Author: Jordan Powell Photos: Jordan Powell
It’s four o’clock in the morning when the alarm’s painful scream echoes from the corner of my bedroom. On any other day, I would reach for the snooze button in my lethargic state to get an extra 10 minutes of sleep, but today I feel almost wide awake, despite the three hours of restless sleep I had. This is the day I’ve been waiting for, and for quite some time. From the stories I’ve been told, to the images that have been painted inside my head, I’m beyond excited, but I’m not completely sure why. Maybe it’s because of the unknown. Are these people exaggerating, or is this place just as magical as I’ve been promised? How could such a small town in the Midwest bring so much excitement to so many people? Knowing that there’s only one way to find out, I grab my luggage, throw it in my truck and head to the John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California, with a round-trip ticket for my first visit to Crandon, Wisconsin: the mecca of short-course off-road racing.
Touted as the birthplace of short-course, the town of Crandon, which has a population of 1,900 people, serves as the temporary home to more than 30,000 fans, and has been doing so for more than 40 years. Local hotels sell out, and the track campgrounds look like a rolling sea of tents, RVs and fifth wheels. Businesses thrive during this three-day event, and it helps give them the income needed to make it through the rest of the year. Downtown streets that were once desolate now cater to the flock of tourists who casually stroll from store to store looking for antiques and home-cooked meals. It’s a sight that has to be seen, and there I stand, right in the beating heart of all of it. I’ve made it to The Big House.
Over the three days in the north woods of Wisconsin, I gathered a list of reasons why you, our readers, should visit this historic place and share the same experiences I did. And, as it turned out, the 44th annual running of the Crandon International Off-Road Raceway World Championship was a monumental one, and one that will likely be impossible to duplicate in the years to come. The Armory, a Southern California-based advertising agency and production company, announced that it would acquire TORC from the United States Automobile Club (USAC). Two days before the first race kicked off, Scott Taylor and Curt LeDuc announced their retirement from short-course. Numerous drivers from the Lucas Oil Off-Road Racing Series made the 2,000-mile trek to the Midwest to try their hand at The Big House. Trophy Karts came to play, and CJ Greaves narrowly defeated his father, Johnny, for the Amsoil Cup. It was a weekend full of firsts, and one I’ll never forget.
Nothing can compare to the good vibes at an
old-fashioned, small-town parade like Crandon’s.
WHO DOESN’T LOVE A PARADE?
One of the biggest events of the weekend happens about two miles from the actual track, and serves as the opening to the weekend’s festivities: the Crandon Labor Day parade. Hundreds of people line the small stretch of downtown Crandon’s Highway 8 to watch teams, sponsors and locals make their way down the street. Kids dive for the candy being tossed out to the crowd, participants get dressed up as everything from hillbillies to members of the band KISS, local school bands march uniformly to the sounds of their musical instruments, and pit crews partake in various contests throughout the afternoon.
While the quaint parade might be similar to others taking place across small-town America, what separates it from the rest is that race vehicles parade right down the street to the delight of all. Where else can one see Pro 2s, Pro 4s and all kinds of race machinery cruising down Main Street? Only in Crandon.
It’s pretty insane how a town of 1,920 people can pack in over 30,000 die-hard fans. Crandon has been doing it for over 40 years. VIEWS AS FAR AS THE EYE CAN SEE?>
I come from a cookie-cutter suburb in Southern California’s Inland Empire, so Crandon offers views and scenery that topple mine any day. Lush green lawns and towering forests replace concrete jungles, homes and barns sitting on giant plots of land replace houses stacked on top of each other, massive lakes replace community pools, and welcoming locals replace cold neighbors. In the four days I spent in Crandon, I visually built the house of my dreams on Metonga Lake, complete with the wakeboard boat that I don’t own. Although Crandon would be my ideal way of living, I would imagine that you would be known on a first name basis wherever you went, and I don’t know how I would feel about that. And “cold” in California is when it dips into the 50-degree range (b-r-r-r!) so there is absolutely no way I could survive the harsh and frozen wasteland that is Wisconsin in the winter. I guess I’ll just have to relive my dreams every year that I come back to this magical place.
Feeling hot from standing in the sun all day? Only 15 minutes away is Mentoga Lake to cool yourself down. THE LAND RUSH START?>
When I first announced to my friends that I would be going to Crandon, many of them shared with me their own personal experiences at The Big House. If there was one thing that was mentioned the most, it was definitely the infamous land rush start. While most short-course races feature a rolling start, the land rush start is completely unique to Crandon. Coming from a motocross background, these starts are nothing short of ordinary, but when you have 15 or more 900-horsepower, fire-breathing machines tunneling into the first turn at over a 100 mph, it’s exhilarating to say the least.
“The land rush start is pretty crazy,” laughed Ricky Johnson. “I don’t know if very many people have had an experience where they thought, ‘Well, I’m pretty much going to submit to dying right now.’ If you don’t think there’s a slight chance of dying as you go into Turn One at a 100 mph, you’re just being foolish. However, most of us are that stupid. So, to head into Turn One with all that metal and testosterone around you, it’s pretty wild. However, the worst part is sitting on the start line an hour before waiting for your race, and having all of those thoughts.” Like many experiences at Crandon, it is one unique to the historic raceway that simply has to be experienced in person.
Crandon’s Land Rush start is a must see with multiple
trucks flying into Turn One and triple digit speeds.
PRO 2S VS. PRO 4S IN THE AMSOIL CUP
As the Labor Day weekend comes to a close with the last race at the Crandon International Off-Road Raceway, fans are treated to one of the best races of the weekend: the Amsoil Cup. For 19 years, Pro 2s have battled tooth and nail against Pro 4s for not only a pretty hefty paycheck, but also for some serious bragging rights. When the green flag drops, Pro 2s are given a 20-second head start before the Pro 4s are able to start hunting them down. In the history of the event, only three Pro 2s have ever dominated the field: Scott Taylor won twice, and Chad Hord grabbed the third win in 2011.
The fans at Crandon were in for a big treat that Sunday evening when the Greaves family made history as CJ narrowly defeated his father, Johnny, in his Pro 2. “I think if my dad really wanted it, he could have taken it from me,” explained CJ. “However, he didn’t, and it was awesome to cross the finish line side by side with him. I couldn’t ask for anything more than that.” It was a race that had everyone on their feet, and one that will forever be talked about.
Traditionally, the Amsoil Cup is filled with beer, and the winner gets the first honors of drinking from the Cup. Due to the fact that CJ is underage, though, he kicked off the after party by filling up the cup with Sprite. Eventually, however, that was replaced with beer, and the tradition and celebration continued once again.
The father and son duo of Johnny and CJ Greaves made history with CJ narrowly defeating his dad during Sunday’s Amsoil Cup race.?>
WHERE HEROES BECOME LEGENDS
Crandon is the place where all the big names in short-course go to race. By the same token, Crandon is also the place where short-course legends go to retire. If you were a desert racer, where would you want your last race to be? Most would say the Baja 1000. So, it only seems fitting that Scott Taylor and Curt LeDuc chose the 44th annual running of the Crandon International Off-Road Raceway World Championship to announce their retirement from the sport. Though LeDuc still plans to tear it up in some desert races, Taylor plans on having a full retirement, after 40 successful years at Crandon. Both have helped build Crandon into what it is today, so when they made their announcement, the community got together to help celebrate their accomplishments by throwing a party. Tears of joy were shed and countless stories were shared. No place could serve better than Crandon as the final race of two legendary names.
The Pro 2s versus the Pro 4s in the Amsoil Cup are always a crowd favorite with the odds of winning in a Pro 2 being slim.?>
Toss that fancy South Beach diet out the door as it is cheese curds and Miller High Life 24/7.?>
LEAVE YOUR CALORIE COUNTER AT HOME
If you’re looking for lettuce wraps, veggie burgers and cosmopolitans, you, my friend, are in the wrong place. This is Crandon. You go to Crandon and you’re eating bratwurst and cheese curds, washing it all down with some Miller High Life. Coming from Southern California, it was it bit of a culture shock, and I had to adapt quickly. When we hit the town Thursday night, we decided that we needed to treat ourselves to a nice alcoholic beverage. So, at the first bar we came to I ordered a drink I thought was a surefire way to fit in with the locals: a Jack and Coke. I can still picture the look of disgust on the guy’s face sitting next to me at the bar when he fired back, “There are only two things you drink in Crandon: beer and moonshine.” So, I ordered a Pabst Blue Ribbon. Crisis averted. Don’t be a rookie like I was. Now you know.
When Curt LeDuc and Scott Taylor annouced their retirements, the town of Crandon came together to throw a moving retirement party.?>
Every Labor Day weekend, thousands of families and friends flock to the north woods of Wisconsin to witness some of the best short-course racing of the year. For many, it’s an annual vacation. Now, I’ve traveled around the world covering plenty of races and other events, and believe me when I say that Crandon has some of the most die-hard fans around. Come race day, enthusiasts are up bright and early to stake their claim with collapsible chairs and ice chests, just to ensure a prime location on the slopes that line the track. Just by observing, you could surmise that most have been coming to Crandon for years and have the trip down to a complete science. Rob MacCachren summed it up best, “The fans at Crandon aren’t spectators. They are true fanatics.”
Good luck finding a seat once the racing starts at Crandon.?>
SORRY FOR CRANDONING
On the other end of the spectrum, many travel to Crandon just to party. Race? What race? People who have been to Crandon know all about the shenanigans that take place in the campsites that wind through the trees in the far back section of the property, also known as Jurassic Park. But for me, well, I had no idea what to expect. With a name like Jurassic Park your imagination can run wild. “Are you going to party with the tree people?” read a text message from my friend. “Tree people?” I responded. Curious as to what the text meant, I headed out into the woods with a group of people who were self-proclaimed Jurassic Park experts. The first stop: the (naked) slip-n-slide. Although the pictures do no justice (cameras are not allowed at night), the slip-n-slide goes off. Seriously. Crowds of people have been lining up and down the plastic covered hill for 15 years hoping to catch a glimpse of some action as they crush beers nonstop. Once you get tired of that place, you can go from campsite to campsite to party with almost anyone you want. Most are inviting, and are looking to have a good time, just like you.
I can honestly say that Crandon, Wisconsin, is one of the best places I have traveled to. The racing is top notch, the locals and fans are some of the friendliest people you will ever meet and the countryside will make you want to sell everything back home just so you can live there. It’s no wonder Crandon has been running this event for 44 successful years and that’s why I can’t wait to go back.