As a second generation racer, Eliott Watson has spent his life immersed in the world of off road racing. Given that his father was a multi-time champion in desert racing, Eliott appeared destined for success when he started his own career in the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series about a decade ago. Over the years, the El Centro, California, native has continued to develop as a driver and has emerged as one of the sport’s most promising young talents.
After back-to-back seasons of finishing runner up in the Pro Buggy championship in 2017 and 2018, this past season Watson entered the class as a title favorite. What followed was a highly competitive and memorable season of competition in Pro Buggy in which four different drivers stood atop the podium. Watson sat in control of his own destiny for the majority of the season, but a budding rivalry with Chris Nunes saw the championship come down to the wire at the finale from Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park. After one of the most dramatic and wild final races in recent memory, Watson survived some late race chaos to emerge with his first short course championship. The 19 year old racer’s journey to the title wasn’t easy, as he balances a full time pursuit of a degree in engineering at the University of San Diego with his racing career, but it paid off in a big way, especially following the recent news that Watson and Pro Lite driver Christopher Polvoorde, his college roommate, will be factory pilots for the new Honda Talon racing program.
This is your first championship in the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series. What does it feel like to be able to call yourself a champion after all the years of experience you’ve gained in short course off road?
It’s crazy. I have about 10 years of experience in [the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series]. We’ve been racing and always trying to chase that championship. In the Pro Buggy class, this is our fourth full season I believe. We led the points every year, at least halfway through the year, and little errors and little mistakes on my part, things that would happen, would cost us the championship. We finally had our season, and it came down to the wire. It wasn’t pretty at the end, but to get it done is a great feeling. I couldn’t be more excited to end it on a good note.
You and Chris Nunes enjoyed one of the most compelling championship battles in all of the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series. What was it like to be part of such a tight title fight like that, and what do you think ultimately was the difference maker in coming out on top?
It was intense. Going into Glen Helen in September we had I think like a 35 point lead or something like that. I really wasn’t my best. I don’t want to say that I took it easy, but that was right after we got the Honda deal wrapped up and my mind was all excited about that. So, when I came into Glen Helen, I don’t want to say I wasn’t focused, because I was, but Nunes had a lot of test time on that track and going to school, I hadn’t really ran the new layout yet, and there was new dirt that was brought in. I was all jumbled up with the middle of midterms week. There were a lot of factors going on for me and Nunes caught up. He closed the gap, so we left there tied. That’s not what I wanted to happen, but I think it just fueled myself and the rest of my family to try and get it done next month in Chandler Arizona. It was intense. We came in and the whole team was here, super excited to go into the race weekend. You kind of treat it just like any other race. I think that’s kind of what we learned. For me as a driver, don’t put too much pressure on myself and hopefully don’t make too many mistakes and that sort of stuff. I’ve been in that situation a couple times, so I kind of knew what was going on. I was coming in with a little more of an advantage on the mental side of it, compared to Chris, since it was his first time really racing for the championship. I could tell he was making mistakes in practice, and in practice I tried to get behind him and start playing mind games a little bit. Nothing too crazy, but I started behind him in practice and caught him and passed him. I could just tell that he started making mistakes after that. It was little things like that. Little things that a lot of people wouldn’t think about, but we’ve established the past couple years. We were both pumped up and he drove awesome. He did everything he needed to do, but that one little mishap we had I got into him a little bit and it put me on my lid. The chain of events after that, I really don’t know. I can’t explain what happened. I don’t even know how it all panned out. It was just random.
Your off road roots also run deep within your family. How has your dad’s past success influenced your career and what has it meant to carry on the Watson name onto a second generation of off road racing?
My dad is my idol, for sure. I think he won four championships in a row racing desert when there were 35 guys in the class. He’s always kind of pushing me to try and go out and have fun with it. Trying to achieve what he did, it’s hard. Not that many people have gone out and won that many championships in a row, but to get one for myself under our name, it’s a good feeling. He’s all excited. I think he was just as excited, if not more excited than I was. On the podium after the race finished we were in tears. It was just a good feeling. It’s cool to have it all be so family oriented.
As a full time college student, how do you balance your education and racing? What are your long term goals as it pertains to your career both on and off the track?
It’s tough. I’m a sophomore and just finished up my third semester of engineering school. It’s tough. Thankfully, my whole family has stuck behind me and helped me get the car ready, get the trailer ready, and all that stuff. Now, racing for Honda, it’s going to be a lot more involved on my part, but, thankfully, they’re taking care of the setup side of things and all the stuff I spent a lot of time on last year, making sure the cars are all set up. Now there’s a lot more media involved, like last week getting me and Chris Polvoorde out to Anaheim for supercross. I was in the pits with guys like Ken Roczen and Justin Brayton, and the whole Honda motorsports team, which is a really cool experience and all. I have to be so committed to both. Monday through Friday is school time, and weekends it’s race time, so it’s a lot to juggle, but I’m having fun. I’m loving school, loving what I’m learning there, and having this opportunity to race for Honda this coming year, I can’t pass it up. I’m trying to take advantage of it while I can, and we’ll see what happens.
Who would you like to thank for supporting your career, and your championship run this season?
My family. They do so much for me, helping me out, getting the cars ready, and helping us get to the races. They’re a big part of our racing program. The guys last year at BFGoodrich tires really played a big role in getting us to the finish line every time and up on the podium. They’re a huge help to us. Method Race Wheels, FOX Racing Shox, all the guys that help support our Pro Buggy program. They did an awesome job getting us out there every time and being competitive. And now, everybody over at Honda off road. They’ve really taken a big commitment in believing in Christopher and I, and I couldn’t be more excited to partner with them.
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