Once synonymous with the open-wheel cars that will headline activities that weekend, former IndyCar and NASCAR star Robby Gordon is bringing the exciting world of off-road racing to street circuits such as St. Petersburg with his SPEED Energy Formula Off-Road Presented by Traxxas series.
The Stadium Super Trucks that race in the series will hit huge man-made ramps at more than 100 mph at multiple locations throughout the picturesque street circuit hurling drivers nearly 20 feet in the air and 150 feet down course. Gordon created the series to bring the excitement of Baja-style desert racing to large crowds of race fans. The Firestone Grand Prix begins the series’ second season.
Following street circuit races at Long Beach and Toronto in 2013, the Formula Off-Road Series and promoters from the Firestone Grand Prix knew the SST trucks needed to be added in St. Petersburg after receiving fan reviews such as:
“The new Stadium Super Trucks put on an awesome show at the Long Beach Grand Prix. Watching the trucks brake into and fly around the corners on three wheels with the smell of burning rubber was really something…” and “That was freaking epic!!!! Best racing and the most fun I have had in a long time!!! So freakin’ cool. This stuff will be big and I’m not just drinking the kool-aid, trust me this was awesome.”
The series features identically prepared trucks, which are made to resemble their scaled-down Traxxas radio-control-car counterparts. Like their Traxxas namesake the trucks are designed to take flight. However, unlike RC trucks, they produce 600 horsepower generating speeds upwards of 130 miles per hour.
“Fan reaction has been tremendous,” Gordon said. “Jimmie Johnson (six-time NASCAR champion), Casey Mears (NASCAR) and I all got our start driving trucks like these and we’ve reinvented the series and are bringing their former popularity back to the fans.”
Gordon himself is a seven-time SCORE International Off-Road Champion, a three-time winner of the Baja 1000 and a four-time winner of the Baja 500. For the last 10 years he has tackled the world’s most challenging off-road endurance race – the Dakar Rally – so he is an authority when it comes to off-road trucks.
“The goal is to provide equal equipment to all the drivers and let driver skill and not engineering budgets determine the winner,” Gordon continued. “This is what racing should be. The trucks are amazing but it’s about skill and not money that puts on a great show for the fans.
“When I was still racing in NASCAR people always asked me why I still drove off-road, and they were surprised when I told them that I raced in NASCAR so that I could race off-road. Off-road racing gets in your blood and it’s where I started. It has always been my first love and it’s the most unbelievable form of motorsport in the world and we’re trying to do our part to make it mainstream.”
As part of that objective Gordon founded the SPEED Energy Formula Off-Road Presented by Traxxas series in late 2012, and ran its first race in March 2013 in Phoenix, Ariz. The series has built more than 20 identically prepared Stadium Super Trucks that have all the characteristics of an off-road “Baja-style” truck capable of racing on dirt, asphalt or even snow.
While the concept of building and maintaining an affordable racing series with an even playing field can be credited completely to Gordon, the theory behind the series is not entirely original. From the early 1980s through 1996 the Mickey Thompson Stadium Truck Series featured races in football and baseball stadiums primarily in the western United States.
“Not only is it one of the most awesome forms a racing in the world, for drivers and teams it’s about the most affordable professional racing series you can be involved with,” Gordon said. “In 2014 we will race in front of something like 750,000 people, have eight hours of exposure on NBC Sports Network and will race live on ESPN at X Games Austin.”
The franchise format created for the Stadium Super Trucks makes business sense for drivers and marketers knowing that they don’t have to outspend other teams to be competitive. Each week the series builds, maintains and delivers race-ready trucks to competitors, which eliminates start-up costs and day-to-day overhead of running a team. A driver’s focus is on winning races and delivering for their sponsors.
“I loved my time in IndyCar and NASCAR but it costs a lot of money to be competitive in either one of those series which means a lot of capable drivers have some fairly difficult barriers to entry,” Gordon said. “Those series will continue to thrive based on many years of success and a proven business plan and incredible fan support. What we have created is an opportunity for drivers to race in front of hundreds of thousands of fans and a tremendous platform for sponsors.