Off-Road Assassin

Good, Bad, And Polaris: Test Driving To A Near-Death Experience

The life of an automotive editor consists of talking to the top clients in the industry, interviewing racing icons, and test driving the latest vehicles. It all sounds great and most of the time it is a job that many people could only imagine doing. I was doing all of the above, but things changed in the Nevada desert on March 8th, 2018.

The 2018 Polaris RZR Turbo S, a vehicle that appeared to be everything the side-by-side market needed, but my review would be different than others.

It was the week of the 2018 Mint 400, expectations were high for the week and I was looking forward to getting out of the office. The week had plenty of events, but I was looking forward to The Legends Rally on March 7th and then the 2018 Polaris RZR Turbo S test the following day.

This Polaris was put out to be the biggest and baddest in the industry, with its 72-inch track width, 32-inch tires, and the all-new Dynamix Active Suspension system. Everything sounded great, why would anyone turn down an opportunity to be one of the first people to test the vehicle? To me, it was a no brainer, but in the end, it would be a different experience.

Setting The Stage

We will take a couple of steps back, to the day before and The Legends Rally. Through BF Goodrich we were able to experience the rally and drive older Polaris RZRs along with other media members. This would give me a chance to drive an older model and do a direct comparison to the brand-new Turbo S.

The RZR that I was driving the day before the Turbo S review on The Legends Rally.

I was paired with Bryan McTaggart of BangShift.com for The Legends Rally. I drove first and McTaggart wrote about his experience with me reviewing the capabilities of the older model RZR in his article. He had no problem sitting back capturing the journey and the ride we were going on.

“Since Olsewski has desert racing experience and was building a Chevy Colorado to race this year before typical things happened, I had no problem riding with him,” McTaggart explained in his article from The Legends Rally experience. “I’m ok behind the wheel, but going with someone who knows what they’re doing 100% is just that much better, especially since we’d be trading off for wheel time along the journey.”

“I might be a decent wheelman, but Olsewski can run a desert trail like a pro,” McTaggart said when describing his experience with me behind the wheel. “I was perfectly happy laughing like an idiot when we had to stop at each turn and wait for the rest of the field to catch up so we didn’t lose them.”

The Test Drive

Starting early in the morning, all of us media folk met at the SLS Las Vegas Hotel and Casino. We would be bussed down to the Zero1 basecamp a mile north of Jean, Nevada. This was the same location that I was at the day before for The Legends Rally. I was excited to see the Turbo S up close as it sat in the distance the day earlier and I was only able to catch a glimpse of it.

After a brief presentation on the Turbo S and Q&A session, others got fitted for helmets, in my case using my helmet which I brought on the trip before we were sent over to the group of blue and red Turbo S RZRs. For this test, I wouldn’t be paired up with someone I didn’t know I had my significant other along with me to experience the new vehicle.

Strapped in and ready to go we were off and on our way to experience the beast, Polaris had been pushing so heavily in their “Fear The Beast” teasers and release videos. The cockpit was laid out well and everything you needed was at your fingertips. One of the features I wanted to test out was the Dynamix Active Suspension. The system would adjust the valving and compression on the shocks on the fly with the push of a button in one of three modes – firm, sport, comfort.

Comfort was the first one we tried and over the gravel trail out of Zero1 felt like a freshly paved road, while when we got going firm soaked up large G-outs and bumps. We would take the Turbo S through the desert winding through trails with high-speed sections and slower technical areas.

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On what would be the last stop of the day, for me, we were overlooking an abandoned mine and the beautiful Nevada desert. Walking around the vehicle as I did every time we stopped, this time something did catch my attention more than the other stops.

Being experienced in how off-road vehicles perform and looking at the vehicle from a different angle I wanted to see how the shocks were doing with the new technology. The temperature on the shocks was extremely hot. A hot shock could mean it does not have enough cooling, improperly valved, or that it has been working hard, but at extreme temperatures, failure is always something that comes about.

Heading away from the mine on our way to the Pioneer Saloon for lunch, the entire group was stopped and told that there was a photographer around the bend getting action shots of the Turbo S for the review. After the bend, the photographer was standing towards the start of a long straightaway where we were instructed to “haul a**” allowing for good action shots.

The mine we were overlooking moments before everything would change.

For me, that was where the review of the RZR took a turn for the worse and change things completely.

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***WARNING PICTURES BELOW CONTAINS IMAGES THAT MAY BE DISTURBING TO SOME READERS***

Turn For The Worse

Off-roading is no different than anything else we do for fun. We do it to have fun but rarely think of the bad that can happen while we are out having fun. It is something that was not on my mind while testing the Turbo S, but it would be bad that ended the review of the vehicle for me.

Going straight down the trail and reaching 55 miles per hour is where everything would be forever changed. From what I remember, the backend of the RZR on the driver side bucked up and kicked to the passenger side. We were tipping over and the last thing that I can recall is looking through the passenger side and seeing the dirt that was just below the tires.

From there it is a blur. I do not remember anything until vaguely recalling events around 45 minutes later.

The RZR went and rolled three to four times before landing on its wheels, thankfully. My significant other and the video from the GoPro I attached between the seats is all I have from the accident that happened.

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Upon landing, my significant other turned to me to make sure I was ok. She turned and found me sitting in the driver seat, chin to my chest, eyes open, mouth open and drooling, my helmet off, blood running down my head, and nonresponsive.

It took her over a minute to get me to verbally respond. It was a series of mumbling and repeating the same question over and over. In the caravan of RZRs, there was a medic walked to the scene to further evaluate me.

With the medic evaluating me he bandaged my head to attempt to stop the bleeding before asking me a series of questions. They were all questions that I was able to answer correctly but is something that I do not remember. It wasn’t until my significant other, who had known me for 11 years had brought it to the medic’s attention that I kept asking the same question over and over, I was not ok or fully coherent that the medic stated I had a concussion and need to go to the hospital.

If it wouldn’t have been for her and knowing me, we would have been put back into an alternate RZR and continued on the trip. Instead, we were put in the back of a four-seat RZR and driven back to the Zero1 basecamp to wait to be driven back to the SLS Hotel where we would then need to drive to the hospital.

Back at Zero1, we were waiting for a representative to get back, but they had gotten the Turbo S we rolled put together to drive back. Around 45 minutes after the accident, we were finally getting ready to leave the basecamp. It was on the drive to the SLS Hotel where I can remember looking back on that day.

Five staples and no local anesthetic later, the gash was closed up. The picture doesn’t show the swelling around the area.

After five hours in the emergency room, I was finally pulled back to get the medical attention I needed. I received a CAT scan to make sure there was no internal bleeding in my brain, five staples in the side of my head with no local anesthetic, and was told I had a concussion that was later diagnosed as a traumatic brain injury.

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Failures

A crash in anything is bad. Safety is usually not thought about or taken into consideration until the worst happens. It has been said before the car may look safe to drive, but is it safe to crash in?

It wasn’t until after the rollover and going back through the video where I started to notice things that went wrong – the roll cage failed in multiple spots. What caused the rollover in the first place is still a mystery.

The highlighted area shows the cage above the passenger door and how it crumbled during the rollover.

Looking at the roll cage during specific parts of the video you can see that pieces collapse or get ripped off from the rest of the cage. These cages are not designed like the ones that you would see in an off-road race truck or even a race UTV.

In August of 2018, Polaris issued a recall for the Turbo S models due to the roll cage. Per the recall notice sent stated; “In the event of a high-speed rollover, the vehicle’s rollover protection structure (ROPS) can fracture, providing inadequate protection during a rollover.”

The B-pilar is shown on the passenger side after the rollover bent.

The vehicles that were affected are, “this recall involves model year 2018 RZR XP Turbo S recreational off-highway vehicles (ROVs) sold in red and blue. The recalled vehicles have ‘POLARIS’ printed on the front grille, ‘POLARIS’ printed beneath the doors, and ‘RZR’ printed on the rear fenders. The vehicle identification number (VIN) and model number can be found on a label affixed to the vehicle frame in the left front wheel well.”

Also in the recall, it states, “Polaris has received six reports of rollover protection structures fracturing during rollovers. Polaris has received one report of an injury but does not attribute it to ROPS fractures.”

The driver side cage saw the most damage that can be seen from the video. The B-pilar and rear support failed as well as ripped where they attached. One part of the roll cage tubing is missing. This appeared to be what hit my head as there was blood on the roof.

My helmet did come off, but at what point the video does not show. It did appear that my head was hit somewhere on the roll cage as there was blood splatter on the driver’s side. Even if the helmet stayed on the roll cage should have done what it was designed to do and not fail like it did in my rollover.

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Recovery

Recovering from any type of injury is tough enough, but recovering from a traumatic brain injury (TBI) takes things to a whole new level. When you add whiplash into it as well it literally becomes a pain in your neck.

The recovery process has included multiple doctor visits finding out what was wrong and what is still wrong from my injury. Getting tests more now than I had to do in college, all while trying to get back to who I used to be. My memory, concentration, and overall mechanical thinking have been affected by the rollover.

Having your brain recover from a TBI isn’t as simple as putting a cast on a broken bone and letting it heal. Our brain needs a different type of treatment that for me involved no screens for two months and having to lay down in darker rooms with nature noises playing in the background to get my brain to relax.

A TBI is nothing to joke with and when you find out that doctors know more about TBIs because of what has happened to our soldiers and veterans fighting for our freedom it makes you appreciate what they do that much more. My hat is off to every current member of our Armed Forces past and current for doing what you do. Being one who now deals with an invisible injury I can sympathize with those who have struggled with it all these years and have not been taken seriously.

Everyone is different which makes the recovery process from a TBI that much more difficult to figure out. I am still recovering from the accident and have not been the same since.

After all of this, I still want to dust myself off and get back to the desert enjoying what I loved to do before the accident.

In the end, off-roading can be dangerous and safety needs to be at the forefront of the user’s mind and the vehicle manufacturers. If automobile manufacturers need to go through the testing they do before a vehicle hits the road maybe it is something that needs to happen in the side-by-side market.

Of course, no one wants something like this which could add costs or restrictions on what the vehicles can do from off the assembly line. I feel there does need to be a standard that is used across the board in the industry to prevent things like this from happening in the future and the side-by-side manufacturers need to stand by their product.

Have you had a UTV accident? What do you think about this subject? Tell us in the comments below!

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