In the year 2000, a few buddies and myself loaded up our trucks and made the trek south to Baja for the epic Baja 2000 race. In that year the annual Baja 1000 actually ran south then back up to Ensenada making it the longest Baja race to date. It was there that I got to watch the legend, Larry Ragland, compete in person in his Duralast Trailblazer Trophy Truck. I was an instant fan and fell in love with his vehicle and history as a desert racer. From then on when people would ask whom my favorite desert racers were I would respond with “Ivan Stewart and Larry Ragland”. Never did I anticipate that one day I would have the opportunity to meet, ride with and race alongside the 5 time Baja 1000 overall winner.
As most of you know UTVUnderground.com has been heavily involved in UTV racing since the day we launched our site to the public in 2009. We had an immediate interest in the fast growing sport of UTV racing, mainly on the short course circuits in southern California. We admit, we didn’t pay much attention to the UTV desert racing segment until the 2008 Baja 1000 but from that race on we were avid promoters and had some level of involvement on the media side ever since that race. It was then that our dream as longtime desert racing fanatics had shifted to one day campaign our very own desert race UTV.
Fast forward to 2012 where I had the opportunity to meet professional Trophy Truck driver and son to Larry Ragland, Chad Ragland. Chad and I hit it off and it wasn’t long after that I was introducing Chad to the fast growing sport of UTV. I brought Chad along on a few awesome trips and soon after had Chad competing in a Polaris RZR in the UTVUnderground.com sponsored RZR at the Terracross series. Chad then introduced the UTV sport to his father and the rest has sort of become history with Chad & Larry becoming avid UTV enthusiasts building and driving their very own Polaris RZR XP1000’s. Larry has even entered a few local Arizona races in his RZR and the pair have taken numerous adventure rides alongside other off-road legends such as Walker Evans and Parnelli & PJ Jones to name a few. Fast forward a couple of years and Chad now owns one of the premier aftermarket UTV companies called CageWRX which specializes in high quality roll cages, bumpers and suspension amongst other products. To say they are hooked is an understatement.
It is no secret that Polaris RZR is very good to UTVUnderground.com. While I have prided myself on “spreading the love” amongst all OEMs, Polaris has undoubtedly supported our ideas in ways that no other company has. Most know that we have done work for almost all major OEMs at some point and at some level, but no one has bought into our visions of the sport and supported those visions both financially and in partnership like Polaris has. This is no knock whatsoever on any other company or OEM, we truly feel like every OEM builds a product that has strong positives and together the OEMs have supported this sport driving its growth and we love participating with all OEMs at UTVUnderground.com.
In late 2014 I decided I was ready to compete at some level. Sure, I had driven UTVs in a couple of races and co-driven in a couple desert races but I wanted something more. I felt like we have done so much as promoters of the sport that it would lend us credibility to actually build a vehicle, a program and compete ourselves to help us further expand our experience and promote our site. In addition, I simply wanted to get off the sidelines and have some fun racing with the others in this sport, many of whom I call friends and support through UTVUG. With that idea in mind I made the call to Polaris and they responded with “where would you like the RZR to be shipped too”?
Now, to be clear I understand and fully embrace my role in this sport. A guy like me cannot race every round, we know all too well the commitment that takes and frankly I feel like we play an important role in UTV desert racing in promoting and covering the sport so there is no way I was going to let my desire to compete get in the way of that. At the same time, I didn’t want to build a machine and only get it out there a few times a year as that wouldn’t be cohesive with what sponsors would expect in sponsoring a race program. With that in mind I knew I would need to build a team and I would need to find a group of likeminded partners that would understand our vision and want to be a part of our team. It was then that I started to ponder on who would be the right partner for this program. I knew it needed to be a group with experience both racing wise and mechanically, it would also take a team willing to be part of the build process as there was no way I had the ability alone to assemble a vehicle to compete and a high level. Getting the RZR was the easy part, now I had to figure out who would be the right fit to helping make the vision come to life.
My first phone call was to Chad Ragland. Chad arguably has the most racing experience of anyone I am close with. Not to mention he is a hell of a driver and he has a business that could equally benefit from such an opportunity. I presented Chad with my idea and within minutes said he was in. The idea would be that he would oversee the build and I would help wrangle parts and partners. In addition, Chad would drive the bulk of the races and essentially head up the program not just from the build side but also from the program side. I then inquired if Larry (his father) would want to be involved and without hesitation Chad said he would want to race with us for sure. At that moment I gave myself a mental hi-five. It is often said that “it takes team work to make the dream work” and I just realized that we had the foundation for one awesome team.
Now, there were many other details involved in the formation of how we would build and assemble this program. Chad quickly reached out to his close friend Steve to join the program. Steve would work closely with Chad on the build and would bring in assets as a team member to better help us compete, Steve also signed on as driver/co-driver for the program. Steve has years of desert experience and as a close friend to both Chad & Larry I knew he would be a solid fit for our team. Later in the development of the program I would reach out to close friend and experienced racer Reid Nordin formally of Team Green Kawasaki and now a manager at Walker Evans Racing. Reid will be a huge asset in logistics as well as a guy who will also share time inside the vehicle. Being that I will only be able to dedicate so much time to the team as a driver/co-driver it was essential to have guys like Steve & Reid on the team to assist Chad, Larry and myself with driving & co-driving duties.
With a team in place and the RZR torn down for build it was on me to help round up the important products it would take to build a competitive race vehicle. Chad and his company CageWRX would supply all fabricated items including cage, chassis, suspension, bumpers, and would also assemble the vehicle from the ground up. Chad, Larry & Steve’s extensive race vehicle knowledge was crucial in the assembly and in the detail portion of the build making sure not only the big things were done right but also the little details.
With the big details ironed out and being worked on I began working on the important parts we would need to make this program go. I reached out to my friend Randy Anderson, co-owner of Walker Evans Racing and they instantly signed up to provide us with both product and race support. We would be running their new 15” WER bead-lock wheels and their all-new 2.5” Velocity Series shocks. Randy and also Reid would be there to support us in not only setting the RZR up with their product but also making sure we had properly tuned shocks for our application. Their shocks would work perfectly with our CageWRX +2 long travel suspension and front & rear CageWRX sway bars. We are also running CageWRX front spindles with Assault UTV steering tie-rods.
With suspension ironed out I moved onto one of the most important parts of any desert race machine, the fuel cell. One call to Fuel Safe and they were in. I’d like to think that the fact UTVUG was involved sold them but the reality is that when I dropped that it wasn’t just us but also the legend Larry Ragland and his son Chad as part of the program they didn’t hesitate in helping our program and immediately began working chad on constructing a custom race fuel-cell for our RZR. Chad would design the shape of the cell and then send those dimensions to Fuel Safe where they would then construct a cell based off our shape to fit perfectly beneath the driver & passenger seats. The cell is 20 gallons in size, which will provide us the perfect amount of fuel storage for those longer desert races and will help in reducing fuel stops on during the shorter races. We can’t thank Fuel Safe enough for their support.
You can’t go racing without communications and navigation. That’s where PCI Race Radios came in. PCI Race Radios are synonymous with off-road racing. Few companies in the sport do as much as they do not only from a product side but from a racing support side. Heck, Bob Steinberg, the Weather Man himself, owns the company. We have built a solid working relationship with PCI over the years and again, the combination of UTVUG and the Ragland’s was all they needed to know in supporting our venture into off-road racing. We are running PCI 50w Race Radio & their premier race intercom ensuring clear and concise communication between driver/co-driver and our team in the pits. In addition, we are running PCI’s race-air system which pumps fresh clean air into the helmets of the occupants. Race-Air is as important as any other part on the vehicle. Chad rounded up a Lowrance HDS10 GPS to handle the bulk of our course navigation duties, of course whatever that doesn’t show is up to the talented co-driver.
Desert racing might as well be called “destroy your hard work” because that’s what happens when you take your beautiful race machine into a desert race. To help add some protection to our vehicle we installed a full set of Factory UTV UHMW skid protection. Bob and his team at Factory UTV provided us their RZR XP1000 kit keeping our underbelly and important parts like front differential and rear mounted transmission protected from rocks and other course debris.
Chad has a solid working relationship with MOMO Motorsport and so when it came to seats and a quality steering wheel it was a no brainer to go with MOMO. They supplied us with some of their lightweight containment seats and wheel. We went with Impact 3” 5-Point ratcheting race harnesses to keep us in tight.
CRB Fab took on the aluminum work that included rear firewall, roof, CVT intake scoop, doorpanels and dash. The dash they build would house our GPS and our awesome RacePak RZR dash system. The new RacePak is a plug and play product that uses the factory gauge harness but gives you a much better look all while being able to track data. The dash also has all of our switches and resettable breakers for everything from lights to fan. Lastly, we fitted in the all-new Razorback Technology CVT Belt gauge that helps us monitor our belt temps. Crucial in desert racing for trying to reduce blown drive belts.
You can’t build a desert car and not have lights. We reached out to Baja Designs and they supplied us with the brightest lights on the market that included a 30” ONX light bar for the roof and Squadron LED’s for the bumper and in place of the factory headlights. We also used Baja Designs red, blue and amber lights for the rear wing.
Performance wise we are keeping it simple and reliable. Other than some tuning to the ECU we are running a factory clutch and factory XP1000 Pro-Star engine. We believe in keeping the machine reliable and we feel this will help us in not only finishing races consistently but also relieves us of stress in worrying about pushing the car too far beyond its limits. Polaris has perfected their vehicles and we plan to build around that and not change the heart of the machine.
Lastly we needed rubber! The Ragland’s are longtime BFGoodrich racers and with the introduction of the new BFG KR2 UTV Tires we knew we wanted to get on their program and they obliged. Working with Jackson Motorsports Group we penned a deal that will make the #1999 one of only a few teams that are backed by BFGoodrich this season. We are thrilled to be running this awesome new tire!
When you look at the images you will see the many other fine details. We think we have built not only a clean and reliable machine but one that can be very competitive. We also built this machine on a tight budget and thankfully we have some fantastic sponsors that helped us keep the build tab under $30,000.00.
Our first race out will be at the 2015 BITD Bluewater Desert Challenge then we will run the Henderson 250 in December. We can’t wait to get out there and shake this new build down in preparation for the 2016 BITD season.
On behalf of the entire team UTVUnderground.com wants to thank all of our awesome sponsors for helping us build our first ever desert race UTV. Without the support from Polaris and each and every sponsor we have there is no way we would have been able to build such an awesome machine. I personally want to thank Chad, Steve, Larry and the other individuals who have wrenched on this build. The hard work is sure to pay off!!
See you all in Parker!
Photos by: Vincent Knakal // UTVUnderground.com
Vehicle: 2015 Polaris RZR XP1000
Chassis: CageWRX Race Cage
Engine: Factory Polaris
Clutch: Factory Polaris
Suspension: CageWRX +2 Long Travel System w/ Spindles and Front & Rear Sway Bars
Shocks: Walker Evans Racing 2.5″ Velocity Series Coil Overs (Fully Adjustable)
Wheels: Walker Evans Racing 15″ Bead Locks
Axles: Demon Powersport +2 Axles
Tires: BFGoodrich KR2 UTV Tires
Communications: PCI Race Radios Intercom & Race Radio
Safety: MOMO Motorsports / Impact
Skid Protection: Factory UTV
Fuel Cell: FuelSafe
Gauge: RacePak RZR Dash