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2012 Dirt Sports Driver Of The Year

Posted in Features on March 1, 2013
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OWNING THE DIRT:
Brad Lovell not only became very familar with short-courses this year taking the TORC Series PRO Light championship, but also claimed the Ultra4 season title as well.

Brad Lovell Photo 68807841 OWNING THE DIRT: Brad Lovell not only became very familar with short-courses this year taking the TORC Series PRO Light championship, but also claimed the Ultra4 season title as well.

Author: Craig Perronne Photos: Boyd Jaynes

Walk into Brad Lovell’s busy pit during any Traxxas TORC series race and beyond the usual hurried commotion of his Amsoil Nissan PRO Light being prepped for the next round, one will begin to notice a few things. First, there is no massive semi truck transporter filled with huge amounts of tools, spares and a hospitality area, but a more modest hauler. Energy drink logos and cans are not present everywhere because there is no giant Monster or Red Bull sponsorship. In place of droves of mechanics are two volunteer wrenchers led by Lovell’s spotter and crew chief JT Taylor. Even Brad’s father, mother and brother are present to lend a hand where they can. This is not a highly funded mega team with money to burn and endless amounts of resources, but rather a much smaller and very efficient family-based team.

Lovell’s journey into the Dirt Sports Nation began in the world of rock crawling in 2004 and in very modest fashion. “Well my brother and I certainly didn’t come from an off-road dynasty,” explains Lovell. “I like to think that we are building one. When we started out, I remember I took $5,000 out of the bank and turned my daily driver into a competition rock crawler. We had a 16-foot flatbed trailer and we would go on the road and sleep on the trailer or in a tent. We have really built this program from the ground up through racing, and we take a lot of pride in that.” That initial $5,000 investment and cold nights in a sleeping bag paid off though, as Brad, teamed with his brother Roger, quickly became successful in rock crawling behind the wheel of their Ford Ranger. Together they would claim 10 championships and 34 victories over the years in the Pro Modified class in both the now-defunct UROC series as well as WEROCK. The victories and Brad’s natural talent in the rocks attracted sponsors along the way, helping Lovell add resources and much needed funding to his growing race program.

Among those sponsors was long-time supporter of off-road motorsports Amsoil, whose familiar red and blue livery covered Brad’s Ranger. As the limelight of professional rock crawling began to fade somewhat, Amsoil pushed Lovell to get involved with the Traxxas TORC short-course series in which Amsoil was already heavily engaged as a presenting sponsor. Brad had taken a close look at the PRO Light class before, but deemed the costs too prohibitive. Now, with the series’ adoption of spec V8 engines, that was no longer the case.

Lovell’s transition from the slow-speed technical world of rock crawling to the high-speeds and high-contact arena of short-course racing three years ago was anything but smooth — more an extreme trial by fire. In his debut race, Lovell would find himself at the fastest track in all of short-course, staring at Crandon International Raceway’s infamous land rush start and subsequent funnel into the triple-digit speeds of the very sketchy Turn One known for producing huge wrecks. With practice cancelled due to rain, Lovell’s only introduction to Crandon would be one very short warm-up lap. The result was predictably not pretty, and much of that season was a struggle to get up to speed as Lovell learned the ways of short-course.

“Three years ago we got the opportunity through Amsoil to get involved in short-course. Everything that first year felt too late, and I knew it was going to be humbling, but man it really showed me how hard short-course is. I think I am the only guy in the history of TORC to roll on a parade lap. There was a ton of learning that first year, and you can look at it and say three years to a championship is really quick, but for me it was really painful. I remember telling guys we are a top team and have won things in other forms of motorsports, but it takes time to figure things out,” reflects Brad on that very rough first year.

Standing Tall:
While Lovell’s three-year run to a TORC championship might have looked easy, it was anything but.

Lovell Photo 68807928 Standing Tall: While Lovell’s three-year run to a TORC championship might have looked easy, it was anything but.

Surviving that initial adversity to become TORC’s 2012 PRO Light champion only three seasons later, together with managing his own team, is rightfully a great source of pride for Lovell. “We have had to come into short-course and invent a team, create driving skills and all of that at the same time. I take a lot of pride in our team and owning it as well as driving.”

Brad’s biggest source of pride, though, comes from rapidly evolving from that trial-filled first year to a team that can take on some of the bigger and better-funded competition of TORC’s PRO Light class. This year, Lovell proved that not only can he run with them, but beat them and take a championship. “It really means a lot to me to win this at the level we are at,” confides Lovell. “Everything we do is as a volunteer team and a family team. I know some guys might look at us and think we have all the money and opportunity in the world, but we are always looking at the next guy and the bigger funded teams. We want to beat them and this year we did, and we are really proud of that.”

REFLECTING ON THE YEAR:
Lovell takes great pride in the fact that his smaller team was able to battle with larger and more well-funded ones with their Amsoil Nissan PRO Light (upper right) and still take the TORC season title.

Lovell Water Reflection Photo 68807844 REFLECTING ON THE YEAR: Lovell takes great pride in the fact that his smaller team was able to battle with larger and more well-funded ones with their Amsoil Nissan PRO Light (upper right) and still take the TORC season title.

The story of Lovell Racing doesn’t end with the Traxxas TORC series 2012 PRO Light title though. Much like last year’s Dirt Sports Driver of the Year Bryce Menzies, Lovell would win not just one championship, but two, claiming the Ultra4 series title as well. Being victorious in two completely separate genres of motorsports that share very few similarities is no easy feat. “It takes a lot of dedication, I think, to win the TORC championship and the Ultra4 championship. The equipment is different, the driving skills and skill of the crews are different,” notes Lovell. “My brother and I sat down and we weren’t exactly planning to run the Ultra4 series from the start, but changed the plans up so we could run Vegas to Reno and go for this gamble. It felt like we went all in with all our money and time. We put in a ton of effort into 2012 and we are really happy it paid off.”

Lovell ProLight Photo 68807940 Lovell-ProLight

The difficulty of the dual championship goes beyond using totally separate skill sets, equipment and expertise, as each series features a plethora of very fast drivers and capable teams, making for very stiff competition. “It is really tough to win a championship in both Ultra4 and TORC,” commented Lovell. “I remember sitting at the American Rocksports Challenge in Ultra4 thinking there is no way we can do this, but things came together and the truck held together. For me it is easy to look back and minimize that, but there is a lot of competition out there and a lot of fast drivers. I think we found a formula that really paid off and gave us a championship.”

Lovell Profile Photo 68807847 Lovell-Profile

The 2012 season was an amazing one that produced a long list of talented drivers eligible for the Dirt Sports Driver of the Year award, but for his amazing dual championships in two very different genres of off-road racing Brad Lovell’s name rose to the top. The fact that he was able to pull off those titles with fewer resources, manpower and funding than some of the larger teams further cemented him as the right pick. His dual wins and overall career show that one doesn’t have to come from a mountain of money or an off-road family to be successful in the dirt. Some, like Lovell, can create their own legacy through hard work and talent. Our congratulations go out to him and the entire Lovell Racing team.

2012 Dirt Sports Honors

RJ Anderson Podium Photo 68807943 RJ-Anderson-Podium

Short-Course Driver of the Year:

RJ Anderson

For 2012, LOORRS’ Pro Lite class was absolutely massive and filled with lots of talented drivers as well as plenty of rookies. The unstable mixture brought lots of chaos along with great racing to each round as veterans clashed with newbies for vital points. Rising above the constant fray this year was 19-year-old RJ Anderson who not only claimed the season title in one of the most competitive and largest classes in LOORRS, but did so in a commanding fashion, wrapping up the points chase early in Round 14 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Deciding to focus completely on the Pro Lite class for 2012, along with teaming with the powerhouse Stronghold Motorsports, turned out to be two very wise moves as it put RJ on the podium a total of ten times over the 15-round season, five times on the top step. The domination was enough to claim the championship by a whopping 44 points over second-place Ryan Beat and make RJ the youngest professional champion in LOORRS history as well as an easy choice for our 2012 Short-Course Driver of the Year.

Robby Gordon Photo 68807850 Robby-Gordon

Desert Driver of the Year:

Robby Gordon

Robby Gordon has long been one of the most talented and fastest drivers in the Dirt Sports Nation. Of course, he is also well known for his extremely hard-charging driving style as well as forging his own path when it comes to technology and vehicle design. While that formula has produced some very dramatic and big wins, it hasn’t always provided the reliability needed for championships.

For 2012 Gordon changed things up a bit and surprised many by campaigning a RPM Off-Road/Speed Energy truggy in Best In The Desert’s 1500 class. The move to the Geiser-built platform seemed to work magic as Gordon’s 2012 season was an epic one and a picture-perfect model of consistency. He started off by winning the Parker 425 overall and then immediately backed that up with another overall win at one of the biggest desert races of the year, the Mint 400. While an overall win at the Silver State 300 would elude him, Gordon still came in first in class and third overall. Another strong performance netted him a second (both in class and overall) at the longest race in the U.S., the Vegas to Reno. He would wrap up his year with a first in class in the 1500 race at the Bluewater Desert Challenge. The epic season easily propelled him to a 1500 Class championship as well as to being named our 2012 Desert Driver of the Year.

Luke McMillin Photo 68807946 Luke-McMillin

Rookie of the Year:

Luke McMillin

The McMillins have always been focused on desert racing ever since family patriarch Corky first stepped behind the wheel of a buggy in the 1976 Baja 1000. Whether it is through DNA or a proper upbringing in the desert, the amount of talent that the McMillin family has been able to pass along through its generations is amazing. Luke, youngest of the McMillin clan, is a perfect example.

In 2011, Luke won the 1/2-1600 championship before deciding to step into the much faster Class 1 ranks for 2012. It didn’t take Luke long to adjust to the extra power and suspension of an Unlimited racer as he went on an amazing winning streak, capturing victories in the San Felipe 250, the Baja 500 and also the Baja 1000. The triple win in one of the most competitive classes in SCORE is definitely spectacular for a first year in class effort, and shows that yet another McMillin is poised to carry on the family’s long history of winning in the desert.

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