Stadium Truck Off-Road Racing Revival
I grew up in Northern California in a family that was not interested in motorsports. Being that this was long before the age of the Internet it was really tough for me to find information and race results for something that intrigued me from a young age, off-road racing. While I now work in the industry and have been to hundreds of races, at the time the idea of venturing to a faraway place like Mexico or Parker, Arizona, to watch a race was unthinkable.
While in high school in the late ‘80s I learned that the Mickey Thompson stadium racing series (MTEG) was going to be racing at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, and I jumped at the chance to see these magnificent off-road-racing machines in person.
Two memories from that race stick with me today. The first was watching Roger Mears while leading on the final lap where he endoed off the final jump and one of his front wheels ejected itself from the chassis and went flying though the air. The second was "sneaking" into the pits after the race and finding the pit for Mike Leslie Racing. Mike and Tommy Croft raced Jeep Cherokees and I drove one at the time. I asked one of the crew members what they were going to do with the pile of damaged fiberglass body panels in their pit. I was told to go ahead and take what I wanted. More than 20 years later I still proudly have the full roof and rear quarter panel of Tommy Croft's Cherokee hanging in my garage. It’s safe to say that my day at the MTEG races had a lasting effect on my life and took me from casual off-road racing fan to lifelong lover of the sport.
The Mickey Thompson series was a spectacular series through the years, giving fans a chance to watch off-road racing close to home. Many big names from the racing world spent some time in the series including Ivan Stewart, Roger Mears, Walker Evans, Rod Millen, Rob MacCachren, Jimmie Johnson and Robby Gordon.
The final year of stadium racing was 1994, and for the last 19 years there has been a noticeable void in the off-road community with its absence. There are ample opportunities today for fans to see live off-road racing if they live in the Southwestern US with SCORE, BITD, LOORRS and others, or via TORC for those in the midwest. Today's short-course racing captures a sliver of the glory days of stadium racing but it is not the same.
Since he was a teenager, Robby Gordon has been winning races and championships in off-road racing. He later went to race in many other mainstream forms of racing including CART and NASCAR. His resume as a racecar driver is extensive and impressive. In 2013, Gordon has added race promoter to the list. He raced the Mickey Thompson series as a teen and won the championship in 1988.Now, after 19 years, he is bringing stadium racing back to the masses with his Stadium Super Truck series (SST).
The first event of the new series will take place on Saturday, April 6, at the University of Phoenix stadium in Glendale, AZ. Normally this stadium is home to the Arizona Cardinals of the NFL. The stadium is unique among the NFL's domes as the natural grass field can be wheeled outside. For the last week tons of dirt has covered the concrete floor of the stadium as Gordon's SST crew converts a premier football stadium into an off-road playground.
Race day will feature wheel-to-wheel battles between four groups of racecars. There will be 450cc Super Trophy Karts, Monster Trucks, Super Buggies and Super Stadium Trucks. Each class will race a variation of the track with the SSTs running the big layout that features two option lines and two crossover jumps that should put the SSTs over 20 feet in the air.
Sixteen trucks will race for the SST prize and they will race in two heats of eight. Those that don’t make the cut will get another opportunity with the Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ) to make it into the main. Together the SST features elements of MTEG, short course, Supercross and Rallycross.
The Monster Trucks, buggies and karts are expected give us some great racing to whet the appetite for the main event, the Stadium Super Trucks. The 3000-pound, two-wheel-drive trucks feature a 600-horsepower EFI V8 and a three-speed transmission delivering power to the wheels. There’s 24 inches of travel in the front and 18 inches at the rear via King coilovers and bypasses on each corner to damp the 35-inch tires.
You might say that stadium truck racing is not a new idea. It’s not. However, Gordon is the first to admit the same and give credit to Mickey Thompson for his vision. Gordon, the 1988 series champion, simply wants to bring off-road racing back to the masses. Any desert racer can claim they were doing 160 mph across a dry lake, or 90 mph though the whoops, or even jumped 100 feet, as most of the time there was no one there to see or verify it. But with stadium racing, thousands will be on hand to witness the acts of mayhem taking place on the track. It’s just a different form of off-road racing.
Speaking of the on-track action and battles between trucks, Gordon said the action will be intense. “You can expect wheel to wheel, door to door, front to back, and roof to dirt,” Gordon said. With a track small enough to fit in a football stadium, the narrow lanes will provide plenty of of banging between trucks and a lot of broken fiberglass.
While Gordon is the series promoter, owner and also a driver, he wisely hired USAC to be the sanctioning body and actually run the races. USAC has a long and successful history as a sanctioning body and currently runs the TORC series and Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, among other events. They have the knowledge and experience to run the events eliminating the potential conflict of interest with Gordon racing.
Since he announced the new series last June, Gordon has been full speed ahead getting everything ready for the 2013 season, in addition to racing in Baja, Parker and Dakar. There was a single SST truck last June but now there are 22. Gordon’s shop crew can build a complete tabbed SST chassis in just two and half days now. They expect to be able to build a complete, ready-to-race truck in three days in the near future.
Gordon told us that the truck we saw in June is very different from what will race this weekend. The truck has been refined through extensive testing, including crash testing. “We have six trucks that we have just destroyed in testing,” Gordon said. “ Arie (Luyendyk Jr.) has put a few dents in two of them. He has totaled a truck; it’s diagonal in the middle. But it’s no problem. Now I know that you can stuff it into the face of the landing on the crossover jump and walk away. He did it twice!”
Gordon spoke about his vision for SST.
“It’s something that has been missing in American motorsports,” he said. “ There is no automobile racing facility in the world is as nice as the stadiums we will be racing in. Not NASCAR, Formula 1 or any other series. The fans get to sit in a nice stadium, comfortable seats and clean restrooms, no port o johns, they don’t have to get dirty and choke on dust.”
Whatever happens to the series in the long run, I think it is safe to say there will be a great show for the fans on Saturday night in Glendale, getting a new generation of young fans hooked on off-road racing, which is what happened to me at the Mickey Thompson race many years ago.
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