Words by Joey DiGiovanni // UTVUnderground.com
Photos by Vincent Knakal – Ernesto Araiza // Mad Media – UTVUnderground.com
Is there any better feeling in the world then putting on your race helmet, strapping into the machine, revving the engine and anticipating the waving of the green flag? If there is then I don’t know it!
Yeah, I have 3 awesome kids, an amazing wife and a career that most dream of living so I would say I have it pretty good. I have experienced many amazing emotions over my 34 years on this planet but there is something about the anxious, nervous, excited, adrenaline fueled anticipation of racing that I experienced this past WORCS race that just turned me on. Nothing compares to the sound of the engine revving at the push of a pedal, the sound your visor makes as you snap it closed, the silence that comes over you as you intently stare at the flag holders hand waiting for the second it begins to move and then BAM, you’re off….. The thunderous roar of engines comes back, mud strikes your visor like a million small missiles being hurled at you form the tires in front, you put the car on the bike as you power into the first turn desperately trying to win the battle for hole-shot. You see the crowd out of the corner of your eye, the camera men leaning in to get that one shot of you in all of your glory. You’re racing!
You are in the heat of the battle and you immediately feel like you are the fastest man alive. Winning is all you begin to focus on. The guy in front is a target, a rabbit and you are the hound. He goes one way, you go another constantly fighting for the fastest line on the course. You tangle with your emotions throughout the intense battle, talking to yourself, calming yourself, telling yourself to go faster, be smarter, watch for rocks, and then it happens… You get stuck behind someone who is off the pace. It never fails right? Now you are looking through his windshield, watching your competitors slowly pull away while you are forced to slow your pace and look for a clean line to pass. You bump him, he tries to run, you catch him, he slows, you bump him again, he tries to run, and this process continues until you finally have a line you can put a wheel in on him and go by him. By now your competition has further left you but the race is back on. You forget about that frustrating moment but then just as you settle in, boom, you get bumped. In the mirror is another guy who was bunched up and now he wants to run. Immediately you are the slower guy but you know you are the faster racer so you begin to jack rabbit. Within seconds you go from being predator to prey….
These are the emotions I felt all within the first 5 minutes of racing at the Pala round of the WORCS Racing Series. You would be hard pressed to find a guy who has attended and watched more UTV races then me, so in my mind I was prepared. But I quickly learned, nothing prepares you for a race quite like experience and that I had very little of. The emotions you feel throughout a race to me are on par to what a soldier must feel when he is in battle. I mean, don’t get me wrong I am not trying to compare dodging bullets to dodging dirt but the thought process, the way the mind works, the decision making and the intensity. It is battle, a war and its as much mental as it is physical. Of course your machine can dictate your outcome, but you are the one who controls that machine and if the preparation has been put in then it really boils down to you and your actions as well as those of your competitors to say whether you win or you lose. Fate plays a role as does luck, skill, and of course preparation. A soldier does not go into battle without first cleaning his weapon, ensuring it is in proper and reliable working condition, but sometimes there is just no way to prepare for the one moment when your gun jams, the part breaks and you are left to sit on the side of the battle only to watch the others continue on. Luckily for me, my machine was prepared, it was clean and it was locked, loaded and ready for battle!
I competed for Cody Rahders, a young and upcoming racer who competes for UTVUnderground.com in our Polaris RZR XP900 at the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series as well as in his Polaris RZR 570 at the WORCS series. It was a tough decision as this particular weekends round of racing at both series was held on the same day so to choose which round to go to was dictated by where Cody had the best point standings. The decision was made to go to Lucas Oil which then allowed me the opportunity to represent Cody and all the fine sponsors of this RZR 570 at WORCS. It was all a bit last minute, I had to scramble for a new fire suit and helmet which FOX, our shock sponsor quickly jumped up to handle. Within days I had a custom Impact fire suit, Impact race ready helmet and Oakley gloves sitting in my air-conditioned lounge of the FOX racing semi. I went from being regular old media guy to a full factory Polaris / FOX racer over night and I’m not gonna lie, it felt pretty awesome. The Rahders’ delivered me a fully prepped and ready to race machine that held up throughout the entire battle.
While I knew I wouldn’t keep pace with the points leaders in the Production 700 class my one goal was to podium and beat Brian Maclean of Walker Evans Racing. Brian is a good friend and someone I work with on a regular basis, but I felt like he’s in my sponsors biggest rivals car. This was more than friend vs. friend, this was FOX vs. Walker Evans Racing and I did not want to let my team down. Brian and I battled, and we battled hard. We traded positions a couple of times, he was clearly faster in the tight moto sections of the course but I felt I had the advantage in the desert.For some reason I feel like I can read terrain at a distance allowing me to travel faster, the dust didn’t affect me the way I anticipated so I really felt comfortable pushing hard in that desert area. But then in the moto section I would feel flustered, Brian would immediately put pressure on me and I had a hard time remembering what jumps I could pin it off of a which I had to roll.This would come to bite me in the butt late in the race.
After swapping the lead with Brian multiple times throughout the race we both knew time was running out on the race. We were in the battle for 3rd and I wanted to hang onto that podium position. I gave it all I had in the desert to put some space between us, using the dust to my advantage and the added HP my car seemed to have over his stock powered machine. I pushed hard, skying every jump I could, heading into a triple / double rhythm section I hit the first 2 with ease then slowed only to stuff the 3rd. As we creeped past the speed mandated pit area I could see he was right back on my tail. I knew that if I was going to hold him off here in the moto section I would have to find a way to put some separation between us. I came full throttle out of the speed mandated section and pushed my car down the back strait never lifting, sliding the next turn and heading to this huge floater jump. I burped the throttle and landed perfectly, but the next split second decision would make or break me. I knew I was at a double but it was also a triple for the dirt bikes and quads. I decide that here was my chance to go big and get away, I knew he was going to roll the lip so I PIN IT! Fully pinned I go off the lip and go for glory. Glory soon turned to fear as the car rotated over and I stared strait into the face of the triples lip. I wasn’t even close! BANG! There it was, impact, and I mean a hard one. BUT, I ‘m ok, I gas it, but as I go I am waiting for the wheel to fall off, the engine to die, I mean something had to have broken. Before I know it, Brian is next to me but I am too flustered to care, I am still waiting for a mechanical to appear. We come around the next turn side by side and up to the next lip and suddenly I am scared. Can I hit this jump? Is this a big one I am going to crash? Those are the things that rip through my mind for the next 4 jumps as Brian slowly starts to pull away.
It took that long to regain my composure after that costly mistake. Racing inexperience, lack of spotter, and lack of composure just cost me this lap and now my race. By the time I started to yell at myself to go-go-go Brian was already a good 30 seconds ahead of me. For the first time this race I was out of it and it would remain that way through the finish. Brian would claim the 3rd podium spot while I would be forced to settle for 4th.
I would be lying if I didn’t say I wasn’t a little bummed. I mean, I had a blast racing, it was fun and exhilarating and I was happy that Brian at least was the one to beat me and not some other guy. Our battle was so much fun that I immediately cried to him for a rematch. While he strutted around in his glory, I was left to sulk, make excuses and pull out all the “would-a-could-a” stories that I am so used to hearing from other racers. If I had a dollar for every time a racer after a race came to me and gave me some sob story about how if he did this he would have won, or if this guy didn’t do this, or his car would have been set up this way, on and on and on I would be rich!! But suddenly I was that guy. I was the one who is now able to see that if I wouldn’t have over shot that jump, if I wouldn’t have gone over that berm, if I would have only been able to practice and see the course and actually have driven the car at least once that just maybe, maybe I would have been a better racer. I am sure I would have been but the fact remains that I wasn’t. I blew it, I let him get to me and I choked!
With that said, this experience was the funnest time I have had behind the wheel of a UTV. Thats a serious comment, I have some major seat time in UTV’s in all sorts of awesome places but these 45 minutes of high paced, action packed racing was hands down the best. My Polaris RZR 570 machine was bullet proof, the FOX shocks were set perfectly for this UTV and track and the hospitality FOX showed me was hands down the highlight of my weekend. I want to thank all my friends, family, The Rahders Family, FOX Shocks, Polaris, the staff at Pala and of course the staff at WORCS for an amazing experience.
If you have been on the fence about racing your UTV at WORCS, let me tell you, don’t wait any longer! But beware, you will get bit by the bug. You will see what the hype is all about and you will want to race more! The future of UTV racing is bright, and now I fully get it. I can’t wait to do it all over again, but this time, I refuse to lose!!!
See full coverage from WORCS Pala here: http://www.utvunderground.com/2013-worcs-rd6-pala-6389.html