Off-road racing is back, and the driver’s came out swinging as AMSOIL Championship Off-Road kicked off its 2022 season in front of a full house in Antigo, Wisconsin.
Old rivalries were revisited, new contenders were unveiled and a whole lot of rut-induced rubbing brought fans to their feat for the season opener. When the dust settled on day one, some of the sports best stood atop the podium, while others put on a charge to keep pace in what is expected to be a wild 12-round ride.
The Champ Keeps It Clean in Round One
Last season, CJ Greaves took home the Pro 4 title thanks to his five wins and overall consistency. Two of those wins came during the opening weekend in Antigo and were accentuated by a rough first weekend by his main rival Kyle LeDuc. A season-long battle ensued, with LeDuc winning four rounds as the former class champion fought to the end before coming up short.
The battle for Pro 4 supremacy resumed in Antigo on Saturday and at the forefront once again were the two Monster Energy drivers. Greaves was on the pole to start the race, with LeDuc a few spots back.
From the start Greaves set the pace, but LeDuc worked his way through the scrum and into second without pause. From there, the two would dice for position, with Greaves keeping up enough momentum to stay out front.
A few minutes into the timed race, LeDuc made the first bobble, spinning the truck on one of the rutted-up 180-degree turns, thus allowing Greaves to be left alone out front. While trying to mount a comeback, LeDuc would find more ruts, this time rolling onto the bottom of the track. He would re-fire, but Greaves didn’t miss a beat out front, cruising to the opening round victory and staking claim as the early points leader.
“We were way off the pace in qualifying and Kyle came out like a rocket ship so we knew we had a lot of work to do, and we did everything we could to get this truck back to where it needs to be,” said Greaves. “Today he was definitely still a little quicker than us, but we were within a tenth or two so it's going to be game on again tomorrow.”
In typical LeDuc fashion, his first race hiccups didn’t slow him down. He set the fastest lap of the race and after he got back on track, the 2020 champ picked up the pace as he worked his way back into third.
LeDuc was unable to catch Adrian Cenni, who was fast all race and stayed out of all of the trouble that was happening to other drivers during the final. Cenni finished second, several truck lengths ahead of LeDuc. Johnny Greaves finished fourth and Jimmy Henderson finished fifth.
Thomas Takes Tight Pro 2 Showdown
After winning Friday night’s Pro 2 Yokohama Duel, Jerett Brooks was looking to back up his opening night win. He was on the throttle early, slipping through a cluster of trucks like thread through the eye of a needle. He started to stretch out his lead over the field and looked like the man to beat in round one.
But Mickey Thomas never lifted and ran close enough to Brooks that Brooks said he could hear and feel him right behind him. Just like Friday night, the final result would come down to a two lap sprint after a red flag came out that would bring out a green-white-checker start. Brooks got the lead, but the rutted up track moved him off his line enough for Thomas to power past. Brooks was never able to completely close the gap and Thomas took home the opening round win.
“That was probably one of the most fun races I've ever run,” said Thomas. “Jarett and I were so close in time that I was just waiting for him to make a mistake and his truck was struggling through some of the bigger holes, so I knew I was going to get a chance. That was a blast man. I hope we have more races this year like that and I'm sure we will because this field is so stacked.”
Kyle Kleiman has always been a second half of the race maestro. He lived up to that billing on Saturday. He was quick early, but lost brake pressure a few laps in. He adjusted well, keeping the lead pack in touch and when the chaos of the restart got the best of several trucks, Kleiman slipped through before making a late pass on Ricky Gutierrez for the final podium spot.
Gutierrez finished fourth and 2021 Pro 2 runner-up Cory Winner crossed the line in fifth.
Heger Picks Up Where He Left Off
It was a wild ride for most of the Pro Lite field on Saturday, with a massive number of fenders being ripped from their steel bodies. But the stout trucks are as tough as their Pro 2 and Pro 4 brethren, and the drivers push themselves to fight for every position.
The top of the Pro Lite field is defending champion Brock Heger. He shot onto the Midwest off-road scene by winning in Antigo last year and kept the momentum up for eight class wins. History would repeat itself in this year’s opener, as Heger set himself for a late race charge, chasing down early race leader Carson Parrish for the win.
“I had a had nothing for Carson at the beginning and he started to run away,” said Heger. “Then they threw the yellow, so I knew I had to make something happen. My truck was definitely set up more for the end, so I figured it was time to try and do something early. Overall, I’m pumped it was fun getting back in the truck and I love racing with all these guys out here.”
Parrish started the weekend by putting his Pro Lite on its hood in qualifying. He was undeterred as he started Saturday on the pole. For much of the race, especially early, Parrish was perfect as he set the pace before Heger’s pass after the caution. Parrish kept up that pace as he pushed Heger to the line before finishing second.
The fight for third was a race long endeavor, but in the end, it was Trey Gibbs who found his spot in the winner’s circle. Gibb started 17th and worked his way through the field and put himself in position on the last lap to get past Connor Barry.
Pro Turbo SXS
Last season ended with a father-son duo sitting atop the Pro Turbo SXS class as Rodney and Owen VanEperen went one-two overall. That championship included a lot of battles between the pair, but also a lot of patience and consistency through the season. Some things never change.
Rodney VanEperen took home the opening round win in Antigo by doing what he does best. Be patient early and fast late. Early leads by Corey Weller, CJ Greaves and Kyle Chaney went away as the elder VanEperen kept moving up the leaderboard from his fifth place starting position. With three laps to go, Chaney pulled into the hot pit and VanEperen took over the lead. Like 2021, Owen VanEperen put the pressure on late in the race, coming up a half-second short at the line.
“I left the door open (for Owen) but every corner you go in and all of a sudden you hook up and it just goes a different direction,” said Rodney VanEperen. “There was a lot of banging and our Yamaha YXZ 1000 just held up unbelievable.”
Greaves, who left the track with a flat tire, rejoined on the lead lap and snuck his way from 20th to third over the last three laps.
Pro Stock SXS: Brock Heger came into AMSOIL Championship Off-Road and dominated the Pro Stock SxS class last season. That dominance carried over into 2022 as the Yamaha driver started the season off with a statement win in the opening round. Heger started 18th but quickly slipped through the field and into the lead before the first lap was completed.
CJ Greaves showed off his upper level talent by fighting for the second spot on the box. Greaves, who moved to Polaris this season after five years with Yamaha, held the second spot through the finish line. Jack LeTourneau moved expertly through the field and held off a bevy of cars to finish third.
Pro Spec: AMSOIL Championship Off-Road has been building its future with efforts like the Pro Spec class, which is similar to a Pro Light but built for Pro truck entry. Last year, Ryan Beat took on the Pro Light class as the lone Pro Spec competitor.
This year, Gray Leadbetter jumped into Beat’s truck and found her way to the top of the podium. Chris Van Den Elzen led for the first half of the race before Leadbetter took over the lead. Easton Sleaper made his pro debut with a third place finish.
Sportsman Racing Saturday
Super Buggy: Michael Meister worked his way into the lead on lap three and started his 2022 campaign with the win. Meister had his hands full with four-time desert champion Dale Ebberts, who took the early lead. But Meister had just enough speed to keep out front and keep Ebberts in his final finishing position of second. Mark Steinhardt nudged his buggy right behind the leaders and held off Michael Hester for the final podium spot.
Pro-Am SXS: Twenty-four side-by-sides hit the Antigo track for the Pro Am SXS race on Saturday, and it was Logan Christensen who led the field from start to finish. Christensen was pressured throughout the race, including late pressure from Bill Berger who finished second. Mike Caswell and Colin Kernz put on a show for third, with Caswell holding off Kernz for the last podium spot.
1600 Light Buggy: Experience ruled the day as veteran Greg Stingle took home the 1600 Light Buggy win on Saturday. Stingle came from a last place start and made the pass for the lead just after the mandatory caution for his first win since 2020. Tyler Hoffman finished second and Taylor Roloff crossed the line in third.
Stock Truck: Brian Peot worked his way into the lead and checked out as he picked up his first career win in the Stock Truck class. 2021 class runner-up Cory Holtger made a last lap pass stick to finish second, one spot ahead of defending class champion Diesel Shanack.
Short Course Karts: Finley Holtger found clean air on the second lap and never looked back, rolling to the opening round win in Short Course Karts. Wesley Vande Voort able to get around Carter Zahara on the final lap to lock down the second spot.
170 SXS: Thirty cars lined up in the 170 SxS final on Saturday, and it was Wyatt Olson who took home the win. Livy Hentges crossed the line in second and Greyson Arneson finished third. Harper Hughes and Liam Peterson rounded out the top five.
Mod Kart: Porter Inglese was a three time winner in the Mod Kart class in 2021, and the Felch, Mich. native notched his first win of 2022 with a dominant performance on Saturday. Troy Johnson overcame some contact in the middle part of the race and went on a tear to finish second. Zack Wirhanowicz finished just behind Johnson in third.
1600 Single Buggy: John Fitzgerald was on a mission in the second half of the 1600 Single Buggy race on Saturday. The Omaha, Neb. native put himself into the top three just before the mandatory caution and sped to the lead after the restart. Dylan Parsons led early before giving way to Fitzgerald and finishing second. Michael Seefeldt came out of retirement to put his buggy on the box with a third place finish.
Super Stock Truck: Defending champion Joey Maciosek picked up where he left off by taking the opening round win in the highly competitive Super Stock Truck class. Maciosek got the early lead and held off several challenges before opening up the gap over the field, which included several trucks shuffling for position. Nick Byng was shuffling through the field as he moved up 16 spots to finish second. Ben Holtger made an all-or-nothing move on the last lap to get back into the final podium spot.
Sportsman SXS: It took until the final two laps, with the race under a green-white-checkered restart, for Trent Peetz to grab the lead and the win in Sportsman SxS. Peetz started 27th and worked his way to the lead back by the middle of the race. He took the lead off the final restart with two laps to go and checked out for the win. Jacob Blemke and Ben Berger battled it out for second, with Blemke gaining the edge.
570 SX: Chase Braun went wire-to-wire to pick up his first win of the season, one year after leading all of AMSOIL Championship Off Road with nine wins. Ellah Holtger and Mason Schultz held a race-long battle for the runner-up spot, with Holtger keeping her car ahead of Schultz’s to get on the second step of the podium.
Photos provided courtesy of Championship Off-Road