Off-Road Assassin

Crandon Legends Take Over Round 4 Of Champ Off-Road

Crandon International has always been a difficult place to pass. With its high speeds and big sweeping turns, getting an edge on the competition is a major challenge. When you add in some overnight rain and full fields of racing, things get even more complicated.

As round four of AMSOIL Championship Off-Road got underway, it was evident early on that it was going to be a wild ride for competitors on Sunday. Racing was bound to be close, so close that even one bobble, one rut, one slight over-rotation could mean a loss of position, sometimes even more than one spot would be gone. And if Sunday was any indication, it could mean the difference between a win and get pushed off the podium.

LeDuc Sweeps Pro 4 

Kyle LeDuc calls his crew a small, dedicated bunch that loves to race. Like the vast majority of racers, he credits their hard work both on and off the track and their commitment to building a winning program. All of this is true, and the 99 truck has won a lot of races over the years, but it is also true the LeDuc can drive the truck they prepare for him to near perfection, and he showed off his high-level skill set once again on Sunday.

Johnny Greaves shot off the starting line like a rocket, taking an inside lane and was several truck lengths ahead of the field well before the mass of metal hit the most famous first turn in off-road.  In tow was LeDuc, who got back on the winning track on Saturday, and rounds one and two winner CJ Greaves.

Early on, Johnny Greaves looked like the man who had won 33 class races at Crandon, but two laps in, the veteran pushed wide, opening the door for LeDuc to slip past and into the lead. It also allowed CJ Greaves to power through, setting up a showdown for two of the top Pro 4 drivers in the business.

CJ was able to catch LeDuc one lap later, but despite running the fastest lap of the race, he couldn’t get around the defending champion. Beyond the mandatory caution, Greaves never got that close again as LeDuc hit his spots, lap after ever-changing lap on his way to the win.

For CJ Greaves, it was another good run, but he felt he made too many mistakes as he was chasing down the leader.

“I just made too many mistakes and it’s pretty uncommon for me to do that, but the 99 truck is making us drive harder than we ever had. I felt I was a little quicker than him on the back half and on the front half he was a bit quicker than me. I just didn’t time it out right, so he was definitely better than me today when it comes to mistakes and just keeping it smooth.”

While the elder Greaves didn’t notch another milestone win on Sunday, he still continues to show top speed and the ability to claw back into the race. His third place finish is his second of the row as he now sits third overall behind CJ Greaves and LeDuc.

“These two guys were running hard, and I just couldn’t keep it down the middle of the turn,” said Johnny Greaves, “it would slide up and I would get caught on the edge coming out, so I just cleaned up my lines and, basically, slowed down a little bit just to salvage that third.”

Beat Brings Home Pro 2 Win

Ryan Beat spent the past three weeks shaking off the disappointment that came with his opening weekend in Antigo. He did salvage a fifth place finish in round two, but he has expectations of being a championship contender in a deeply talented Pro 2 class. So, he spent time testing and dialing in his Chevrolet-backed Pro 2 ride for a weekend of potential success in Crandon. He started tenth on Saturday but was one of the fastest trucks on the track, making his way through the field to finish fifth.

On Sunday, Beat didn’t get buried off the start, instead, he grabbed an uncontested hole shot and set the tone for the entire race. He had some late pressure from defending class champion Kyle Kleiman, but he left the door-to-door racing behind him as he won his first race of the 2021 season.

“I’m just so stoked, man,” said Beat. We’ve been so off. We were off in Antigo, and the first start this weekend we were way off. We just put our heads down and kept working. (Today) I just got a good start. I was just tired of starting in the back and trying to work through the mud and stuff, so I was just focused on doing whatever it takes to get the hole-shot.

Kleiman and Jerett Brooks carried their first half battle for position into the second half of the race. As time ran down on the clock, Kleiman and Brooks caught Beat, but soon after Kleiman began to slow. That allowed Brooks to move into second, his fourth straight podium and the only driver to get on the box in all four rounds this season.

“It’s pretty gnarly trying to start in P-7 on that land rush, especially in the mud,” said Brooks. “I think you really just had to be smart, be consistent. I think we have a little bit more speed we can gain out of this track.”

Kleiman’s drop also benefited a hard-charging Mickey Thomas, who rebounded on Sunday after an early exit in round three on Saturday.

“It’s always the worst feeling when you have to pull off the race when you’re leading, but we wanted to come back strong today,” said Thomas. “It was great to do that with how the track conditions were. They got better in the second half of the race.”

Saturday’s winner Keegan Kincaid finished fourth and Cory Winner rounded out the top five.

Photo courtesy of @snm-media.com

Photo courtesy of Eric Minks/@snm-media.com

Brooks Best in Forest County Potawatomi Community Cup 

Pro 2’s have found success over the past few years in winning “Cup” races, those showdowns that feature the 2WD trucks against their 4WD big brothers. History has been kind to the Pro 2 field during Spring Crandon’s Forest County Potawatomi Community Cup, or the Chairman’s Cup. 

On Sunday, the Pro 2s once again got the best of the faster Pro 4’s, as Jerett Brooks held out to win his first career Cup race. But while Brooks was fast, he also got some fortuitous bounces thanks to a multitude of mistakes from several of the top Pro 4 drivers.

Brooks followed Ryan Beat around turn one and the two worked in tandem for several laps as they worked their way farther and farther from the Pro 4’s, who’s delayed start wasn’t their only obstacle on Sunday.

As Brooks and Beat motored on, with Brooks making a beautiful slide pass to take the lead from Beat, the Pro 4 field started with a flurry before several contenders quickly faded. CJ Greaves and RJ Anderson never made it past the first lap. Johnny Greaves was forced to exit shortly after. Kyle LeDuc was on a rail, and it looked like he had an opportunity to catch Brooks before the final laps started, but he abruptly pulled off the track four laps in.

Photo courtesy of @snm-media.com

Photo courtesy of Andy Noggle @carlsonmoto  

That left it up to Andrew Carlson and Adrian Cenni to represent the Pro 4 challenge. As the laps clicked away, it was mathematically looking like a close finish, but Carlson was going to need to be perfect and Brooks was going to need to make, at the very least, a small mistake. Neither thing happened as Carlson pushed out in a couple of turns and Brooks didn’t miss a beat. Even so, Carlson was close, possibly needing one or two more big turns to catch Brooks.

In the end, Brooks had earned his first Cup race win, and Carlson and Cenni had thrown everything they had at trying to track him down.

Photo courtesy of Eric Minks/@snm-media.com

“Emotions are high,” said Brooks. “We got a good start behind Beat. We had to be aggressive and to get the lead first and get in my groove and start going for it. I’m just so pumped to finally get a win (in 2021) and my first (win in a) cup race.”

For Carlson, it was a positive way to end the weekend, which saw some fast laps and some hard luck.

“We’ve been struggling all weekend just to get up front and run,” said Carlson. “Finally, we got some luck going our way. We had to not battle with anyone for too long. In the end it was a big gap to close, but we gave it our all.”

Final Lap Gets Hager to Top Spot

“It ain’t over till it’s over,” said baseball great Yogi Berra. Those six words never rang truer than Sunday’s Pro Lite race, which saw a potential first time winner come just two turns away from the biggest win of his career.

For the second day in a row, Dillon Pointon nailed the hole shot. He was all alone coming out of turn one and set a blistering pace ahead of a stacked field of drivers. One of those drivers was two-time class winner Brock Heger, who for the second day in a row was tasked with chasing down Pointon.

This time, Pointon kept out front, holding off Heger, Madix Bailey and the rest of the field, lap after lap, until the group came through the big sweeping barn turn with less than a lap and a half to go. With his eyes on the upcoming gravel pit turn, Pointon landed hard, blowing his rear right tire and wheel completely off, a rarity in short course.

While it was a disappointing end to a great run by Pointon, it allowed Heger to move into the lead, something that he had tried every move in the book to obtain. Heger still had to hold off a hard-charging Cole Mamer to pick up his third Pro Lite win of the season.

“We’ve been struggling with the new motor package,” said Heger. “Every time we hit the track, a different tire, a different groove, or a different gear, we’ve thrown everything at it. Today was a step in the right direction. Dillon was running a heck of a race, and I just tried to give it all I had to get him. Then Cole started to pressure me, and I knew I had to make something happen.”

Saturday’s winner Kyle Greaves also had to rebound from an early race spin, coincidently just one turn before Mamer went around. Greaves was running in fifth and had to wait for several trucks to pass before safely getting back on track. Once he regrouped, he made his way into the final podium spot with just two laps remaining.

Son Flips the Script on Father in Pro Mod SXS

It will be a spirited drive home for the VanEperen clan this weekend. Father and son stole the show in the hotly contested Pro Mod SXS racers in Crandon. First, Rodney VanEperen held off his son for the win on Saturday. But racing is a game of redemption, and Owen VanEperen took one off the old man in dramatic fashion.

It took a few laps to get into the lead, but Rodney VanEperen made the move on lap three. Unlike the day before, Owen VanEperen was not immediately on his tail. That took a few more laps, but when the father-son tandem hooked up for the second straight day, it was like watching a rerun of Saturday’s race, with Owen trying everything to get the lead. 

It took until the second to last turn, and a little bit of help, but the younger VanEperen finally got around his dad. The two headed into the gravel pit turn, where several lapped cars were working through the rutted up turn. Rodney VanEperen went low while Owen stayed up high, using the lapped traffic as a pick. That was all Owen needed as he powered towards the final turn, held off the elder VanEperen at the line and picked up his first career Pro Mod win.

“I saw a bunch of lappers ahead, and he was going inside, and I knew I had to hold it on the outside,” said Owen VanEperen. “I wanted the win, and I wasn’t going to let him get it.”

CanAM’s Scott Lawrence worked his way through traffic to pick up his first podium of the year in third. Chance Haugen finished fourth and Andrew Carlson rounded out the top five.

Epic Battle Goes to Heger in Pro Stock SXS 

Over the years, CJ Greaves and Brock Heger have built a mutual respect for one another as the two Yamaha drivers have been at the top of side-by-side racing for the past few seasons. This year, that respect will only deepen as the two are in full showdown mode in Champ Off-Road’s Pro Stock SXS class.

Clean racing and the ability to get through traffic are hallmarks of both drivers, and both attributes were on display on Sunday. For the second straight day, both cars found themselves sitting around sixth, with a world of work ahead of them. Johnny Holtger had the hole shot and was starting to stretch out his lead.

But Greaves made the first few moves, quickly going from sixth to second. He’d spend the final two laps before the mandatory caution trying to get around Holtger, but was unable to make several attempts stick, which was important because Heger had finally shaken himself free from the pack and was right behind Greaves when the regroup was called.

The two would quickly get around Holtger on the restart, with Greaves in the lead. It would stay nose-to-tail for several laps as Heger continuously tried to find an inside opening to get around Greaves. The move finally paid off with two minutes to go on the clock. With only a few laps left, Greaves was unable to get around lapped traffic to challenge Heger for the win.

“I just thought I was going to hold him off in the beginning,” said Heger. “I was trying everything for those (early) laps I was behind him. Trying to draft him, trying to stay out the roost. Then I was able to get by him and (got through) the lapped traffic clean.”

Holtger was undeterred as he tried keeping pace with the frontrunners. The young driver finished third, his first podium of the season.

PRO BUGGY: Michael Hester finally made it to an unbelievable milestone on Sunday as the Pro Buggy winner went wire-to-wire for career win number 100.

The Orlando, Fla. Resident put together an impressive run on his way to the century mark. He came out of turn one neck-and-neck with Michael Meister. But Hester got the edge and never gave in, even when Meister tried to slide inside of Hester with two laps to go. After that, Hester extended his lead and cruised to the milestone victory on a track that has been instrumental to his successful career.

“There’s no better place (Crandon),” said an emotional Hester on the podium. “This is so fitting. All the years we’ve been coming up here, and to hit 100 here, it’s the best. I couldn’t ask for anything better.”

Round three winner Mark Steinhardt was able to get into second on the final lap when Meister slowed after his contact with Hester. Meister would hold on for third.

SHORT COURSE KARTS: It was a three-way drag race for the entirety of the Short Course Karts race on Sunday. Despite exceptionally close racing, it would end in the order it started. Ellah Holtger grabbed the early lead over Ava Lawrence. Wesley Vende Voort made a second-half charge to close the gap. Both Lawrence and Vande Voort tried to take the lead from Holtger, but the points leader held her line to win her second race of the season. Lawrence finished in second, just .193 of a second behind Holtger.

170 SXS: Twenty-nine cars started the 170 SXS class, built around the Polaris RZR 170 platform. One driver stood out on Sunday as Jayden Dickman was way out front from start-to-finish. It was Dickman’s first win of the season and second podium of the weekend.

There was a mix of 170’s battling for the final two podium spots. Kody Krantz was able to hold on to second. Grant Dresel had a podium spot in hand with one turn left, but went wide, opening the door for overall points leader Raymond Deininger to finish third. Dressel would cross the line in fourth, ahead of Corbyn Wassenberg.

570 SXS: Chase Braun made it a weekend sweep of the 570 SXS class, and now has three wins in four races this season.  Andy Johnson has now been on the podium three straight times after finishing second on Sunday. Ethan Dresel secured the third spot early in the race, finishing in that position for his third podium in 2021.

MOD KARTS: Michael Funk and Antonio Inglese were neck-and-neck during the entirety of the Mod Kart race on Sunday. Funk controlled the first five laps before Saturday’s winner Inglese controlled the next four. But a late caution flag regrouped the field and handling issue with one lap to go pushed Inglese back to third as Funk powered to his first win of the season. The bad luck for Inglese help defending champion Easton Sleaper took advantage to finish second.

SPORTSMAN SXS: Jake Jorgenson got the edge on Colin Kernz of the land rush start but Kernz swapped positions before the first lap was completed and held on for the remainder of the Sportsman SXS race for his first win in 2021.

It looked like Kernz was going to run away with the win but a full field restart with two laps to go bunched the field back up. Jorgensen put great pressure on Kernz, finishing just .394 seconds behind Kernz at the line.

The battle for third was equally as close as Derek Liebergen held off both Same Brazee and Derek Tilkens at the line. The final finishing time between the three was less than .7 of a second. 

SUPER STOCK TRUCK: When the dust settled on Sunday’s Super Stock Truck race it was “Super Dooper” Kyle Cooper taking home an impressive win.

It was really clear sailing for Cooper, who got out front early and raced through clean air. He briefly lost the lead to Beauchamp late in the race, but Beauchamp gave it right back. For Cooper it was his first win of the season. 

Beauchamp gave himself a chance for the win, but his bobble opened the door up for two trucks to get past. Those drivers were Joe Maciosek and Nick Visser.  Visser and Beauchamp shuffle positions on the final lap, with Visser gaining the final podium spot behind Maciosek.

PRO AM SXS: Tyson Marquardt swept the weekend in the Pro AM SXS class. Marquardt and his brother Dylan have won all four Pro AM SXS racers in 2021. 

At Crandon, the Marquardt brothers went one-two on Sunday, pushing their Yamaha’s to early leads that they would not relinquish. Jake Kosmecki and Bill Berger held a spirited battle for third, with Kosmecki getting the advantage and his third podium of the year.

1600 LIGHT BUGGY: The Schulz family must have stock in a broom company because after two weekends of racing in the ultra-competitive 1600 Light Buggy class, they have a pair of weekend sweeps.

Colin Schulz took the opening two rounds in Antigo earlier this month, and his brother Connor returned the favor with a pair of wins in Crandon this weekend. Connor Schulz grabbed clean air early and never looked back, staking a nearly 14-second win over second.

Part of that was due to the complete chaos caused by a very muddy track and several cars fighting for position. It took until the last lap to sort it all out, with Joe Jorgensen using some late race speed to grab second and Taylor Roloff finding enough traction to hold off a bevy of cars on the last lap for third.

STOCK TRUCK: The overnight rain brought a change for Sunday’s schedule, and that put the Stock Truck class on the track first. That also meant the big trucks would deal with mud and water, which would lead to a lot of slipping and sliding and mud-heavy truck frames.

Diesel Shanak took Saturday’s win, his first of the season, and was on pace for a weekend sweep, but the sloppy conditions caused some gnarly racing and left Shanak looking for traction. That gave Cory Holtger the opening he needed to gain the lead and pick up the win one day after he lost the lead after losing a right front tire. For Holtger it was his first win in 2021.  

Shanak regrouped to finish second and TJ Ewert found enough clean lines to finish third.

1600 SINGLE BUGGY: As the day progressed, and with help from the Pro 2 and Pro 4 races earlier in the day, the track started to dry out and form several racing lines. But hole shots still mattered, and John Fitzgerald grabbed a monster one on his way to his second win of the season.

Fitzgerald felt some pressure from a trio of drivers, including Billy Buth, Dylan Parsons, Tyler Wians and Tony Keepers. The battle for second would come down to the last lap as Buth and Parsons kept swapping spots before Parson showed off his top-end speed to take control of the runner-up spot.  Buth kept the podium spot despite having Keepers finish less than a car length behind him.

Rounds five and six of AMSOIL Championship Off-Road will be held on Saturday and Sunday, July 9-10 at ERX Motor Park in Elk River, Minn. Each Championship Off-Road event will be live-streamed on the Championship Off-Road website or on Flo Sports. 

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