Robby Gordon's Stadium Super Trucks, Round 1
Most of the time, sequels are terrible. Teen Wolf Too, The Godfather Part III, Caddyshack II and Star Wars, The Phantom Menace (I know it's a prequel, but it counts) are a few examples that come to mind. But sometimes a sequel is as good as the original, or even better, like Terminator 2, Aliens and Mad Max, The Road Warrior. Robby Gordon's new series, officially titled Speed Energy Stadium Super Trucks, falls into the latter category, as the SST series completely lives up to the excitement and fan access of the old Mickey Thompson stadium races which last ran 19 years ago.
Many doubted that Gordon could even pull off the new series, but not only did he do just that, he is a showman and entertainer at the highest level. The University of Phoenix Stadium, home of the NFL's Arizona Cardinals, in Glendale, Arizona, played host to the first ever race of the new SST series.
Preparation for the race began more than a week ago when the field was moved out of the stadium on its wheels (a unique design feature of the multipurpose facility) and 6000 cubic yards, or 400 dump truck loads, of dirt were brought into the stadium to create the off-road racing circuit.
The event began in the afternoon when the pits and vendor area were opened to the public, but the real action started at 7 p.m. with the introduction of the SST drivers. Borrowing from other professional sports and entertainment events, the drivers were introduced one by one while being accompanied by spotlights, lasers, fireworks, huge plumes of fire and jumping SST trucks. While the stadium is capable of seating up to 78,600 people there was still a lot of empty space with the reported 15,000 fans in attendance.
Immediately after the introductions the racing action began with the first heat of Monster Trucks. While the racing purists, myself included, did not care much for the Monster Trucks they served their intended purpose. Gordon knows we are not the target audience, but he also know that kids love Monster Trucks. Every time they were on the course the kids in the audience perked up and cheered loudly.
Throughout the night the races went in cycles with Super Trophy Karts, Super 1600 Buggies, Monster Trucks and Stadium Super Trucks each taking turns. The Trophy Karts put on a good show as the kids are fearless and race hard everywhere, even off the huge jumps, and a few yard sales resulted from the aggressive driving. The biggest crash of the night among all classes was Broc Dickerson who nosed in off the start finish table top and went end over end five times before coming to a rest. The driver climbed out of the kart unscathed and gave a wave to the delight of the crowd.
The Super 1600 Buggies will be familiar to some readers. These are the same 1600cc buggies that have raced for years in the various short-course sanctioning bodies. The smaller and technical SST track was well suited to the buggies and they put on great race. he carnage started early when Rob Martensen went wheels up over the peak. The peak is a giant triangle of dirt that is meant to be rolled and then accelerated down, and the drivers of all classes practiced it that way. When side by side on raceday most forgot the lift and roll part of the peak and just went for it. In the buggy main, Eddie Tafoya took a lead early despite having a broken pivot on a front A-arm, which is amazing that he could even turn the car. Tafoya held off a hard-charging Robb Harvey in the closing laps as they battled wheel to wheel.
The karts and buggies both had good racing but the big show, the thing everyone came to see, was the SST race, the bad boys of off-road racing.
A total of 12 trucks ran Saturday night and it started with two heats of six trucks. Those who did not make it out of the heats raced in a Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ). In the LCQ, Mike Jenkins got an early lead and looked to be cruising to the checkers when he rolled his truck. After the restart, Justin Matney jumped to the lead with Lalo Laguna chasing him down. Matney won the LCQ with Laguna second, which put the drivers on the front row for the start of the main.
Both Justin Lofton and PJ Jones rolled in the main forcing one of several restarts. Rob MacCachren was able to take the lead after starting sixth with his talented wheel skills. MacCachren had widened the gap over second to just over four seconds when the competition yellow came out and the trucks were bunched up for another restart. MacCachren got away clean again and used his signature smooth driving style to cruise his way to the finish and into the history books as the first main event winner of the Stadium Super Trucks Series.
Justin Matney worked his way up to second place at the finish, but the race for third came down to the wire. PJ Jones was in third in the final sweeper when he rolled his truck (one of many rolls that night) and Robby Gordon swooped in to take the final spot after battling throughout the 18-lap main event after starting at the back of the pack.
MacCachren was all smiles and full of thanks at the finish. "I'm so thankful to Mike Jenkins and Traxxas for giving me the opportunity to drive this truck,” he said. “ To Robby Gordon for having the dream of bringing racing back to the stadiums. I think it went off really well. There was a ton of work by the guys at SST, they have worked so many hours, they deserve big bonuses and raises and a couple of months off. Robby is a go-getter and we all appreciate that. The trucks were prepared awesome and the crew did a great job getting them tuned. It's really all about the driver and getting your setup right. I can't say enough about Robby and all his people who put in countless hours and we don’t even know who they are."
MacCachren's long and successful racing career features 20 championships and over 200 race wins, but winning the first SST event will stand out for him. "It's good to win the inaugural event in any series,” he said. “It's definitely one of the highlights of my career, I'm happy."
Gordon, a fierce competitor, was still pleased with his third-place finish and how the event went overall. "I'm happy with it, it was a good event, nobody got hurt which is the biggest thing,” Gordon said. “These are the biggest jumps ever in stadium truck racing. I wish we didn’t have as much carnage as we did. I'm not worried about fixing the cars; it's about putting on a good show for the fans.
“I want some clean racing, we are going to have to figure out how to get the cars turned over faster. The biggest thing is that we got it done. People now know that we are real. We ran about a half hour late and I'm a bit disappointed by that because I want to do a great job for the fans. If we have too many wrecks and rollovers that is a problem for the show. The other side is these cars are hard to drive. I wanted to put it in the hands of the drivers, but I am going to need the drivers to realize they have control of this thing. They have to be smart and not over drive it because slow is fast. I'm pleased with all my guys; they just killed it. If only you knew the amount of hours and work that went into getting this event done and making it happen."
The inaugural race had its share of issues last night, but that is to be expected at the first event of a new series. Despite the problems the event had fewer issues and less downtime than some series that have been around for several years. Gordon and SST have their work cut out for them in the future, but after doing the math they have an exciting series with good wheel-to-wheel racing in fantastic venues.