The Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series finally got its 2020 season underway at Glen Helen Raceway in San Bernardino, CA, this weekend with a doubleheader. Like has happened with many series as they return to racing, the event was run without spectators; only family and crew scattered sparsely in the stands to watch the racers battle. As they did, even with some shuffling of drivers between classes and the loss of the Pro 4 class, much of it looked familiar with the names at the top of the charts the same as in 2019. That is, except in Pro Buggy, where the names are familiar, but their position on the top of the podium was not.
Jerett Brooks began the defense of his Pro 2 title in perfect form. Qualifying quickest and starting fourth thanks to drawing a four-place inversion, Brooks had to do some work to get to the front. Ricky Gutierrez started from pole and pulled out a lead while Brian Deegan, RJ Anderson and Brooks battled hard. But once that fight settled, Brooks was in second and free to pursue Gutierrez. Brooks pushed his K&N Filters/General Tire truck hard, closed the gap quickly and wasted no time taking the lead.
“We’ve put in a lot of work on the off-season,” said Brooks after the race. “I was pretty much struggling, and then came out today and just put it down. Today I felt really comfortable. I got out front and just put it on cruise control and tried not to break the truck; got into my comfort zone and just put in laps.”
Gutierrez rolled to a second-place finish, his best since joining the Pro 2 ranks last season. Ryan Beat looked set to claim a podium finish in the debut of his new Pro 2 truck after winning back-to-back Pro Lite titles, but fate intervened. He had made it up to third by passing Deegan and also by Anderson pulling off with an overheating truck due to a busted radiator from contact. But moving through lapped traffic in the closing stages, Beat was caught up in Troy Cox’s spin, and Deegan came onto the scene and pushed Beat around with nowhere to go. Deegan ended up with third and Beat was fourth.
On Sunday, the racers had a slightly different course to race on, as the series was trying something new by running different configurations on the two days of racing. The long course at Glen Helen, used for the LOORRS series last fall, makes Turn 2 sharper, adds a turn, and bypasses the tough rhythm section. This variation seemed to work for Beat and it looked like he was about to get total redemption for missing the podium on Saturday. Starting from pole as fast qualifier, Beat launched into the lead with Brooks in hot pursuit. It looked like Beat might have what he needed to hold Brooks off. After a yellow for more bad luck for Anderson, though, Beat landed hard off a jump and blew a tire. There was a little luck on his side, though, with a yellow while he headed to the pits. Now it was Brooks in the lead with Mittag chasing, and these two pulled away while the rest of the field battled, including Beat making his way back through the field, eventually finishing third behind Brooks, sweeping the weekend with his old truck while the new one is being finished, and Mittag in a truck he borrowed from Brandon Arthur to start the season.
With the top two in Pro Lite gone – Beat to Pro 2 and Mickey Thomas not racing LOORRS this year, the championship was wide open. Christopher Polvoorde was the first to stake his claim. Starting from third behind Mason Prater and Brock Heger, Polvoorde made quick work of Heger and started chasing Prater, who was making his Pro Lite debut after winning the 2019 Mod Kart championship. It didn’t take him long to get into the lead and he was never really challenged as he took his new Ford/Steel-It Ford Ranger to the victory.
Prater over-rotated in Turn 3 and collected Heger, dropping both down in the field. Ronnie Anderson had been running fourth and inherited second, followed by Cole Mamer. Mamer would briefly take second, but then started falling down the order. That and other attrition allowed Madix Bailey to claim a podium finish in his first Pro Lite race.
“I think it was just a wild one out there,” said Polvoorde. “We’ve been sitting around for the past eight months, so for those first few laps, you could definitely tell there was a lot of energy put out there. It was just holding on; it was a rough track and a lot was going on.”
Given his performance on Saturday, it wasn’t looking good for the Pro Lite field that Polvoorde was starting from pole on Sunday. But Polvoorde did a half-spin in Turn 2 – the LOORRS track prep crew was putting a lot of water down to try to keep the track from being dusty by the end of the race, and it was quite slick on the opening lap – and was hit by a few trucks, perhaps hardest by Dave Mason Jr. Polvoorde was done for the day, leaving Mamer out front and in control, followed by Bailey and Heger.
After the competition caution, Heger attacked Bailey for second and took the position, but the battle allowed Mamer to stretch out his lead in the Falken Tires Pro Lite. Heger could gain on Mamer, but never fully close the gap. Even when Mamer bobbled in the final turn on the penultimate lap, Heger wasn’t close enough to take advantage and finished second. Bailey was third for his second podium finish in his debut weekend.
While the Pro 2 and Pro Lite winners had seen the top step of the podium before, it was a different story in Pro Buggy, where despite the presence of three former champions in the field, two drivers claimed their first victories.
Matt Brister and his Fast Monkey livery have been a staple of the Pro Buggy class for several years, but victory had eluded him. That changed on Saturday at Glen Helen. Starting on pole thanks to a top-two inversion drawn by fast qualifier and three-time champ Darren Hardesty Jr., returning to the series after a year hiatus, Brister jumped out to the lead while Hardesty slipped to third behind Trey Gibbs. Hardesty would eventually get second back, but he could never mount a challenge to Brister. Defending champion Eliott Watson started fourth but spun early in the race; however, he made his way back through the field to take third.
“I’m so excited to finally be up here on top of the box,” said Brister. “We’ve been pushing really hard for the last four years to get up here, running every race we can, testing every other weekend. It’s a stacked field and I’m really stoked to be on top of it. The track is brutal, There are some ruts, and usually the buggies can’t feel them as much, but I definitely was feeling them today.”
Another driver who had come quite close to victory claimed his first win on Sunday. Trey D. Gibbs started on pole in his Self Made Training Facility/Bilstein Alumi Craft and was never headed, helped in part by Hardesty dropping down the order in the early going and Brister spinning on the opening lap. Eliott Watson gave it his best shot, but could only hang on to Gibbs and never made a serious challenge. Dale Ebberts took third.
“I’m just super super stoked,” exclaimed Gibbs. “Nothing feels better than being on the top of the box, especially when you can go out here and race as as hard as we did. Thankfully I was able to lead it wire to wire and had a little bit better luck today than we did yesterday. Going up against Darren [Hardesty] and Eliott [Watson], these guys are both championship winners … they were putting he pressure on and man, I was definitely feeling it!”
Next on the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series calendar is a triple header at Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland, Mo. While the series tentatively has events scheduled for Wild Horse Pass in Chandler, Ariz., then back at Glen Helen before the season-ender at Wild Horse Pass, as with many other series, exactly how the rest of the season plays out remains to be seen. But a few drivers left Glen Helen confident that they made a statement, and happy to carry some momentum, while others were still trying to find their 2020 voice.
Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series
Glen Helen Raceway, San Bernardino, Calif., July 23-25, 2020
Round 1 Winners
Pro 2: Jerett Brooks
Pro Lite: Christopher Polvoorde
Pro Buggy: Matt Brister
Production 1000 UTV: Myles Cheek
Turbo UTV: Corry Weller
Round 2 Winners
Pro 2: Jerett Brooks
Pro Lite: Cole Mamer
Pro Buggy: Trey D. Gibbs
Production 1000 UTV: Brock Heger
Turbo UTV: Corry Weller