A Rookie’s Perspective – Son’s Creek UTV Challenge – Midwest UTV Racing
In the weeks before the Son’s Creek UTV endurance race in Lockwood Missouri, I had what seemed endless worries about how my side-by-side would stack up to the competition. I have been wanting to get into racing my SxS in the midwest. I trail ride hard but have never raced. My Polaris RZR XP 900 is bone stock with some aftermarket reinforcement to handle my driving style. I’ve added a roll cage, doors, 5 point harness, chassis stiffeners, rear chassis struts, upper control arm mount brace, and a last minute lowered seat base to clear my full face helmet. I’ve punctured tires, lost beads, broken wheels, and taken out both front and rear axles.
I worried about parts I hadn’t upgraded yet. I had no bead locks and still had the stock ball joints, tie rod ends and rear radius arms. Were the stock seats going to jostle us around too much and cause unnecessary fatigue? Would my stock axle shafts hold up? I’d already broken both front and rear CV joints trail riding at and around the Frontier 4×4 ranch.
Then there was the strategizing about the endurance aspect of the race. How were we going to ensure that we finish in one piece? Should it be slow and steady wins the race, as the old adage goes, or should we go all out and hope for the best? What about the other competitors who had more seat time and experience? Some had RZR 1000′s which have higher horsepower, better suspension, bigger tires, and power steering. How could I compete with them? All of our questions were about to be answered. We showed up to the race and pulled into the pits past a few toy haulers and guys that had pit crews, power tools, and spare rims and tires. We had none of these, Alison could barely handle the 5 gallon jug of fuel when we needed to top off.
I started feeling better about our chances during the hot laps. We saw other guys nearly go end over end coming over some of the jumps and had rear tires coming off the ground around tight turns. After the hot laps, I knew much better how the RZR would handle. I was used to running hard by myself but it handles a lot different with my co-driver, Scott Risius, on board.
In the qualifying round, we ended up placing 7th out of the 19 UTV’s. It was a pretty good place to be. It would put us in the middle of the pack with enough drivers in front of us so we could watch their mistakes, but still not put us last out on the long course. At the start of the race, they lined us up by two’s and sent us out in thirty second intervals. We could have made a much more impressive start had we been in four wheel drive but it got overlooked in the chaos of getting lined up for the start. It was a surprise and the number eight guy pulled away from us as we slowed down to put it into four wheel drive.
A quarter way out on the first five mile lap through the woods, we came to a narrow off camber left turn. My co-driver and I were focused on the upcoming obstacles and misjudged the gap to the tree that our right front tire ended up climbing. It put us over on our driver’s side pretty quickly. We hit hard enough on a boulder to dent the cage. We got out to assess the situation. In an endurance race like this, no one was going to stop and help and we didn’t have a winch. Meanwhile, other racers were passing by us as the seconds passed. We couldn’t help but think we were losing this race. We couldn’t roll the machine back up the hill, so we decided to push it the other way and let it roll the rest of the way down. Luckily it landed on its tires, so we got back in and continued on.
During the rest of that first lap, we noticed it pulling and driving funny so we pulled into the pits. After a few seconds of inspection, we discovered the left rear axle shaft was broken. There wasn’t much we could do about it, so we got back in and took off, hoping this wasn’t it for us. I had to quickly learn how to drive in three-wheel drive. The first time we let off the gas at 60 mph on the straightaway sent us sideways from the engine braking. Somehow I got it straightened out and kept moving forward. More difficult were the hill climbs. Each time I gassed it to get up a hill, the RZR would pull violently to the left. My sore muscles later that night would attest to how much effort I was putting into keeping the tires pointed where I wanted them. My stock and worn out tires weren’t doing us any justice through the mixed terrain either. Some aftermarket nobbies will be in my future.
Meanwhile in the pits, vehicles with carnage slowly rolled in. Some just had flats and needed to swap on a spare. One had a shock tower sticking up through the hood. Several others were broken down out on the trail. We knew that as long as we finished, our chances of placing were getting better and better by the minute. One Can-Am owner made his way to the pits angry and sore about his lost potential when he broke his steering trying to maneuver around a little red RZR who had rolled in the first lap. He could be heard lamenting during lap five or six that the little red RZR was still going.
On the last lap, we came up out of the woods with the setting sun blinding us on our way in. We didn’t know where we stood or how many rigs came in before us. All we knew was we were relieved to be done and amazed that we finished under the circumstances. After all the UTV’s that were going to make it came in, the times were compared. Somehow after all the problems, we came in 3rd out of the 19 who entered!
After two hours of brutal racing, we were pumped to come in third. Would we have won if we hadn’t rolled and broken an axle? Who knows? Maybe something else would have happened. Nevertheless, we ironed out a lot of rookie mistakes and now we know what to expect.
-Luke Graham, with Alison Graham