As you wait at the starting line, planning out the best line to take into the first turn, the nervous rise and fall of engine rpm can be heard around you. Sitting on either side is a group of Polaris RZR XP 1000 UTVs with fellow competitors in their pilot seats. Camera crews are aiming their lenses on the pack while their film feed fills TV screens around the world. Right before the race begins, a final thought occurs to you: my competitors are piloting the exact same machine, and not one RZR has an advantage over mine; it’s all about driving skill.
The starting gate drops and you hammer the throttle down. All four wheels of your Polaris dig into the tacky dirt and propel you to the front of the pack. As you pitch the Polaris sideways into the first corner, thoughts from practice earlier fill your head. Don’t ease off the throttle over the tire spine. Hold the outside line after the whoop section to keep up momentum for the first jump. If I drive smart I can hold this lead. Now this is what we call equal racing!
The Terracross championship is the most publicized UTV race on television. It started off in the early 2000s as a 4×4 quad obstacle race that ran on ESPN for the Great Outdoor Games. After the Outdoor Games faded away, Terracross came back in the mid-2000s with their Quad Terrain Challenge. At the time Yamaha Rhino UTVs gained popularity on the market, so of course the first UTV race was put on. However, most of the machines couldn’t finish the race in one piece.
Joe Duncan assisted with running the Terracross events from the beginning. After the Quad Terrain Challenge eventually slipped away, he bought the Terracross name and kept it from returning to the spotlight. The right moment to reintroduce the event eventually showed itself to Joe. He broke out 4×4 quads and the new sporty UTVs with Daryl Rath and Doug Gust. The sport UTV market was growing, and the challenging obstacle course racing was a hit with the faster and better-handling machines. Eventually 4×4 quads fell out of the events and UTVs took the spotlight. Joe had no plan to commit to putting on another racing series, or running it on TV. However, it gained popularity too quickly to turn down. He gathered partners to help support the event, and “so began the birth of the cost-effective, high-action, big-name athlete, entertainment television, spec Polaris RZR XP 1000 Terracross championship,” said Joe Duncan.
Dirt Wheels: How did the modern version of Terracross come about? Tell us about some of the planning and closed-door meetings before it went public.
Joe Duncan: Well, my goal and vision with 4×4 quads and UTVs was to have them race as a side show. In my meetings with key executives at Polaris, they wanted to push the new RZR platform. As cool as the 800s and even the few 900s were, I was a little skeptical about going in that direction. They said, “Trust us, we have a vehicle for Terracross.” Little did I know at that time that the Polaris RZR XP 1000 was about to be released. We were going to be the first series to race it, put it on TV to expose it, beat the crap out of it, and the first to reap the rewards of a factory-built, pretty much bulletproof machine that can go from the showroom to racetrack with little safety and cosmetic upgrades—taking the cost of racing from the $40,000 range to a $20,000 range. The first race weekend at ERX Motor Park was a very interesting start. We couldn’t see the machines, order parts or test drive them until a week before having the units delivered to ERX. We had little time to put five-point seat belts in and a few other items. Our Walker Evans beadlock rims and GBC Mongrel tires left California on Wednesday evening in a U-Haul truck and showed up at 1 a.m. Saturday morning. Racers and crews assembled all the tires and rims, and at 5:45 a.m. I had photos of the shop full of wheels ready to go onto machines. Our start time was scheduled for 11 a.m.; needless to say we started a bit late, but when all was said and done we had amazing machines, and great racing came out of this project.
DW: How was the series received by the fans, TV viewers and OEMs?
JD: Fans loved it—bar-to-bar racing action with the 4×4 800-pound machines that have since then became flying machines. Fans felt like they were a part of the action, especially the mud sections where they could get a bit dirty during the racing. That is how close you were to the low-speed, highly technical sections. TV was a no-brainer, and we specifically designed the course to make cost-effective and easy-to-film TV. After 15 years with the Winter X Games and live television, you learn a thing or two about keeping costs down and TV excitement high. As for OEMs, it was tough to understand this spec-type racing. Machines set up equally to make the racing as close as possible and leave the racing to the drivers, not to the ones with the most money, best mechanics and that have no day job so they can ride every day. Terracross was designed for the common man/woman racer that can show up and be competitive without having to spend all that extra money keeping up with the racer next to them on the start line. Polaris was the only one that gave us a chance, and it has paid off for all of us involved.
DW: Are the machines identical? They look a little different, such as cages, bumpers, etc.
JD: Mechanically they are exactly identical. Most run Polaris accessory bumpers and nerf bars, but we have allowed some of our partners’ products, like Pro Armor, CageWRX and some racer partners for bumpers. We upgraded the RZR radius rods to Holz, Lonestar, CageWRX, and then installed PRP/Pro Armor seat belts, seats, aluminum roofs and that is all she wrote. We use stock roll cages to again show that these machines can come off the dealerships floor and go right to the racetrack or trail without having to spend a ton of extra money.
DW: What is the cost to enter a race? Rent a car for a full season? Are there any requirements as to skill levels for the Pro class?
JD: Costs vary depending on what the racer/athlete/celebrity is bringing to the table. The basics are for about $2000 a race to be on national TV, fly in/fly out, no trucks and trailer required, no spending all that time on the road traveling to and from the event, and full mechanics are on-site. There is a VIP area for the top names in action sports, off-road racing and celebrities. For the average Joe racer, Terracross is the cheapest bang for your buck. With two full races per event and 12 hours of CBS Sports television coverage, you can’t beat it.
DW: Tell us a little about the women’s class and any amateur classes, such as machine types, entry fees and venues that will be offered.
JD: We have an amazing women’s class this year. Last year had four women, wheel-to -wheel racing, and you never knew who was going to win. Jamie Ward and Cindi Hart tied for the championship, and we had to go all the way back to who won the last race since they had the same amount of wins, same amount of races, same everything. Jamie ended up winning the last race, which broke the tie. They are both champions in our book. Trea Behrendt and Sarah Gildea both battled and were contenders at each race, but this year, oh boy, things are going to get crazy. We have women from all different series coming to race. Unfortunately for Terracross, but so very happy for Jamie Ward, she is pregnant and having her second child. So as much as she wants to defend her championship, she will take this season off and plans on returning in 2016.
DW: Who were some of the major stars of the early ATV series?
JD: Daryl Rath and Doug Gust for sure. Without them Terracross would have never happened. Donny Banks and Rory Beckman were also big in the early days.
DW: Will there be any ATV classes this year?
JD: Not this season, but my goal is to bring it back at some point, as I think it is still one of the coolest TV/spectator events.
DW: Tell us what companies make Terracross happen?
JD: First and foremost, Polaris and specifically ORV/RZR. What a great company to work with and grow with. They have amazing engineering and support staff all the way to the top. CBS Sports network and our great production company. Mystik Lubricants who really stepped up and made it possible to grow as we have; they are the official lubricant of Terracross. GoPro, Randy and all the guys at Walker Evans, GBC Tire, the crew at Fox, Rath Racing, Pro Armor, HMK, PRP, Keystone, Holz, LoneStar, Rugged Radios, Bad Endorsement, No Style Productions, Enigma, Nielsens, Fullerton Sand Sports, Optimas, Divas, Andersin, WGAS, Snobarons, Charlotte Motor Speedway, and the Del Mar Fair. My amazing staff that puts up with all the rough early mornings and late nights to make Terracross function smoothly. And last, all the great UTV/ATV/off-road media that is at our events, supporting our racers, like Dirt Wheels and all the rest.
The first round of the 2015 Terracross championship was held June 25–26th in San Diego. The second round on September 12–13th will be held at Haydays in North Branch, Minnesota. To conclude the season, the last round will be at the Charlotte Motor Speedway on September 26–27th. The airing dates to watch the first round on CBS Sports Network are July 19th and July 26th at 6 p.m. Check out www.terracrossracing.com for info on the TV schedule of the last two rounds for the championship.