Newcomers shake up Terracross Championship

Joe Wiegele

Off-road racer R.J. Anderson was a Terracross rookie but sped off with the side-by-side championship.

For the second consecutive year, the Mystik Lubricants Terracross Championship rolled a short, but hard-fought, championship season into the heart of the Midwest. The season started in Elk River, Minn., at the ERX Motor Park facilities. The tracks were again purpose built for this amalgamation of a motocross race and an obstacle course on steroids. Different track variations for the different classes of racing resulted in better racing across the board.

Joe Wiegele

X Games veteran Colten Moore competes in the side-by-side competition at Hay Days.

New for this year was the idea of "one-design" racing in the Pro Quad and Pro Side-by-Side (UTV) classes where Polaris machines were utilized by all of the racing professionals in a mostly stock configuration. This was a popular choice for the pros, who were able to spend less on the additional performance upgrades normally associated with off-road racing. With all vehicles being essentially the same, it was all about being the best pilot.

The usual suspects came out to race again in 2013, including multiple-time ATV champions Daryl Rath and "Digger" Doug Gust, both of whom were favored in the pro categories. In the Fox Pro Quad series it became a battle between Gust and Rory Beckman after Rath had a bell-ringing crash in the side-by-side racing, leaving him just able to limp around the course for points. Beckman eventually prevailed in rounds one and two, which left him in an enviable position for the championship run later in the summer.

Gust looked to do well in his UTV, however this year there was a tide of new blood in the side-by-side series that had some other ideas. More riders swept in from the West Coast with off-road and desert racers R.J. Anderson, Dana Creech, Wes Miller and B.C. Vaught. From the very start they drove hard, competitive heats. The first real upset of the season came when a young Anderson won in the first round of 2013.

The side-by-side category was also a major focus because all pro drivers were racing the brand-spanking-new 2014 Polaris RZR XP 1000, the machine released to the public just days before the season began. The new machine was a phenomenon on the Terracross track with more power (more than 100 horsepower) and way more suspension travel, which most racers described as a "mini trophy truck."

Anderson had been testing the new 1000s and was no stranger to running them flat out in the desert, so his comfort with the machine was obvious from the start.

"It's hard to say, but I think I may be more comfortable in the vehicle than the rest of those guys," said Anderson. "I kind of know the absolute limit of the machine and I think those guys are still trying to find that limit. It's a fine line between what's too much and what's not enough, you know?"

Joe Wiegele

Rory Beckman finished fourth at Hay Days but it was enough to claim the Pro Quad championship.

Anderson got a run for his money in the first two rounds by Creech. The former ATV racer and freestyle star has been racing a lot of UTVs in the past few years and occasionally drives monster trucks too. Creech took a second place in round one, but then was sidelined by a mechanical problem in round two.

Unfortunately Creech had to sit out rounds three and four because of an injury. The other competitors benefited as he jumped into the dozer and became the course builder for rounds three and four at the massive Hay Days event in North Branch, Minn., a little more than a month later.

Hay Days is a sight to behold. As the unofficial kick-off to the snowmobile season, it draws some 40,000 people to a field outside North Branch to watch drag racing sleds on grass, swap out hard to find snowmobile parts and to check out the latest shiny offerings from the snowmobile industry. As former X Games competitor Paul Thacker put it, "It's the Lollapalooza of snowmobiling."

Within this madness is a small course measuring 300 feet by 300 feet. Somehow organizer Joe Duncan and his team managed to shoehorn racecourses and giant freestyle ramps for sleds, bikes and quads into the same tiny square. In Pro Quad round three it was Beckman again who got the jump on the rest of the field. Zac Zakowski charged hard but finished a few lengths behind the elated Beckman for the checkered flag.

It seemed that all Beckman needed to do was stay upright in round four to claim the 2013 title. But staying upright was a challenge for Beckman in the fourth and final round. He finished a disappointing fourth after a spill in the rocks, with Rath taking the win and Zakowski once again in second.

"When I got next to Zack, I was pushing forward and he was rocking to break free and our four-wheelers contacted just enough to push mine off-track, causing the outside log to roll off the edge of the track," said Beckman. "I attempted to drive off the edge, but was not able to save it before the four-wheeler started to roll." Beckman jumped from his rig, which nearly landed on him. Luckily, it caught right on the edge and stayed on track, but it was too late for Beckman to contend for the win. "It would have been fun to see if the results would have varied if I would have been able to avoid the crash."

Placing fourth was enough to keep Beckman six points ahead of Zakowski for the championship crown.

"Keeping momentum through the races and being consistent was the key for me this year," said Beckman. "I am very happy to have been the Terracross champion. Racing is a true passion of mine so I always have a good time being in the environment and winning really adds a topping to it all."

Joe Wiegele

Chris Burandt's side-by-side loses a wheel with Andrew Carlson close behind.

In the Side-by-Side series, all eyes were again on Anderson who had proved unbeatable a month earlier. He was in great spirits heading into round three.

"I'm super pumped that Joe [Duncan] made me part of the Terracross program," said Anderson. "It's fun. It's close, tight racing. My other race series are more open off-road events like the WORCS series where it is 8-mile loops. I call this more like 'Arenacross' for side-by-sides, so it's super cool to be a part of it. I really like the kind of racing where you can put everything right in front of the fans."

In round three, Anderson rode all out and made quick work of the rest of the field. Zakowski took a surprising second place ahead of last year's rookie phenom Andrew Carlson. In round four, Anderson managed to find that "limit" he had talked about. But his front end let go while leading the pack, leaving him parked at the side of the track for a 10th-place finish. Zakowski pushed as hard as he possibly could to hold off the charge of Carlson and prevailed at the checkered flag. Though Anderson finished the race as a spectator, his previous three wins gave him a six-point separation over Carlson and his first Terracross championship.

"It's awesome to be champion, especially in Terracross, where I was just racing a bunch of good drivers and all of us in the same cars," Anderson said. "I'm excited to hopefully be a part of what is to come in 2014 and try to back it up. I think Terracross would only expand if it were brought out West. The majority of the market for that kind of racing is sold in the Southwest. If Terracross were to expand and come out West with the TV that they do, it would just go off the charts."

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