The Off Road Nationals took to the Flying E Ranch in Wickenburg, Arizona, September 4-7, to showcase the limited classes of off-road racing. Any event with the worldwide pandemic going on is great, but one that allows the less recognized class to compete and be center stage.
The Off Road Nationals featured the TrophyLite, Class 1450, Class 2000, 4X4 Limited, 4X4 Open, UTV Limited, Open, and Stock, and Open and Stock UTV. Each class had a set of limitations in their rulebook that leveled the playing field.
The race was the first at the Flying E Ranch, which sits on 20,000 acres of pristine desert and is an actual working cattle ranch about one hour from Phoenix. This race was the first on the virgin ground 9.5-mile course made by true racers on the property.
Land limitations prevent racing on virgin ground, but to be able to race on a virgin course set up by racers makes an event even rarer. The hot Arizona summer did not stop racers from heading out to the ranch.
Do It For The Class
At the first of many events, things can be chaotic, but at the Off Road Nationals, we got the feeling it wasn’t the first time for the event. We had the chance to catch up with Jason Cobb with the Off Road Nationals and TrophyLite to understand how they felt the event went overall and for the limited class.
“It was wonderful to be the premier class at a premier event,” Cobb explained. “Our drivers and teams deserve more exposure and more respect than they get. These trucks are great, but any driver that can run up front is special and should be recognized as some of the premier drivers in the sport.”
“I have always suggested that if you put a TrophyLite driver up against the top Trophy Truck driver in equal TrophyLites, the TrophyLite driver would win, every time,” Cobb continued. “Having an event like the National’s is great for our drivers, our teams, and our brand. This race was no exception.”
When you think of off-road racing, it is the unlimited trucks that everyone thinks about, but the limited classes are what makes racing. People don’t realize that some of the top names in those unlimited classes did start their career in a limited vehicle.
“We put on a hell of a show, the racing was great, and the drama was off the charts with five lead changes on the last lap of the final race,” Cobb said. “You could cover the Top 5 with a blanket. While we had a lighter than usual turnout, we had the top guys in the class putting it on the line for the overall points championship and the people at the race, and they did not disappoint.”
“We believe the National’s gives us the opportunity to feature each driver’s strength,” Cobb said. “Qualifying features the more aggressive drivers. Race one in the daylight is like other races but a short sprint.”
From the first drivers meeting video and the explanation of the new course, it was told that it would be very technical. There were certain parts of the course that were single lane, and they were that way for a good reason.
“The second race features night driving and the best night driver will rise to the top,” Cobb continued. “The last race is rougher, tougher, and longer than the rest, and endurance is the key. The best overall driver will separate him or herself from the rest.”
“We had different winners in two out of the four races.,” Cobb finished. “Having the fans so close and being part of the action, it was an electric atmosphere every time we raced.”
With the event covering different types of limited classes, there was something for everyone. No matter what class you were in, what heat your were racing, or vehicle, everyone was on the same stage with no one getting more spotlight than another.
Kickin’ Up Dust
After a race, everyone can read who one and compare times in black and white, but not the specifics. The details of the race through the eyes of the driver is something that creates stories for a lifetime. We spoke to some drivers in the UTV Limited and TrophyLite classes to see what the event was like behind the wheel.
Logan Goodall – UTV Limited
“Friday morning the team and I got up and went to do some practice laps to shake down the car before race day,” UTV Limited driver Logan Goodall said. “We had a few things to adjust, nothing major, just some small tweaks to make the car work better.”
Most events, besides short-course races, do not have multiple races over the weekend. At the Off Road Nationals, there were a total of three races over two days giving drivers plenty of seat time.
“The morning of the first race morning we line up behind two unlimited cars and watch them take off,” Goodall explained. “Around race mile four, we pass one unlimited car that had flopped on its side. The driver gave us a thumbs-up, and we were off to catch Corey Sappington. Coming off lap one right after the finish line, we pushed hard and got past Corey before charging ahead for the next two laps with clean air and beautiful scenery to the checkered flag.”
“The second heat race started right as the sun was setting the green flag dropped, and we took off in our Polaris RZR through the Arizona desert,” Goodall continued. “We managed to keep a steady pace the whole rest of the race and hold the lead position until the checkered flag came out.”
After one day of racing and teams camping in the pits, seeing and hearing what others are doing is common. It is not uncommon to hear that someone is gunning for you, and in the UTV classes, it was no different.
“Heat 3 came Sunday, and there was some talk in the pits about Corey trying to push hard to catch me, so we set our minds to full race mode,” Goodall said. “The green flag dropped, and we were off on the beautiful course that was beaten in after all of the race vehicles have gone through the first day.”
“Turn after turn, the car and I fell in sink to push hard threw the windy course with several big jumps,” Goodall continued. “The first big stretch along a barb wire fence where you can open it up and hit big floating jumps was one of my favorite parts of the course and one spot where we gained a big lead. With the lead, we were able to put about one minute and thirty seconds in front of the second car to come threw the finish line, which put us in on top of the box.”
Goodall finished the weekend with the fastest combined time in all the UTV classes for someone who completed all ten laps. With that time, it leads to three heat wins and the first place spot in his class, UTV Limited.
Patrick Whitt & Joshua Cobb – TrophyLite
TrophyLite is the only true spec racing in off-road racing, with everyone running the exact same truck. While also being the highest performing and most durable, spec platform in the sport.
They are cost-effective to purchase and even more cost-effective to prep and race, which is the real expense in racing. Owning the car is the cheap part, racing isn’t cheap, but TrophyLite’s give you the best value, by far, in the sport.
We had the chance to speak with two drivers from the TrophyLite class, Patrick Whitt and Jason Cobb. Besides the Youth UTV classes, the TrophyLite class had the most participants.
“We struggled in qualifying and was the slowest truck,” Whitt explained. “We started second to last but ended up third in every heat and third overall.”
“Issues with the computer made the truck stall out on us at idle and when locking up the brakes,” Whitt continued. “We ended up having to restart the truck a few times mid-turn. Despite our rich mixture, I think it kept us running cooler, so we didn’t have any vapor lock or overheating issues, but that lucky charm didn’t keep us off our lid in Heat 3.”
A racer is always itching for the next event, and with the worldwide pandemic, that itch is harder to scratch. Giving racers the ability to scratch it three times in a weekend is mesmerizing.
“Our racing experience was an emotional rollercoaster all weekend long,” Cobb said. “We had qualified on Friday on the pole and felt confident going into Saturday morning. We had our teammate Daniel Reyes qualify in the second position, so we knew we had a gap between us and the always fast, Greg Bragg.”
“We were hoping to let those behind us deal with the dust and give us a buffer, which worked perfectly for the first two laps until we noticed our radiator fan had quit working and we limped the truck around trying to keep the truck cool,” Cobb continued. “Daniel would fall back, dealing with vapor locking issues in the fuel system, due to the heat while Bragg got us by 36 seconds in race one.”
Having two day races over the weekend was great, but tossing a night race can catch complacent drivers off keel.
“The last thing we wanted was to start the night race dealing with dust,” Cobb said. “The dust was not horrible but cost us a few needed seconds around the course. We could see his lights most of the time so we could gauge our distance base on where his lights were.”
“We had a strong first lap making up the time we needed and some, but our second lap was full of mistakes,” Cobb continued. “Blowing corners and not hitting our lines cost us all the time we had previously gained. We set out on lap three, and we ran a torrid pace making up all but one second. We would go into Sunday one second behind Bragg. Still not where we wanted to be, but we felt that we could keep his pace in the dust.”
“The dust was not as bad as we thought it would be with most of that course being wash
and a lot of the nine-mile course being watered,” Cobb said. “We set out to not only gain our second, but we wanted to pass him physically. This determination would be hindered by our truck vapor locking because of the fuel getting too hot.”
“The truck died, and after getting some water on to the fuel pumps, the truck fired back up, and we took off, now to just make up our time again,” Cobb continued. “We slowly watched our lead slip away as the truck would continue to vapor lock two more times. With throwing more water on the fuel pumps, we would set off again and again only to pass Bragg on the last lap with five miles to go because he too would be affected by vapor lock.”
“We took off trying to cruise to the finish, but nothing would stop the blazing heat from getting to the fuel,” Cobb finished. “We would vapor lock another two times luckily receiving help from the course officials and having them throw water on it; we would bring it home to the finish in the lead. It was a hard-fought battle to the end with some speedy competitors.”
When The Dust Settled
In the end, this was an amazing event and is just the tip of the iceberg for where this event in the years to come. The event was well-received by teams, racers, and us media folk took.
“The event was awesome, except for the heat,” Whitt said. “The venue is great and would have been perfect for all of the pre, post, and in between racing if there were cooler temps, but we can’t control Mother Nature or when the authorities will allow us to have these events. I look forward to doing it again in the spring.”
“This event was one for the books,” Goodall explained. “The Off Road Nationals was a great place with super friendly staff. They know how to build one of the best racecourses out there, which made for an all-around amazing weekend and a good time.”
Regardless of the finishing position, the course was still something the drivers enjoyed.
“The section around race mile five that goes along the fence line was one of my favorite parts as it was fast with good jumps,” Whitt said. “Course had a great mix and was very technical. If you let your guard down or made any mistakes, it cost you time, maybe an antenna, plus a couple of mirrors.”
“With the races being so short and fast-paced I fell the course fit the format perfectly,” Cobb said. “It truly is one of those courses that separates the men from the boys and shows who
has true car control and who does not.”
“With how tight the course is, I was shocked at how often we used third gear and the speeds that we were going,” Cobb continued. “Those fun, flowing sections of the course which were constantly up, down, left, right, that gave us a rally car type feel were my favorite sections, and I think we capitalized on during the races. We can’t wait for the next Off Road National.”
We look forward to next year’s event and this becoming a staple on a race team’s schedule. For more information on the Off Road Nationals, be sure to visit their website.