After a year away thanks to the COVID-19 Pandemic, off-road racing and the AMSOIL Championship Off-Road series made a triumphant return to Bark River International Raceway on Saturday.
Heading into the weekend, just four rounds of racing remained on the schedule, including two-full days of competition at the historic off-road facility in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Success in Bark River will play a major role for all of the series contenders, and especially in the Pro ranks.
Four out of the five Pro classes have extremely tight points races. Pro 4 sees a five point differential between CJ Greaves and Kyle LeDuc. Pro 2 has four drivers less than 15 points apart as Ryan Beat will look to hold off Jerett Brooks, Cory Winner and Keegan Kincaid.
The Side-X-Side classes are equally as tight. Just eight points separate Andrew Carlson and Rodney VanEperen in Pro Mod and it’s a four point gap between a pair of Yamaha drivers, (Brock Heger and CJ Greaves) in Pro Stock.
The closest gap of the season comes in Sportsman SXS, where Colin Kernz leads Derek Tilkens by a single point.
With clear skies and a massive, high-speed track ready for action, Championship Off-Road put on a spectacular show in its triumphant return to Bark River on Saturday.
PRO 4: Greaves Gathers Win, Extends Overall Lead
On his way to the overall points lead in the highly competitive Pro 4 division, CJ Greaves has been finishing races extremely well this season. All but one round has been podium-worthy, and when day one came to a close in Bark River, it now included his fourth win in 2021.
Johnny Greaves, not CJ, grabbed an early lead and it looked like he was poised to pick up his 101st career class win. A mechanical issue would cause the veteran Greaves to spin and exit the race on lap eight, putting CJ Greaves into a lead he never relinquished. The younger Greaves found another gear once he found clean air, setting the race’s fastest lap after he had found his way up front.
Defending champion Kyle LeDuc had worked his way through the scrum to challenge Greaves late in the race, but he slowed with just two laps to go, dropping from second to fourth. That moved Jimmy Henderson up another spot on the podium as the Georgia native took control of second.
It also gave an opening for Ben Passa to work his way onto his first career Pro 4 podium. Passa started the race as far back as ninth but was able to pick his way through the chaos and into position for the final podium spot.
PRO 2: Kincaid Captures Pro 2 Win
Keegan Kincaid’s championship hopes took a major step in the right direction on Saturday as the past class champion put together a well-earned victory to close the gap in Pro 2.
Kincaid and Jerett Brooks put on a show for Bark River race fans on Saturday in the first half of the race. Kincaid took the point from the get-go, but he and Brooks found some slight separation on the high-speed Bark River track. Brooks was able to push his way past Kincaid right before the mandatory caution, picking up some valuable championship points in the process.
After the restart Kincaid regained the lead and didn’t give it back up, using the clean air to mash the throttle and hold off the field on his way to win number four in 2021.
Brooks, meanwhile, had his hands full with a hard-charging Ryan Beat, who entered the weekend as the overall points leader. But a mechanical issue forced Beat to drop from second to 13th with just two laps to go. Both Brooks and round five winner Mickey Thomas were there to capitalize. Thomas had kept the leaders in check and was in prime position to gather up his fourth podium of the season.
Brooks benefited the most by finishing third on Saturday. He had trailed Beat coming into the weekend, and his solid run and Beats misfortune moved Brooks into the overall points lead, four points ahead of Kincaid.
Mamer Masters Bark River for First 2021 Win
The monkey that has been sitting on Cole Mamer’s was ripped off in grand fashion on Saturday. Mamer has been increasingly fast with each passing lap and the California native was just a few turns from notching his first Pro Lite win two weeks ago in Lena, Wis. when a mechanical forced him off the track.
In Bark River, Mamer used that speed and skill to get his first win in 2021. To get there, Mamer had to work his way through traffic early on as he was right in the middle of a pack of several trucks that were jockeying for position off the start. But Mamer snuck out of the mob and caught the tail top three. Much like his past few races, Mamer was a rocket-ship off the restart and found himself with the lead on lap six. He wouldn’t give it up and stayed on the throttle all the way through the checkered flag.
Dillon Pointon continues show-off exceptional top-end speed and has found himself setting blistering fast times on the big, high-speed tracks like Bark River. Pointon was in contention for the win the entire Pro Lite race, never dropping below third. When the race came to its conclusion, Pointon sat in second. Madix Bailey rounded out the podium in third.
VanEperen’s Go 1-2 in Pro Mod
Kyle Chaney and Brock Haugen had an early back-and-forth in Pro Mod SxS, but it was the father-son duo of the VanEperen who worked their way through traffic to top the podium on Saturday.
Chaney used a great move to get the lead from Haugen on lap six, but two laps later Chaney was forced to pull off the racetrack. That put Owen VanEperen, who had worked his way past several cars to get behind Chaney, into the lead and in position for his second win of the season.
Owen’s father, Rodney VanEperen, also worked his way through traffic to get back on the podium and wrestle the overall points lead from Andrew Carlson. VanEperen has only missed two podiums in 2021 and now sits 16-points ahead of Owen for the championship.
Haugen put in a great ride as he finished third, his first podium of the year.
Big Swing in Championship Points as Heger Gets Pro Stock Victory
Brock Heger finished Saturday’s Pro Stock SXS race on rails, picking up his class leading fifth win of the season. His fast finish, coupled with an early exit from championship contender CJ Greaves, turned the tables on the Pro Stock title chase.
Heger led Greaves by four points coming in, and after he worked his way into the lead with four laps to go, Heger was going to increase his lead. Greaves was then forced to roll around the track for the final five laps as the defending class looked to grab as many points as possible.
Owen VanEperen made it a double podium weekend as he worked through the field after starting ninth to finish second behind Heger. Early race leader Johnny Holtger would finish third.
PRO BUGGY: Make it seven wins on the season for Pro Buggy’s Michael Meister. The points leader made it five in a row with a dominant win on Saturday. Mike Kirkham finished second, with Paul Hayward notched his second podium of the season in third.
PRO AM SXS: Dylan Marquardt won the opening two rounds of Championship Off Road, but the points leader had been kept off the top spot since. But Marquardt found the right rhythm and top speed to win the Pro AM SXS race on Saturday. Round seven winner Chase Kleist finished second and Dylan Parsons made it across the line in third.
SPORTSMAN SXS: Colin Kernz returned to the top spot on the podium with a strong run in the Sportsman SXS race on Saturday. Kernz ran a great race to pick up his third win of the season, extending his overall points lead in the process to five over Derek Tilkens. Jake Jorgenson was able to keep Tilkens off the second podium spot, finishing less than .4 of a second ahead of Tilkens at the line.
170 SXS: After a weekend sweep in Lena, Kody Krantz kept the winning ways going with his third straight 170 SXS win. Grant Dresel finished second behind Krantz for the second straight race. Wyatt Olson finished in third.
570 SXS: Chase Braun went the distance for his sixth 570 SXS win of the year. Round seven winner and points leader Collin Paitl finished second and Ethan Dresel notched his third straight podium in third.
STOCK TRUCK: TJ Ewert picked up his first win of the 2021 season in round seven in Lena and was able to make it two in a row with a tight finish in Saturday’s Stock Truck race. Ewert edged across the line ahead of Cory Holtger, getting the win by .665. Diesel Shanak finished third.
1600 LIGHT BUGGY: In what has become an on-going theme, Colin and Connor Schulz, along with Tyler Tizzle Wians, put on a show in 1600 Light Buggy. Colin Schulz took home the win, just .667 ahead of Conner. Wians was right there at the end, just a second away from the race win in third.
MOD KARTS: Easton Sleaper picked up his first win since the opening round in Mod Karts. Sleaper used a last lap pass to notch the “W”. Porter Inglese finished in second, ahead of Zach Wirhanowicz, who grabbed his first podium finish in 2021.
SHORT COURSE KARTS: Wesley Vande Voort continued to run out front in Short Course Karts. Vande Vort made it around Reed LeDuc with two laps to go for his third straight win. LeDuc finished on the podium for the second time this season and Ava Lawrence finished in the third spot.
1600 SINGLE BUGGY: Dylan Parsons found his way back to the top of the 1600 Single Buggy podium with a wire-to-wire win in Bark River. Tony Keepers finished second to close the gap on points leader John Fitzgerald. Billy Buth finished third.
SUPER STOCK TRUCK: Ben Holtger finally added his name into the win column after taking over the Super Stock Truck race on lap three and never looking back. It was Holtger’s first class win of the season and moved him into third overall. Trey Beauchamp finished second and DJ Jorgenson came across the line in third.