Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, you’ve witnessed the massive influx of UTVs taking over a good chunk of our beloved industry. UTVs or side-by-sides—whatever you want to call them— these steering-wheel-laden, gas-pedal-powered, seatbeltsporting machines are popping up everywhere. And why wouldn’t they? They have roll-over protection structures for safety. They’re amazingly capable, and it doesn’t require athletic ability or endurance to drive them fast. As they say, “With age comes a cage,” and these things are putting the fun back in the sport, especially for the over-30 crowd. There are lots of different venues adding UTVs to their race schedules. Off-road racing venues like WORCS out West are witnessing huge SxS entrance numbers, and it doesn’t stop there. The 2015 opening round of BITD desert racing just witnessed 57 UTV entries. As ATV entry numbers have dropped off drastically, this is by far the largest class found in any desert racing organization we know about. The 2014 SCORE Baja 1000 had over 20 Pro UTV entries, and they are proving they can finish these longer races. AVE Racing’s Pure UTV Desert racing series is also growing rapidly, and you can race without an accessory fuel cell.
Lucas Oil Regionals also provide a whole different type of exciting UTV racing. They have a regional series for Southern California, Arizona, Reno and Utah. The Lucas Oil Series includes multiple classes of UTVs racing on stadium-trucktype tracks that are notoriously fast and provide great spectating. If you’re not on the West Coast, the GNCC series and other local or regional cross-country race series are experiencing similar UTV turnout. TerraCross is also bringing UTV racing to the mainstream with excellent TV coverage and packed venues like the HayDays snowmobile event in North Branch, Minnesota, and the Auto Show at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
WHAT’S IT TAKE?
It takes less than you think to race UTVs at many different venues. Personal safety gear is pretty similar at all the different venues, but vehicle requirements are a lot more extensive for BITD and SCORE Desert Racing. The main difference with desert racing is the special fuel cell, safety lights and extensive cage requirements. Lucas Oil has a little stricter cage requirements than most other organizations but doesn’t require the bed-mounted fuel cell.
As with any form of racing, or even just plain operating a UTV or SxS, you need to wear a helmet. Desert racing requires a fireproof, automotive-racing helmet with a face shield, and going one step further to an air-pumper helmet will drastically increase comfort. Race helmets feature shatter-proof shields and liners that are certified to not flame up in the event of a fire. Parker Pumper-type helmets add an air inlet to the side or top of these helmets and connect via a plastic hose to a filtered air blower. Parker Pumper-type helmets are available from HJC, Impact, Pyrotect, Simpson and Bell. Pumpertype air blowers are reasonably cheap and can be purchased from Parker Pumper, PCI or Rugged Radios for less than $200. They pump fresh, filtered air into your helmet, providing cooling in the heat and preventing fogging on colder days.
Some smaller desert series do not require an automotive-type helmet, and neither do WORCS, GNCC or TerraCross. A quality, Snell-rated MX helmet will do the trick at these races. While both have their advantages, WORCS SxS champion Beau Baron says he prefers his Shoei MX helmet, as it has a visor for the sun and allows him to use his X-Brand goggles with Roll Offs for extremely muddy events.
FIREPROOF DRIVING SUIT
Nearly every racing organization requires SxS racers to wear a fireproof driving suit, and with good reason. You are racing a high-performance off-road vehicle, in a cage, strapped to a seat, and sitting over a fuel tank. MX riding gear may provide great abrasion protection when you hit the ground, but it will also go up in flames almost immediately. Some more sanctioned events, like SCORE and BITD, require more expensive, multi-layer Nomex fire suits, but many just require a fire-resistant driving suit.
These higher-end Nomex suits can be found from Alpinestars, MasterCraft, Crow, Axcel Sports and Simpson. Ranging from $300 to $2000, there are a number of different Nomex suits available. Lower-priced, entry-level, fire-resistant driving suits can be found starting at just over $100. These suits are usually single-layer suits with a fireproof chemical treatment instead of layered Nomex. The single-layer suit is also much lighter and will be more comfortable on hot summer days. For an affordably priced entry-level suit, check out the K1 driving suit from PCI Race Radios.
DRIVING SHOES AND GLOVES
While many organizations will still let you drive with regular shoes, it’s a great idea to wear race shoes. These shoes will not only save your feet in the event of a fire, but they will also improve your driving. Pedal feel is drastically improved with these lightweight, unobtrusive race shoes. We use the Alpinestars SP1 race shoe, and it feels very similar to a wrestling shoe. The narrow sole allows the driver to easily switch back and forth from gas to brake without overlap. The snug, minimalistic feel also lets you really feel exactly where the pedal is at all times.
Also, many simply use off-road riding gloves or even Mechanix Wear gloves to drive UTVs, and many race organizations allow their use in UTV racing classes. It’s a good idea, however, to wear fireproof, auto racing or karting gloves. If there is a fire, you’ve got to use your hands to undo harnesses, nets or doors, right? Alpinestars has Karting Nomex gloves from $49.95 to $89.95 and automotive-approved gloves for $99.95 to $169.95. Adidas, Puma, K1, Impact Racing, G-Force, Oakley, OMP, Sparco and Mechanix Wear all offer fire-retardant gloves.
While vehicle regulations for the bigger desert series are pretty extensive, the gist of it is fire safety with a fuel cell, fire walls and fire extinguishers. They require roll-over and impact protection with cage/door requirements, and there are visibility and lighting requirements as well. You don’t really want to get run over by an 800-horsepower Trophy Truck, do you? For WORCS and GNCC, the setup rules are a little more lax. You will need a cage with a six-point design, whether stock or aftermarket. You will also need four-point harnesses, window nets, a metal roof, doors and an easily accessible fire extinguisher with a quick-release mounting system.
Check out the following companies to get ready for that first race!
Check out these sites for cool places
to race your UTV: