Earlier this year we were asked by Polaris and RedBull to put together a one page graphic article that showed just how easy it is to go racing in the UTV class. Now, we simplified it to make it easy to read and understand and in essence, racing the UTV class is the easiest to get into, but we thought it would be good with the 2016 season approaching to revisit this subject and dive a little deeper into how to go off-road racing in the Pro UTV class ranks.
UTVs are the perfect platform for both novice and experienced off-road racers. For those who already have or are racing, UTVs make for an awesome class to join because of the exposure, sponsor support and competition. For those who are new its great for all of the previously mentioned benefits but nothing makes it easier than for the simple reason of accessibility in purchasing the machine. UTVs are sold all over the world by powersports dealers who sell and finance machines of all styles and sizes. There is no other type of racing vehicle that you can go down to the dealer, pick up a top of the line UTV for around $20k-$25K and then apply some accessories and go battle it out the next day! The WORCS series for example requires very little modification, mainly for safety, while desert racing is a bit more detailed in the things you will need. So while its a lofty statement to say you can be racing the next day, it is totally doable and something many have done over the past couple of years either at WORCS or other local series’. Whats even more crazy, is many are racing on vehicles they have financed!
UTV classes have exploded across all genres of off-road racing, from short-course to desert. There are race series’ spread all over the United States that host classes for UTVs to compete in. For the sake of making this article simple we will focus on what it takes to go racing in both the desert at the Best In The Desert (BITD) series and short-course at the WORCS series. BITD is the number one UTV desert racing series right now in the world. Entries hover around 40 machines per race with some races like the UTV World Championship and Mint garnering well over 50! WORCS is the number one short-course / production style racing series and their car counts can approach closer to 100 machines spread across numerous UTV classes. Both series cater to the UTV crowd and both series offer solid competition.
What type of racing is the best for me?
Thats a question we hear all the time and its not always easy to answer but we break it down like this. Desert Racing is the premier form of UTV racing. It has the most exposure and sponsor potential while garnering the most attention from both media and OEMs. The competition is stiff and to play with the best you have to spend the time and money to put together a worthy team and vehicle. Sure, you can build a race ready BITD UTV for between $40k-$50K (including cost of machine) but the top teams are spending well into the $70K range on their machines plus sporting some of the best team and pit support there is. Desert Racing is exciting, the races take many hours to complete and the challenge always is what keeps people coming back. But again, it is not cheap and it is not easy. Many have showed up with a top of the line built machine and quickly realized that they are way off the pace, way underprepared and way in over their head so we always suggest that you join up with an existing team for a few races to learn the ropes and see all that goes into operating a successful and competitive desert program. If you think that the you and a couple of buddies can just show up and run down Jagged X or The Murray Brothers, you most likely will be let down. So again, take some time and learn the ins and outs to running and competing in the desert. It can save you a lot of money and headache in the long run!
Short-course / production style racing like you have at the WORCS series is much more attainable for the newbie. You can build a competitive race ready machine for between $20k-$40K (including cost of machine) depending on the class you wish to run. Whats great about WORCS is they have classes that start at the 250cc youth range all the way up to the Pro Turbo class with everything in between so there really is a class for every level of age, experience and budget. Seat time varies at WORCS, a typical race lasts about 45 minutes but you do have a practice session and if you have the resources you can race multiple vehicles in separate classes. WORCS is a great series to get your feet wet in to see how you like UTV racing. It takes minor modifications for safety which leaves you room to build your machine up with mods over time. Unlike desert racing, you don’t need to modify your fuel system or chassis to compete which keeps costs down and keeps your vehicle light and simple. Many who race WORCS still use their race machines for recreation whereas a desert machine becomes a “one trick pony” due to all of the mods you need to make. Many racers compete at WORCS, learn the ropes of racing, build up their experience and seat time then move up to the desert racing ranks. Others simply remain at WORCS and move up through the ranks of classes all while competing amongst some of the fastest UTV drivers in the world.
In the end, you have to decide whats best for you and your budget. With a good plan and some good resources you can come out as a rookie and do well, we have seen rookies win races at both desert and short course events, it is possible and thats another reason why UTV racing is so awesome!
Which UTV would be best for me to go racing with?
We always dread that question because there is no right or wrong answer. If you go to any UTV race series across the world then without a doubt you would see the Polaris RZR platform is the most popular platform for racing. But that doesn’t mean its the right machine for you and your goals. Both Can-Am and Arctic Cat make very competitive and race winning machines and now that Yamaha has stepped up with the YXZ1000R we’re sure there are race series’ where that machine can and will accel. Over the years racers have leaned towards the RZR platform for many reasons. Its a solid out of the box machine, there are factory parts available through the vast dealer network, the aftermarket is deep with products made for racing the RZR and frankly, its just a bad-ass machine to go racing in due to its power to weight ratio and its suspension. The RZR is the most winningest platform on the market across the board and thats the bottom line. So why wouldn’t you want to race a RZR? Well, maybe you want to stand out, maybe you feel that the Maverick or Wildcat gives you an advantage, maybe you’re more comfortable in the other platforms. Reality is, you can win in any of these machines so selecting whats best for you is really up to you and no one else!
What is going to cost to go desert racing at BITD?
Thats another very hard answer to give but lets be honest, racing is not cheap. Even the smallest of programs are spending tens of thousands of dollars per year to compete and there are even some teams who are well into the six figures. To compete at the highest level of desert racing there are many things you need beyond the $40K-$50K + race machine. First are entry fee’s which will run you around $7500.00 per season. You need support trucks, teams, fuel, lots of spare parts, hotel rooms, travel days off of work, race suits, helmets, and the list goes on and on. If you want to compete and earn sponsors like a pro you need proper tangible marketing items such as team apparel, a race trailer or motorhome, website, etc. You starting putting these numbers together and quickly you realize that to go campaign a full season of desert racing at a high level it is going to take a minimum of another $40k-$50K + just to go racing. Now, I don’t want to scare you off, you can go desert racing on a budget but its not easy. Success in desert racing will only be as good as your preparation. Desert racing is hard on a machine, most teams are virtually re-building their race vehicles between every race from replacing suspension components to full tear down to inspect the chassis to pulling and replacing driveline components. When you break it all down, building the race vehicle is the easy part, its keeping it going in tip top shape that starts to really weigh on you and your budget. We think its safe to say that to go desert racing you need a MINIMUM of $50K just to compete, not including the cost of the machine.
Pictured below is an entry level Pro UTV built for the BITD series. This machine was built for around $30K on top of the cost of the vehicle. Some vehicle details for desert racing: Welded cage to chassis is mandatory, aftermarket fuel system, specific reward facing blue and amber lights, heavy duty suspension & shock package, spare tire/wheel, GPS & communications, misc spare parts carried on-board, performance modifications.
What is it going to cost me to go WORCS racing?
You can go WORCS racing for fraction of what it will cost to do desert and the reason is that the cost of building the machine is much less and the logistics to compete are nothing compared to desert. To attend and race in the desert its a minimum of 2-3 days with some races taking 4 or 5 days out of your week when you factor in travel to and from and then actually racing. WORCS you can virtually show up the day of the race (if you are local to Southern Utah, Nevada, AZ or California), compete and then head on home afterwards saving you costs on travel. With that said, most of the top teams at WORCS show up the day previous (Friday) to get in practice time so keep that in mind. Entry fees for WORCS are extremely affordable, somewhere around $100 per race +/-. Racing at WORCS is also very hard on the machine so you do need to be prepared to do a lot of maintenance throughout the season. WORCS does not require chase truck support, a ton of fuel, etc. You do still need some basic spares on hand but to put it in perspective, many guys compete on one or two sets of tires for the whole season with a crew of less than 3 people. Its safe to say that you can compete a full season at WORCS for under $20K, not including the cost of the machine.
Pictured below is a highly competitive Pro UTV built for the WORCS series. This machine was built for around $20K on top of the cost of the vehicle. Some vehicle details for WORCS racing: Bolted on cage or welded allowed, lightweight design, single seat, re-located radiator, stronger suspension & shock package, performance modifications.
Where do I find the rule for racing?
Most racing organizations make it really easy to find out the rules for their particular series. Usually they are available right online, but in most cases finding the rules is the easy part. Its understanding them that can get a bit tricky. Many rule books will have rules that are left open to interpretation. With experience comes understanding as to which rules can be bent, and which rules maybe aren’t really rules after all. As is the case with anything you plan to do involving competition you should study, know and understand the rule books! BITD has a class representative whom you can always contact directly to ask any questions too. We advise strongly when building a new desert race machine that you contact this individual before starting your machine and during the build. You can in most cases send images of your vehicle to ensure you are doing something “by the book”! It can save you a lot of headache and money in the long run. For WORCS everything is pretty self explanatory and basic. But you should know and understand their book as well!
Do I need a Race Shop?
NO, but it is nice if you have the money to put one together. But most UTV racers are building and prepping their machines right in the comfort of their own garages. While many of the top teams do have some level of a “shop” its not neccesary to have one and it won’t make you anymore competitive.
Pictured below: Johnny Angal is able to piggy back his race team in with his company building at UTV Inc. Here they build & design as much as they can themselves. They also do all final assembly and prep themselves giving them a huge advantage if and when something breaks.
How do I get sponsors?
UTV racing offers a lot of opportunities as it pertains to sponsorships. There are a lot of companies out there that for some solid return in marketing will supply you with tons of discounted parts saving you and your program thousands of dollars! But it all goes back to having a plan for how you intend on campaigning and rewarding those sponsors. The days of calling or emailing a company and offering them a sticker on the side of your race machine for some free stuff are long gone! Sponsors want a return, they want to make money based on giving you money, product or discounts. Our first bit of advice is to have a plan. A simple, easy to read sponsor proposal is racing 101 and is something that you will improve on over time. Lay out who you are, what and where you are racing, and how you intend on exposing their brand to make them money. A sticker on the side of the machine is a gimme, but they want to know where else is their logo going to live, how strong is your social media reach, who are your other sponsors and how are they activating on you, do you spend money on media exposure like photos or videos for which they will get exposure in, etc? When a sponsor endorses you with product, cash or discounts they look at you as a part of their marketing program, so you too need to remember that you are now representing their company. Both BITD and WORCS have a lot of opportunity when it comes to obtaining sponsors. Both series receive a good amount of exposure with desert racing surely reigning supreme. But remember, if you are new don’t expect a ton. Instead, go out and prove yourself and you will see that sponsors will come. They won’t all fall into your lap, but with results will come attention, and with attention will come opportunities. Our advice is this, before you start worrying about sponsors, put that effort into your machine and program and let the results do the talking!
What do I do once I get sponsors?
Well this should go without saying but you need to deliver on everything you promised. A good sponsored team or individual will go above and beyond and will always do more than what was agreed upon. One big misconception is that the only teams that get sponsored are the teams with the most money or the best results. While that appears to be true from an outside perspective, the reality is that the teams that get the most exposure tend to get the most sponsors! You don’t have to be on the podium every race, and while that will help, what really matters to a sponsor is exposure. You can get a sponsor exposure many different ways. Here are some basic tips to making sure you take good care of your sponsors:
- Keep regular communication with sponsors
- Provide & send quality images of your vehicle for their own marketing use
- Provide consistent team updates & race reports via email & social media to your sponsors and to the media
- Provide sponsors with team apparel featuring their logo
- Tag the sponsors and promote their brands and products properly on social media
- Invite sponsors to attend a race event with you and your team
- Be active within the media, work to get your vehicle featured on sites like UTVUnderground.com!
- Attend as many race events and shows as possible to showcase your vehicle.
- Deliver RESULTS!
I am ready to go racing, who should build my race UTV?
Well, we think YOU should build it! Unless you have zero mechanical skills, you should be the one putting it all together if you can. The person who knows the machine best is the guy who takes it apart and puts it back together so keep that in mind. When you are 200 miles from a pit and have broken down, you will be kicking yourself if you don’t know how to remove an access panel or know where the regulator has been relocated too. Now, if you can’t fabricate or you are like me and totally suck at wiring then you should probably partner with some people and / or companies who specialize in those things. In the end, the more you do the more money you will save and as it is in life, when you’re racing every penny saved is a penny earned!
I don’t have time to build the machine, I would rather just pay someone, soooo?
We get that, and reality is, most guys racing are having someone else do majority of the build anyway. There are a ton of UTV based companies who fabricate and assemble amazing race machines. But there are some things you need to know before picking a builder. Partnering with a company to build you your race machine is like getting married. Once that company gets your machine and starts to take it a part you are committed. Like many relationships, success is not guaranteed and many of these marriages in racing fail. So first thing to do is do all you can to prevent failure and increase your chances for a successful relationship. Most marriages begin with dating. You should go and visit every shop who peeks your interest. Schedule a date where you can come in, see their shop, talk to them and see if their personality and builds match up with your goals and budget. Yes I said personality. The biggest problem I see is guys picking a builder solely based on skill and it turns out within 30 days they realize they hate talking to the builder or think he / she is a jerk. So make sure you are picking out someone you will like working with. Once you have scoped a few shops out and spoken to a few builders you can then make an educated decision on who you think best fits your program, timeline and budget.
Some popular race shops:
Holz Racing Products
Nelson Racing Products
Got Sand Performance
Long Travel Industries
Now that you have selected a builder you are ready to take the relationship to the next level. Like any love affair communication is key. Both parties need to lay all of their goals on the table. Deals that are struck quickly with a hand shake and no defined plan often end up in divorce with one or both parties feeling screwed in the end. We see it every year, we always hear both sides and in the end its usually both parties who are at fault, so do yourself both a favor and put everything in writing. A good builder will tell you what you need and take your wants and mash it all up into the ultimate machine. So selecting a builder with experience is always a good thing to do. The best builders are usually those with the most experience so keep that in mind. From there you need to work with the builder on a schedule. If you are paying ANY LEVEL OF MONEY you are still the customer therefor you should be able to dictate the time schedule for which you need to take delivery. If the builder cannot meet that demand then you should probably pick another builder. Now, if the builder is fully sponsoring the machine, then you may be at their mercy to some level, but a good builder will still understand the time table and will still meet the goal for which you need to take delivery. Too many times have I seen guys get married then the builder doesn’t deliver the machine complete or in time for proper testing and finishing of the vehicle. No discount is worth showing up to round 1 with a half-ass machine, especially if you have other sponsors on the line! This all goes back to communication and having everything in writing. Our experience tells us that there should be line items in the deal that address missed deadlines, you and your builder should always be held accountable because in racing there is no room for error and or missed rounds of racing. So to sum it up: visit multiple shops, select an experienced company or individual, build out a plan in writing, keep both parties accountable with consequences for errors and / or missed deadlines, and always communicate with one another. Lastly, reward that builder with referrals and promotion through your program for a job well done!!
Time to go racing!
With your dream machine built, your team assembled and your plan of attack in place there is nothing left to do but to go racing! Well, and testing! remember, practice makes perfect and there is no replacement for seat time when it comes to being a top competitor in any series. You need to be comfortable with your race machine, you need to know every square inch of it. To do that you need lots and lots of seat time and practice so keep that in mind. But most will tell you, there is no better way to gain knowledge and experience then by getting out there and competing as much and as often as you can. Racing is about passion, fun, family and friends. Off-road racing is unlike any other sport in the world and doing it in a UTV is the best and most affordable way you can get out there and bang doors at a professional level. So get out there and have some fun!
Popular UTV Racing Series’:
Best In The Desert
Lucas Oil Regionals
The Dirt Series
UTV Rally Raid
Rocky Mountain UTV Racing
King Of The Hammers & Ultra 4 Racing
Stadium SXS Racing (SST)
STI UTV X Racing