BY: MIKE ELLINGTON
It’s hard to believe that the Midwestern sand drag racing season has been finished for nearly a month now. This past summer really flew by. If you’re like me, it’s hard to stay indoors even when the mercury starts to drop. Holidays and indoor activities that took a back seat to racing earlier in the year seem to be business at hand though it’s still hard not to get involved in some type of winter activity involving an internal combustion engine. The guys and girls who live up north and frequent the Michigan tracks have their snowmobiles to bomb around on. I’ve also recently learned that the ATV racers stud their tires and head out to the nearest frozen lake for some ice drags.
Now head down a little further south where I’m from and we don’t get near enough snow to justify a snowmobile and I have no desire to be on a frozen lake in central Ohio. So what are we going to do? Well, back at the end of 2006 we bought a Yamaha Rhino as a pit vehicle. It seemed like a waste to leave such a capable machine sit all winter long with its only job being the occasional plow job on the driveway. Many of the other racers we compete with have off road trail rigs that they’ve built up over the years. They hit the trails around most of the major holidays. So, last winter we decided to tag along.
What a blast it is to go running through the mud and climbing hills and playing follow the leader through a wooded off-road park. The Rhino is somewhat maintenance free when compared to the two race cars. Plus all of our friends are there. It’s almost like we’re hanging out at the race track. It does look a little strange when you see the door on one of your buddies enclosed race trailer come down and there’s a muddy trail rig inside. And the fire suits and helmets are traded for coveralls and winter gloves. But it is definitely just as fun as being at the races, although a lot slower pace.
It’s nice that there’s no real structure or organization. There are no practice runs and registration. Just unload your rig and do as you please. Although I’d be lying if I said there isn’t a little friendly competition involved. Come on, we’re racers. It’s in our blood. The more experienced wheelers with the bigger rigs seem to take the hard way through the woods. They may try a hill that they think the guy behind them cannot make. And with each rig varying from bone stockers with lockers to full out exo-caged, four-linked, buggies riding on 44” tires it can make for some pretty exciting moments. I have to say I’ve seen more carnage in those Indiana woods in my few trips than I’ve seen in years at the drag strip. Axles, U-joints, ball-joints, tires, and any other drive train part you can think of; and of course these parts fail in the worst spots. MacGyver-like ingenuity, tow straps, and hi-lift jacks are your best friends at this point.
But just as any motor sport it soon becomes an addiction. My Rhino is pretty darn capable in stock trim, but I seem to always be wanting a little more. So where do I go from here? It never seems to end with boys and their toys.