BILLINGS – If you’re looking for a peaceful, outdoor afternoon on Saturday, you won’t find it on the Yellowstone Off Road Racing circuit. Best way to describe the Wild West Series may be comparing it to the Dukes of Hazard on steroids.
Jacked up trucks. Tricked out Razors. And believe it or not, even Volkswagen Bugs. All attempting, at times, to catch air. They just don’t sail over other vehicles or crash through barns like the Duke boys did.
No windshields. And when they say ‘eat dust,’ it’s in the literal sense.
“This is Warren Ketchum’s beautiful 10-thousand acre ranch out here and we’ve laid out a 50 mile course,” said Wild West Series racer Wes Nelson, gesturing to the vast fields with no highway in sight. “We’re going to make four laps on it, 200 miles. It’s got everything from windy coolies to just flat-out hundred mile an hour sections. Everything from stock class 1600 Volkswagen Bug powered to high end trucks like this, to higher end trucks.”
“It’s a huge adrenaline rush,” said series president Michael Adams. “You’re nervous.”
This is a side of motor sports Nelson says he lives for.
“When they drop that flag, it’s just really intense. It’s awesome.”
Although racers compete for a purse of several thousand dollars at each event, Adams is impressed at how many drivers will either stop to help, or radio somebody’s pit crew when a vehicle encounters mechanical or tire problems mid-race. Usually miles from pit stops and the finish line.
“Our racers out here are phenomenal,” Adams said, “I’ve seen a guy break (for another racer) that they don’t even know, met for the first time here at registration at the pits. He calls back and says, ‘Hey, they need an axle out here at mile eight. Get ’em fixed.’ We’ll send a pit crew out to them. Get ’em fixed and get ’em back out. These guys are all about just the comradery and racing. When nobody’s out there racing, it’s no fun. So lets get everybody out there and finish this thing.”
“It’s a challenge,” Nelson agreed. “A tremendous challenge. We build trucks and race them and it’s a challenge to build the best truck you can and a competition.”
But once the flag drops, chaos seems to become the theme.
“You go in with a plan. ‘I’m going to drive smooth. I’m going to drive cool.’ They drop the flag and it kind of goes out the window,” Nelson said.
That’s when competitive fire generally kicks in. Nobody wants to limp across the finish line. Or even settle for second.
“They smell blood in the water, you smell the dust from the guy in front of you and you have to chase that dude down,” Nelson said. “I don’t care what he’s doing, what he’s driving, but you have to chase him down and you have to get in front of him so you’re not in his dust.”
The Wild West Series relies on nearly three dozen sponsors for parts, purse money, gear and other necessities. Adams says the circuit’s success wouldn’t be possible without many of them, including Elevated Power Sports & Can Am, 3 North, Inland Truck Parts, Destination X, Full Throttle Auto & Cycle Sales and DRW Performance.
Drivers and co-pilots will spend hours on such a brutally bumpy, all-terrain track, yet admit it’s mind-blowing that the difference between first and second place can still hinge on hundredths of a second.
“You’ve got to make 200 miles. You’ve got to make several hours of racing,” Adams said. “Try not to win it in the first 50 miles. Good calm driver is usually the best, somebody that isn’t nervous. The co-pilot is huge. He tells you what’s coming up… hard left corner, if you need to slow down or keep it wide open and we’ve got this.”
“The secret to success is longevity,” Nelson said. “In order to finish first, first you must finish.”
For directions and details on Saturday’s race near Broadview, plus information on this summer’s additional races in Powell, Sturgis and Columbus, visit the Yellowstone Off Road Racing Facebook page.