To comprehend the Midwestern off-road phenomenon that is Crandon, you must first discard most of what you know about four-wheeling. Forget images of slow, deliberate rockcrawling, Sunday afternoon scenic trail rides, or even short blasts through a mudhole. Crandon-more formally known as Crandon International Off-Road Raceway, in Crandon, Wisconsin-is about speed, mind-numbing speed. And unlike desert racing, in this arena of off-road speed, the fastest trucks use four-wheel drive.
Championship Off-Road Racing (CORR) Pro4 4x4 trucks are indeed faster than their Pro2 4x2 counterparts. On CORR's short-course circuits, the Pro4 trucks put more of their 800+ horsepower to the ground than their two-wheel-drive brethren, hooking up and accelerating out of the corners at amazing velocity. Nowhere was this more evident than in this year's $100,000 BorgWarner Cup, held here Labor Day weekend. To even out the field, Crandon officials started the Pro2 trucks 100 yards in front of the Pro4s. By the time the pack reached the Rancho Jump, at approximately the halfway point on the circuit, the Pro4s, led by BorgWarner winner Rob MacCachren and runner-up Scott Douglas, were leaving the Pro2 leaders in their dust.
The physics associated with Pro4 CORR trucks is difficult to comprehend. At Crandon, for example, they must accelerate from a dead-stop land-rush start to more than 100 mph, then be thrown sideways through an off-camber right-hand sweeper in fender-to-fender action that will take your breath away. And that's just the start. These trucks must also handle the rough with equal aplomb. Many of CORR's circuits have choppy whoops sections designed to pummel suspension components and upset the chassis. When the setup is right, the fast trucks skip across these sections with few problems. When it's wrong, things turn ugly in a hurry.
But that's not all. In addition to an assortment of small jumps and whoops, most tracks have one or more big jumps. Crandon's Rancho Jump is the granddaddy of them all, with a leap on record of 165.4 feet. More than half the length of a football field is major-league airtime in anyone's book, especially when the landing zone is hard-packed clay, not soft sand.
Another major foe for both truck and driver is harder yet-rocks. There is good reason why the decreasing-radius turn entering Crandon's infield is called the Gravel Pit. Those huge, specially grooved BFGoodrich and Goodyear race tires fire rocks rearward like they were shot out of a cannons. Heavy metal mesh in front of the driver helps, but broken parts, bones, and bruises are not uncommon.
Sound like fun? For the hard-core off-road enthusiast with a need for speed, Crandon, Wisconsin, is the place to be every Memorial and Labor Day weekend. If you are old enough to remember the off-road races held at Riverside International Raceway in Southern California during the now-defunct track's heyday, then you have some sense of what Crandon is all about. While the Pro4, Pro2, and ProLite (mini-truck) classes grab most of the TV time, Crandon has something for every level of off-road racing enthusiast. In addition to a variety of two- and four-wheel-drive Sportsman Truck classes, Buggies, Classix, and Enduro Trucks, Crandon runs a Good 'Ole Boys beater class for both passenger cars and trucks. Imagine a demolition derby on an off-road race track and you get the picture.
With this much action on tap, it is no wonder why Crandon continues to pack the race fans into its grounds year after year. It has grown from the modest, local off-road race of 32 years ago to the premier closed-course off-road race in North America, if not the world. Where else will you see no fewer than five road graders, a fleet of front-end loaders, and water trucks grooming the track between races? The local community and dedicated Crandon track crew have built something to be proud of in the north woods of Wisconsin. It's an off-road phenomenon that must be experienced to be believed.