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History and Heartbreak in Lucas Oil Off Road in Reno

Monday, July 29, 2019
Image by Richard James

When the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series introduced new Pro 2 rules to allow the racers in the Lucas Midwest Short Course League to compete on somewhat even footing with the LOORRS Pro 2 Unlimited trucks, they hoped to attract more Midwest racers to the series. By creating a split-start system that allows the spec 410-engine trucks to start ahead of the 900-plus horsepower Unlimited trucks by a margin of the lap time delta times the number of laps, the idea was that the 410ci engines that are down about 300hp would have at least a shot at a podium finish. But it wasn’t only Midwest racers that found the concept appealing.

Rodrigo Ampudia has been racing an Unlimited Pro 2 since the birth of the LOORRS Series. At Ensenada, though, he raced with the 410 engine and nearly pulled off a win. At the Silver State Showdown At Wild West Motorsports Park near Reno, Nev., he made history by becoming the first to win a Pro 2 race with the 410 engine, ended his own long victory drought, and shook up the Pro 2 points standings in the process.

Ampudia, Adam Daffner and Jeff Shelton were the three drivers starting up front with the 410s. Ampudia was off like a shot, running in clean air all by himself in the Lucas Oil/Papas & Beer Pro 2, and reeling off lap after lap with a gap to the Unlimited trucks that never seemed to shrink. Even several restarts – the gap that existed before the caution is used as the starting delta for the standing restarts – didn’t seem to have any effect.

Of course, Ampudia was running unimpeded while Brian Deegan, Rob MacCachren and Bradley Morris were battling for the lead in the Unlimited trucks. They caught and passed the other Midwest-spec trucks, but at the flag Ampudia still had five seconds on MacCachren in second and Morris in third.

“If you run a perfect race, [the 410] is an advantage,” Ampudia said. “It’s a lot trickier, like racing a Pro Lite – you have to run perfect laps. These guys are hunting you and they were telling me what I’d lose every lap; some laps it was three seconds, sometimes it was one second. We were just trying to do our best. The car started overheating a bit at the end, so I tried to turn it down a bit.”

Pro 2 wasn’t the only class to have a points shakeup. In Pro Lite on Friday night, Mickey Thomas jumped out front over Ryan Beat and fended off challenges from Ryan Beat and Brock Heger to take his second win of the season and take over the points lead. He had some help from the fight behind him; on the first restart, both Christopher Polvoorde and Heger dove inside Beat in Turn 1. Heger and Beat had some contact, and Beat fell several spots down the running order.

Thomas on his way to a good result in Pro Lite. Image by Richard James

Beat eventually made his way back to third while Heger was hounding Thomas. Heger was having brake problems, though, and his challenge ended with a wall ride heading into Turn 2 that he was lucky to come out og unscathed. That left Thomas cruising to victory in the Stovall/Mystik Lubricants Pro Lite.

“I’m really starting to like this track,” Thomas said. “The truck was great. The track started to develop some big holes, and I tried to stay out of them the best I could. My truck was super fast today; my crew did a great job and I’m super happy to get this win.”

One reason Thomas may like the track so much is that it was his second win of the evening. Filling in for Robert Stout, who had a conflict with MX-5 Cup at Mid-Ohio, in the Magic Dry Production 1000 UTV, he battled with Heger early on until Heger had a mechanical issue and Thomas was free and clear.

“I did that last year running two classes. It’s a lot of fun to get back in a UTV, and you get that extra track time feeling out the track. I got a good look at it going into the Pro Lite race,” he said.

The other classes on Friday night were all about domination, with the class points leaders starting out front due to qualifying being canceled because of rain and nearby lightning strikes. Kyle LeDuc was never headed in Pro 4 in the Monster Energy/Toyo Tires truck, especially once defending champ RJ Anderson stopped with mechanical trouble with four laps to go. Adrian Cenni was second and Greg Adler was third. In Pro Buggy, Elliot Watson looked like he was in different race than the rest of the field, putting his Tom Watson Inc AlumiCraft out front and constantly building a gap. He was followed by Trevor Briska and Matthew Brister.

Briska charges to victory in Pro Buggy on the second night. Image by Richard James

Some of the classes in which the points swung one way went the other on Saturday night. Kyle LeDuc once again won in Pro 4 without much threat. Doug Mittag was hounding him in the early going until his truck failed spectacularly with a lot of smoke and a ball of flame. The Production 1000 UTVs were all over each other, causing a few problems. Thomas was again in the hunt until a suspension problem. Brock Heger was then leading, pursued by Myles Cheek until Heger ran out of gas on the final lap. Cheek, right behind him, had nowhere to go when Heger’s Yamaha died, and Robby Hornsby sailed through for the victory.

Trevor Briska started out front in his JDRF Funco Pro Buggy and stayed there for the duration, but there were a lot of broken cars at the end. The three that finished – Briska, Chris Nunes and Trey D. Gibbs – made up the podium.

Ryan Beat was starting Pro Lite on pole, and that didn’t portend well for the competition. Beat was there for the duration of the race, bringing home another victory in the Bilstein Shocks/Lucas Oil Chevrolet. Behind him, Polvoorde, Heger and Thomas took turns battling for the rest of the podium. Polvoorde’s bid ended with a roll in Turn 2, and Heger’s could have ended with a flat tire had the timing not been perfect – he was able to dive into the pits under caution and get it changes without losing a lap. Heger eventually worked his way back up to take second from Thomas and briefly challenge Beat, but couldn’t pull it off and finished second with Thomas third. Beat and Thomas remain in a virtual tie for the points lead.

Brooks had lost ground in the championship to Ampudia in Pro 2, and starting up front among the Unlimited trucks – on his birthday – he set out to chase down Ampudia and erase the advantage of his 410 truck. Just like the night before, Ampudia checked out from the other Midwest-spec trucks and was sailing along with clear track in front of him. But so was Brooks, with Morris hot on his trail. On the final restart, Morris took the lead from Brooks and the two quickly closed the now-one-second gap to Ampudia. Ampudia bobbled a bit in Turn 4 on the penultimate lap, and Morris and Brooks were through. It looked like it might be Morris until he entered Turn 4 a bit wide coming to the checkered flag, and Brooks saw his opportunity, dive bombing inside to take the lead and the win in his Rigid Industries/Bilstein Shocks Pro 2.

“My restarts were really awful tonight, and I really struggled all weekend with them,” Brooks said. “I think we had six or seven restarts. Every time I’d gap Bradley [Morris] we had a caution, and he finally got me on a restart and kind of pinched me down where I couldn’t really do anything. Coming into the last lap, I was right there within striking distance and I saw him take that corner really wide. I was kind of running low all night up there. He left the door open, and I’m here to win. Awesome win tonight; even though we struggled we had a really fast truck. And a win on my birthday tops it off!”

The Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series resumes on Oct. 5-6 with a doubleheader at Glen Helen Raceway, the penultimate weekend of the 2019 season. Look for recaps fo the action from Reno on CBS Sports Network on MAVTV.

Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series
Rounds 5 and 6
Wild West Motorsports Park
Sparks, Nev., July 26-27, 2019

July 26 Winners
Pro 4: Kyle LeDuc
Pro 2: Rodrigo Ampudia
Pro Lite: Mickey Thomas
Pro Buggy: Elliot Watson
Production 1000 UTV: Mickey Thomas
Turbo UTV: Corry Weller
Mod Kart: Mason Prater
Junior 2 Kart: Braydon Beatty
RZR 170: George Llamosas

July 27 Winners
Pro 4: Kyle LeDuc
Pro 2: Jerett Brooks
Pro Lite: Ryan Beat
Pro Buggy: Trevor Briska
Production 1000 UTV: Robby Hornsby
Turbo UTV: Trevor Leighton
Mod Kart: Brody Eggleston
Junior 2 Kart: Jessie Owens
RZR 170: George Llamosas

 


Original article by Richard S. James, racer.com, History and Heartbreak in Lucas Oil Off Road in Reno