Racing An UTV Across The Line
Recent years have presented us with an explosion of interest in the UTV market, and new vehicle introduction and aftermarket support have blossomed rapidly. As one would expect, the race sanction organizations have also come to task to include this new breed of four-wheel fun in their competition classes. SCORE International currently runs the Sportsman UTV Class and Best In The Desert offers Pro and Sportsman UTV classes in their race schedules.
Flagstaff, Arizona resident Mark Lindsay got the racing bug when his friend John Crowley suggested they start competing on quads a few years back. That bit of dabbling in the desert race world soon led to both of them building UTV class racers. Mark's side-by-side you see here is a 2008 Polaris RZR and is currently the only UTV to ever finish the Score Baja 500 race.
He entered the 2007 Baja 1000 as his first race. The team, Team Afraidium, had prerun 900 miles before the race, but as chance would have it they broke in the race at mile 105 due to engine failure. A rubber throttle body boot had separated from the intake and allowed dirt to enter and disable the engine. An air box upgrade would soon help to cure that problem.
They went back to work preparing and tuning the car for future races, and the hard work paid off. In late spring of 2008, Mark drove across the Baja 500 finish line to win the SCORE Sportsman UTV class and celebrate as the only UTV to finish the race.
Mark's Polaris retains a stock RZR 800 motor and transmission, but other drivetrain parts have been upgraded for the rough desert environment it must tackle. Gorilla axles are combined with a FST Motorsports suspension and King coilover shocks. FST in Phoenix, Arizona also did extensive cage and other fabrication work to turn the showroom stock RZR into a race capable rig.
Mark told us that the build and racing of his Polaris has been a great learning experience. The question we have to ask is....what does it take to finish a long distance desert race in a UTV?
As the sole UTV finisher in the Baja 500, Mark summed it up with a popular quote: "Success always comes when preparation meets opportunity". He first concentrated on choosing his build parts by picking what he thought were the best upgrade products in the market and combined those with pre-race practice and careful upfront race preparation.
He credits having a good support team along the race course to help him maintain the car and offer confident encouragement. It goes without saying that driving skill plays a huge part in the task. However, Mark is quick to point out that a successful race result is the result of more than just the driver. It's the team supporting the vehicle in the race that truly allows the win.
Looking back, Mark also muses that there are a multitude of decisions made during the race that can lead to either advancement or trouble. It looks like his sum of decisions for the Baja 500 were more positive, allowing him that overall victory!