All images courtesy of Can-Am
“I’ve been very, very fortunate, man, especially coming from Louisiana like we do,” Can-Am factory UTV racer Dustin Jones admits from his office, backed by a trophy case full of some of the biggest accolades in off-road racing. “I’ve been super fortunate.” But while he might not come from a state known for producing desert racers, Jones has defiantly put it on the map in the sport, with wins in just about every major race imaginable. Few will ever be able to say they won the Mint 400 twice in four months, or three times in UTVs. The man they call “Battle Axe” can.
And yet September’s triumph at the Best in the Desert Silver State 300 was something new, even for him. Jones didn’t just beat all the other UTV racers in one of BITD’s premier events, or lead a Can-Am podium sweep in the first race for the all-new Maverick R. He beat everyone that showed up, period—something that’s never been done by a UTV racer in a desert event. We caught up with the Can-Am factory racer in the wake of the win to talk about what sets the Maverick R apart, getting the new car race ready, and what this win means to his legacy:
First things first: congratulations on the Silver State 300 victory. Not only is it one of the marquee races on the Best in the Desert calendar to win anyway, but you also made history by not only winning overall among UTVs, but also overall across all classes—something nobody’s ever done before. In a new car, no less! What’s the significance of this win to you for your career, your relationship with Can-Am, and in off-road racing in general?
We were part of the X3 launch way back and we did a similar thing with this, but I think as time has progressed and people have become more educated on UTVs, this launch, especially with the accolades of the car and what it has to offer, is significantly greater and more important of a launch than the one was for the X3. I think the X3 was a long way ahead of the original Maverick, but I don’t think people were ready to be really wowed by a big time sport UTV. Well, now that people are educated, fast forward six or seven years going into this, I recognized it was a big deal.
(Racing the Maverick R first) was a very important opportunity for my race career, and for our team a very unique opportunity. It was just us and Phil Blurton, but I don’t think it was until after we actually won the race that I recognized how significant and how big of a deal that it was to be a part of this race. And so at the finish line, with the engineers there, with the race department managers and marketing there, and everybody’s crying and everybody’s hugging each other, then you kind of start recognizing.
(But) it actually took me a couple of days. I was super pumped, very emotional, very excited, texting everybody, letting ’em know. But it was Tuesday night laying on my couch at my house, finally made it home by myself relaxing, that I felt like I realized wow, we just made history. Not just being the first guys to race the Maverick R and winning in the Maverick R in its first try, but to be the first UTV to ever, in the history of Best in the Desert, overall an event.
And then I felt like to myself, okay, I’ve really, really accomplished something big in racing that 0% of people—not 1%, not a fraction of percent, 0% of people—will ever do for the first time in a brand new car. And then I got emotional just by myself just taking that all in. It’s not just a new car, it’s not just Can-Am’s excited for the R to win. It’s not just that we won overall and in UTV the first time out. It’s just everything, man. And I was like, okay, what we have accomplished is a big deal.
Did you ever think that a complete overall win was going to be possible in a UTV when you first started racing them?
No. No, especially when we’re running against trophy trucks and the dirt bikes, which are typically the fastest. And there’s a lot of scenarios where those guys are faster, so it never entered my mind. As UTVs have progressed, we’ve always kind of laughed at the adage that we’re racing souped-up golf carts. When we moved into the X3 from the old Maverick Turbo, the super old-school car that we raced in 2016, I was like, man, that (first) car was just a souped-up golf cart and the X3 is the one.
Well, now that I’ve raced (the Maverick R) and I’ve been around racing for long enough—I’m seven years into being a factory racer in the desert, so I know everything there is to know about the combinations, what the cars are capable of, how hard you can push ’em—this race at the Silver State was the first time that I think I realized we were racing souped up golf carts until now. The manual transmission, the way that car drives, the suspension, the handling, the strength and reliability of that thing, we were driving souped up golf carts until now. Now we’re finally racing off road race cars. And so for me, that was freaking incredible.
I don’t mean to sound cliche or anything, but in the car I thought to myself, we don’t have to worry about belts, which is what most races are. We’re racing against the belt. This car, I’m holding it to the wood coming out of these corners. We’re not breaking axles, we’re not tearing up knuckles. I’m slamming it into these berms, these knuckles, nothing’s getting sloppy. We’re not losing brake pressure. We’re finally racing off-road cars and we’re racing against each other versus racing to conserve your car. So for me, that was a very exciting time, the realization that I can finally drive this thing as hard as I want to, as hard as I’m comfortable without crashing this thing.
The Maverick R launch was a huge deal earlier this year, and you were one of the many key people involved. What really sets the Maverick R apart from other cars? Obviously there are a lot of advancements, but do any of them stand out in particular?
I think it’s no secret: the biggest thing about the Maverick R, and the biggest jump and what I consider to be an industry changing move in UTVs, is going to that manual, dual-clutch, seven-speed transmission and getting away from the rubber belts. It’s no secret that that was the biggest jump. Yes, it’s incredible to have more suspension travel, bigger shocks, and better handling. But to get away from rubber belts is by far the biggest jump that they could have made in UTVs, because they could have given me more suspension, they could have given me more travel, but I would still be limited by what that belt was capable of. My X3 that I’ve been racing, and that I won King of the Hammers and the Mint in, that car freaking gets down, but I could drive it harder if I didn’t have to worry about the belt.
So specifically, that dual clutch manual transmission by far is a come out guns blazing move for the UTVs. But to elaborate a little more on that, the car has so many features—the handling, how big the shocks are, how fast the car is, all of that. It’s impressive to drive, but it really requires driving another vehicle and then driving this one to realize how impressive it is. I’ve got thousands of miles in the X3, but in the R, when you’re in full slide full gas, there’s no feedback through the steering wheel. It tracks super straight going real fast. If a person was just to jump in the car and drive it, they’d be like, “yeah, okay, I think this is what it’s supposed to feel like.” It would take driving another one back to back with the Maverick R to realize all the benefits that the car has, which is the handling, the suspension, all of those things.
The R is so impressive to drive that it makes a good driver out of you, you know what I mean? It’s so easy to drive that you can hold on the steering wheel with one hand. But if you’ve got thousands of miles doing it the other way where you’re white knuckling, you don’t realize how valuable a suspension design or machine like that is.
Getting back to Silver State—this was the first race for the Maverick R. When did you first pick it up to get it ready for testing, and what went into getting the car ready for its first race?
We were fortunate enough to be part of the development aspect of it, of pre-production models, testing, driving ’em as test drivers, giving Can-Am feedback, and I’m so thankful we had that opportunity. They do take that feedback and they do consider that valuable and recognize all the miles and all the races that we’ve had. We put ’em through the worst conditions, and so they take that to heart when we have time to spend with them and have feedback. And so it was cool to be aware of what was coming earlier than the launch.
But in terms of practicing the car and testing (for Silver State), it was weeks before the race is when we got our car. And so we only had about three weeks to build the car. Besides me running back and forth to the dealer event in Havasu and the ambassador event out in Alamo, I didn’t get any time in the car before I sat in it to race it. I had a lot of miles in it on just normal casual riding and testing, but no race pace miles, no pre-running miles. So we showed up to Silver State with zero race miles on this car naturally, but no even replicated race miles.
There was a learning curve for a good third of the race—trying to figure out, alright, what is this thing going to do in the corners? How hard can I throw it in? When can I rely on the car? So there was a lot of figuring it out as we went during that race and it showed (because) we didn’t lead the race the whole time. We had to battle back towards the last half of the race. And so it took some time to get the car figured out.
Silver State is also a race you’ve done pretty well at over the past few years, with three podiums in the past four coming in. Was there any specific reason you picked this race for the Maverick R’s debut, or did it just happen to line up best with the timing?
Initially it boiled strictly down to timing. We had to find what was the first race that we can get into and still give Phil and I enough time to build race cars. With it being so close to Vegas to Reno, we couldn’t per the rules race in that, so Silver State was the next move. Well, it just so happens that Silver State is a place that I’ve seen some success, and it’s really, really conducive to the performance of that car specifically. So when we finally evaluated all the other races that were going on at this time, or even some that are a couple of weeks off, we were finally nailed down that Silver State is when we were going to run it.
I was pumped to race a new car, but when I found out it was Silver State, I was like, “heck freaking yeah, this is the one!” It’s so many long sweeping corners and long straightaways where we can really stretch the car out. But then for my style of racing from Louisiana, there’s a lot of tight technical sections through the washes, which is where I made a lot of time up this year after I got used to the car. It really took those technical sections for me to make time up, but I’ve always been really fast in those technical sections (because) I come from cross country racing.
So it’s a combination of things—timing was correct and that’s when we needed to be able to race the car. But also this was a really, really good race to debut the car.
You’ve touched on some of the details of the race so far, spending the first bit of it figuring the car out and then taking the lead as it went on. Were there any other big moments along the way? How different did it feel compared to racing it in the X3 last year?
I think the toughest part was not having enough seat time in the car. There were a lot of unknowns going into this race, because Can-Am does a crazy extensive job of testing these cars, but you can’t test them like what they’re going to be put through in a race. And it doesn’t matter how good the driver is, it doesn’t matter how hard he says he’s driving, you cannot run a car like you’re going to be racing it. There’s just no way to replicate that. So we had to start off with caution because we don’t know—is there a weak link? Is there something that we’re going to run into unexpectedly during this race?
So for a portion of the race, it’s driving cautiously and it’s like, ah man, what was that sweep? What was that rattle? What was that pop? And figuring it out. And you’ve got to kind of progressively work your way into it. It was a very steep and swift learning curve for us of going from zero to 100, meaning no race experience in this car to a full long race in this car. It took me probably 150 miles before I really got settled in and I was like, “alright.” And you get in that flow, you’re hearing the calls, you’re hitting your lines, and you’re not questioning corners, you’re not questioning blind hills, you’re trusting your co-driver, you’re trusting the car. It took a little bit to get to that groove, but at that halfway mark I started realizing, “oh yeah, this is the one, this car is going to be the car that people are going to have to really work to beat.” That’s a really good feeling to hit that.
And it was honestly on a long, long straight pull, like a long highline pull where I could gather, my senses we’re out of a really technical section and it was like, okay, I can just hold this thing to the floor and there’s no belt temperature to watch and nothing to pay attention to except hold it down. Then you have time to breathe, take a drink of the Camelbak, do all your little processes. And then I realized like, “okay, yeah, this is the car, this is the one.”
Obviously it was an emotional moment for you to get on top of the podium, but looking around you, you had Can-Am teammates in second and third. So you’ve already made history as the overall race winner—but how much more special is it to know that you all teamed up to make history for Can-Am?
I think it’s a true testament to the Can-Am design and legacy and quality of their cars because it’s not like a fluke thing. It’s not like, “Dustin had a clean race and he got some clean air.” No, my two teammates—Phil was coming from the very back. He fought through dust all day and he still ended up in a podium spot. Vito (Ranuio) was in clean air all day. He was the leader that everybody was chasing for a while. So naturally he did well. He’s a very fast racer.
(Even) excluding the victory, there’s a certain amount of satisfaction to look over at your teammates and you kind of get that head nod of like, “yeah, dog, we did that. We did that together.” It’s some camaraderie, some congratulations. They knew how big of a deal it was for us and for Can-Am, but it’s also like, we freaking ran this together, and we ran in overall this thing 1, 2, 3 together. And so you get that mutual competitiveness but respect, and you kind of get that head nod at the end that you did it with your boys. Can-Am creates that camaraderie between their drivers.
Man, I’m good friends with Phil, I’m buddies with Vito. We all get along, we all share information. And so it’s always one of those things that we say to each other if we break or we have a bad race and one of our guys win, you always tell that guy, “if I wasn’t going to win, I wanted to see you win and I’m happy to see you win.” It was nice to do it all three of us together. And one of them was an X3! Man, that X3 is not a dead car. I want to make sure people understand that. It’s just that there’s a new evolution whenever it comes to really rough, long endurance races. But Vito was right in the mix with Phil and me.
We know you’re not the type to rest on your laurels for too long. There are always more races to win and there’s always more development work to do. So what’s next for you?
I like racing because I like racing. And so after the Mint 400, winning that three times, winning it back to back, setting those records of being the first UTV to do it in under eight hours and all of those records that we set with the Mint… as far as my legacy in racing and what I had really fought to accomplish, I felt like I’d done it at that time. But naturally, that target is a moving target. So when this opportunity came up to be the first to race a Maverick, my goal was to be the first one to win in the Maverick, and my unrealistic goal was to try to win that event overall. And we accomplished that. We were fortunate enough to accomplish that.
Internally, I guess I feel like if racing was to go away tomorrow, if they told me, “Dustin, that was your very last race, you’ll never race again,” I would retire happy. I would retire feeling like I’d accomplished what I’d always dreamed of as a little boy. Setting those records at the Mint, they may be broken one day, but for me, I did it first. I was the first UTV to win it three times. I was the first UTV to win it back to back. I did it first. With this, there will only ever be one first as far as UTVs winning overall and a Maverick R winning in its first race. Because I recognize now how big of a deal that was for us and for Can-Am, I feel like it solidified my legacy in racing. I don’t think Silver State is the biggest race that I’ve ever won, but I think for my legacy and for my legacy with Can-Am, it was the most important race that I’ve ever won.
Internally, I’m happy with what I’ve accomplished, but I race because I love to race. I’m going to be racing pit bikes this weekend because I love doing that. But I don’t feel like I have anything to prove anymore. And there’s a lot of weight off of my shoulders as a racer to where now I can just race because I love to freaking race! I would like to win the Best in the Desert championship—I’ve never won that championship. I’ve got second for the past two years, (and) I’m sitting second in points right now. I would love to win that championship this year, but if I don’t, it doesn’t bother me one single bit, the more important things to me is what I’ve already accomplished.
So I’ve got more racing in store and we’re racing pit bikes this weekend. I’ve got Laughlin in a few weeks. I’ve got one more race for Best of the Desert in November. I’m racing the Baja 1000 with Matt Burroughs and Monster Energy. I’ve got a lot of racing coming up, and ideally we win a championship this year. But if we don’t? I could retire at the end of this year and be happy with what I’ve done in racing.
Even though we know you’re not going to!
Even though I’m not going to! What’s crazy is somebody messaged me that the other night—what I just said didn’t really enter my mind until somebody put it in my mind. I’m just onto the next thing, onto the next thing. I appreciate it. I enjoy it for five days. I celebrate ’em. I tell everybody, I enjoy my victories and then I move on. It’s time to go to the next thing. But within those five days (after Silver State), somebody messaged me and they said, “you do realize if you were to retire at that race, you would’ve accomplished something that nobody will ever accomplish in racing again.” I never thought about that until that person said that to me.
So I’m not retiring anytime soon, but if that was the scenario, I would retire happy and feel like I’d done what I’d ever always dreamed of. I texted my parents the other night when I was sitting on the couch and I kind of had that epiphany. I said, since I was a little boy, I always wanted to accomplish something big in life. I wanted to do something that made me feel like I was really important and that I had really impressed a lot of people, but I didn’t know what that was going to be. And after college and after you start your normal career, I accepted that that day would never come for me.
I was okay with that. I didn’t harp on it, I didn’t think about it. But then fast forward to this moment, getting calls from the executives at Can-Am and the congratulations and all that, I always take that stuff to heart. And that’s when I realized that day finally came for me—that day of accomplishing something big, something that I dreamed of since a little boy, had finally come for me. It was a strange realization, but it was a certain peace and a certain happiness that I felt. I recognized that I’d finally done what I dreamed of as a little boy and had accepted wasn’t going to happen for me. That made me emotional for a couple more days, and I’m still riding that high right now. So I got a few more days left to celebrate.
Finally, a program like yours obviously takes a ton of great people to put you here, from Can-Am and your factory program with them to all of your other partners. What has their support meant in your journey?
Certainly the one most near and dear to my heart is going to be this shop that we work at here in Louisiana, S3 Power Sports. It’s where we build all of our own cars, all of our own suspension, we do all of our own wiring, and it’s difficult (because) the only testing that we get to do is drive down a levee by the freaking swamp back here behind our shop. I don’t get to test out in the desert like a lot of these guys do, so I have to do stuff the hard way. And so I’m proud of all these guys here that put me in a good car and give me an opportunity to be able to be successful. Without them? There’s no way. I couldn’t do it by myself. It’s just a fact, I couldn’t do it. S3 is my home base—it’s where I’ve put food on my table. It’s actually how I pay my house.
Second is Can-Am, because they gave me an opportunity seven years ago I think now. I was nobody. I was a mud racer in Louisiana that didn’t have a social media following and didn’t know anybody. I just loved to race and I tried as hard as I possibly could. They gave me an opportunity, the stars aligned, and we came on as a factory team. Most of all, it’s because they’ve nonstop believed in me since the beginning, and that hasn’t faded. There’s a normal progression and ebb and flow where you’re not the new racer anymore and (brands are) looking for other new racers. Well, they still gave me this opportunity with the Maverick R like they did, and I’m so thankful that they did.
Monster Energy, when they called, I remember that day. As a racer, you just dream of wearing a Monster hat and telling the people that you’re a Monster Energy racer. I remember when it popped up on the caller id, Monster Energy Company, when they called me and offered me a contract to come race for them. That puts fuel in my race car, keeps everything going.
There’s Fox Shocks that sends their entire fleet out there to test with us, to give us an opportunity to be successful. Without them, that car could be as fast as it wanted to be, and I couldn’t win races on it because the suspension wouldn’t allow it. So Fox is a huge part of our race program and is so, so important to us. KMC Wheels, they’ve been on board with us for several years, they believe in us, they put effort behind us and they promote us. Maxxis Tires is the same way. They’ve always believed in us, no questions asked—anything we needed for racing, they took care of us. There are a lot of other sponsors that make it possible, Evolution Power Sports and Baja Designs lights and Rugged Radios and PRP Seats. It’s all those people that make it to where we can afford to do this, because racing is expensive!