We reported earlier this year on how X Games Snocross organizer Joe Duncan had put together a new racing series called Terracross. The series featured short track, off-road racing for four-wheel Utility ATVs and the popular UTV or Side by Side.
The season wrapped up two weekends ago in North Branch, Minn., at the HayDays event [world's largest snowmobile gathering with 40,000 people swapping parts and drag racing sleds on grass]. Veteran racer Daryl Rath managed to grab the championship in the ATV category and took a respectable second place in the side by side championship [tape-delay coverage will be on CBS Sports Network at 9 p.m. ET Sept. 30 and 9 p.m. ET Oct. 7].
We caught up with Rath before the dust settled.
ESPN: How does it feel to win the Terracross championship this year?
Rath: It's awesome. Any time you can win a championship, it's something amazing. Like one of my first sponsors told me a long time ago, "Appreciate it because it's something that no one can take away from you. It's something you can take with you the rest of your life". It's not just a race, it's the championship of a series and every one of them is special.
How many national ATV championships do you have now?
I believe this is No. 8. I'm blessed. I have raced all of my life and got to do things that most people just dream of. I seriously have nothing to complain about, I'm 44 years old and I saw people this weekend that I had not seen in 20 years and they could not believe that I am still doing it. And still doing it competitively!
How has ATV racing changed over the past 10 years or so?
We have seen it go from where we had really expensive, hand-built bikes, where we were taking dirtbike motors and custom chassis. We went from that, where there were 300 riders at a race. From the days when WPSA got involved, when the manufacturers all had new bikes out and the factories were involved. That was the peak of in, say, '05 to '07 where everybody was getting into building 4-wheeler parts and everyone wanted to be part of it.
Now I am starting to see where the sport quad markets are starting to struggle again: Suzuki does not build one, Honda hasn't changed anything since '06, Kawasaki got out of it. I have seen the progression and I told Mark Baldwin of Baldwin Motorsports when we lost the WPSA racing series, "We're going to go backwards. It's going to force us to go backwards in racing again."
We were getting just to the level like the dirt bike guys where riders were making a living from doing it. We had the factory teams and we had mechanics, we had the big rigs and all of the stuff that personally I liked to be part of because it was a really professional way of doing things. Now we have regressed back to people doing it on their own dime with maybe a little bit of factory backing. There's win money and bonus money and stuff like that, but not paychecks. That's what I have seen in the last 10 years.
What people talk about with Terracross is that this is basically a stock series. What's the difference with racing stock, compared to all that modified stuff you had in the past?
I personally like what we are doing right now. I would like to see all of the bikes built -- whether it's the cars (UTV side by sides) or the quads all built the same. Take a stock car and put, say, Maxxis tires on it and say, "You have to run these Fox shocks." They are all the same and they are all controlled the same.
Not like, "Oh, he took his quad home and now maybe he has a clutch kit in it." I like it when they are contained (post-race). Whether it is with (race promoter and director) Joe Duncan or whoever, they are contained in an environment where they are not tampered with, like an IROC race. So you give everybody the same tools and it is the guy who can adapt and make it work for him that can win. I love that.
I had racer Zac Zachowski's dad come up to me and said, "You know, we spend thousands and thousands of dollars on racing" -- and Zac's stuff is always very high-end. He said, "I love this. This is awesome!" which was really, really cool. He was a guy who, whether he was spending a thousand dollars or $10,000, he was always looking for the advantages for his son to win. For him to come out of his way to tell me that was pretty impressive and tells me we are doing the right thing.
I had people standing along the fence while we were signing autographs and they said to me, "Are those cars really stock"? I said, "Those cars are showroom stock. All we changed was tires and put doors and seat belts on them." We didn't gusset the frames or do anything special to them. Those are the same cars that came off the truck.
How does your business, Rath Racing, get involved with a series like this and what are the advantages?
We have safety stuff. We have doors and front bumpers, basically to keep us guys from running into one another. So we can keep moving.
Having a short championship with a few rounds this year, did you feel it was as competitive as it has been in the past?
In a short season you have to be on top of your game. You can't have a bad day. In a long season you can have a bad race and you can survive because someone else is probably going to have their bad race too. Here, you had to dot your I's and cross your T's and really watch everything you do. I had some stuff break on me at ERX Motor Park, but I still stayed in the top four. I knew every point was going to count because it was such a short series. It's a whole lot more stressful to run a short series than a long series.
In that last race you had a fight going on where you were beating and banging with Rory Beckman. What was going through your mind while that was happening?
You know, Rory and I have raced together and maintained a friendship since our Arctic Cat days. I guess I was really confused why he was being so aggressive with me. Racing is racing, but there is a reason he got a rolled-up black flag. When someone has got me sideways and up on two wheels and I still hear the throttle pinned … then I got a problem with that.
Bumping in the corner when you are going in hard, that's part of it, but what Rory was doing was wrong. I give kudos to the flagman for seeing it and doing what he did.
It was probably smart that you did not retaliate when the championship was on the line in that race. So how are you going to spend the winter getting ready for next year?
I am anxious to see what the race series comes up with. I would like to see a six-race or eight-race series with doubleheader weekends, I think that works awesome. I'm looking forward to it.