"Off-Road is back on!" exclaimed a headline in a local newspaper announcing the upcoming SoCal Off-Road Grand Prix. The story went on to describe how the event would bring back the high-octane glory days of the Mickey Thompson Off-Road Grand Prix.
The Mickey Thompson days were indeed glorious, and brought the action of wide-open off-road racing into a spectator-friendly stadium setting. Mickey's stadium events fizzled out more than a decade ago, but the door-to-door dueling lived on in the minds and hearts of those who were there. Many of the Mickey Thompson series' top drivers have slid into Trophy Truck driver's seats since that time, including multitime Super 1600 champ Marty Coyne, and former Riviera Racing pilot Jerry Whelchel.
After their grassroots-level success at Rialto Off-Road Raceway, United Productions' Greg and Jen Gagnon took the initiative to bring a stadium event to SoCal. With the high-flying short-course action of CORR in the minds of many a Midwesterner and the rising profile of the SCORE Trophy Truck class, it seemed a ripe time to test the stadium racing waters once again.
San Bernardino, California's National Orange Show Events Center was the chosen venue. Greg put his backhoe skills to work constructing a course that jumped steeply and turned tightly. Prerunners and their drivers used to running wide open across the desert floor found themselves in the middle of a high-flying obstacle course with little room to run. On the other hand, several short-course trucks and buggies from the Mickey Thompson days were dusted off and fired up for the SoCal GP. These machines took to the track with complete ease. Two CORR standouts, Fabtech's Rick Huseman and Skyjacker's Curt LeDuc, brought their 800hp Pro-4 machines to the Orange Show stadium to give the crowd a taste of the upcoming return of CORR to California. Emcee duties were handled by genuine CORR announcer Scott Rehn. All seemed right for stadium racing's return.
From Josh Klenske's stratospheric leap into the stadium to the Pro-4 slugfest between Rick Huseman and Curt LeDuc to Larry Foddrill's domination of the Super 1600 buggy class to the Prerunner Invitational time trial, the crowd was treated to a first-class program. The voice of Corr Scott Rehn never missed a beat.
There was no question that organizing and executing an evening of racing in a stadium venue was a monster-sized undertaking, but United Productions successfully made the leap from the grassroots to the stadium lights. It was far from stress-free. After catching up on some much-needed sleep after the event was over, Jen Gagnon commented, "Wow, what an undertaking this event was! I think it's going to take a week to recover from the adrenaline rushes coupled with the extreme stress of dealing with an event this big. We were absolutely thrilled with the number of racers who came out. Things, for the most part, went very well. The morning of the event, I was ready to completely lose it, wondering what we'd gotten ourselves into. I was beginning to doubt we could pull it off, but when you have such an amazing group of people working together to make it work, things just fall into place. Seeing every single person in the grandstands on their feet and cheering because of something we put together makes it way worth it. Our goal here was to do something a little grander than at the ROR, in a place that was a little more comfortable for everyone."
Our favorite part of stadium racing? A stadium race gives hard-core off-roaders a perfect opportunity to share the thrill of big-wheel travel, high-rpm horsepower, and big air with friends and family who usually go to stadiums to watch stick-and-ball games. There was no mistaking the evening's excitement, or the enthusiasm that permeated the fans standing agape in the stadium seating. We've got to let the local newspaper in on a little secret. It may appear that off-road is back on, but here's the real truth: Off-road never went away.