two annual dates.
According to Pro 4 veteran Johnny Greaves, the expectation is that each of the 2020 COR races should see a solid field of 9-10 trucks, including entries for Greaves and son C.J., Kyle LeDuc Andrew Carlson, Adrian Cenni, Kyle Cheney, Doug Mittag, Jimmy Henderson and Scott Lawrence. Expect to see one-off appearances by Bryce Menzies, RJ Anderson, Jamey Flannery and Ross Hoek.
As positive as this unified Pro 4 migration will be this season, the future of the sport’s most insane machines depends on lowering costs and making the class more attractive to manufacturers and other racers.
For context, of late it has been the Midwest that has led the way for the switch to less expensive 410 cubic inch engines in the now expanding Pro 2 category (unlimited two-wheel drive trucks), as well as switching to less exotic/expensive D.O.T. tires in the same class. Months ago, the COR series mandated the use of D.O.T rubber in Pro 4 as well, leading to suppliers like Yokohama entering the category for the first time.
Whatever the coming years may hold, the fans will benefit from this unexpected consolidation in 2020. The Pro 4 scene in the Midwest is again re-energized, and in a year otherwise filled with uncertainty, the sight of the Kyle LeDuc hucking his truck into an over-rotated powerslide 50 yards before a corner will never get old.