Remember how you felt before your first roller-coaster ride? Waiting in line, you tell your friends you aren’t nervous as the butterflies flutter inside. A part of you wants to go back to the Teacups or escape to a hot churro, but it’s too late. You’ve now locked yourself in and you’re squeezing tightly as the clanking chains pull you closer to your inevitable doom. Riding passenger on a modified Polaris RZR XP 900 is kind of like that, except this roller coaster has a steering wheel.
Instead of getting a pro driver on the phone to explain to us how to maneuver a 1000-pound UTV at 50 mph through narrow, 60-inch-wide trails, we went to the second round of the Grand National Cross Country (GNCC) to meet with Daryl Rath and his ridiculously awesome “woods-ready” RZR XP 900.
A TWIN-CYLINDER ROLLER COASTER
When it comes to racing anything, the more power you have, the better off you are. However, when you’re trying to squeeze a small car through a tree-lined, tight and windy trail for close to an hour, how fast do you really want to go? Turns out it’s fast enough to make even the most experienced passengers scream like little girls.
In cross-country racing, there are few places to pass—and even the much smaller sport and 4×4 ATVs have trouble at times. This makes the start of the race and straightaways an important part of woods racing. The quicker you are to enter the trees, the more likely you are to exit them ahead of the competition, so a fast engine is a must.
The 875cc, DOHC, twin-cylinder, four-stroke mill found in the Polaris RZR XP 900 is no slouch, but beating Can-Am’s 1000cc Commander will not be easy. Rath sent his engine to longtime motor master Mark Baldwin of Baldwin Motorsports. Baldwin told Rath it was one of the better-built ATV or UTV motors he has ever worked on. Still, he did some minor head work and installed a 13.1 Wiseco piston and a one-off Polaris race cam.
MAKING IT “WOODS-READY”
In order to fit a 64-inch-wide chassis into 60-inch-wide trails, a narrow conversion kit had to be developed for Rath’s RZR XP.
The front end was a simple fix. Rath pulled his high-clearance upper and lower A-arms off his 2010 RZR, which he raced in the GNCC last season, and installed them on his 2011 RZR XP 900. The shorter A-arms were matched with the Fox OEM shocks. The shock bodies were shortened, internal spacers were added and shorter springs were installed. Rath’s shocks were also updated with dual-speed compression and rebound adjusters. The dual-speed compression and rebound adjustments were one of the few features we wanted to see added to the RZR XP.
The modifications to the A-arms and shocks made the RZR XP 61 inches, which was still too wide for the woods. The next step was to install zero offset front wheels. These made the final measurements of the Rath XP front end a narrow 58 inches wide. The huge 14 inches of front-wheel travel was decreased to 10.5 inches.
A Rath swaybar ($525) was the final addition to the front end of the RZR XP. This was to limit body roll and improve handling and control in the woods.
To match the narrow front end, the rear radius rods had to be shortened to pull the trailing arms in a couple of inches. In order to do this correctly, the rear sway, which is normally mounted to the inside of each trailing arm, had to be remounted on the outside of each arm.
The radius rods were also equipped with stronger chromoly rod ends, and the weak stock CV axle shafts were tossed out for beefier, shorter replacements.
The Fox rear shocks had the same shortening modifications made as the fronts did. The dual-speed compression and rebound adjusters were installed back there as well. DWT Sector rear wheels found a new home on the narrow rear end, offering 11 inches of wheel travel.
Rath’s narrow conversion kit is available to all Polaris RZR XP 900 owners—if you have the money. This kit runs for $4395. Depending on your tire choice, the overall width will be between 57.5 and 59 inches. Rath achieved a 58-inch width by using 25x8x12-front and 25x10x12-rear Maxxis 4 Speed treads with TireBalls.
A Rath-designed, beefed-up and modified roll cage replaced the stock one. The back of the cage was extended over the rear of the chassis, and a large rear bumper was integrated into the back of the cage. Rath also welded two crossbars into the top of the roll cage and bolted on a lightweight plastic roof.
Twisted Stitch provided Rath with cushioned seats, and Simpson five-point harnesses were installed for safety. Individual Polaris windshields deflect debris over the driver and passenger sides.
Rath’s RZR XP has some of the best aftermarket doors we have tested. They open and close smoothly and lock into place using a cool billet-aluminum handle. Rath used full-nylon nets to deflect tree branches from entering the cockpit. These nets bolt to the upper section of the door and connect on the roll cage using a pin and a similar billet handle.
The stock radiator position is not great for nonstop muddy conditions like at the GNCC events. The radiator was moved to the rear of the cockpit using integrated mounts on the roll cage. Honeycomb was zip-tied on the front of the radiator as well.
DIRT WHEELS CREW MEMBER DESCRIBES WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE A PASSENGER WITH DARYL RATH
Rath’s mechanic had fired up the Baldwin-modified RZR XP 900, and the DASA exhaust system provided Rath’s ride with a built-in alarm clock. The explosive sound let me know it was time to suit up.
Daryl’s wife Jennifer graciously let me borrow her Simpson fire suit. Luckily, I was able to squeeze into it, because the GNCC will not let a UTV driver or passenger race without one. A neck brace is not required, but Jennifer wouldn’t let Daryl or myself race without one under our Fly helmets either. I happily obliged, and along with the beefed-up roll cage and five-point harness, I was feeling much more comfortable about the race ahead.
UTV racing has exploded the last couple of years, and the turnout at this event was no different. The starting line was full of race machines and spectators. There were five UTVs per row, and we were in the fifth row back.
The green flag dropped, and we exploded onto the first corner. This RZR XP is as fast as it sounds, and it got us the holeshot we needed. Two corners later, we were in the woods, and Daryl had to lay off the throttle. Driving smooth is key to staying out of trouble and finishing the race.
Rath’s RZR XP was stable around off-cambered corners, and 10 inches of ground clearance was good in the mud. There were a few deep sections that ate up many competitors. We powered through them, though, without a problem
The Fox shocks were dialed in perfectly for the rough Aonia Pass course. The Twisted seats conformed comfortably to my back, and the Simpson five-point harness remained tight the entire race. It felt like I was a passenger in a Cadillac. Although, there was that one 70-mph square edge that almost cost me my lunch. Even during that scary moment, Daryl was completely in control. He even looked over to chuckle at my girly screams, without skipping a beat.
Being a passenger in a UTV race is not on everyone’s to-do list, and if I didn’t draw that short stick back at the office, it wouldn’t have been on mine either. But, Daryl Rath made it worthwhile. He drove methodically, picking the best lines and staying out of the deep mud. Thanks to the excess power, we were able to make many passes on the straights. The RZR XP has some of the best UTV brakes on the market. We would slow quickly, from 80-mph top speeds, to brake-slide into 90-degree corners.
After 50 minutes, we took the checkered flag for third place, and I was able to embarrass myself on my first GNCC podium. I didn’t get to drive, but even as a passenger, that was the most fun I’ve had in a UTV.
Daryl Rath drove to his first podium GNCC race in a UTV. He took advantage of his big motor on the start and down the straights to stay ahead of a pack of Can-Am Commanders.
RZR XP 900
Fuel system Polaris modified EFI
Transmission Automatic CVT
Final drive..Shaft w/ Rath clutch mods
Front Double A-arm, Fox OEM
stock shocks w/ Rath/Fox narrow
conversion kit w/ dual-speed
comp. reb.; 10.5″ travel
Rear Trailing arm, anti-sway bar,
Fox OEM stock shocks
w/ Rath/Fox narrow
conversion kit w/
reb.; 11″ travel
Front Maxxis 25x8x12, 4 speeds
Front Hydraulic disc w/ dual-bore front calipers
Rear Hydraulic disc
Fuel capacity 7.25 gal.
Ground clearance 10″ at ride height
Claimed dry weight 1190 lb.
Box capacity 300 lb.
Payload capacity 740 lb.
Colors Graphics supplied by SSI
Graphics; plastic trimmed by Rath
Price $15,999 (stock)