Coverage: Lucas Oil Off-Road Racing Series Kicks Off 2011 Season

Mar. 19, 2011 By Josh Burns, Photos by Art Eugenio and Josh Burns
A new season of Lucas Oil short-course off-road racing kicked off at the same location as last year’s season finale, Firebird Raceway just outside of Phoenix, Arizona. New sponsors were plastered on cars, a few racers changed classes, and new faces were seen in the pits. It was a new year of racing, and racers and pit crews were anxious to see if the off-season changes and updates on the trucks and buggies were going to translate into wins.

Rick Huseman earned the Pro 4 victory at round one.

Pro 4 Unlimited
After an introduction of the 2010 class winners, the Pro 4 Unlimited racers took the track. The class was intense as always, but whether it was rust or overly aggressive driving, there were a larger number of accidents during 2011’s first Lucas Oil race. Carl Renezeder jumped out to the early lead but Johnny Greaves gave him a battle and overtook him after a lap. Greaves only held the lead for a short time, however, as a tangle on the third turn in the middle of the track pushed Greaves sideways and into the k-rail. Greaves had to pull off to fix a flat but was able to return to finish the race in ninth. The next causality of the race was Steve Barlow (now running on the Metal Mullisha team), who was spun out in a turn and eventually finished just a spot behind Greaves in 10th.

With all the chaos going on, Renezeder was able to stay near the front of the pack, but he eventually was pressured by last year’s class champion Rick Huseman. Huseman traded lines with Renezeder and eventually took the lead and really never looked back. Just before the mandatory restart at the halfway point of the race, Josh Merrel lost control of his truck in turn three, riding on his two outer wheels before the truck caught and he flipped over the outside k-rail.

After the restart, Kyle LeDuc, who had been up near the front of the pack, also caught his tire and flipped over a number of times while battling with the leaders (spectators said his brother Todd might have accidentally bumped him forward, but it was hard to see from our vantage point). Kyle LeDuc appeared to be ok after the crash and plans to race again on Sunday … but he was unable to finish the Pro 4 race. After another restart, Huseman moved back out front ahead of Renezeder to take the first race win of the season.

“I was planning on being safe out there, you know, because I knew there were so many trucks out there, and it’s the first race and there’s going to be carnage,” Huseman said. “So my brother (Kevin, his spotter) said hang back and see what happens, and I did.” When asked if he has his sights set on another championship, Huseman humbly said, “I couldn’t imagine doing better than last year, but if I did that would be amazing.”

Carl Renezeder finished in second place in Pro 4 at Firebird Raceway.

Finishing in second place was Renezeder, who lost part of his front-wheel drive during the race but still managed a solid second place.

“We are totally stoked that we’re on the box today. We made a lot of changes in the off-season, did a lot of testing, and we still have a few things left to do,” Renezeder said. “Had a little issue with the front-wheel drive today, once again, but you know what, we’re going to fix that and I’m glad to be here.”

Rounding out the podium in third was Travis Coyne who, despite starting near the back of the 15-truck field, said before the race that he felt confident he could work his way up despite his bad starting position. Curt LeDuc finished in fourth place, while Aaron Daugherty finished in fifth.

Brian Deegan took the Pro Lite win at the season opener. Photo: Art Eugenio

Pro Lite
A few fresh faces were in the 16-truck lineup for Pro Lite at Firebird Raceway, with Cameron Steele making the move into the class as well as Kyle LeDuc, and desert racer “Pistol” Pete Sohren made his debut as well.

But Brian Deegan didn’t want any the new guys to get too much of the spotlight, as he picked up where he left off last year after earning a win at the final regular season race last December.

With last year’s Pro Lite Champion Marty Hart moving into the Pro 2 class, Deegan took advantage of his absence and jumped out to an early lead and never looked back. Both Rodrigo Ampudia and Corey Sisler gave him a challenge during the first half of the race, but Sisler was later forced to pull off with mechanical issues, while Ampudia was able to finish fifth after surviving a few tangles that pushed him into the middle of the field just a few laps before the finish.

It was a pretty chaotic race in some regards with plenty of trucks trading paint while others were hit with mechanical gremlins that tend to show up at the first race of the season. In the end, Deegan earned the victory by staying out front and having clean air most of the race.

“For me, I had a great race,” Deegan said. “I knew Brandt was coming … I know we’ll have some great battles this year. I’m looking forward to it.”

Chris Brandt finished in second place in Pro Lite. Photo: Art Eugenio

One of the top racers in the class, Chris Brandt, worked his way through the field and was up near the front. Both he and Jimmy Stephensen were locked in a great battle for second place, with the two swapping spots a few times before the checkered flag waved.

“Yeah, you know he wasn’t giving up,” Brandt said of Stephensen. “I bounced off the wall over there and I thought I gave [second place] back to him, but luckily he had a mistake too so I got back in front of him and stayed up there.”
 
Stephensen was just happy to get a solid finish at the start of the season.

“Yeah, there was a little bit of mayhem,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of new drivers, but I’m just so happy to be on the podium first race.”


Pro 2 Unlimited
The Pro 2 Unlimited field not only saw a number of new drivers, but it also had as huge field of 21 drivers taking the line. Marty Hart made the move from Pro Lite for 2011. Pete Sohren also tackled the Pro 2 class for the first time, as did off-road racer/celebrity/motorcycle builder Jesse James. Supercross legend Jeremy McGrath is racing Pro 2 in the Lucas series, as is freestyle motocrosser Jeremy “Twitch” Stenberg who moved up from Super Lite after winning the class championship last year. MasterCraft owner Robbie Pierce also races the class, besting all of the aforementioned racers by finishing 10th overall.

Bryce Menzies (7), Brian Deegan (38) and Carl Renezeder (17) battle in Pro 2. Photo: Art Eugenio

Up front, the battle was fierce. Deegan, who is competing in Pro 2 full-time in 2011, used his spot on the front row to his advantage and jumped out to an early lead. Bryce Menzies, also starting on the front row, stayed on his tail while being trailed by Carl Renezeder in third, Rob MacCachren in fourth and Greg Adler in fifth.

Pro 2 Winner Bryce Menzies. Photo: Art EugenioFor the first half of the race the top five didn’t change much, but after the restart Deegan was unable to retain his lead on the field. Menzies was the first to get by him, with Renezeder moving past him next. This left Deegan in a dog fight with MacCachren for third place, and neither racer wanted to give in. The two swapped spot and had some serious rubbing, and apparently this aggressive racing ended up having a major impact on the final standings.

But none of this action could deter Menzies, who took win in the packed field and held off Renezeder for the remainder of the race.

“The guys worked so hard on the off-season and they put the truck back together great,” said Menzies, giving much of the credit to his team. “We did no testing with the truck, so to come out here with a win just shows that our guys are the best out there.”

Renezeder was happy to get another second-place finish on the day. The veteran noted that he tried to rattle the younger racer but couldn’t get him to flinch.

“I showed Bryce the wheel in as many corners as I could to try and get in his head a little bit,” Renezeder said. “I knew some of those weren’t going to be legit passes – [they were] just to try and shake him up a little bit. You know, he’s done it before, he’s solid and he held his line and stayed cool.”

After the top two, this is where things got interesting in Pro 2. Everyone waited for the racers to take the podium, but it was taking much longer than usual. We found out that this was because the battles between Deegan and MacCachren were an issue. Apparently some of Deegan’s moves during the race didn’t sit well with MacCachren, who gave Deegan a bump toward the end of the race that knocked him back a few places. Lucas Oil officials penalized MacCachren that then gave third place to Woods since he was the next vehicle across the line. This then left put Greg Adler fourth and Deegan in fifth. It was a strange series of events, and there’s no doubt more will come of it tomorrow.

“I don’t know how I got here but I’ll take it,” Woods said on his surprise podium spot. “Above and beyond racing today, I just really want to thank my crew and I’m really proud to be an American with all this stuff going on. It’s so tough right now for the people in Japan right now, so if there are any winnings from this I’m going to donate that money to the people of Japan.”


Super Lite
The spec-class Super Lite field saw 14 trucks take the line, with RJ Anderson jumping out the lead and never looking back. Anderson simply appeared to be the fastest in the class, and though he was given a good run by second-place finisher Patrick Clark, he never gave up the lead.

RJ Anderson earned the Super Lite win. Photo: Art Eugenio

“I don’t know where he came from,” Anderson said of second-place finisher Clark. “All of the sudden my spotter said ‘you got one on you, you got one on you,’ so I was just trying to keep running smooth and it ended up working.

Although Clark was able to catch Anderson in the race, he took away some knowledge that might help him down the road.

Patrick Clark finished in a close second behind RJ Anderson in Super Lite. Photo: Art Eugenio

“It’s the first time I’ve really gotten to battle with him,” Clark said, noting he now has at least a better understanding of his line choices and driving style after the race. 

Chad George was able to follow up his third-place finish in the UTV class with another third-place finish in Super Lite on Saturday.

“We couldn’t be more pumped,” he said at the finish line. “Judging by the start of that race, someone spun out … and we played catch-up the whole time.”


Pro Buggy
In Pro Buggy Unlimited, a tight battled ensued at the front of the pack for much of the race. Veteran Doug Fortin held the lead for much of the race, fighting off another veteran in Jerry Whelchel as well as class rookie Justin “Bean” Smith, who won the championship in the Limited Buggy class last year.

Another young racer in the mix was Justin Davis, who is fresh off his second straight Class 1 win in the SCORE desert series, which is especially impressive when you consider the two wins are also his first two races in a Class 1. Davis was forced to pull off near the end of the race with mechanical issues and was unable to continue. Mike Porter was also in the mix in the early going, and while he was able to finish the race he was pushed near the back of the finishing pack in 10th. 

Doug Fortin likes the Firebird Raceway track. Photo: Art Eugenio

Fortin kept his lead on the field to earn the win.

“It’s a great way to start right where we left off last year with a win here,” Fortin said, regarding his big payday in the Pro Buggy vs. Pro Lite race last December at the Lucas Oil Rockstar Energy Cup Challenge. “It was perfect it was fun. It was fun running with the guys up there, Mike Porter and Justin Davis, they ran clean. I just waited for the right time. “

Smith was able to hold on for second place in his first race since stepping up from Limited Buggy.

“I didn’t know what to expect stepping up next to these competitors, but to be on the box the first time out I’m pretty excited about it,” Smith said. “We tried to stay away from the trouble, and there was a little bit in front of us and it helped us out a little bit maybe, but I’ll take it.”

Justin "Bean" Smith finished in second place in his first Pro Buggy race. Photo: Art Eugenio

Whelchel was also able to stay out of major trouble and hang near the front of the pack to finish on the podium in third place.

“I started fifth so it was a pretty wet in the beginning, but it was a good race,” he said. “I mean, everybody raced clean, it was just a good race. I had fun out there.”

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