Dale, TX… it’s a small town about 30 miles southeast of Austin and a 2.5 hour drive from my house. This track (Rally Ranch) includes a large open pasture area near the starting line that eventually winds its way to a muddy creek crossing where lots of wooded trails await on the other side. Much of the course was covered in loose sandy soil, which turns into thick dust when the weather is dry, like it was on this day.
On race day, we had sunny skies and temps in the mid-60s. In my book, that is ALMOST PERFECT! The only possible improvement would have been an earlier rain shower to cut down on the dust. Except for one wet creek crossing, the track was dry. This was a welcome change given that my last TORCS race (Round 7) was a muddy mess that resulted in 5 hours of clean-up time. Ugh.
When the UTVs lined up for the parade lap @ 2:30pm, we had 20 UTVs gathered around the starting area. When the parade lap started, we slowly followed the lead vehicle around the 3.5 mile course. As we made our way through it, my first impression was that the course was similar to last year’s course on the same property. It started in the open pasture area with several wide zig zag turns for about a mile and then takes racers though wooded trails before coming back to the scoring shute near the starting line. This year, the biggest difference I could tell was that the creek crossing connecting the pasture area to the woods was filled with a foot of water, which made keeping your goggles clean a challenge. Most of the easy passing opportunities were in the pasture area, but the thick dust made it difficult to find your way around the course, much less actually pass someone there. With so much dust, getting a good start was critical if you want to get on the podium at this race.
After the parade lap and hot lap, everyone lined up on their assigned starting line; 5 Turbos in the front row (a mixture of RZR Turbos and Can Am X3s), 10 non-turbos behind us, and 5 800s in the back row.
The starting area was in the open pasture area near the edge of the woods. From the starting line, we had approximately 40 feet to the first (left) turn. The starting line area was covered by soft, sandy loam, so launching in 4wd was a must for maximum traction.
I lined up on the starting line just to the left of center (with 1 car to my left and 3 to my right). When the green flag when up, I hit the starter and away I went! Around the first turn, I was in 2nd position. What a relief! That meant I only had to eat the dust of 1 car (for now). As we came out of the first turn, we headed towards the zig zag turns laid out in the large pasture area.
After a handful of turns, the track makes a right-hand turn towards a gate. This section of the track was made of dirt covered with lots of rocks/shale, which became dangerous projectiles that suddenly appeared through the cloud of dust coming off the car immediately in front of me. All I could do was raise my left hand over my (open face) helmet and pray that I avoided the rocks. I could hear them pinging loudly off my front bumper and that made me all the more nervous. But I didn’t let off the gas b/c I wanted to get around the car ahead of me at the first possible moment.
After a few short jumps and more wide turns, the track runs through the wet creek crossing. I was close behind the car ahead of me at this point, but backed off as he hit the muddy creek. I didn’t want his muddy roost to coat my goggles so soon in the race as I only had 3 tear-offs to work with.
After you exit the wet creek crossing, the trail pops up on the other side and makes a hard left turn. With muddy tires from the creek, it was easy to slide all over the place so I was easy on the throttle around this turn. Then the trail continues to zig zag through the woods and along a barbed wire fence line from time to time. I was hot on the heals of the leader as we made our way through the woods. I was just waiting for him to make a mistake so I could try to pass.
Near the end of the lap, the racers go over a creek crossing that makes for a nice jump over the culvert. It was fun, but tricky b/c as soon as you landed from the jump you had to steer a bit to the right to stay on the trail towards the open gate ahead.
As I went through the gate, I saw the leader had blown the hard right turn and stopped just past it. YES! I made the turn and took over as leader as I went through the scoring shute.
Unfortunately, my victory was short-lived as I immediately started slowing down to see where the track went after the scoring shute. After the practice lap, I had taken a sharp left turn to line up on the starting line. However, the starting line is not part of the track after the first lap. Oh Crap! I raised my left hand out the window to see if I could get someone’s attention… someone PLEASE point me in the right direction? Next thing I know, I see Collin go around me on the right (in his rental X3). Well, son of a GUN! (maybe I used different words! LOL) I jumped in behind him and tried to ride as close to him as I could as we went round the zig zag turns in the pasture area. Again, I was eating dust (and ROCKS) on this lap. My only hope was to stay close and hope he makes a mistake so I can pass.
I managed to stay within striking distance of Collin for the next several laps. Towards the latter half of the race, we started lapping the guys in the 800 class. Some pulled over and let us pass easily. Others were stubborn, or perhaps they just didn’t see us coming up on them quickly in the cloud of dust they were kicking up. Eventually, some of the lappers that Collin got around held me up and that separated Collin and I by about 10 seconds. I could see Collin through the trees from time to time and also in the open pasture areas. I knew I was not far behind, so I kept pushing as hard as I could.
On one of the last few laps, I started to push the car harder b/c I knew the race was getting near the end and my opportunity to catch and pass Collin was fading fast. As I came around a right hand turn in the woods, I saw that the trail developed ruts that ran came dangerously close to the edge of a barbed wire fence. At this point, I took that turn a bit too hot and watched (IN SLOW MOTION) my left front tire come within a frog hair of rubbing against that fence. Gulp! Luckily, I missed it and was able to continue racing. That was a wake up call to back off a tad and be more cautious.
Out of 5 racers in the Turbo class, I finished in 2nd place (only 11 seconds behind Collin). And for the first time that I can ever remember, I finished 3rd overall out of 20 UTVs! Wow… a podium finish overall meant I got to be one of the 3 guys on the podium to shake up and open a champagne bottle. How cool was that? What made it more fun was that I was standing alongside my racing buddies, Collin and Shandy, whom I’ve had the pleasure of knowing and racing for the past few years or so. What a great way to end the season!
As always, I have to say a BIG THANK YOU to Gil, Jackie and all the folks who operate the TORCS series for hosting another FUN event! I already paid my 2019 membership fee and reserved lucky #77, so I’ll see everyone again next year. I hope you enjoyed my race write-up. 😎