The latest edition of a Red Bull competition is itself a metaphor for all Red Bull-created competitions. The Red Bull Sand Scramble. As the winds shape and reshape the dunes of Glamis, CA, so is Red Bull constantly reinventing and reinvigorating racing and competitions – and when necessary, taking a break or retiring competitions when they aren’t relevant, or when fans want something different. And that’s the key: Red Bull is always listening to what the fans want, with a strong ear to the competitors as well. As an energy drink, its hands are not tied to proving performance of equipment. It’s a freedom that means fresh, new fun.
The first edition of the Red Bull Sand Scramble for side-by-side (SXS) racing was no different. The single-day event was held December 11th at the Imperial Sand Dunes of Glamis, CA. The day started early as the sun peeked over the seemingly endless sand dunes with a flurry of activity in the Red Bull Sand Scramble paddock. But unlike many first-time events, there was no last-minute track build. This race course was organically etched into the sandy landscape of the Imperial Sand Dunes over millions of years. The ebb and flow of the dunes decided what route the course would take, where the jumps would land, the banking in the turns, and the stability of the surface. The course was simply plotted out, under close collaboration with the BLM, with nine giant pylons.
That means the racers went in with no clear picture of what the course looked like. No videos to study. No pre-running or hours of practice. They had to rely on their previous experience in dunes, and specifically these dunes, (no dunes are alike) to navigate the course with as few mistakes as possible: a unique way to level the playing field between pro and sportsman racers.
Soon the professional SXS drivers and amateur enthusiasts were taking on the 2.8-mile course. The event had six heats. The first two four-lap qualifying heats showcased the skills of the seasoned professionals.The second two four-lappers pitted the amateurs against each other. The fifth heat was an LCQ (Last Chance Qualifier). And the final race featured six laps of 32 SXS competitors lined-up side-by-side. Not only would they be vying for the top spot at the end of the day, they would also have to work to make sure the dunes themselves didn’t best them.
The professional UTV ranks, featuring racers like Seth Quintero and Mitch Guthrie, Jr., started the day in the first two heats. As they rolled to the start line at the bottom of a steep hill the wind levels dipped, allowing the slowly growing crowds to hear the roar of the engines echoing off the dunes – stadium style. And they were off. Racers jockeying for position while also attempting to find their own paths. It was a race that not only favored speed and maneuverability, but skill in knowing how to make the dunes work for you and not against you.
By mid-morning, spectators peppered the perimeters, with more and more driving around the course in their own, personal UTVs to find the best vantage point. The event energy continued to build as the Sportsman class took to the start line for the third and fourth heats of the day. While these drivers didn’t have the status or funding of the Pro class, they arguably had a better understanding of the Glamis landscape and more to gain with bragging rights if they could best the pros, and more to lose because they are self-funded and unsponsored – it’s their pocketbook taking the hit.
And finally, the finale of 32 racers, whittled down from 53 entries from both classes. Vying for the top step in either Pro or Sportsman class. An ultimately, bragging rights as to who is the fastest sand warrior in the Glamis Dunes.
After the long day of heats, the sun was starting to dip low in the sky as each SXS was directed to their position on the start line. Professionals next to amateurs. A long row 24 wide in front, followed by a row of the eight LCQ drivers behind as the countdown began. 30 seconds to go, 20 seconds to go, 5 seconds to go, Green, green, green!
The action made for an intense six laps – seeing frequent position changes, as well as carnage. All day long, the racing was a mad fight for position at every corner, along each ridge and the finale was no different. But as the checkered flag flew, it was Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team member Mitch Guthrie Jr. who took the win in the SXS Pro category. Not far behind was Jaxon Steele finishing first in the Sportsman class.
Guthrie, Jr. recounted his race, “Red Bull Sand Scramble was awesome, I had such a blast. Someone [Shawn Saxton] was really fast off the start and I was trying to follow them, but I know they had a fast pace, so I was just sitting in second. He [Saxton] ended up breaking.”
“From there, I was looking out of my rearview mirror, so I’m like, ‘OK, where is everyone compared to me and how hard do I have to push?’ I was trying to be as easy on the car as I could because we were pushing like a hundred and twenty percent. So, I just kept an eye on the guys behind me. James Hill was right there on it and was pushing me. I had some really close battles with him, but ended up staying in front of him and got the win. Man, that was the fastest I’d ever driven in the dunes. I don’t know how the car made it through with what I put it through, but the Polaris RZR was awesome and I just had such a blast. It was such a fun race.”
The next event in the Red Bull Scramble series is the Red Bull Ice Scramble on January 29, where competitors will race across East Okoboji Lake.
SXS PRO CLASS
1. Mitch Guthrie Jr. – 19:57:466
2. James Hill – 20:01:141
3. Corbin Leaverton – 20:19:131
SXS SPORTSMAN CLASS
1. Jaxon Steele – 22:23:773
2. Dan Winecki – 22:25:857
3. Tyler Hurlock – 22:41:699
Red Bull Sand Scramble is the third in a multi-stop original collection of SXS races in the Red Bull Scramble Series, which featured both amateur and professional racers. Spanning every corner of the continental U.S., no single race is the same as each boasts many unique elements, but all include exhilarating racecourses and thrilling competition.