Spectacular LOORRS Season Opener at Firebird
LOORS - Chandler, AZ
The winter offseason is over, the time for new vehicle construction and testing is done, and the anxiousness of wondering what the new season will bring has now come to a head. That’s right, it’s time to go racing!
The 2013 Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series, presented by GEICO, is officially underway, getting things started once again at Firebird International Raceway here in the south Phoenix suburb of Chandler, AZ. Temperatures were up into the nineties today, but the determined Arizona fans found their way to the stands in droves anyway, welcoming their favorite drivers to the season opener, and they didn’t go home disappointed. Short course off-road’s best put on a great show, and with lots of new names and new vehicles on the track, the status quo has definitely been shaken up. To find out what you missed, or to re-live the afternoon’s events, read on to get a recap of the action.
Pro 4 Unlimited
Following Opening Ceremonies, the first race on the full-length track was Pro 4 Unlimited. Defending Champion Kyle LeDuc drew a rare zero-position inversion after qualifying on the pole, and thus would begin his title defense from the inside of the front row. LeDuc battled his #99 Monster Energy/Toyo Tires Ford past the #17 Lucas Oil/General Tire Nissan on the opening lap to take the early lead, with Renezeder slotting in second, Eric Barron third in the #32 LAT Racing Oils/Rancho Performance Drivetrain Toyota, Greg Adler fourth in the #10 ProComp/4 Wheel Parts Ford, and Josh Merrell fifth in the #22 MavTV/Hart and Huntington Ford. This race was the first race in series history to be run without a Competition Yellow, which meant that barring any on-track incidents, drivers would face more of an endurance test, without the chance to re-group and rest their vehicles for a lap at the halfway point in the race. Whether this would cause any reliability issues, especially in these ultra-sensitive Pro 4 Unlimiteds, remained to be seen. However, this would also give purist racing fans (as well as drivers and crews) the chance to truly see where each driver’s pace was, and would also give drivers more time to employ strategy over the length of the race.
LeDuc opened up a handful of seconds’ lead over Renezeder in the early going, with Barron, Adler, and Merrell each dropping back a bit further back as the field began to stretch out. Through the first several laps, that running order remained the same, until Merrell became the first frontrunner to lose some pace, allowing local Chandler driver Corry Weller to move by and up to fifth in her #18 Optima Batteries/Tilted Kilt Ford on lap seven. The field then seemed to settle in to a rhythm, with gaps roughly holding over the course of several laps. As the race got into its latter stages, reliability did indeed begin to come into play. Adler was the first victim, as he gradually slowed, with Weller then going by and into fourth on lap 17. On the next lap, the race leader LeDuc was the next to hit trouble, as an electrical issue slowed his pace substantially, and Renezeder zipped by and into the lead. LeDuc did his best to keep his pace high, and to keep a hard-charging Barron behind him. With Renezeder picking up the win, LeDuc did manage to hold off Barron for second, just, as the two finished less than a second apart, and around seven seconds behind Renezeder. Adler got back by Weller for fourth on the last lap, and the two were around 40 seconds adrift of Renezeder at the stripe.
Pro Buggy Unlimited
An influx of new drivers to the Pro Buggy Unlimited class should help fill the gaps left by the absence of veteran drivers Doug Fortin, Cameron Steele, and Jerry Whelchel this season, and some of these class rookies made good first impressions here this afternoon. Bradley Morris, driving the ex-Steele buggy (which his dad picked up just a week ago), was the early leader in the #24 K&N/Maxxis Alumi Craft, ahead of Larry Job in the #7 Madix Racing Carburetion/Toyo Tires Alumi Craft. Third was reigning class champion Steve Greinke in the #1 SC Fuels/Fox Racing Shox Racer, ahead of the #22 Competitive Metals/MasterCraft Safety Alumi Craft of Geoffrey Cooley and the #65 Mickey Thompson/Competitive Metals Alumi Craft of Dave Mason. The top five held their positions for the first four laps, with Greinke then really turning up the pressure on Job on lap five. Despite the heat from behind, Job held his own, and the top five continued in-order through the end of lap six, when a crash just before turn four by Eric Fitch brought out a full course caution. When racing resumed, the order was still the same up front, but on lap eight, Greinke got inside of Job in turn three, bumped him, and send him wide and out into the outside wall. Greinke went by and up into second, while Job dropped to fourth as Cooley also went by. On lap eleven, another full course caution came out after Sterling Cling came to a stop at the inside of the track, just before the start/finish line.
Racing resumed on lap fourteen, with John Fitzgerald (2012 Limited Buggy Champion and class rookie) battling by Mason from turns three through five to take over fifth spot. Mason passed Fitzgerald back early on the next lap, and when Fitzgerald got into Mason in turn three, he spun himself and dropped to seventh. Up front, the battle for the lead was very close between Morris, Greinke, and Cooley, with Job and Mason just behind in fourth and fifth. This order held up for a couple more laps, with Greinke now really putting the pressure on Morris, before making a somewhat dirty slide inside at turn three to take the lead. Fortunately for Morris, a full course caution came out at the end of that lap following Keaton Swane’s coming to a stop between turns four and five, and because of the “last completed lap” rule, Morris got the lead back. The running order was still the same as it had been as the field returned to green, and on the penultimate lap, Greinke came in hot into turn three, hit Morris’ rear, and spun himself out, dropping to sixth as a result. With just over a lap to go, Morris finally had a little breathing room, and sped home to take the win in his first-ever race in the class! Second went to Cooley, who was followed home by Mason in third, Job in fourth, and Fitzgerald in fifth in his #14 BFGoodrich Tires/Simpson Alumi Craft.
Pro Lite Unlimited
With a field full of many younger and less-experienced drivers, it shouldn’t have been a surprise that the Pro Lite Unlimited race would be a door-banger. However, the battles on track got ugly for everyone, so the real issue seemed to be the sheer number of trucks on track, and today’s race showed just what can happen when so many vehicles race in such close quarters, and how much experience can help a driver persevere against even the toughest conditions. Incidents abounded this afternoon, and with only “green flag” laps counting towards the overall lap count, the drivers actually needed 30 trips around the track to get in just 16 race laps!
Brian Deegan got the early lead in his #38 Rockstar Energy/Makita Power Tools Ford, and was followed closely by RJ Anderson in the #1 Loan Mart/Maxxis Dodge, Noah Fouch in the #52 BFGoodrich Tires/Method Race Wheels Ford, Bradley Morris in the #24 K&N/Kicker Ford, and Sheldon Creed in the #74 A.M. Ortega/Go Rhino! Products Dodge. Jerett Brooks moved his all-new #77 Synergy Electric Racing/Casper’s Concrete Busters Nissan up to fifth on lap two, just before a rollover by Trenton Briley brought out the first full course caution of the race. After the restart, Anderson was really pressuring Deegan for the lead, and on lap five, he used the low line at the either/or section to its best effect, as he moved ahead of Deegan and into first place coming onto the front straight. The following lap brought the second full course caution out, as Max Hunt had a crash up in turn two. On the restart lap, Deegan dove low in turn two and really made the move work, as he moved back ahead of Anderson to re-take the lead. Just behind, Brooks picked off Morris for fourth later on the same lap, but Morris got back by early on the next lap. Up front, Deegan and Anderson were really battling hard, while Morris continued to make ground just behind, as he got by Fouch to sneak up to third spot. Fouch then spun at turn four on lap ten, and a rollover in the same corner by class newbie Wayland Campbell brought out the third full course caution.
On the restart lap, Morris was really working on the back of Anderson, and when Anderson started to spin at turn four, Morris didn’t hesitate, pouncing immediately and shooting past and into second place. Anderson fell back sixth, now behind Deegan, Morris, Creed, Brooks, and Ryan Beat, but with Brooks dropping back on the next lap, Beat and Anderson moved up to fourth and fifth. On lap sixteen, two laps later, beat slowed at turn two, allowing Anderson and Fouch to move into fourth and fifth. Fouch moved ahead of Anderson on the same lap, while up front, Deegan was really starting to pull clear of the field, his truck still nearly as unblemished as it had been at the start of the race! Behind him, Morris and Creed were now locked in a very close race for second, while another close battle was on between Fouch, Anderson, and Jimmy Stephensen for fourth. Fouch started to spin coming out of turn three, and appeared to be helped around by Anderson, who moved up to fourth just as Stephensen came to a stop just before turn four. This moved Aaron Daugherty up to fifth in the #23 Mickey Thompson/Racin’ Dirty Chevrolet, as another full course caution came out to allow crews to clear Stephensen’s truck from the track. Meanwhile, Anderson was now obviously running on a left rear flat, which sent him to the hot pits for a replacement. Daugherty moved up to fourth as a result, with Justin Smith now running fifth in his #19 Oakley/Osiris Shoes Ford.
On the restart, Creed was suddenly slow coming out of turn one, and as he did his best to hold a straight and unwavering course down to turn two while trying to allow the field to go by without incident, his chances of getting off the track without incident looked bleak. The section of the field in the heaviest traffic all managed to by cleanly, but as the tail of the field came up behind, Mike Johnson tagged Creed first, before Campbell drilled him just at the entrance to turn two; somehow they both managed to hit him despite a long straightaway worth of time to move over. This brought out full course caution number five, and when racing resumed, it was now Deegan, Morris, Daugherty, Smith, and Kyle Lucas in the top five, as the field began lap number 23. Fouch and Casey Currie moved into fourth and fifth on the next lap, with Currie going up to fourth ahead of a strongly-recovering Briley in fifth on lap 25. Daugherty then rolled in turn three on the next lap, bringing out the sixth and final full course caution of the race, and when racing restarted, it was to be a green-white-checkers finish. The running order was now Deegan, Morris, Currie in the #2 Monster Energy/Magnaflow Nissan, Briley in the #17 Kal Gard Lubricants truck, and Anderson as the field went back to green, with Anderson then pulling into the hot pits to serve a black flag penalty, presumably for his earlier incident with Fouch. This moved Eric Hunter up to fifth in his #10 Hunter Racing Enterprises/H&H Grading, Inc. Ford. On the final lap, Briley tried an inside pass on Currie at turn four, but blew it and ran wide up to the outside high line, allowing Currie to sneak back by. Up front, Deegan ran strong all race to pick up the win, followed by Morris in second. Currie took a strong third despite going into the pits to change a flat in the early going. Briley wound up fourth in his Pro Lite Unlimited debut, finishing strong despite an early rollover and a truck that was devoid of all body panels by race’s end. Rounding out the top five was Hunter, another class rookie, who put together a strong race despite being one of the only four cylinder trucks in the field.
Pro 2 Unlimited
The final race of the afternoon was Pro 2 Unlimited, and the cream of this class definitely rose to the top. A shaky start to the race saw Rob Naughton sidelined early after a crash in turn three, bringing out a full course caution at the end of the first lap. Once racing resumed, it was pole sitter Robby Woods out front in the #99 Lucas Slick Mist/General Tire Chevrolet, followed by Marty Hart in the #15 ReadyLift Off Road Suspension/Maxxis Ford, Jeremy McGrath in the #2 The Water Warden/Loctite Ford, Rob MacCachren in the #21 Rockstar/Makita Ford, and Jeff Geiser in the #44 BulletProofDiesel.com/Mickey Thompson Chevrolet. This running order held through the end of lap eight, with Carl Renezeder then moved by Geiser on the outside at turn five to take over fifth spot in the #17 Lucas Oil/General Tire Nissan. Just ahead, the race for third between McGrath and MacCachren was really heating up, but was soon overshadowed by a sudden attack by mechanical gremlins on the leading truck of Woods. Woods pulled off the track just past the crest of the General Tire jump out of turn two, handing the lead to Hart. Two laps later, the Competition Yellow was unfurled, and with steam coming from his radiator, Geiser headed for the hot pits under yellow. Geiser was able to re-join the action at the tail end of the field, and as racing resumed, it was now Hart, McGrath, MacCachren, Renezeder, and Rodrigo Ampudia in the #36 Toyo Tires/Papas & Beer Ford in the top five. The “McBattle” continued after the restart, and when Renezeder joined in to make it a three-way fight for second, the three came charging into turn four as one big clump. Renezeder zipped around on the outside and into second, while McGrath and MacCachren collected and both spun in a pure racing incident, costing both drivers several positions; McGrath pulled to the infield shortly afterwards, apparently the victim of more serious damage than outward appearances might have indicated.
Hart still led up front, with Renezeder now running second and trying to close down a handful of truck lengths worth of gap between himself and another win. These two were well out in front, with Ampudia now third, Greg Adler fourth, and class rookie Drew Britt fifth. Brian Deegan, recovering from an opening lap incident, then moved up to fifth on the next lap, before getting by Britt for fourth on the lap after that (lap 18). Adler and Deegan then collected in turn one, and though neither lost too much ground, it was a hard-charging MacCachren who got by them both after the next corner on lap 19. On the next lap, MacCachren made an awkward pass on Ampudia for third, as he nosed inside at turn two before a massive understeer push sent him straight across the corner, leaving Ampudia and Deegan with no choice but to give way until MacCachren could get pointed in the right direction. Still, the pass stuck, and with only a few laps remaining, MacCachren then closed in on second-placed Renezeder quite quickly. Given one more lap, MacCachren might have gotten by, but as it was, he came up just short, as Renezeder held on to take second. Up front, it was Hart who took home the Round 1 win for the second year in a row, ahead of Renezeder, MacCachren, Deegan in the #38 Rockstar/Makita Ford, and Ampudia.
That wraps up the day’s racing here in Arizona. However, for the drivers of the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series, things are just getting started, as they will come back tomorrow to do it all over again in Round 2 here at Firebird. Today’s schedule will be mirrored here tomorrow, with gates opening to the public at 9:00 am, followed by the first qualifying section at 9:15 am, the first race of the day at 12:30 pm, and Opening Ceremonies at 2:00 pm, just ahead of the first Pro class race. Bring your water and your sunscreen, and get out to Firebird to catch the excitement; every round counts big, and with tomorrow being Sunday, drivers will be going for broke!
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. Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series: This is Short Course. For more information please visit www.LucasOilOffRoad.com.
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