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Championship Off Road
Championship Off Road Racing (CORR) may off more excitement per lap than any other four-wheeled form of motorsports around. Never, ever have I taken as many action photos at one event as I did on this one weekend. It was difficult to choose but over a hundred of them – an AutoMatters record, are here in this column. The drivers, who put on a terrific show, must be certifiably nuts!
You’ve seen this brand of racing action before in AutoMatters, but this time it was different. The Chula Vista International Raceway is a whole new track, as I discovered when I tried to go there for the pre-event Media Day.
The last time I was at our CORR event I set the location as a waypoint in my car’s GPS. So, this time, I recalled that waypoint and let the GPS take me there again. Have you ever heard of the computer term “Garbage in, garbage out?” When I got to where the site’s entrance used to be last year, instead of the race track I found what was clearly a working construction site. There were no event signs or anything to tell me where to go. I’ll spare you the boring details, but I will tell you that I wandered around for half an hour looking for the entrance without asking anyone for help (it’s a guy thing).
Fortunately I arrived very early and had brought along my emailed invitation from CORR, which included directions to “the Quarry” at 2041 Heritage Road in Chula Vista. There was a big sign there.
When I finally found the track I was blown away by what I saw. Last year’s event site was very spread out. While I’m sure that it was great for the competitors, it was difficult, if not impossible, for spectators to see large parts of the venue.
This new site is like a giant off road coliseum, complete with dramatic elevation changes and several grandstands, from which spectators can see almost the entire length of the nearly one mile track from the comfort of their seats. The view from the grandstands is so good that I spent all of raceday Sunday taking photos from there, instead of risking life and limb trackside.
There is plenty of room for parking, product displays and the racers’ pits.
A previous time that I attended a CORR Media Day, I got a thrilling, bone crunching ride in an off road racing dune buggy. I still remember being fearful that my neck was on the verge of snapping. When you are a passenger you don’t know as much about what is coming next as the driver does, which can lead to being caught off guard by potentially violent maneuvers that include sudden turns, hard braking and leaps through the air – which can be followed by hard landings. I can think of several words to describe the experience but “fun” is not at the top of the list. “Brutal” is closer to the mark.
This year CORR cooked up something new to enable us to experience (and then convey) the thrills of off road racing. This time we actually got to drive off road racing trucks on an off road racing course. I know, you may be thinking that letting journalists loose in off road racing trucks is crazy. We might kill ourselves. No, they had not lost their minds. We got to drive trophy karts – what the kids race. I spoke to the driver of one of the vehicles, who set my mind at ease by telling me that these miniature trucks only have about 12 horsepower. Also, the course was a much scaled-down version of what the adults compete on.
With such a low horsepower figure, I thought that our biggest challenge might be managing to crawl into the very tight confines of these kid-sized racing vehicles. Boy was I wrong.
I was left shaking my head in disbelief when one of the journalists somehow managed to roll his vehicle (and badly damage it in the process) on the track. Even though trophy karts are low on horsepower compared to their adult-sized counterparts, they are small and light (for a favorable power to weight ratio). Their top speed is about 50 mph – more than enough for their drivers to get into some serious trouble. They also have over a foot of wheel travel, to tackle off road bumps. These little karts can provide plenty of excitement.
I did not want to repeat what the other journalist did. In autocrossing, the most I typically do in terms of catching air is lift an inside tire a little bit off of the ground, so I intended to be careful when it was my turn behind the wheel.
It’s a good thing that I was being careful because despite my caution, as I would see from the photos later, somehow I still managed to get all four tires way off of the ground. On one of my laps I must have done something wrong because I nosed hard into the ground after taking a small jump.
Somehow I also managed to get lost on one particular section of the course on all of my laps. Frustrated, and on my final lap, I (very foolishly) decided to re-enter the course in order to correctly finish as much of it as possible. I thought everything was fine but shortly thereafter, when I finished my lap and parked my truck, concerned peopled rushed up to me and told me that I had narrowly missed being involved in a serious collision. It seems that precisely when I carefully pulled back onto the track, two other media drivers – who were in the midst of aggressively racing each other, almost plowed smack into me! Perhaps it was just as well that I had not seen them because I might have panicked and made a bad situation even worse. Now I know why NASCAR NEXTEL CUP drivers sometimes crash into other drivers on pit road. Wearing a helmet and being securely belted into a cramped race vehicle really limits one’s field of vision.
This Media Day activity really did enable us to experience CORR racing first-hand and better appreciate what we would be covering over the weekend.
Over the course of the race weekend (I covered both days), thousands of race fans enjoyed two full days of family-friendly, Championship Off Road Racing action – part of the 2007 Lucas Oil Racing Series. On Sunday alone there were over 13,000 spectators in attendance – a sold out crowd.
This is not like some race tracks, where it is impossible to know what is going on unless you watch the giant TV screens – although this track had one of those, too, which was useful for instant replays. This track layout is very conducive to letting spectators in the grandstands follow their favorite drivers around almost all of the track. We could easily see racing situations develop and play out, even without the help of the giant TV screen.
The track’s design features high speed, sweeping turns and a huge, slab-sided jump that is very similar in appearance to an Olympic ski jump. Watching the racers launch into the air and then soar down the back side until they touched down was breathtaking.
These vehicles – and their drivers, are tough as nails. Just as with the kids’ trophy karts, I repeatedly witnessed things that I’d rarely seen before in other forms of organized automobile racing. Several racers lost control and did end-over-end rollovers and barrel rolls – and then, perhaps with a little bit of help from the corner workers to get them shiny side up again, they kept on racing without even losing much in the way of track position.
Even when they needed off-track repairs, they usually seemed to be back in time for their next race.
Who says racing drivers are not athletes? Just watch as they trade paint while clawing their way past each other and endure constant beatings as they slam back down to the ground after the jumps. These drivers must have incredible stamina. I was exhausted after just walking around and taking pictures during the event.
Heavy equipment was brought in throughout the event to re-groom and maintain the track.
Throughout the weekend I heard hopes expressed that this facility may be here to stay. That would make me and thousands of other race fans very happy. Ever since we lost Cajon Speedway and before that the roadrace track in Carlsbad, there has been nothing even approaching a major motorsports facility in all of San Diego County. Riverside Raceway has been gone for years, as has the speedway in Ontario. California Speedway and Irwindale Raceway are quite far away. We need and want a track here. We have lots of race fans and great year-round weather. Hopefully any environmental concerns will be satisfactorily addressed.
Also, from a purely selfish standpoint, I would like to see this facility develop to where it may get a paved area large enough to be a venue for our local autocrosses. As I just was reminded today, the paved lots which we autocross on at Qualcomm Stadium are badly deteriorating. Chunks of asphalt are coming loose, with grass growing in their place. How long will it be before the spacious, open Qualcomm Stadium parking lots are intentionally torn up and reconfigured for other uses?
Some of my autocrossing friends worked at this CORR event. Scott Lewis could be found throughout the weekend with flags in hand.
We especially owe a big thank you to Jim Baldwin, CORR President and CEO, for his ongoing efforts towards making all of this a reality.
After the last race, as I was leaving, I observed fans carrying torn-up pieces of race vehicle bodywork back to their own cars and trucks. There seemed to be no shortage of these unique, free souvenirs.
Championship Off Road Racing looks like it is well on its way towards becoming the next big thing in motorsports. You will find major network television coverage of CORR on NBC Sports and SPEED.
CORR will return to Chula Vista on Sept. 29th and 30th. Watch and listen for the ads. For more information on this and other races in this year’s Championship Off Road Racing series, go to www.corracing.com.
Enjoy the full spread of photos from this AutoMatters and others in the column archives at www.AutoMatters.net. If you would like to share your car, truck, road trip, car art, vacations, racing, car movies, famous people, driving and other automobile-related stories, please send them to AutoMatters@gmail.com. Drive safely and do join me again next time.
Copyright © 2007 Jan R. Wagner – #238r3 AutoMatters
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