Foul weather would once again play spoiler to the 1st round of the 2013 WORCS season opener at Canyon MX Park in Peoria, AZ. Much like round 1 in 2012 at Glen Helen, the rain fell and the track conditions deteriorated by the minute. Friday’s practice session showed signs of what would of been a perfect race on a clean and well groomed track, but by 8am on Saturday it was evident that all hopes of not repeating 2012’s opener were all but gone. As the rain fell the track worsened and by the time the UTV’s were set to line up Canyon MX Park was a muddy and sloppy mess of a track. As racers prepared their machines for the conditions race officials made the decision to eliminate most of the MX track out of safety of the competitors. Those competing seemed to be unfazed and like any other race were just anxious to get the battles underway.
The WORCS race format for 2013 remains unchanged with 2 UTV races being held, however this year WORCS is hosting a total of 6 classes, 2 more than last year. For 2013 WORCS added the Production 600 class and the well anticipated Pro UTV class. Production 600 was created for the new RZR 570 platform but in talking with racers I don’t see them entering this class as they seem to prefer racing with a larger class and for some, they want to compete against the Production 850 machines. In qualifying we saw some of the 570’s outclassing the 850’s in lap times, with that said I think we will see them remain in the Production 700 class much like Cody Rahders did in 2012 when he clinched the Production 700 season championship in the UTVUnderground.com / Cognito / Polaris RZR 570. The new Pro UTV class is open to all UTV’s up to 1000cc and instantly became the premier class in WORCS. The series’ big names such as Beau Barron, RJ Anderson and 2013 Production 1000 Champion Ryan Piplic without question joined the ranks of the Pro class which will see payout from WORCS this season. We commend WORCS for continuing to develop and improve the UTV racing classes and continually adjust for the growth of the series and UTV class.
With the drop of the first green flag the Production 600, 700, 850 and Sportsman racers shot off the line in the always fun to watch landrush start. The racers jockeyed for their shot at the inside line as they fiercely battled into the 1st turn which sent them flying down a slick and muddy hill and off into the desert section of the race course. A quick run back up another slick and muddy hill towards the pits was made before putting them back off into the desert where the racers would have to contend with fast flowing water crossings, rock gardens, cacti, and mud puddles before working their way back up into what was left of the MX section of the course. 13 racers in all between the 4 classes would battle it out for the entire 45 minute moto with Chris Willing and Alfredo Ramirez both running in Polaris RZR 800’s being the fastest from flag to flag. The close friends would run bumper to bumper and finish 1 and 2 while Adam Levings in his Polaris RZR 800 would have to fend off the hard charging Danny Rosenzweig in the new Magnum Offroad John Deere RSX850i. Adam did a great job holding onto 3rd, the final podium position, but the John Deere finishing 4th was a major success in itself. This was the first time ever that a John Deere RSX would enter a short course race since its release in 2012. It was unclear whether or not this machine could hold its own in the WORCS Production 850 class, but this race should have silenced most of the naysayers. At one point it looked as if the John Deere would possibly make the podium and while those hopes faded as the muddy race went on new hopes of a season long championship battle were formed. As UTV enthusiasts we should all welcome newcomers and new machines to the sport as its a clear sign of growth in what has become the fastest growing form of off-road both in racing and in recreation.
The Production 700 class is a completely different class then 2012. Production 700 up until this year was dominated by the quickly fading Yamaha Rhino. The Rhino just doesn’t have the ability to compete with the newer and lighter machines of today and for 2013 we are seeing a changing of the guard with the Polaris RZR 570 becoming the platform of choice. We would see a total of 4 RZR 570’s at round 1 with talks of more showing up for round 2. This is bitter sweet news for the 2012 Production 700 champion Cody Rahders who last year with the help of UTVUnderground.com, Polaris, and Cognito Motorsports showed up with the only 570 in competition on the west coast. The haters came out in full force and those competing against the 570 weren’t the least bit worried, that was until round 3 when Cody began to show signs of having an extremely quick machine. Coupled with his experienced off-road racing talents Cody put on a clinic for the rest of the season securing yet another championship for Polaris and paving the way for others to get into WORCS at an even more affordable price tag then before. With an MSRP of less than $10,000.00 you can be racing at a highly competitive level at WORCS for just a few more thousand. Cody’s performance opened up the eyes of many and now this year he has spawned his own worst enemies. Despite having some obvious tuning issues this first round he was still able to hold on for a second place finish while Michael Bunyea in one of those new RZR 570’s would run a tremendous first round race and take home the victory. Matt Hancock would round out the podium for the Production 700 class.
With the first race out of the way the premier Pro UTV class and Production 1000 class racers were staged and waiting for their chance to claim glory. 2012 Production 1000 Champion Ryan Piplic who we are proud to say is now sporting UTVUnderground.com colors was staged in his brand new Cognito Motorsports built RZR XP900. Not to be outdone or out machined were RJ Anderson and Beau Barron who also both had new machines built during the off-season. Beau and RJ teamed up under the Holz Racing Products camp for 2013 and are now sharing similar set ups in suspension and chassis thus giving Beau Barron a much better machine for the 2013 season. This new machine would prove to be just what the doctor ordered as Barron would shoot off the line capturing the hole shot and then never look back until crossing the finish line. Barron would lead from flag to flag with the champ hot on his tail for most of the race. Piplic drove like a man possessed but just didn’t seam to be able to real the multi-time ATV champion in. Late in the race Piplic would be forced to limp his car to the pits after a wheel would come all the way off leaving the wheel studs completely sheared. He would make the repairs necessary and get his car back out to complete the race and avoid the dreaded DNF. The same couldn’t be said for factory Polaris racer RJ Anderson. A staging mistake would leave RJ and his new Holz / LoanMart / Walker Evans racing RZR in a terrible starting position despite qualifying 2nd in friday’s qualifier. Angry but with no time to contest Anderson would do what any other racer does and thats fight his way to the top the old fashioned way. But just as RJ began to make his move into the top 3 his car would instantly cut out and shut off never to be restarted. It was not the way the 2012 season championship runner up wanted to kick off the season. 2013 is a different year and it comes with a different approach for Anderson. Due to upcoming scheduling conflicts with his pro truck racing career RJ will not be able to compete for a WORCS season title. Instead he is racing for wins and glory so even though his DNF in round 1 hurts, it doesn’t necessarily affect his season as much as it would for others in his class.
23 racers in total would battle it out in the new Pro UTV class, and while Beau Baron would make the win look easy on this rain drenched track, others behind him would be fighting for each and every position they could get. In the end Ken Benson in his brand new Dragonfire RZR XP900 would capture 2nd place and give him and his new machine a solid points total going into the 2nd round of the season. Unfortunately, Benson would be rushed to the ER immediately following the race with vision trouble. This news was not surprising however. Racers in all classes would quickly realize that their tear-offs, goggles, and visors were virtually useless with the amount of water and mud being flung into their cockpits. By the midway point of the first lap many had resulted to lifting their visors and racing wide eyed into the mud using only their hands as deflection. Some would try to utilize rags with others stopping into the pits for new goggles. In the end you would see almost all of the racers competing for a solid finish complaining of faulty vision with some in complete pain. As racers pulled off the track they would be begging for water and clean rags to wipe their burning eyes and in the case of Benson, would be heading for professional help. Rounding out the podium for the Pro’s would be racing veteran Greg Row in his Polaris RZR XP900. Row raced hard, fast and would remain consistent to the point of racing a near perfect race. Row is not new to these types of conditions having raced in them many times over the years on ATV’s. Greg would hold his ground and take that 3rd spot on the box proudly for him and his team and put himself into a solid position for a season long championship battle.
While many have chosen to go battle for glory in the Pro UTV class, many have made the decision to just go race in the now weeded out Production 1000 class. Its fair to say that many in the Pro Class don’t exactly belong there but WORCS allows anyone to enter it, thus allowing some who could improve their chances at winning by racing in Production the opportunity to go race for 4th or 5th against the pro’s. We think its silly, but with that said, Production 1000 isn’t for slow racers and Mitch Guthrie Jr. is proof. Mitch would qualify on Friday 3rd overall putting him on pace with RJ, Piplic, and Barron respectively. You could argue that Mitchie with his new Holz built XP900 (with a stock motor) and his fast driving skills is sand bagging by not racing with the pro’s, but in his second year at WORCS he realizes he has a lot to learn and wants to compete for a Championship. He can let his lap times do the talking in terms of how fast he is in the Pro Class but for now Mitchie is choosing to go out and give his best at dominating the Production 1000 class. In round 1 he did just that, battling through lap traffic and racing like a man possessed, or in his case, a kid possessed. Gurthrie would finish 2 minutes ahead of 2nd place which in short course racing is a huge margin. Not to be discredited was the 2nd place finish by Robert Mowrer in his Polaris RZR XP900. Rounding out the podium was Production 1000 rookie Michael “Speedy” Gonzales who was one of those guys whose eyes looked like they had been sprayed with acid when he pulled off the track. We commend all 3 of these hard charging racers who would have all finished in the top 10 of the Pro UTV class.
When the races were over and as the racers celebrated their triumph over the mud, it was fair to say that this was probably going to be the worst conditions they would race in all year. In some ways its a good thing, its like going to training camp for fighters having the first round be so gnarly and difficult. For those new to the sport its a way to break them in the old fashioned way by giving them a challenge that will either make them or break them. Most at some point during the race probably questioned what the hell they were doing out there? Why were they doing this to their machines and their eyeballs? But I promise you, all of them who crossed the finish line immediately realized why they were doing this, and its because off-road racing is bad ass. Grant it, some probably are never going to do this again, I heard one guy say this is the second time he would hurt his car racing at WORCS and he was done. But then I heard another guy laughing at how bad he was hurt and how gnarly the race was and how he can’t wait to do it again. As a guy running around taking photos trying to find that one spot to capture an element of this gnarlyness, I get the same rush. I too have the emotional mood swings during a race like this of what the hell am I doing, and hell yeah I love this stuff. In the end, its really what its all about. If off-road racing were easy then what would be the point of doing it at all?
Until Round 2….
As always UTVUnderground.com wants to thank all of the teams, sponsors, and racers for representing us at the track! We also want to commend Sean and his staff at WORCS for putting together such a fun and exciting racing event all while dealing with the unforeseen change in elements.