PROJECT MACHINE: Racing RZR XP 1000
Racing UTVs is getting exciting. It’s growing in popularity like ATV racing was in the late 80s, early 1990s and between 2005–2009. Most regional series have classes for UTVs. In some of the larger series like WORCS, Best in the Desert and SCORE, the UTV turnouts are bigger than the quad, truck and bike classes. To go racing competitively in a UTV, typically it takes more money than talent, and some guys are spending upwards of $50,000 to go UTV racing.
We are smarter than that. Sure, it would be nice to race a brand-new machine with all the latest gadgetry, mega-horsepower motor and spider-like suspension, but we can’t afford to. So what we did was build a car that only had the minimum amount of safety items and only a few bolt-ons to see if we could compete with the mega-money machines.
We chose to race our 2014 Polaris RZR XP 1000 in the AVE Racing PURE 1000 series (www.averacing.com). These small desert races take place in California City, California, which is less than 100 miles from our office in Valencia. In 2014, the five-round series put on races that grew in length from 125 miles to 275 miles throughout the year and ended up totaling approximately 1000 miles. Pro-class entry fees are $380 and $180 for amateurs, which are far less than a Best in the Desert or SCORE race. Those entries can be over a thousand dollars. And if you compare the seat time and race mileage in the case of Best in the Desert, you’re getting a lot more for your money in the PURE 1000 series. Keep in mind that UTVs only race 160 miles at the Parker 250 and 200 miles of the Mint 400. The only full big races you get in BITD are the Silver State 300 and the Vegas 2 Reno event.
In the PURE series, you can pre-run as much as you want, which adds to the weekend’s fun, and the courses are always challenging but not too brutal. You can have one outlying pit, and no chasing is allowed. In 2015, the series will be six races long with one throwaway. Two of the races are taking place in Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico. The remaining four all start and finish on the same chuck of property in California City, California.
Another reason we chose the PURE series is that you can run a stock roll cage and stock fuel tank. It’s not that we want to skimp on safety; it’s that we race loaner machines that have to be given back at the end of the year, and these modifications are difficult to return to stock. Like other desert series, AVE Racing requires you to have full doors, a rear-facing amber light, window nets, five-point harnesses and a horn. We used lightweight extensions from Polaris to fill out the doors, a metal roof off of a Jagged X RZR, Pro Armor seat belts and PRP window nets. For most of the year we used an air horn, but for the last round we installed a very loud car alarm that worked well. Our fire suits were from Alpinestars, and for helmets we used HJC products.
In 2014, three of the races were day races and two ran into the dark. Every course was different, with only a few shared sections at each event. The competition was not lacking, either; guys like, Mario Santiago, Nick Nelson, Kent Perkins, Justin Lambert, Phillip Martin and Jeff Obering brought out their highly modified machines and proved to be stiff competition.
What we did do to the car to make it race-ready was pretty simple. For suspension, we left all the arms stock and only upgraded the shock internals. We took our shocks to Walker Evans and had them install larger 7/8-inch shafts in the rear and stainless steel 5/8-inch shafts up front. The valving was also stiffened up and the rebound sped up. We kept the springs stock. You might wonder why we didn’t at least run stronger radius rods or A-arms, and the answer was simple: our plan was to drive smooth and not abuse the car. We knew we had the lightest car out there, so most likely it was the fastest too. We drove the RZR with the mission not to slam corners or even bottom out the shocks if possible. In fact, we ran the shocks at full soft so it wouldn’t overwork them or start wearing out the other parts. We didn’t want to risk any downtime to fix anything. We didn’t even carry a spare tire. If you have to stop and fix a spare tire or change a belt, you weren’t going to win. Most flat tires on UTVs are caused by side-wall punctures when the driver slides into something. That exact same action can also damage radius rods, spindles, hubs and so on. No matter which one of those you change in the middle of a race, it will cause you to lose. Driving fast but smart and not having downtime is the key to winning in the desert.
We did upgrade the tires and wheels. In hindsight, we probably could have ran on the stock wheels, but we didn’t mind sacrificing a little weight for the insurance of beadlocks, especially since we were not running a spare. With a beadlock, you can drive on a flat much faster than without. On the rear we ran ITP double beadlocks, and in the front we used STI’s single HD4 beadlock wheels. We liked the narrow offset of both of these wheels. The main reason is that the further out you put your wheel away from the engine, the more horsepower it takes to turn it. Plus, the extra leverage wears on things like ball joints, tire rod ends and bushings.
Finally, for tires, we used 30×10-14 ITP’s Ultracross R-Spec tires on all four corners. We like the rounded profile and low, wide tread patches. They aren’t too aggressive, but hook up great and are very puncture-resistant. In the whole 1000 series, plus another 200 miles of pre-running, we only had two slow leaks from skinny stick punctures. Those tires were plugged and put right back into service. We will run these tires again, unless some tire company comes out with a similar yet narrower 30×9-14 eight-ply tire that we would use on the front, which would save a little more weight. Each race we started with the tires filled up to between 18 and 20 psi.
Communication is key for desert racing, and to connect the car to the pit area we used a pair of 50-watt Vertex standard FM radios from Rugged Radios. The racecourses we ran on were never farther than 25 miles away from the main pit area, and the radios kept us in constant contact. It was the co-driver’s job to relay our position every time we clicked off five race miles. Also, the navigator would tell the pits when the car was about to enter the pit so the crew was ready. The pits would tell us our time splits compared to the competition. And so the driver and navigator could hear each other, we also used a Rugged Radios intercom system (model number RRP242). This is a battery-operated unit that only requires two 9-volt batteries for power. We used Velcro to affix it to the center console between the seats in both the race car and the pre-runner. Each helmet only has one wire going from its speaker/microphone kit to the box. The system works great and is easy to transport from one car to another.
For the two night races, we wanted to see as well as possible, both in the clear sky and in the dust. For the distance lights, we chose a $699 35-inch light bar from Vision X. We simply bolted it onto the metal roof and wired it into the RZR’s battery terminally and put a switch inline. The lights worked awesome. They were more than enough light than we needed for speeds just under 80 mph. We never out-drove the lights or wished for more.
For the dust, we relied on a pair of 6-inch Vision X LED Cannons ($850) with red covers on them. We experimented with yellow and clear covers, and the reds worked best. What we would do in the dust is turn the light bar off and the stock lights on, along with the red Vision X Cannons. And when we got about 10 car lengths from the car in front, we would turn the stockers off. The light from the amber light of the car ahead and the red Cannons were plenty enough light to see. The final extra we installed was a round 5 1/2-inch $40 convex mirror from Extreme Metal Products. This mirror was small but could be used by both the driver and navigator. Extreme Metal Products sells items like roofs ($285), bumpers, windshields and winch mounts for RZRs and all other UTVs. Check them out at www.extrememetalproducts.com.
In a 2013 PURE race when we broke a belt every lap in our Jagged X 900 because we admitted we didn’t know how to properly save the belt in a vehicle this heavy, we changed our riding style, while most race teams experimented with blowers, shaved covers and so on. We learned the key to saving a belt is to first be easy on the throttle, roll into the gas and never stab it full throttle. Then, roll out of it before you hit the brakes. Furthermore, to help things during deceleration, we suggest installing a sand helix in your secondary clutch. It has no engine braking and saves belt life, along with the life of other clutch components. We feel this is the single most important clutch change you can make to a RZR you are racing or trail riding aggressively. Furthermore, when you are on long, straight trails that keep the machine at a consistent mph, modulate the throttle. Say you are going 65 mph, for a moment ease off and go to 60 mph, then go up to 70, then back to 65 mph. You never want to stay at one speed and rpm for more than a few seconds. Allowing your belt to ride on cool parts of the clutch sheaves instead of hot ones is the difference between allowing your belt to last or not. Just to be safe, we did install a brand-new stock Polaris belt every race. Before installing each belt, we washed them with warm soapy water, scrubbed them with a green Scotch-Brite pad, and rinsed and let them dry completely. Before installing the new belt, we always run a dry green Scotch-Brite pad over the clutch sheaves, etching the surface slightly in both directions. Then, to clean off the debris, we use denatured alcohol on a clean paper towel. This system worked flawless; we had zero belt issues all season. The clutch covers, tubes and filter were all left in their stock location. We did use Dirty Dawg clutch weights and a Sparks Racing dampener.
To be honest, we didn’t think we would do as well as we did. We thought the competition would be a little stiffer coming from the big names we have seen entering these races. There was some fight out of a guy named Mario Santiago in an exotic RZR 900 four-seater turned into a two-seater. He actually won the two races out of the five that we didn’t. It turns out that our plan to take it somewhat easy and avoid mistakes and any lost time was the perfect formula. The competition all took themselves out. We saw more broken axles, blown belts and crashed cars than in a WORCS race. The previous year’s champion competing in a Can-Am Maverick also gave us a good run, but a rogue stick through the radiator cost him a DNF and possible a second championship. Our team of Cain Smead, Shanon Powell, Jason Godde and Joe Delucie ended up with the most race wins, the most miles finished and the overall championship. Not bad for a group of working-class guys in a nearly stock car. For more on the PURE 1000 series, go to www.averacing.com. We will see you out there.
RUGGED RADIOS: (888) 541-7223, www.ruggedradios.com
EXTREME METAL PRODUCTS: (216) 267-3900, www.extrememetalproducts.com
PRO ARMOR: (951) 343-9270, www.proarmor.com
PRP: (800) 317-6253, www.prpseats.com
DIRTY DAWG: (763) 228-4345, www.dirtydawgperformance.net
SPARKS RACING: (661) 872-4343, www.sparksracing.com
VISION X USA: (888) 489-9820, www.visionxusa.com