Video – Off-Road Race Truck Hits Ski Slope at Red Bull Frozen Rush
As a belated Valentine’s Day gift, Red Bull’s Frozen Rush event was far better than any overpriced collection of candy or flowers your significant other gave you. Racing a 900-horsepower Pro 4 race truck up and down the slopes of a ski area is something just outrageous enough to fit nicely within Red Bull’s ongoing series of motorsports-related exhibitions. The February 15th event at Mt. Snow in south central Vermont involved months of planning and coordinating.
As with many unique undertakings, Frozen Rush began as the slightly unbalanced idea of a single individual. In this case the individual happens to be Pete Brinkerhoff, currently of Colorado and running Front & Bridge, LLC with his wife. Brinkerhoff had spent some of his professional life at Red Bull and maintained a number of contacts there so that when he came up with the crazy idea of sending a short-course truck up a ski slope, he knew just the right people to call.
At first, wintertime Vermont seems like an odd place for Red Bull to put on such an event. Maybe Vermont IS a bid odd, having currently elected the only Socialist senator in the country. There’s no dirt, most New Englander’s wouldn’t know a Pro 4 from ProFlowers.com, and the closest a TORC event has come to the area is some 900 miles away. But when you look deeper, Mt. Snow made perfect sense.
Vermont has an extensive extreme sports history that many tend to forget, including its place as the home of Burton snowboards and the 2000 and 2001 winter X Games at Mt. Snow. Combine these facts with Brinkerhoff’s familiarity with the area given his time at the University of Vermont and you begin to see the pieces falling into place.
Red Bull obviously also put a number of other pieces in place. Maartje Kardol, out of Red Bull’s NY office, threw the energy drink’s substantial marketing resources behind the idea and off it went. The first step was to find the appropriate driver. With Red Bull’s sponsorship of a number of short-course pilots the ball got rolling quickly. Initially Luke Johnson was considered, though given the anticipated slippery conditions, his two-wheel-drive Pro 2 wasn’t deemed the optimal vehicle. Instead, Red Bull turned to Luke’s father Ricky Johnson and his championship-winning Pro 4, along with logistical support provided by the Menzies Motorsports team.
One of the most surprising things about the day is the extent to which Ricky is known in the Northeast. Almost immediately upon arrival to the staging area a man could be seen holding up a “Legends of Motocross” t-shirt with numerous autographs on it. It turns out that he is a huge motocross fan and has been collecting the signatures of numerous motocross luminaries (Ryan Dungey and Travis Pastrana’s signatures were spotted at first glance) on it for years. This fan had heard of the event and came out seeking the autograph of a particular legend he had been missing, while another attendee harkened back to seeing Ricky race in AMA Supercross at the old Giants Stadium in New Jersey back in the ‘80s.
The Northeast area is one more familiar to Ricky Johnson than many might expect. Beyond his visits to Giants Stadium for Supercross, Ricky would spend nearly a week in the central Massachusetts/Connecticut region each year acclimating to the region’s sandy (yes, I said sandy) soil. Annually, the top level of AMA Motocross riders return to the loose surface of the Southwick, MA, track and getting used to the unique feel of this track was integral to any rider’s success (Ricky had wins at both Southwick and Giants Stadium back in the day).
Later in life Ricky’s travels would continue to return him to the area. His younger son is an excellent lacrosse player and went to school in Maine and, as with a number of today’s desert and short-course drivers, he has trained at the Team O’Neil Rally School in New Hampshire. Ricky, his son Luke, and Bryce Menzies have all attended the school in recent years to hone their driving skills. But we won’t say who the instructors claimed was the best driver of the three!
Suffice it to say that when the idea of driving his Pro 4 up a Vermont mountain in the winter came up, Ricky knew what he was in for, was comfortable with the location, and knew that the local people would appreciate such a unique event.
Before sending a 900-horsepower truck up a ski slope, however, one would be wise to do a bit of testing to find out what works and what doesn’t. No sense in hyping an event up only to have the truck roll off the trailer and proceed to immediately get stuck upon hitting the snow.
And getting stuck was exactly what Ricky’s Pro 4 did its first testing session.
Coming off the trailer in the middle of a snowstorm (you may have seen the swirling snow in the initial Red Bull produced video) and without specially prepared equipment, the Pro 4 went nowhere. It eventually took a snowcat to push it up the road (the truck and trailer having been left further down the mountain due to the storm). Lesson one in the books. Other lessons learned included the need for more traction and warmer clothing, both items that would be covered before the big day.
Mt. Snow itself would be a phenomenally welcoming partner in this whole venture. While the PR staff at Mt. Snow knew right away that they needed to be a part of this “absolutely most incredible thing,” they weren’t sure at first if their bosses would go for the idea of someone tearing up their beautifully groomed slopes. As was shown with the X Games, however, management at Mt. Snow is extremely progressive in its thinking. In fact only a conflict with the US Forest Service (who has rights to the topmost portion of the ski area) prevented Ricky’s use of the entire mountain, top to bottom, for his hoonage.
Come the day of the Red Bull Frozen Rush, a few more changes to the Pro 4 were made. Added to each tire by the BFG tire crew were 684 (an exact count) half-inch metallic studs. In addition to the studs, the tires were grooved into a pattern mixing short course and winter rally characteristics. BFG’s lead representative on site this day has been in the US only for about a year after having served in its WRC and Dakar efforts over the past decade. His experience with tires performing in the winter WRC events came in handy here and describes the studs used more generally in stage rally efforts as being much shorter than those present on Ricky’s truck due to regulations but are quite similar in design.
With every unique event comes unforeseen circumstances, and Frozen Rush is no exception. The aforementioned half-inch spikes necessitated the crew breaking out the cutoff wheel. Upon full compression, the spikes were now tearing up the beautiful fiberglass fenders and bedsides. A few minutes of cutting and there was now an extra few inches of clearance all the way around and a couple people in the crowd had some special souvenirs.
A portable heater also came in handy this day. Performing double duty, its flame was used to both warm up the valve stems in order to get tire pressures (aired down for the snow to 15 psi vs. its normal 18 psi on the dirt) and also to keep the truck’s front shocks warm. In short course and the normal course of his career, Ricky has been more accustomed to trying to keep his shocks cool, but sub-freezing-temperature shock oil can have some interesting characteristics as well, so out came the heaters.
Speaking with Ricky in between the test runs revealed some interesting items about the upcoming short-course season. While his Pro4 currently wears its Dodge Ram livery proudly, it is not long for this world. Without direct support from Dodge Ricky is returning to Ford branding. This shouldn’t be read that Ford was willing to support the Johnson’s short-course efforts, as neither Dodge nor Ford are throwing their weight behind Ricky, but at least now the truck body will match the engine underneath it. Secondly Johnson states that the TORC Pro 4 ranks should be gaining the full time attention of one Rob MacCachren vs. his split time in the Pro 2 ranks with Andrew Caddell during ’12.
With the ubiquitous Red Bull girls handing out cans of the energy drink, Ricky moves from his snow boots to his Oakley driving shoes and climbed behind the wheel of the #1 Red Bull Pro 4. Turning the engine over in this 30-degree weather seems a little more time consuming than it normally would be, but soon things fired up. Staring through his glassless dash, Ricky lets things warm up and with each revving of the truck’s engine more and more skiers and snowboarders unclip from their bindings and join the throngs along the snowfence lining the up-to-30-degree-inclined, black-diamond-rated hill.
At the appointed time and with a shout from the onsite announcer, the Pro 4 put down all its power into the snow and tore up the mountain at what is a decidedly frightful speed. In all honesty it doesn’t look real that something that big can move that fast UP a ski slope. The truck should be sliding, it should be fishtailing, and it SHOULDN’T be accelerating as the slope gets ever steeper. But there it is, literally carving its way up the snowy mountain, cresting jumps molded by the Mt. Snow terrain park crew. A few moments out of sight at the top of the course some many hundreds of yards away, Ricky turns the truck around and comes racing back down a separate section of ski trails. Again, it seems as if something that big and fast should go careening out of control into the woods like an inexperienced skier attempting a mogul run, but Johnson keeps it tightly under control with nary a hiccup. Through the Red Bull arch and over a final jump, Johnson slowed down into the lowest-most spectator area and the truck pauses while the crew ensures no one ventured onto the course … and he’s off again.
This time Ricky is ripping up the hill with even more violence than before, snow spraying rearward from its tires like Mt. Snow’s most powerful snowguns. Repeating the course the truck flies smoothly over the jumps and lands as softly as a multi-ton vehicle ever could. Upon reaching the bottom for the second time, Ricky decides to have a little fun with the gathered crowd and performs the favorite trick of every little boy by spraying the spectators with literally sheets of snow, as those half-inch spikes turn into half-inch snowblowers during the multiple donuts his Pro4 digs into the snow.
Ricky parked the truck and exited to a cheer from the crowd. A giant grin presents itself as he recaps the drive with those closest to him. “I’m like a 48-year-old kid,” he said. “When am I ever going to get a chance to do something like this again?”
Inside the Mt. Snow lodge and bar at the after-party, the subject of doing this again was foremost on my mind.
Inquiring as to Ricky’s thoughts on the day revealed that there were substantial differences between the snow he had been testing on in the Western US and the Eastern snowpack. While the Western snow was dry and fluffy it provided little grip. In contrast the conditions at Mt. Snow were near perfect. A few inches of moisture-laden white stuff covered a more solid and icy subsurface. It was this subsurface that the stud-equipped BFG’s were able to dig down to and find purchase upon. In truth, Ricky stated that one of the reasons Mt. Snow was chosen was due to the fact that the Eastern snow conditions and weather were more predictable and thus more suitable for an event such as this. While flying up the mountain was exhilarating in its own right, Ricky seemed most in awe of coming down the hill. He described jumps where the whole earth just dropped away leaving nothing visible but the distant horizon—a special experience to be sure.
Ricky Johnson was as much a hero at the after-party as he was on the slopes. The line of autograph and picture seekers wound its way through the bar, with RJ signing for kids donning flat-billed Ken Block hats and dads with tattered, old-school motocross programs. The event and the marketing of TORC and Red Bull to the Northeast was a success. Scores of kids and adults are now going to be festooning their walls with Red Bull Frozen Rush posters with RJ and his Pro 4 front and center.
Taking a TORC truck to the snows of wintertime New England was far from a no brainer. It involved a new audience generally unfamiliar with RJ and short course racing, in the heart of one of the most enviro-litigous areas of the country. It could have been raining; there could have been no snow. In short, it could have been a flipping disaster. That it wasn’t, is a credit to all those involved—including those aforementioned New England weather gods.
RJ mused that with a bit of tweaking (shorter tire studs that make tires act more like paddles, a harder snow pack via more water and salt grooming of the snow, etc.) he could envision an entire short-course race, using perhaps the lighter Pro Lites, taking place at a ski area. “If there is a spill of oil or gas you just scoop it up and cart it away,” he said. “With the snow you aren’t tearing up the ground, you’re not digging a course out of the earth. There’s very little environmental impact with this.”
Hopefully RJ and Red Bull enjoyed their stay to this little wintery corner of the country. Hopefully they decide to comeback sometime soon, and hopefully they bring a bunch of their friends to come play in the snow with them!