The Flyer Reads: "You Know How Much You Have Invested In This Sport. What If You Had No Place To Go?"
CORVA's (California Off-Road Vehicle Association) recruitment literature asks a piercing question that hints at a very real possibility. The United States of America has been settled and subdivided for well over a century. If land remains open and accessible to off-roading, it is not by coincidence - some governing body or private interest has made a deliberate decree.
As off-roaders, much of the land that we are privileged to play on is public land. Public land is owned by everyone, or at least it's supposed to be that way. One such area is the Stoddard Wells Off-Highway Vehicle Area which hosts many off-road events throughout the year, including the MDR Wild Wash 250. Stoddard Wells isn't particularly scenic or particularly remote and tranquil. Instead, Stoddard's claims to off-road fame are its convenient location and some of the gnarliest desert terrain ever to be trod by knobby tires. The Stoddard Wells OHV area is a two-hour drive from the major off-roading populations in Los Angeles and Orange counties. In addition to the off-roaders from L.A. and O.C., Stoddard also draws visitors from farther-away places like Bakersfield, San Diego, and Las Vegas. Las Vegas? Yeah, Vegas has a big off-road racing scene, but the aforementioned gnarly terrain is a perfect place to wring out a newly prepped Trophy Truck to see if it's ready for Baja. Show up at Stoddard on the right day and you just might see the Best Bad Guy in the West: Terrible Herbst Motorsports.
Trophy Trucks, Terrible Herbst Red, and Baja aside, most of the trucks that roll up to Stoddard Wells via the Hodge, Wild Wash, Outlet Center, and Lenwood exits off of Interstate 15 are loaded with gear and people looking for good clean fun in the dirt. They're after a good time, not a trophy or entry fee payback.
"That's me," you say. "I'm never gonna go racing, and none of my friends race either. Who cares?"
We care. So should you.
Why does a racing series on public land help keep the area open for play riding? Organized events, from races to trail rides, demonstrate to the powers that be (the BLM in this case) that the OHV area is being used by legitimate, organized, distinct groups of users. Organized events add legitimacy to the use of an OHV area. Mojave Desert Racing (MDR) runs a seven-race California Championship Series set in the Stoddard Wells, Lucerne Valley, and Ridgecrest areas, as well as a five-race Superstition Series set in the Plaster City area close to the Mexican border. It would seem that a race promoter would naturally have been a racer, as are SCORE's Sal Fish and Best in the Desert's Casey Folks. MDR is an exception.
"We're horse people," MDR President Patricia Williams told this writer last season. "We saw the need to put on organized events in the desert to keep the land open so people could have a place to recreate."
We don't know if Patricia and her family take their horses to the desert or not, but we do know that she recognized a need and spent time and energy to fill that need. We tip our collective helmets to Patricia and the rest of the MDR crew who put on not one, but two racing series.
Why thank the racers? The first reason is a no-brainer. Races don't happen without racers. Dig a little deeper than the superficial, however, and racing's effect on local communities comes to light. Racers' crew members are usually made of family and friends - people who need lodging, food, and other goods and services during their OHV area visit. All that purchasing puts money into local communities. Local communities want the OHV areas kept open. There's yet another reason to thank the racers: "Racing improves the breed." It's an old, overused saying, but it's true. Today's cutting-edge racing technology trickles onto our everyday trucks in the form of better, more durable suspension kits, superior-quality shocks, stronger wheels and tires, and a whole host of off-road products originally conceived and born under a racing banner.
MDR's 2006 season kicked off with the Wild Wash 250. The main pit/start/finish area was in the usual spot off of Outlet Center Drive. Instead of the normally used Barstow "B" course, racers were treated to a different route through the "A" course. Several fast trucks showed up, but at the end of the race, everyone had to bow to Kash Vessels who drove a Class 1 buggy to a blistering-fast 49.4-mph average over (you guessed it) some of the gnarliest terrain ever trod upon by knobbies.
"I saw Kash blow by me, just flying," 2005 MDR Class 8 champ, Matt Towery, recalls. "I wanted to go after him and catch him, but my truck couldn't go any faster. It made me all the more anxious to get my new truck."
Matt is counting down the hours (so are we) as C&D Fabworks completes his new Class 8 F-150, which will feature a lower center of gravity, lightweight fiberglass bodywork, a Cone 10-inch full-floating rearend, King shocks, and the superior craftsmanship that we've seen time and again from C&D Fabworks.
Towery wasn't the only truck pilot passed by Vessels. Class 7 Open winner Shawn St. George, Class 1400 winner Steve Herrera, and Class 1450 winner Dustyn Loppnow all had good days at Wild Wash, but none was faster than Vessels.
At the end of the day, the 2006 MDR Wild Wash 250 produced an overall winner, several class winners, and lots of camaraderie and adventure as the teams fought to keep their trucks on the course. Ultimately, though, play riders and weekend warriors won the biggest. The Wild Wash 250 helped keep the Stoddard Wells OHV area open.
Acting LocallyOur off-road race and play spots often suffer as dumping grounds for unwanted household and business refuse. The problem is that trashy off-road areas get shut down, regardless of whose trash is found in the dirt. To be part of the solution, Primedia recently organized a cleanup in Stoddard Wells OHV area that netted enough trash to fill six six-ton dumpsters to capacity. Most of the trash was not off-road related, although a mangled Toyota cab is hard to pass off as something other than an off-road trip gone bad. We'd like to encourage off-roaders to organize and participate in cleaning up their local off-road areas, whether on public or private land. If you're part of a local off-road cleanup, please take some photos of your cleanup and tell us about it; we'd like to spread the good news. This makes for cleaner places to play and generates a positive public image for those who are on the outside looking in at the off-road world.
'79-'85 Toyota 4x4 rear axles often get swapped out in favor of the stronger and wider '86-'95 4x4 rearends. This abandoned Toyota axle no doubt came to Stoddard Wells with the mangled blue cab. This rearend would be a great swap-in candidate for a Samurai 'crawler. One person's junk is another person's treasure. This particular treasure was carted off along with the rest of the refuse found during the Primedia cleanup. We're making the Primedia cleanup an annual event; information will be posted as it becomes available on www.off-roadweb.com.