It's not really Baja Racing, but, at least Robby Gordon is trying!
Gary Newsome, Editor
Racing Summary: "Baja Style Hits Florida!" Stadium Super Truck drivers maneuvered through dirt and asphalt tracks at breakneck speeds before flying over man-made jumps. They had to conquer a new element: rain.
The series made its 2014 debut at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg as drivers skidded through standing water after a downpour drenched the course during an abbreviated 10-lap race.
Starting in his first year, last year, 2013, Robby called his trucks, "Stadium Super Trucks".
Robby is calling his formatted competition, this year, "Formula-Off-Road".
"I didn't know it was going to be that gnarly out there," said Jerett Brooks, who finished second. "The rain was insane." The series, now in its second season, is the brainchild of Robby Gordon, the former IndyCar and NASCAR driver who won Saturday's race.
Gordon wanted to develop an off-road format for trucks similar to Baja-style desert racing. He is well-versed in the format as a seven-time SCORE International Off-Road champion and four-time winner of the Baja 500. For the past 10 years, he has raced in the Dakar Rally.
"For me the fan reaction has been great with the series," Gordon said. "I knew St. Petersburg was one of the spots I wanted to add this season. There's a tremendous atmosphere here."
While the paved streets in St. Petersburg do not offer the same rugged terrain as rally racing, Gordon tried to simulate some of the obstacles involved by installing man-made ramps. In dry conditions, trucks travel at more that 130 mph and reach heights of more than 20 feet off the ramps.
The typical speed and height reached with most jumps did not happen Saturday as drivers had to battle wet conditions for the first time in the series.
"The track conditions were the worst I've ever seen," Gordon said. "They asked if we still wanted to go and I said okay. We needed a trial lap just to get used to the jumping over the ramp in those conditions. Let me tell you, it was gnarly."
Today, Saturday, March 29, racer and series founder Robby Gordon won a rain-soaked and water-logged SPEED Energy Formula Off-Road Presented by Traxxas race at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, calling it the worst weather conditions he has ever competed in over a more than 30-year career. Jerett Brooks, a 16-year-old from Alpine, Calif. finished second and Justin Lofton of Westmorland, Calif. came home third.
“That was a lot of fun, but it was probably the slipperiest conditions I have ever raced in,” said Gordon who is also the founder of Formula Off-Road Presented by Traxxas. “I have to thank IndyCar and the Green Savoree team (promoters of the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg) for allowing us to race here in front of so many great race fans. It was a really good race despite the rain and we’re looking forward to putting on another good show tomorrow (Sunday)." The race was literally anyone’s to win from start to finish of the 10-lap event, with all the trucks experiencing issues with the standing water on the temporary circuit that makes up the 14-turn 1.8-mile course built for IndyCars.
Gordon, Lofton and PJ Jones battled for the lead throughout the race, trading it among each other as the others spun out in the wet conditions. Gavin Harlein, 16, of Mesa, Ariz., who sat in a Stadium Super Truck for the first time Friday, came home fourth with Mexico’s off-road racing specialist Apdaly Lopez rounding out the top five. Scotty Steele of Peoria, Ariz. survived multiple spins to finish sixth, with veterans Jones and former IndyCar star Davey Hamilton finishing just ahead of ninth-place finisher Sheldon Creed who retired with mechanical issues.
Brooks, who raced with a conservative style, managing to stay in touch with the leaders and wait for the front runners to eliminate themselves in the wet. Lofton, who led with just more than one lap remaining, spun for the second time in the race at the 90-degree right hand Turn 1 which allowed Gordon to take the lead which he would not relinquish. Round 2 of the second season of SPEED Energy Formula Off-Road Presented by Traxxas is scheduled for 2 p.m. immediately preceding the IndyCar season opener.
The race will be telecast on NBC Sports Network on Thursday, April 18 at 1 a.m. EDT. After the Grand Prix at St. Petersburg, the series heads to the Long Beach Grand Prix before making other stops in Indianapolis, Detroit, Austin, Texas (X Games Austin), Toronto, Orange County, Calif., San Diego and the season-finale in Las Vegas.
""A racing event the likes of which has never been seen anywhere near the Tampa Bay area will take place in conjunction with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, March 28-30.
Once synonymous with the open-wheel cars that will headline activities that weekend, former IndyCar and NASCAR star Robby Gordon is bringing the exciting world of off-road racing to street circuits such as St. Petersburg with his SPEED Energy Formula Off-Road Presented by Traxxas series.
|Robby Gordon pushing his stadium series across the nation|
Following street circuit races at Long Beach and Toronto in 2013, the Formula Off-Road Series and promoters from the Firestone Grand Prix knew the SST trucks needed to be added in St. Petersburg after receiving fan reviews such as:
“The new Stadium Super Trucks put on an awesome show at the Long Beach Grand Prix. Watching the trucks brake into and fly around the corners on three wheels with the smell of burning rubber was really something…” and “That was freaking epic!!!! Best racing and the most fun I have had in a long time!!! So freakin’ cool. This stuff will be big and I’m not just drinking the kool-aid, trust me this was awesome.”
The series features identically prepared trucks, which are made to resemble their scaled-down Traxxas radio-control-car counterparts. Like their Traxxas namesake the trucks are designed to take flight. However, unlike RC trucks, they produce 600 horsepower generating speeds upwards of 130 miles per hour.
“Fan reaction has been tremendous,” Gordon said. “Jimmie Johnson (six-time NASCAR champion), Casey Mears (NASCAR) and I all got our start driving trucks like these and we’ve reinvented the series and are bringing their former popularity back to the fans.”
Gordon himself is a seven-time SCORE International Off-Road Champion, a three-time winner of the Baja 1000 and a four-time winner of the Baja 500. For the last 10 years he has tackled the world’s most challenging off-road endurance race – the Dakar Rally – so he is an authority when it comes to off-road trucks.
“The goal is to provide equal equipment to all the drivers and let driver skill and not engineering budgets determine the winner,” Gordon continued. “This is what racing should be. The trucks are amazing but it’s about skill and not money that puts on a great show for the fans.
“When I was still racing in NASCAR people always asked me why I still drove off-road, and they were surprised when I told them that I raced in NASCAR so that I could race off-road. Off-road racing gets in your blood and it’s where I started. It has always been my first love and it’s the most unbelievable form of motorsport in the world and we’re trying to do our part to make it mainstream.”
As part of that objective Gordon founded the SPEED Energy Formula Off-Road Presented by Traxxas series in late 2012, and ran its first race in March 2013 in Phoenix, Ariz. The series has built more than 20 identically prepared Stadium Super Trucks that have all the characteristics of an off-road “Baja-style” truck capable of racing on dirt, asphalt or even snow.
While the concept of building and maintaining an affordable racing series with an even playing field can be credited completely to Gordon, the theory behind the series is not entirely original. From the early 1980s through 1996 the Mickey Thompson Stadium Truck Series featured races in football and baseball stadiums primarily in the western United States.
“Not only is it one of the most awesome forms a racing in the world, for drivers and teams it’s about the most affordable professional racing series you can be involved with,” Gordon said. “In 2014 we will race in front of something like 750,000 people, have eight hours of exposure on NBC Sports Network and will race live on ESPN at X Games Austin.”
The franchise format created for the Stadium Super Trucks makes business sense for drivers and marketers knowing that they don't have to outspend other teams to be competitive. Each week the series builds, maintains and delivers race-ready trucks to competitors, which eliminates start-up costs and day-to-day overhead of running a team. A driver’s focus is on winning races and delivering for their sponsors.
“I loved my time in IndyCar and NASCAR but it costs a lot of money to be competitive in either one of those series which means a lot of capable drivers have some fairly difficult barriers to entry,” Gordon said. “Those series will continue to thrive based on many years of success and a proven business plan and incredible fan support. What we have created is an opportunity for drivers to race in front of hundreds of thousands of fans and a tremendous platform for sponsors.""
Just a couple of footers to this report. Firstly, the trucks are similar to ones used in Baja Racing, but the format of the event and secondly, not having a co-driver/mechanic, is a major deviation from our sport.
Just like Indy Racing, very old school Baja Racing began with two people in the cars.
Stay tuned, 2014 will be historic to salute those very old days, here on BajaRacingNews.com