Looking Back On The UTV World Championship
It has been a few weeks now since the UTV World Championship. I haven’t had much time to really decompress from what felt like a whirlwind couple of months leading up to the event. We switched gears right into the Mint 400 leaving me very little time to really sit down and think about what we had just put on in Laughlin. Since now both the UTVWC and The Mint 400 are done I thought it was time I put pen to paper, or rather, fingers to keyboard and put my thoughts out there.
What we pulled off was nothing short of amazing. Before I get to far, it should be noted that the effort it took to put this event together was entirely a team effort. There is no way this event would have happened without the support and hard work and dedication from Matt & Josh Martelli at Mad Media. They are the most important factor into why this event looked and was so professional. Their years of experience with growing the Mint 400 were applied to this event and in the end what you saw was one of the most spectacular first year events ever in our sport. In addition, our teams at UTVUnderground.com, Mad Media and Best In The Desert worked tirelessly to put together something that would change the landscape surrounding the UTV race industry. I believe we did that.
The UTV World Championship idea was actually birthed many years ago. Ever since the last Soboba GP in 2012 we here at UTVUG had discussed what it would take and be like to actually host our very own race. We knew we could get the support from the race community, but its the logistics of actually planning the event and the time needed that had delayed us for all these years. We slowly would grow the idea and then last summer out of no where Matt Martelli comes to me and says “we are doing the UTVUnderground race and BITD is in to sanction it!”. Right then things got real and next thing you know we had a date. From there it was up to me to decide what kind of race this would be. I always envisioned a super event of sorts so naturally I wanted to bring short course and desert racing together. It had to have a land rush start and I wanted other things like a jump contest and big prizes to be involved. With the date selected we needed a name and we needed to act quick to get to promoting the event so racers and sponsors could add it to their calendar. The race was on, but only internally at that point.
To put on an event the likes of The Mint 400 it takes money, and lots of it! We knew we weren’t going to be The Mint 400 but we also knew that we had some expectations both on our side and on the sponsors and racers side. If UTVUnderground and Mad Media are going to partner on an event it had to be big. To put on a race you have to raise funds, there is no way we could fund this out of our own pocket so we had to build a plan and then go sell it. It took months to formulate our plan before we could talk to our first sponsor. Part of the planning was establishing the name of the event. We played with many options but ultimately settled on the UTV World Championship. To us this was a long term event. While we knew wouldn’t get every racer from the around the globe today, in the future we like to think this will be the premier event that racers from all over the world would want to be at to race and attend. The name stuck but now we needed a title sponsor.
Selling a sponsor on a first year event is not easy. Luckily for us we have a good reputation and a track record for delivering on our promises. Our word holds value and our track record was our leverage to get companies to believe in us. Polaris was the first big sponsor to respond to our proposal. Matt and I flew to MN and met with Polaris at their corporate facility. It was not an easy sell and at the time I left the meeting still unsure if they would commit or not. A couple of weeks later and after some small negotiations Polaris was on board to back our efforts. From there Randy Anderson at Walker Evans Racing jumped on board and we were off and running. We now had enough backing to start promoting and to start making our push towards putting on the sports biggest race event of all time. It wasn’t going to be easy but we knew we could do it.
Between us announcing the event and actually hosting it in February we had a ton of obligations to still fulfill that had nothing to do with the UTVWC. We had to still rollout our full XP1K2 campaign, attend and cover Camp RZR, multiple BITD events, the Baja 1000, SEMA, etc etc etc. In between all of those massive projects we had to start building the UTVWC. Time was not on our side but experience and hard work was. Together we drew up a plan, worked with sponsors, met with city officials in Laughlin, formulated a plan with BITD and began activating on our event marketing. I never knew how much time and effort this would take and believe me there were days when I thought we had bit off more than we could chew. I especially began to feel the pressure when sponsors began asking where they will vend, how to book hotel rooms, what the race rules were, how do they register, etc etc etc. It was a bit overwhelming at times and those were all of the things I never planned for in terms of the work load. I immediately grew a new appreciation for race promotors and what they do to build events that give people a place to have fun.
As we got into January of 2015 things really began to heat up. Every day we were on the phone or meeting to discuss onsite activation for Polaris and other sponsors. Our marketing began to ramp up and now it was all about making sure people knew about the event. In addition, we had to really work hard to make sure racers were actually going to attend. As time went on we knew were getting a good response from the race community so then our attention shifted to making sure fans were going to come. See, we didn’t build this event just for racers, we wanted this to blossom into an industry event where enthusiasts who may not even like racing would still want to come because it was the biggest thing happening in our sport. BITD worked with us to integrate the SXSPerformance Family Fun Poker Run which would give racers and enthusiasts a chance to see the race course from behind the wheel of their own machines. We had to work with Polaris on drawing up the plan for demo rides so that people who didn’t yet own a UTV could come out and experience one for their first time. We had parties to plan and merchandise to design. The devil is in the details, while I was spinning in circles mentally, the Martelli Brothers were keeping me calm and showing me the way.
For the UTV World Championship we wanted people to have an opportunity to take home a piece of merchandise that could commemorate the event. Event t-shirts and hats are the norm at every event you go to but I had no idea just how much time and money would go into just that phase of the UTVWC. We also knew we wanted racers to come away with some cool gifts and UTVUG needed to have fresh new gear to represent our brand as well. In total we would create almost 15 new items including shirts, hoodies, hats, beanies, bags, patches, posters and magazines. Tens of thousands of dollars would be poured into merchandise alone! To make all of this happen we hired a new hand at UTVUnderground & Mad Media. He goes by the name of Carter and if you ever meet him you will instantly see why we had to have him as part of our team. No one understands branding and merchandising better than he and combined with our friend Todd Davis at Active Screen Printing, we had the ultimate merch team in place. All I had to do was help approve some sick designs from Mad Media and Carter and Todd did the rest.
We have become known for our video and photo content and so there was no way people were going to expect us to not produce some amazing content from our own event. Part of our program for the Polaris RZR UTV World Championship would be us building out a hour long TV show that would document the races. This show will air at a later date and we can’t wait to produce a show that helps people understand just how strong the UTV race culture is. Yours truly also will host a half hour show on Destination Polaris which airs on Fox Sports from this years event that will also air at a later date. In the mean time the team is cutting 3 web edits that will highlight each of the 3 races held at the UTV World Championship, the Walker Evans Racing Desert Championship, the Holz Racing Products Production Championship, and the Youth Production 170 Championship. These pieces will begin dropping in the coming weeks.
With the foundation of the event in place and our onsite activation ready to roll out it was time to ramp up our online marketing to make sure everyone was ready for the biggest race to ever hit our sport. We began heavily promoting sponsors, racers and the event schedule and as we neared the event the buzz began to echo around the world. Sponsors and racers were committing to join the event up until days before, the response from our community was everything I could have ever dreamed up. Now it was up to us to execute our plan!
Our team of over 60 personnel would began our move into Laughlin on Tuesday of that week. BITD and our crew at Off Road Management Group would already be at the track working on the layout, course marking and trackside logistics. Our TV production had begun weeks prior with some private filming with a few select competitors but onsite our team would go into action with filming what they call b-roll as the event began to kick off. On Thursday we would pop off our first event of the UTVWC, the Business to Business Summit. Here is where we would bring all of the players in the industry together to have a meeting of the minds to discuss the current state of the UTV industry and where we want the industry to go. This part of the event was important for us as we want to use the UTVWC as a platform to not only grow the sport from the race and enthusiast side but also from the business side. We hope that one day the summit is as important for the industry as the race itself. The summit this year was amazing and we know next year will be even better. While we were meeting in the Summit our team outside was moving in the 50+ vendors in preparation for Friday’s massive tech and contingency party.
With the work for the day complete, it was time to put on our first party. Each night of the event we would all gather to have some food and drinks at our good friend Guy Fieri’s Restaurant. It was a coincidence that after we selected Harrah’s as our host hotel that we found out that Guy Fieri would be opening a restaurant inside of Harrah’s in time for the UTVWC. Naturally we worked with hotel and Guy’s staff to plan parties for each night at his place. As Guy would say, the food and drinks were “off the hook” and everyone had a great time. I would like to note, we did so good that every night was a record breaking night for the restaurant. To say Guy and his staff were pleased with the UTV community is an understatement. Guy wanted me to express his personal thanks to all of you who supported the parties there.
As the sun came up on Friday our production team was meeting and ready to start filming for our TV shows. While I was out hosting TV, our staff was starting to move racers and sponsors into line at contingency, people were heading into Harrah’s for racer registration and everyone was getting ready for the SXSPerformance Family Fun Poker Run. Now, no event comes without its fair share of problems and mishaps. While we run a well oiled machine, we did have some growing pains. Most were good problems to have such as not enough room for as many sponsors as we wanted to have at tech and contingency. But one issue that hit us unexpectedly was the decision to cap our entries for the Poker Run. As registration for the poker run kicked off we found out that the BLM had changed our permit to only allow for around 55 entires. This threw all of us for a loop including people who were planning to register onsite. We immediately rushed out to the track to work with BITD and BLM to correct the issue which they ended up doing. Unfortunately before we could get the decision overturned we had lost a lot of people who left thinking they would not be allowed to participate. This was a huge let down for us and while we still had well over 100 vehicles participate we knew we had let a few people down and that wasn’t ok with us. For that we apologize. In the end the SXSPerformance Family Fun Poker Run went off and everyone had a great time, me included. We gave away over $6000 in prizes to participants and we learned a lot for how we want to handle this part of the event next year.
Tech and Contingency was a massive success. Everyone we spoke too said they had a great time and it was by far the biggest tech party any UTV race event had ever had. Of course Baja and the Mint 400 is bigger, but this one rivaled any of those and for being a UTV only event it was certainly a big and successful part of the event. Going into the drivers meeting that night we would find out that we would have over 120 UTVs entered into the first annual Polaris RZR UTV World Championship Presented by UTVUnderground.com. The drivers meeting was awesome, it was packed and it was really exciting seeing all of the UTV racers so stoked on the race that next day. After a passionate speech by Robert Blanton of Warfighter Made, the drivers and staff split off to prepare for an early morning at the track and a full day of exciting racing.
With all the pre event festivities out of the way it was time for only one thing and that was competition! Bikes and ATVs would kick the race day off with a 6am start and would get the race day underway. A lot of people, including the bike and ATV racers wondered why they were included in the UTV World Championship. When we first laid out our plans for the race it was obviously a UTV only event. However, BITD who sanctioned the race had already locked in a permit for the weekend in Laughlin. They explained to us that they would like to allow the bikes to compete in our event so that they didn’t have to eliminate one of their races. We signed off on the decision and thought this would only be beneficial for both sides. On one end the bike racers get to retain one more race weekend on their schedule and for us we would have more people attending the race who may in the future decide to race in the UTV class. While I take personally responsibility for not having more exposure for the bikes involved, I do want to make it clear that we were happy to have them and would be happy to have them again. If they choose to have bikes with our event in the future we will do more to try and reward these competitors like we did with our UTV racers.
The first UTVs would line up at around 9am on Saturday. As the last of the bikes finished the first race for UTVs would stage and get ready to take off on one of the years most exciting courses. The Walker Evans Racing Desert Championship would start with a dead engine land rush that forced racers to fire their engines and head off into the first corner 15 cars wide! With almost 60 vehicles the start allowed for one of the most exciting starts in the history of UTV racing. The desert racers were very skeptical over how this start would work. They are used to starting either side by side or one at a time, not in land rush format with 15+ vehicles. In the end racers held their lines and no one crashed as many feared would happen. The race would go on for about 4 hours, many would succumb to mechanical failure and others would charge through the unrelenting dust and terrain to finish the race in style. Areas of the course like the FOX Proving Grounds were filled with media and the course infield was packed with spectators. Winners were awarded with a massive amount of gifts and prizes including cash payback from BITD. In the end it would be Brandon Sims in his Lone Star Racing Polaris RZR who would take home the win and the ultimate prize, a brand new 2015 Polaris RZR XP1000!
As the desert championship wrapped up racers in the next competition would begin to stage. But this was no ordinary class of UTV racers. Staying true to the sport we wanted to include a youth class where we could put on display the future of off-road racing. What we ended up with were 12 Youth Production RZR 170 racers who would get their first taste of what it was like to compete in the big leagues. They too would land rush start and would race for 30 minutes, putting on an exciting display of racing. It was a highlight for me and for most who witnessed the action that these youths ages 12 and under displayed such amazing skills and determination. One racer stole the show and earned his spot in UTV racing history. Young gun Seth Quintero in his Magnum Offroad built Polaris RZR 170 would lap the competition and forever put his name in the books as the first ever Production 170 Champion at the Polaris RZR UTV World Championship. I still think Seth is floating on a cloud and his win is still paying off as he and his family got to enjoy a weekend of fun as guests of UTVUnderground and The Mint 400 in Las Vegas at The Mint 400 race event. Seth displayed his race winning RZR front and center on Fremont St. during the Mint’s epic contingency and was able to tell his story to fans and racers alike. He got to meet some of his own racing idols and was able to gather a lot of great words of encouragement from these pros.
With the youth race complete it was time to unleash the Holz Racing Products Production Championship race. Over 60 of the sports fastest production UTV racers from WORCS, GNCC and BITD would like up to take on this epic 10 lap battle. The fans lined the fences and with the drop of the green flag, racers shot off into turn one in land rush rows of 15 UTVs at a time. By now the sun was hot, the track dry and the tensions high. The dust was engulfing and the racers quickly realized this was no ordinary short course MX race. This was the Polaris RZR UTV World Championship and they were going to have to earn the glory that was waiting for them at the finish line. After what seemed like hours of exciting door to door racing and numerous lead changes the winning UTV would cross the line. Privateer racer Jacob Shaw in his Magnum Offroad Polaris RZR would take the win and his prize, a brand new 2015 Polaris RZR XP1000. Finishers from 2nd to 10th place would also take home some awesome cash and prizes.
With racing complete we only had about an hour to clean up and get down to the beach to host our UTVWC awards ceremony. Here we would give the top 3 in every class an awesome UTVWC trophy made our of pure billet by UTV Inc. In addition we passed out over $100K in cash and prizes to winners and finishers including the 2 Polaris RZR Xp1000’s that went to Jake Shaw and Branden Sims. Some special awards were given including the Warfighter Made Perseverance Award and the UTVUnderground Hard Charger Award which was given to paralyzed competitor Josh Frederick whom competed in his newly finished Holz Racing Products Polaris RZR. Dalton sponsored 2 fast lap awards and we also had the FOX Big Air Award. In the end we celebrated an amazing end to a fantastic event with friends, fans, family and racers!
Looking back on the event its hard to summarize it all. The story I have told is only a small part of what actually happened that weekend in Laughlin, NV. The impact we made will only be visible over time but in the weeks following the event we have been given much praise by all who were involved. The tiring efforts put out by our team was nothing short of remarkable and the reward was well worth the risk we took in taking on this massive challenge. We wanted to give racers and this sport an event that showed where this sport is today, we wanted racers to be treated like the professionals they are and we wanted to show everyone that UTVUnderground.com is not just about covering events, posting stories or videos but is actually in place to help push this sport into areas that until now we didn’t know we could go. So if I summarize the event I guess I would call it the coming out party for UTVs. If UTV racing wasn’t on the map prior to the UTVWC, it is now and it will be forever.
Thank you to every single person who attended and participated in this historic happening. Everyone of you matter whether you are a racer, sponsor, fan, team member, staff member, city official, trackside volunteer or vendor. We could not have done this without all of you so on behalf of myself, Josh & Matt Martelli and our entire teams at UTVUnderground and Mad Media we thank you with our upmost respect. To BITD, while it was not easy we appreciate all of your efforts in ensuring racers were safe and that all in attendance had a good time. We can’t thank Casey Folks and his staff at BITD enough for all that they did. Last but not least, I need to say thank you to Polaris RZR and to each and every sponsor who supported this event. You guys believed in us, you supported us and you came out and activated to ensure that our event was as successful as it could be. Do not think for one minute I don’t look back on this event and appreicate what you guys did. So to all of you, thank you!
We hope everyone had a great time, and I sincerely mean it when I say that I can’t wait to see you all again in Laughlin, NV for the 2016 UTV World Championship!! We promise it will be bigger and better than 2015, if you can imagine that…
Until next year…
Words By: Joey DiGiovanni // UTVUnderground.com
Photos By: Vincent Knakal, Ernesto Araiza, Sebastian Krywult, JDM Photos, and Dennis Cox
See more coverage from The UTV World Championship CLICK HERE