Corona, Calif. March 20, 2013
The opening weekend of the 2013 Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series provided the Arizona fans with great memories of terrific racing, fast action and left many of the participating racers aspiring. Hart and Huntington Off Road endured the season kickoff, surviving through multiple hardships and a violent crash, yet the team persevered and went on to collect a PRO-2 Fast Lap Award. In the final race of the weekend, Rob Naughton pushed the throttle wide open to a top speed over 93 MPH and a lap time of 42.465; speeds and time that is typically only seen in the PRO-4 Unlimited Division.
The race weekend began with Josh Merrell laying a solid effort in Saturday’s PRO-4 Event. The #22 machine had recently undergone a major transmission conversion from Automatic to a Weismann Performance Manual. Josh spent the practice sessions getting comfortable with the new shifting process and by race day, Merrell was performing very well shaving seconds off the lap times. Starting mid pack, Josh put the #22 MAVTV Truck into a relaxed groove for several laps getting warmed up and let the competition beat on each other. By Lap 10, Josh was hoping to turn on the speed but his truck was not responding like it should. Merrell would have to settle for a 6th place finish.
Back in the pits the crew dissected the #22 PRO-4 and upon inspection, found the transmission had chewed up fourth gear leaving not even a single tooth. Master Engineer “Buzz” Busnardo declared, “This truck should have stopped moving forward a long time ago, let alone being able to drive at speed and finish the race. A true testament to the Weismann Performance Transmission and the craftsmanship behind it.”
For Sunday’s Event, Merrell, knowing his equipment would now be on par and in top working order was feeling eager to see himself earn some top lap times and take down a solid finish. However in the opening laps, Josh found Todd Leduc challenging #22 for his position. Merrell retained until Todd went wide in Turn 1 and then quickly ducked inside to exit the corner. With the outside line, Josh had the momentum to race door-to-door down the back stretch, but Todd aimed for the preferred line going into Turn 2 and narrowed down the margin of available track space between the trucks and the outside wall. Contact was made coming off the back stretch jumps and sent both spinning out into the Turn 2 berm. Merrell’s truck went flipping into a nasty barrel roll going over several times and careened onto the cement k-rail.
The violent crash sent parts flying and did a lot of cosmetic damage to the vehicle; however the truck and safety equipment did its job preventing serious injury to Josh. With his family by his side, he was checked out at a nearby hospital and was later released with minor bumps and bruises. Josh is in good spirits and is determined to be contender for race wins and challenge for the championship.
The ProLite division saw 26 trucks start the green flag for Saturday’s Race. A stacked field of young and old talent with top of the line equipment is making this class the fan favorite and is sure to deliver the best racing as the 2013 season develops. Hart and Huntington Off Road’s Ryan Beat, Driver of the HostLabs ProLite, is a top contender carrying new support ties with LOORRS series sponsors Loanmart and Rockstar Energy. Ryan proved that his ProLite would be tough competition by driving through the field during both of the weekend’s races.
During Round 1, Ryan began the race in 14th position and had moved up into 4th place in only 8 short laps. It was a furious effort with hard driving pushing the truck through the grid. It may have been a little too far on the edge as the transmission input shaft failed on #51 HostLabs ProLite leaving Beat stranded in the infield while the race continued on without him.
Ryan Beat is well known for being friendly and approachable in the pits, yet he is a fierce competitor who strives to race clean. For Sunday’s event, the race officials saw it differently and issued the #51 ProLite two black flag penalties for two separate instances. The first penalty was issued in the very first lap. Perhaps there is some responsibility to be shared considering the officials sent 2 dozen trucks out onto a sloppy slick muddy mess and lost foresight of what would actually happen when the field races door-to-door and bumper-to-bumper into a single corner caked with 2’ feet of mud.
With nowhere to go, trucks all around and everyone sideways on the brakes, contact was made and one truck was spun around. Ryan immediately served the penalty and resumed the race hoping to gain positions forward with about 17 Laps to go. From this point, Beat would work to pass through the field. By Lap 8, Ryan had moved into the top 10 and by Lap 11 moved into the top 5. Beat was in contention for a podium finish, but so were several other top drivers including 2012 Rookie of the Year, Bradley Morris. Beat and Morris would trade paint for lap after lap battling for position. On Lap 15, they caught up to a pocket of slower traffic going through the track’s only right hand corner, Beat from behind, made contact with Morris, causing another spin out. It was unintentional and Ryan did not expect Bradley to slow his momentum so much. Beat was issued his second black flag and a less than ideal finish to a hard weekend.
The first LOORRS race weekend delivered its fair share of ups and downs, but the Hart and Huntington Off Road Team is known for coming from behind and finishing in spectacular fashion. Robert Naughton, the AZ local legend carries a reputation of being fast in anything he rides or drives. Robert and his crew worked hard to find speed in the #54 HostLabs PRO-2. Unfortunately, after a rookie PRO-2 driver made hard contact knocking out a trailing arm during the first lap on Round 1, Naughton would only have one final chance during Sunday’s final race of the weekend to deliver a solid performance.
Starting from last place in 17th position, Naughton pushed his HostLabs PRO-2 passing as many as 5 competitors in the first lap and worked his way into the top 10 by lap 2. From there, Robert flew the #54 machine off the big air jumps with the Roush Industries 900HP V8 spitting flames out of the exhaust and the General Tires shooting a massive trail of dirt roost all around the track. For 20 Laps Naughton nailed his lines and cut down his time till on lap 15, Robert laid down the best of the weekend collecting a PRO-2 Fast Lap Award.
Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series will resume for Rounds 3 & 4 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on April 26 – 28. Fans are encouraged to come join us as Las Vegas always provides great times with friends and awesome racing action on a super fast track. Tickets are still available.