2017 marked the first visit to the all-new Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland, MO for the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series, presented by GEICO, and the unique, multi-faceted track was a big hit with both drivers and fans alike. As Pro Buggy driver Darren Hardesty Jr. put it, "You really gotta drive that track to make it fast; every twitch of the steering wheel is something different." Many drivers in the series have named this new track as their favorite in the series, as it has a longer length than the other tracks, as well as both fast, sweeping, high speed sections and tight, twisting, technical low speed sections. As this weekend's Rounds 4 and 5 of the 2018 championship come into view, let's take a look back at what went on at Wheatland last year, to see what we might learn about what to expect this weekend.
Saturday's 2017 Round 7 saw defending class champion Kyle LeDuc lead much of the race, though he had to contend with veteran Rob MacCachren, who sat just behind in second. Lurking in third was Carl Renezeder, and when the two leaders' battling caused them both to slow a bit while focusing on each other, Renezeder managed to sneak by them both on a restart lap following a full course yellow. LeDuc then had an ugly crash into an abutment on the next lap, taking him out of the race, and over the short remainder of the race, Renezeder was able to hold off a charging MacCachren to take the win. MacCachren finished second, with Bradley Morris third, Doug Fortin fourth, and midwest hero Chad Hord fifth.
Similar issues struck the frontrunners the following day in Round 8. MacCachren led the way early, but contact with LeDuc caused him to then pick up a flat tire. LeDuc assumed the lead, only to then try and fend off Renezeder, and when the two began to battle each other, again a third driver snuck past them both and into the top spot. This time that driver was young Doug Mittag, and as both LeDuc and Renezeder hit different issues, they both fell well back, moving RJ Anderson to second. MacCachren and Renezeder charged back up the order in the second half, and on the final lap, Renezeder bashed Anderson out of the way in turn seven, but was then himself moved out of the way by Hord in the final turn, setting up an exciting four-truck dash to the finish line. MacCachren won that little race to take second, with Hord third, Renezeder fourth, and Adrian Cenni fifth. However, Renezeder was then black flagged, which handed fourth to Cenni and fifth to Fortin, while ahead of all the drama, Doug Mittag got his first-ever win in Pro 4.
In Saturday's race, Rob MacCachren got into early leader RJ Anderson on lap four, and that allowed Brian Deegan to squeeze by them both down the inside at turn two to grab the lead. From there, the only other major incident was the terrifying crash by Kyle Hart over the big tabletop jump between turns three and four on lap six, a crash which Hart was able to recover from well enough to race again the following day, but which put him out of this race, and forced his team into an all-night, and all the next day too repair in order to make Sunday's Round 8. At race's end, it was Deegan who got the win, ahead of Anderson, Jeremy McGrath, MacCachren, and Patrick Clark.
Sunday's race was a more incident-packed affair, though the first five drivers held their positions into the second half of the event. Lap seven of ten saw Rodrigo Ampudia suffer a big rollover into a catch fence, and on the next lap, Bradley Morris drilled second-placed Anderson and rolled him out of the race. On the lap after that (the penultimate) lap, leader Deegan lost a motor just after the big tabletop jump, hand the lead to Clark. Clark, who's been robbed of more than his fair share of wins, then lost another one, as his own motor then let go into turn three on the final lap. Jerett Brooks, running just behind, had to slow to miss hitting Clark, and so third-placed Jeremy McGrath, who'd run outside the top five for much of the race, now found himself leading, and would hold that lead all the way to the checkered flag. Brooks finished second, with comeback kid Hart in third, Morris fourth, and Adam Daffner fifth.
Round 7 of the Pro Lite Unlimited championship was a wire-to-wire win for defending champion Jerett Brooks, who held off a solid last lap charge from Brock Heger to grab the top spot. Ryan Beat ran in third for much of this one, but a spout of water streaming from his radiator overflow tank late in the race ended his run, and that put Cole Mamer up to third; Brandon Arthur finished fourth, and fifth was Ronnie Anderson.
The following day, Pro Lite put on a much more interesting race. Top points contenders Brooks and Heger (running first and second in points at this juncture) had to restart in the back of the pack after a rollover by Brooks on the opening lap forced a full restart of the race (Heger went into the Hot Pits before the restart, forcing him to restart at the back as well). Following the restart, young Christopher Polvoorde led the first half, but gave up the lead on the restart lap following the Competition Yellow after spinning in turn four. That put Brandon Arthur into the top spot, while further back, drama was unfolding at the tail end of the top five. Both Brooks and Heger had closed right in on the top five late in the going, and both managed to sneak up there by race's end, while just ahead of them, Hailie Deegan was trying to keep her engine alive over the last few laps, as an overheating issue was sending a constant stream of steam out of her radiator. Deegan did a masterful job of keeping her engine alive only just as long as necessary, as the power unit gave out with a mighty burst of flames just as she crossed the finish line to secure second position. Ahead, Arthur grabbed the win, and behind, it was Beat in third, Brooks in fourth, and Heger in fifth.
Saturday's Pro Buggy race was something of a muted affair, with top contender Eliott Watson leading the way from start to finish en route to the win, despite some solid last lap pressure from Darren Hardesty Jr. Behind Watson, the other runners in the top five more or less held station throughout the race's nine laps, with the only real battle being one between Hardesty Jr. and Sterling Cling. These two exchanged places three time, with Hardesty Jr. eventually coming out ahead and putting some pressure on Watson over that final lap. At the stripe, Watson got the win over Hardesty Jr., with Cling taking third, Bud Ward fourth, and Broc Dickerson fifth.
Sunday's race, however, was a bit more action-packed, and in this one, the action was mainly between good friends and rivals Watson and Hardesty Jr. Hardesty Jr. led the field early on, but was passed by Watson on lap two, before Watson then spun on lap three, leaving Hardesty Jr. every chance to drill Watson's car, which had spun right in front of Hardesty Jr. However, Hardesty Jr. did a great job of slowing down and missing Watson, so much so that Watson actually managed to get back moving again and still be in the lead! Hardesty Jr. then bided his time, and finally made a nice, clean pass to re-take the lead on lap eight, the race's penultimate lap. Watson wasn't as kind about returning the courtesy to his friend, though, as he got back by with a dirtier pass on the final lap, one which earned Watson a black flag at the race's end, putting him to the last spot on the lead lap in the race's final results. This moved Hardesty Jr., and several other drivers as well, up one spot in the order, and so it was that Hardesty Jr. got the win, ahead of Cling, Dickerson, Brady Whitlock, and Matthew Brister.
A timing error in qualifying forced race officials to start the competitors according to their championship points position for Saturday's race in Production 1000 UTV. That doubtless made championship leader Brock Heger's job even easier, as he streaked to victory after starting from pole and leading the race wire to wire. Further back, the big mover was Corry Weller, who had turned her Production 1000 UTV seat over to her husband Jason for the season, but was making a special, one weekend only appearance in the class here in Wheatland. Weller started at the back, as she hadn't been racing all year, but before the halfway mark, she was already up to fifth spot, and she nearly managed to get by her husband at the line in a close race for fourth. Up front, Heger was the big winner, ahead of Dustin Nelson, Mickey Thomas, Jason Weller, and Corry Weller.
In Round 8, it was a tight battle amongst the top four drivers all race long, with Paul O'Brien, Brandon Arthur, Thomas, and Jason Weller all keeping themselves in with a shout of the victory. These four swapped positions repeatedly, and Arthur, who would win the day's Pro Lite race later on, dropped as low as third at one point, before passing his way back up to first late in the going to take the win. Weller would wind up second, with Nelson third, O'Brien fourth, and Keith Brooks fifth.
Starting up front didn't seem to help much in Saturday's Modified Kart race, as Luke Knupp, who started on the third row, grabbed the early lead and held it for nearly the entire first half of the race. Just before the halfway point, though, Knupp was then passed by Trey Gibbs, who'd started clear back in ninth spot, and these two then continued to hold the top two positions for the remainder of the race. Behind them, there was a lot of action within the next three positions, with drivers taking either themselves or each other out along the way. In the end, Gibbs and Knupp finished one-two, with Chris Nunes, Mia Chapman, and Trey Eggleston surviving the carnage and rounding out the top five.
On Sunday, Gibbs was again the young man to beat, as he led the field wire to wire to grab another win, making him the only driver to sweep the inaugural race weekend here in Wheatland. Championship contender Cole Keatts charged up from last place (where Keatts found himself following a first lap spin) to get as high as fourth, but then collected with Chapman late in the running, dropping them both out of the top five. Gibbs' win was also his third straight win, and behind him, it was Ricky Gutierrez in second, Brody Eggleston in third, Koen Crawford in fourth, and Mason Prater in fifth.
About the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series:
The Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series is the evolution of the long-standing support of short course racing by Forrest Lucas and Lucas Oil Products. Steeped in the midwest tradition of short course off-road racing infused with a west coast influence, Lucas Oil Off Road Racing brings intense four wheel door-to-door action to challenging, fan-friendly tracks. Our events can be seen on CBS, CBS Sports Network, MAVTV, and Live all season long on LucasOilRacing.TV. Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series: This is Short Course! For more information, please visit www.LucasOilOffRoad.com, and be sure to sign up for our newsletter in our Newsletter Signup section of the home page.
Written by Scott Neth for the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series