On April 9th, I loaded up “Old Faithful” (my trusty 2012 RZR 900xp) and made the 2.5 hour road trip to Rockdale, Texas to compete in the third round of the 2017 TORCS cross-country series. I have been looking forward to this UTV race ever since I got the dreaded DNF at Round 2 (Sterling Ranch in Willis, Texas) as a result of hitting a stump that broke a lower a-arm bolt and made my right front tire flop from side to side like an old rag doll. Round 3 was all about redemption, or at least my best attempt at it. Below is my race write-up.
WHERE: Rockdale, TX… it’s a small town about 40 miles west of College Station. This property has large pasture areas, a small pond or two and lots of wooded trails through thorny mesquite trees and cactus. The soil ranged from soft and loose in the woods to hard-packed in the open pasture areas.
TRACK CONDITIONS: On race day, we enjoyed temps in the upper 70s and mostly sunny skies. The soil was bone dry, which made seeing through the thick dust a big challenge for the racers.
PARADE LAP & HOT LAP: When it came time to start the parade lap and hot lap around 2pm-ish, I counted approximately 15 UTVs gathered around the starting line. We followed the lead vehicle slowly around the 3.2 mile course during the parade lap. As we made our way through it, my first impression was there were two distinct areas of the course. First was the open zig-zag turns in the large grassy pasture area near the starting line. Second was the twisty wooded trails that are lined with lots of cacti and thorny mesquite trees. The property was pretty flat, so no difficult climbs or descents to mess with. However, dust was present over the entire course which made seeing the trails a big challenge.
CLASSES: I counted 6 Turbo RZRs lined up in the Turbo class, including one driven by my old pal Collin and his gf/co-pilot Madison. This was Collin’s home track in the sense that he only had a 10 minute commute. Lucky dog! In the non-turbo class, we had 5 UTVs including a yellow Yamaha YXZ1000R driven by my buddy Shandy, 3 Polaris RZR 1000s and my lil RZR 900xp. Someone on the starting line asked me why I wasn’t lined up with the 800 class (not the first time this has happened). So I explained that I’m the only 900 there, so they put me with the big dogs in the non-turbo class. J I’m kinda glad they did b/c I would probably tick off everyone in the 800 class if I competed against them. As I see it, if I happen finish last place in the non-turbo class, it is expected due to the smaller engine size. But if I happen to get a podium finish in this class, then I look like Robby freakin’ Gordon. LOL After the parade lap and hot lap, I lined up near the left side (inside line) of the starting line with one RZR 1k to my left (Wayne) and the rest of my class to my right side. In the 800cc class, I think 3 or 4 UTVs lined up behind my class.
As a side note, there was a helicopter that parked just to the right side of the starting area about 15 minutes before the parade lap began. I was kidding with the other racers that it was part of my chase crew, but no one believed me. I suppose what gave it away was the fact that if I could afford a helicopter chase crew, I wouldn’t be racing in a 5-year old 900xp! LOL
THE START: When we lined up for the start in the large grassy pasture area, we had approximately 40 feet to the first (left) turn. For whatever reason, TORCS decided to do a live engine start this race. One minute after the Turbo class left the line, it was our turn to go. When the flagger pointed to each UTV on our line, one of the racers got a little excited and jumped. We waited til he backed up, then the flagger immediately pointed to everyone again and waived us on. Wayne (to my left) and I got a good jump off the line. As we closed in on the first turn, I could see that Wayne (rzr 1k) was about ½ car-length ahead of me. When I came out of the first turn, I was in 2nd place behind Wayne and the other 3 cars in my class not far behind me. This was my best start of the season, so I was pumped! I tried hard to stay on Wayne’s heels as we made our way around the zig zag turns in the large grassy pasture towards to the woods.
LAPS 1 and 2: As we entered the first set of woods, the track made a hard right turn and then another left. Waiting for us around this turn was a short, red-painted stump in the middle of the turn. So we had to be careful here. (NOTE: On every lap, this same stump was a constant reminder of the evil stump that ended my race early at the last round… Grrr).
As we drove further into the woods, I tried to stay close as possible to Wayne, but the thick dust made it impossible to see the turns ahead. So I decided to let up a little, maintain a safe distance behind Wayne, and hope for a passing opportunity further up the trails (perhaps in the open grassy area). Soon after we entered the wooded trails, the course popped you back into the open pasture area (next to the parking lot area) where you could power slide on the long (grassy) sweeping turns at 30+ mph before darting back into the woods. Those turns were lots of fun, and I looked forward to them on every lap. When we reached the end of the wooded trails, the course made a long, sweeping right-hand turn alongside the woods that led to a nice straight-away where I reached 40+ mph. This fast straight ended with a hard 180 degree left-hand turn, and then it wound back towards a second fast straight-away where I hit speeds up to 55 mph. Both of these straights were exciting and probably the most fun part of the course for me. After the 2nd straight-away, the course dumped racers back into the large grassy field where the race began. Even though this section of the course was flat as a pancake, it was also bumpy enough to make your teeth chatter. Driving into the grass didn’t seem to smooth it out. After you zig-zagged your way through this bumpy section, the course ran through the scoring chute and began the next lap.
Soon after I began lap 2, I saw Wayne sitting in his parked rzr in the middle of the pasture area. It appeared he had some kind of mechanical problem, but I’m not sure what it was. As I passed him, I was excited to take the lead. But I was also worried about losing it to my good pal Shandy who was closing in on me in his yellow Yamaha.
LAPS 3 through 9: At the beginning of lap 3, I noticed Wayne’s rzr was no longer parked in the grassy pasture. I didn’t know if that meant he got his rzr running again and he was closing in on me or (alternatively) he pulled out of the race. Either way, I wasn’t about to let up.
As the race progressed, I continued to monitor Shandy’s position close behind me. I could clearly see him every time we hit the open pasture area, and occasionally catch a quick glimpse of him in the woods as the trails ran close to one another. After a while, I noticed a pattern. I seemed to gain a little distance on him in the twisty woods, but he always seemed to make up ground in the open pasture area. Obviously, the fast open areas allow the 1000cc machines in my class to stretch their legs and gain an advantage over my lil 900cc power plant. All I could do was continue to push myself and hope that I could make up time in the woods. At this point my goals were simply to avoid mistakes and hold off Shandy and the rest of the class off until the end of the race.
On lap 8, I was moving at a good pace when I suddenly saw a HUGE black snake crossing the trail immediately ahead of me. It stretched from one side of the trail to the other side. I’m guessing it was 5 foot long or more. I don’t like snakes, and immediately got the heebee jeebies! LOL With no room to go around, I had no choice but to run over it and hope it didn’t somehow climb aboard Old Faithful as I passed over it. J
On lap 9, I made a right hand turn in the woods and suddenly saw what I believe was the SAME DARN SNAKE trying to cross the trail (not far from where I saw it on lap 8). This time, the snake made a u-turn when it was half-away across and tried to dart back into the bushes. But it wasn’t fast enough, and I ran it over again… this time with my right tires. At this point, I’m starting to think it’s following me around! LOL
RACE RESULTS: Somehow, I managed to hold onto my lead and finish in first place with Shandy taking a close 2nd place. I was so excited to win my first TORCS race this season and look forward to many more TORCS races.
After our race, TORCS put the top 3 finishers in each UTV class on the podium and interviewed us like real racers! LOL The only thing that would have made this victory sweeter was if Cash (my son and co-pilot) could have been there to join me. Unfortunately, he skipped this race to do homework. That’s okay… it will give me incentive to win again someday when he is able to join me.
Of course, I have to say a BIG THANK YOU to TORCS for hosting a FUN event and for building such an awesome course! I hope you enjoyed my race write-up.
Copyright © 2017 Mike Kowis, Esq.