Class 11: The VW Bug Is As Strong As Ever
Through the glitz and glam of the top off-road vehicle classes, sits a class that many people overlook, Class 11 the stock VW bug class.
Through the glitz and glam of the top off-road vehicle classes, sits a class that many people and media overlook. Class 11 Stock VW vehicles aren’t as extreme as other vehicles, but it is where some of the most down to earth competitors hang out.
We wanted to take a look and find out what makes the VW Beetle one vehicle that can handle harsh terrain and still be able to finish a race with the driver’s head attached.
History of the VW Bettle
The Volkswagen Bettle has had a long history and remains one of its most iconic vehicles. Over sixty-five years ago, the one-millionth Volkswagen rolled off the assembly line in Wolfsburg.
Following World War II, the Volkswagen factory started slowly producing the Beetle and the Bus, but by 1955 the Beetle was on its way to becoming one of the best-selling vehicles ever. To celebrate the moment, the lucky one-millionth Beetle was painted gold, with bumpers lined in rhinestones.
The car rolled off the assembly line in a celebration with nearly 150,000 people joining in for the festivities. The golden, one-millionth Beetle now makes its home in Wolfsburg’s AutoStadt Museum.
The worldwide popularity of the Beetle led Volkswagen to open its first plant in Mexico in 1967, in Puebla, southeast of Mexico City. From there, Volkswagen began building Beetles that quickly became known as the “vocho” in Mexico, which translates to bug.
While sales in the United States ended in the 1970s, the original Beetle remained a popular and economical choice in Mexico. In September 1980, a red Beetle marked the one-millionth vehicle produced at the factory, with a celebration that gathered Mexican government officials, Volkswagen executives, local business partners, and hundreds of employees together. The original Beetle would remain in production there until 2003.
Bringing Class 11 into the Digital Age
The Class 11 vehicles of off-road racing have a straightforward class description; Stock VW. Regardless of what series or race the Class 11 racers are a mix of true grit off-roaders to being referred to as the crazy ones.
Racing anything off-road is exciting, but what makes people want to race in a stock VW is something many of us do not understand. The more popular classes include the high-dollar, top-of-the-line vehicles, and almost have an expectation to finish. Class 11, on the other hand, is the complete opposite, but they still push themselves to get the checkered flag.
We spoke with Class 11 Junkies, a group that is bringing all Class 11 drivers together and helping keep the class moving forward.
“It is critical that anyone wanting to learn more about Class 11 or build a Class 11 understand that this a ‘stock’ class,” Audra Smith of Class 11 Junkies explained. “It is a limited build with respect to what you can and cannot do. If the rules do not say that you can do it, you cannot!”
“There is no real way to seek out massive horsepower or make modifications that would give you an advantage or performance gain against your competitor,” Smith continued. “All exterior and interior components must remain stock, barring some allowable adaptations. Keeping all builds stock and equal across the board is what makes this class a true ‘Driver’s Class’ which Class 11 is often referred to as.”
What makes any group strong is a passion is being pushed. For the Smith’s, that is exactly what drove them to create the group.
“Being a big fan of Class 11 racing, in 2009 I started a Facebook group called Class 11 Junkies, as we were planning to build an 11 and race it,” Smith said. “Jump forward to 2018, we still had not accomplished that goal. However, the group grew and as it would happen we became the new ‘go-to’ forum for Class 11 racers and anything Class 11.”
“To date, the group has over 5,000 members, and we have launched an Instagram account as well as a website,” Smith continued. “In this last year however we have seen a big resurgence in Class 11 and interest peaked big time. Class 11 has always been a favorite of people, many relating to their first car in high school or a Baja Bug they built with their dad.”
Hearing any driver give a post-race report is something you wish you could experience yourself. Talking about the high’s and low’s of the race is something in itself, but it also makes fans realize that they can do it and afford to do it.
“The stories have been amazing,” Smith said. “People see these Stock Bugs race, give it their all, and quite frankly get the crap beat out of them, but they finish! And, when they don’t, they still have the best stories to tell and laugh about after a race.”
“When people come to races they go to see a big name driver or the Trophy Trucks, but when they see us race we become that underdog that people stay to watch or go pit to pit after to see the cars and carnage,” Smith continued. “At the 2019 Rage at the River, after telling people we were racing a Class 11, I had several people say that they were there for another class but could not wait to get up early on race day just to see the famous and iconic Class 11 Land Rush Start.”
In recent years, Class 11 Junkies have had people reaching out from as far as Pennsylvania asking how they could build a Class 11. Together, as a group, they teach and talked these builders through their builds which ended up racing the 2020 Mint 400. Due to the growth and respect of Class 11’s, big-name trophy truck guys are now building Class 11’s.
“Class 11 spectators should pay attention over the course of the next year! In this last year, given the resurgence, we have brought in big-name sponsors such as EMPI and Rugged Radios, drivers like Blake Wilkey, and people are taking notice,” Smith explained. “That is just the beginning, we are reaching out to new sponsors, promoters, and planning new races like the ‘Class 11 Shootout.’ From the research we are doing, the class doubled if not triple in 2021.”
“Promoters are seeing this and as a result, they are taking Class 11 serious again,” Smith continued. “We are getting them equally as much spectator interest and media response as the larger spendy classes.”
Having a group that sticks together regardless of racing eachother, makes it even more special and at the end of the day that is what Class 11 is all about.
“All be it a racing class, at the end of the day what separates Class 11 from other classes is that we are family,” Smith said. “Of all the classes, this is the most tight-knit. Yes, when the green flag drops, we are all competitors, but before and after the race we support each other and are all friends.”
“We share pits during a race, we share pit crews during a race because our teams are small, and one team remote pits for other teams as well as their own,” Smith continued. “We all chip in for the sake of the spirit of the class. Class 11 has always been that way and we will do everything possible to keep it that way.”
With a motto of “Bringing back the spirit and history of Class 11’s one race at a time,” it is groups and people like this that help drivers and the class push forward.
The Heart of Class 11
We all see the iconic VW bugs in tech or lining up at the start, but it is the people behind the wheel that continue to put in the work to get the vehicles prepped and ready to go. To find out more about what makes Class 11 what it is, we spoke to many drivers that have been apart of the class for quite some time.
One driver that has been apart of racing Class 11 in Baja since the age of 15, is Dave “King Dave” Hendrickson. This man knows the true spirit and origin of Class 11 as well as its history and culture.
“To me, the most important part of Class 11 is following the rules put out for the class, without following the rule book, run what you brung has never been part of this class,” Hendrickson said. “The history of Class 11 is something a lot of racers and spectators overlook. Class 11 has been around 46 years now as a class. Solid rules and following those rules is the reason Class 11 has lasted as long as it has, but it never fails when new people want to immediately change the class to suit them not adapt to the class rules.”
“The class through the years has gone up and down for decades with the main part of the class remaining the same,” Hendrickson continued. “People can still build their car in the garage and not break the bank building it or buying one.”
With the growth of all the UTV classes, Class 11 has stayed as true to the sport as any class. They are still the same with the adaption of technology as they were when the class started.
“A well-built and prepared Class 11 is at least $10,000 to $15,000 cheaper than a UTV that rolls out the dealer door then has to have tens of thousands put into it just to be halfway competitive,” Hendrickson said. “I know, I have one that is only missing the tube chassis and the word cheap was never meant for a UTV. Class 11 has always been called the working mans class.
“UTVs are big right now as most finance the car which is really big money to build,” Hendrickson continued. “Class 11 at one time was bigger than the UTV class today.”
Having a vehicle that people can relate to and have the opportunity to build makes people look. With the ability to have an actual vehicle in the garage compared to a poster on the wall is something that continues to bring new Class 11 fans.
“Spectators look at Class 11 and say is heck we could do that, let’s build one and the wheel starts turning,” Hendrickson said. “That is how many have got their start in this sport and this class as it is cheaper to get you and your friends to stop spectating and start racing.”
“The problem I see for Class 11 in the future is finding suitable cars to buy and build as they are getting harder to find and when found the owner thinks he has a pot of gold and wants more than the darn thing was brand new,” Hendrickson continued. “I like the fact it’s growing again, but frustration has caused a lot to quit the class over the years as most build their own car, but are learning along the way which leads to DNFs.”
“Class 11 is great fun and has given so many a start in this sport and will continue till the cars dry up which I never thought possible,” Hendrickson finished. “After all these years, I still have a very strong passion for Class 11.”
Dennis Sletten started driving in 1994, with his first Class 11 race being in 1995 at Glen Helen Raceway. Collectively, the Slettens have built or helped to build close to 20 Class 11 cars.
Sletten has four championships under his belt and his sons, Richard and Tim, have two. In 1996 Sletten won the very first off-road race at Perris Auto Speedway when it first opened. We had the chance to speak with Sletten and understand why he likes Class 11 so much.
“I feel that an important part of Class 11 is being one with your car and not pushing it too hard,” Sletten said. “Patience and finesse! You can build them mild to wild.”
“I think that there is a resurgence in Class 11 because people are seeing the fun we are having in them with all the laughs and enjoyment,” Sletten continued. “Doing it with your friends and family, and keeping the cost down and most people can afford to build them. Stock Bug racing means limited money, limited horsepower, limited travel, but it also means getting out with family and friends, laughing, and telling stories of the fun we had.”
To get the perspective of someone newer to the class, but still a veteran in many people’s eyes, we spoke to Robert Johnson who has been racing Class 11 since 2006. That same year he raced his first Baja 1000.
“Like most, I watched Dust to Glory and saw Eric Solarzano in it,” Johnson said. “My family has a strong tie to Volkswagens, my dad’s friend, Gary Hop, owned Bugs Unlimited in Woodland Hills, California and we all drove them. I still have the 1964 bug my dad restored for me when I was 15.”
“I think the most important part of Class 11 is the competition, but at the same time, we are still a family, sharing parts, pits, and whatever we need to make sure we all get to race,” Johnson continued. “I think there is a resurgence in the class because people are starting to look back to grassroots racing and there is no other class you can go to but Class 11.”
Regardless of who you talk to, anyone related to Class 11 talks about the family aspect of the class. Class 11 is also a look into the past of what off-road racing began as.
“It epitomizes grassroots racing and the nostalgia of off-road racing,” Johnson said. “To be honest, a lot of famous Class 11 racers went on to race big stuff. I was fortunate to talk to Sal Fish one day and he started in Class 11.”
“Class 11 spectators should be coming up and talking to the racers, we are a class that wants to expand and always looking to find new pit crews and racers,” Johnson continued. “Class 11 is the oldest, purest of the original classes.”
One of the newest drivers in Class 11 and one that has brought the spotlight to the class, even more, is Blake Wilkey. With Wilkey’s social following and daily social media updates, coverage of Slug Shark, his Class 11 VW, is seen by many.
“What I like about Class 11 is the fact that it’s affordable yet so much fun,” Wilkey said. “It’s the baseline of off-road racing and as we all know my builds have all been based on the VW bug.”
If anyone should have been apart of this class Wilkey was the right one. His love for the VW Bug is shown in everything he does and Class 11 adds to it.
“The competitors like 11 Brothers Motorsports and C11J Motorsports shared a ton of information before and while I was building my car which truly shows the character that Class 11 has,” Wilkey explained. “Everyone at the race track seemed to watch Trophy Trucks and the stock bug class.”
“While my dream was to build the Trophy Truck Bug in the meantime I figured I can build a Class 11 that’s relatable to so many and heavily viewed at the races,” Wilkey continued. “Figure it would be my best move to get more racing experience and exposure.”
Where would someone new to the class like to see it go? Wilkey had a great idea for one way Class 11 could grow in the future.
“I’d like to see more dads build a Class 11 with their kids and friends,” Wilkey said. “It’s the cheapest class and I’d say one of the most fun classes you can race. It is low stress, solid camaraderie, and nothing but good times.”
Wilkey’s Class 11 record has been nothing but successful since he started racing at the 2020 Mint 400. He has finished first in almost every race he has entered, won the point championship in the MORE series in 2021, and recently won the 2022 Mint 400. The future is bright in Class 11 for Wilkey and the veterans have taken him in as one of their own from the start.
As Robert Johnson discussed watching the movie Dust to Glory pushing to get racing a Class 11, we had a chance to talk to someone featured in the sequel to the original Dana Brown film. In Dust 2 Glory the film features Dennis Hollenbeck Chairez and the no. 1121 car named Bochito, and Brown captured exactly what Class 11 is all about.
“For us, races can tend to be like a big Thanksgiving get together,” Chairez said. “We swap stories, parts, help each other out, and I’ve even pulled over in my chase Jeep to help out a fellow competitor. In one race our help and parts played a part in getting bumped from second place to third place but in the end most of the guys we all race against are also great friends.”
“From what I’ve seen and experienced, Class 11 has always been a fan favorite for as long as I can remember,” Chairez continued. “Even as a spectator and fan of off-road, we never left until the Class 11’s rolled on by. I often hear ‘Someday…’ or ‘It’s been my dream…’ in relation to building a Class 11.”
The dream of racing off-road is a bug that bites nearly every spectator attending their first event. It is something that gets the blood going even from the sidelines.
“There is an elegant mystic that is surrounded by an element of knowing you have built and that you are climbing into one of the most challenging classes there is to race,” Chairez continued. “I got into Class 11 because I saw it as the ultimate challenge in being the underdog in an impossible race and I like the family feel that existed within the class.”
“You take the dreamer’s and those looking to enter into the world of off-road racing and Class 11 just seems to be the easy way in, I mean what’s so hard about building a race car from an old VW, haha,” Chairez continued. “Little do we know of the challenges waiting for us.”
It is more than racing that pushes Class 11 into the future. From social media, media attention, to the drivers, it all pushed the history of Class 11 to the next generation.
“Social media has much to do with the resurgence of Class 11, as it allows more people to get exposure, an avenue to pick the brains of us that do race Class 11, and it becomes tangible without feeling alone in your quest,” Chairez continued. “Facebook pages, race team pages, movies like Dust 2 Glory tell that guy that is dreaming about racing the encouragement and hope to take the next step.”
“Our good friends with Warrior Built Foundation say that it was Bochito and H12:One Racing that inspired them to get into Class 11, just as for me it was the Desert Dingo’s and Eric Solorzano that inspired me,” Chairez said. “The more we project our love for racing in Class 11, the more attention we can attract and bring in more racers.”
“I think most of us that race in Class 11 were the average guy standing on the sidelines wondering how and the heck do we get into off-road racing,” Chairez explained. I think most Class 11 teams are built of very self-motivated individuals and you need to be if you are going to race in this class.”
“There are no engineers, crew chiefs, specialized technicians, and for the most part, it’s us with our cars that sit in our garages,” Chairez continued. “I think Class 11 gives that spectator a foot in the door into the world of racing all while being amazed that we’re racing in vehicles that have stock control arms, trailing arms, and drum brakes.”
“You also hear from others that Class 11 is the ultimate warrior class and the driver’s class. Even other race classes and unlimited classes are big fans of Class 11,” Chairez said. “It is a humbling thing when an upper unlimited class team member turns around to shake your hand and unload some big respect on you. Class 11 is everything many want to see, and the last thing you’d expect to see at contingency before the Baja 1000, and for many, they will stay camped out in the middle of nowhere waiting for that lone Class 11 to go racing by.”
“If you have ever dreamed of getting into off-road racing, this can be for you, but if you are not ready to spend lonely nights working on your Class 11, or digging out buckets of silt after a race then this might not be for you,” Chairez explained. “Still, hooking up with a team is the best way to go about it and there are some great people out there to race with.”
Class 11 has been apart of keeping off-road racing true to its start. As many things in today’s world seem to be lost in transition and technology, Class 11 has dug into the dirt to remain true to its roots.
The VW Bettle has a long history in off-road racing and will remain in off-road racing for the foreseeable future.