RACE RECAP FROM DIAMOND WILLOW 2.0
Written by Mike Kowis, Esq.
Round 5 of the TX4 Cross-country Series will go down in history as the event that separated the men from the boys! 35 ATVs and 16 UTVs (including minis) braved the harsh elements at Diamond Willow Ranch. Saturday’s ATV races were held in sloppy conditions with constant rainfall and 40-degree temps. Brrr. Sunday’s weather was still cold, but no rain. Most of the track was nearly perfect except for a half-dozen muddy sections that made things interesting. Below is a recap of this fun and memorable event.
At 6:40am, I wiped the sleep from my eyes and hit the road with “Big Blue” (2018 Polaris RZR Turbo) and the “Couch Rocket” (2021 Canam Renegade Xxc 1000r) in tow. Two and one-half hours later, I arrived at Diamond Willow in Bastrop, Texas. It rained on and off during the long drive, which was a sign of things to come. Below is my recap of the ATV and SxS races.
Bastrop, TX… it’s a small town about 30 miles SE of Austin. This picturesque property has a mixture of woods and rolling green pastures with a long creek that divides the property into two halves. Luckily the soil is mostly sandy and soaks up much of the wet stuff that fell this weekend.
Unlike the warm, dry conditions that TX4 enjoyed on this property in April, this weekend’s event was the exact opposite. This time the heavens opened up and drenched the property with soaking rain throughout Saturday and both days were cold. The poor conditions forced racers to overcome traction issues (maneuvering through a slick track), visibility issues (muddy/foggy goggles), and comfort issues (keeping body parts warm). Some racers wore latex glovers under their regular gloves to keep their hands dry. One veteran racer (Matt H.) wore a black trash bag under his chest protector to keep the rain from soaking through to his jersey. Everyone did whatever they could to stay warm and dry for as long as possible.
The ATV and SxS tracks included 5.8 miles of tight, twisty trails through the woods, sweeping turns around tall trees in open, bumpy pastures, plus a handful of sloppy creek crossings. One of the few differences between these courses was that the quad track ran along the bottom of a long creek for about 100 yards and then climbed out via a muddy embankment on the left side, whereas the UTV track ran beside the creek and then suddenly turned and crossed the 10’ deep creek with muddy sides at a 90-degree angle and continued running along the other side. Can I get a YEE HAW?
Like normal, TX4 offers an ATV class for everyone from young kids, old geezers (like me), pros, women, vintage quads, 3-wheelers, utility quads, etc. The series also offers a good variety of Side-by-Side classes too, including mini UTVs for the little ones, seniors, women, beginners, 800cc SxS, non-aspirated SxS, Turbo SxS, and Pro SxS class. As for me, I chose to race in 2 ATV classes on Saturday (Utility Amateur and Utility Expert) and one SxS class (Turbo) on Sunday.
On Saturday morning, a large group of relatively clean ATVs gathered around the starting line for a parade lap and practice. Things may have appeared cold and miserable on the outside, but everyone (including me) was beaming from ear to ear inside their helmets in anticipation of what was about to happen on the track.
As the parade lap began, I noticed the following things about the course. First, it seemed long at 5.8 miles in total length according to the Couch Rocket’s odometer. Second, the muddy trails were so slimy in places that I occasionally had to stop and back up to get back on course even though I was in 4-wheel drive. Ugh. Third, my hands and feet were FRE, FRE, FREEZING! I wore an old pair of shoes and gloves b/c I didn’t want to get my good gear wet before the race. That was a mistake. Last, I noticed several spots in the woods with large stumps. One of the TX4 staffers (Bill D.) painted the hidden ones with bright orange paint to alert racers (more on this later).
A few minutes before the 11:30 am start, 20 or so quads headed to the starting line. I lined up in the last row with 2 other utility quad racers on my right side. I introduced myself to newbie racers Craig and Josh and wished them good luck. They were racing on older, mid-sized utility quads. Obviously, there was a big difference between their smaller, stock-looking quads and the Couch Rocket. One of the guys looked over at my machine and jokingly said something like, “1000ccs… I think that’s cheating!” LOL Regardless of which ATV we race, everyone had a great time!
When the green flag went up, I hit the go button and grabbed a handful of throttle. I easily won the holeshot and set my sights on running a “clean” race. Well, maybe I should say setting my sights on running a race free of any wrecks or mechanical issues. There was nothing CLEAN about racing on a muddy track in constant rain.
For the next hour, I completed four laps at around 17 and ½ minutes per lap. My biggest issues were seeing through mud-covered goggles and trying to stay on course. Near the first mile, the course runs along a tree-lined creek and criss-crosses it several times. Some of these crossings were covered in slick, gooey mud. At one point, I made a left turn into the creek bottom and then tried to continue turning left as I climbed out. Unfortunately, my front wheels didn’t grab and I slammed into several low-hanging tree limbs on my right. Ouchie! When I realized that the Couch Rocket was okay and pointed in the right direction, I mashed the throttle and climbed the rest of the way out. This happened a few more times during the race. Luckily, I never collided with any tree trunks or other quads.
When the checkered flag came out, I gladly took the win and quickly made my way to the truck. Then I topped off the Couch Rocket’s fuel tank and my camelback, and also grabbed dry gloves and more tear-offs. Next, I made my way back to the starting line for Race #2 and chatted with Matt H. about the crazy racing conditions we just endured.
The non-Pro ATV racers in the 2nd race voted to run 60 minutes (instead of the usual 70). Because Matt and I were the only ones in our respective classes on this day, we only needed to complete one lap to pick up season points. So that was the plan.
When the green flag came out, Matt and I were lined up together (just to make the start more interesting). I grabbed the holeshot (just barely) and immediately pulled over to let Matt take the lead. From there, I followed Matt from a distance and focused on my goal of finishing at least one or two laps. After 2 slippery laps, I called it a day and headed back to the truck. Wearing cold, muddy clothes for 2+ hours was starting to annoy me and I wanted nothing more than to change into clean, dry clothes and get a bite to eat from the food vendor. I didn’t get their name, but their “TX4 cheeseburger” (topped with chopped brisket) hit the spot!
On Sunday morning, I chatted with my fellow UTV racers, including Phil W. and his new co-pilot Landon. Phil would be my only competition on Sunday b/c John G. (one of the Turbo SxS regular racers) already made other plans and would miss this race.
When the single parade lap started around 10:30-ish, I got in line near the end and slowly made my way around the course. I noticed many of Saturday’s muddy spots were gone. However, a handful of extremely slippery spots remained and would challenge the SxS racers.
Being the last one to join the parade lap, I took my time and occasionally stopped to snap pics of the course. Except for the handful of sloppy places mentioned above, most of the track was in excellent racing condition. Afterwards, I went back to my truck and refilled Big Blue’s fuel tank and my camelback and then waited for my race to start around 1pm.
When 1 pm rolled around, Cory gathered the UTV racers for a short rider’s meeting on the starting line. After explaining the general rules, he walked around the cars to check for working chase lights. Then it was go time!
Then Cory lined up 3 Pro SxS competitors on the front row, 2 Turbo SxS racers on the second row (Phil and me), and the remaining 6 racers in the naturally aspirated class into the last row.
After the Pros took off, I pulled Big Blue to the left side of the starting line and Phil and Landon were on my immediate right. Now we were ready to rock!
Soon, the flag went up and off we went. Big Blue quickly started and I left the line about a millisecond faster than Phil. I took the holeshot as we made our way around the first left turn and then proceeded to put the hammer down. In the words of Fred Flintstone, YABBA DABBA DOO!
As I made my way around the first mile of the track, I noticed Phil hot on my tail. So I kept the pedal pushed the floor as much as I dared to do so. I slid around slippery turns, fell into deep ruts and rode up on 2 wheels, bounced all over the bumpy track in the open pasture areas, slammed into low-hanging tree limbs, and generally held on for dear life. All the while, Phil and Landon were looming in my rearview mirror and just itching to take over the lead. My job was to not let that happen.
At some point during the first few laps, I ran underneath one of the tall trees in the open pasture area and collided with a big tree limb. As I pushed through the turn, it suddenly snapped backwards and slammed into Phil’s car right behind me. He saw it coming and yelled at Landon to look out! LOL I didn’t see this happen, but Phil told me about it after the race and we had a good laugh. I’m just glad no one got hurt.
About 1 mile or so into lap 1, Phil and I approached a muddy creek crossing. As I made a sharp left into the creek bottom, I tried to hug the tree line on the left so as to prevent Phil from passing me on the inside. But as I exited that turn, the trail suddenly makes a hard right turn that goes uphill. The entire face of the hill is a muddy mess. I tried to make the hard right turn, but my front wheels didn’t get traction and I accidentally swung out wide around that turn. Suddenly, Phill grabbed the opportunity to take the inside line and take the lead from me. Dang it! I followed closely, but not so close that Phil would throw mud into my radiator (and risk overheating Big Blue). Eventually, the track winds back and forth through the open pasture some more and enters the woods on the backside of the property. Once in the woods, I lost sight of Phil and Landon.
Just as I made a sweeping right-hand turn, I saw Phil’s car pulled off to the right side of the trail. He accidentally slid past a slippery left turn. Just as I approached him, I heard him griding gears in an attempt to back up quickly. I just barely had enough room to squeeze between his car and the trees on the left and then took over the lead again. Woo hoo!
I finished the first and second laps with Phil and Landon hot on my heals. I pushed myself as hard as Big Blue could go. Honestly, this pace was faster than I’ve pushed it all season. I kept thinking if I keep up this pace, I might hit a tree or have a mechanical issue on my 5-year old UTV. But I kept going for two reasons; one, it was a BLAST and two, I wanted to see what would happen.
About a mile into lap 3, we approached the same slippery S curve where Phil passed me on lap 1. I was careful to hug the inside line around the first turn and then attempted to hug the inside line around the next turn that points uphill. Suddenly, my front wheels slid again and Phil passed me in the exact same spot as lap 1. Doh!
While I tried my best to keep up with Phil, he soon checked out and disappeared by the time we entered the big woods near the back of the property. At this point, I was determined to keep up my pace and see if could eventually catch him.
As I made my way through the woods, I saw one of the painted stumps on the right side of the trail and tried to avoid it. Suddenly, I heard a loud “BANG” from the right side and instantly knew I nailed that stump. Oh, crap! I kept going and hoped for the best. As I got further down the trail, I could tell something was off. The steering seemed out-of-whack and Big Blue was hard to control. Soon, I entered the scoring schute and Cory yelled at me that my right front tire was nearly flat. That was NOT what I wanted to hear. I pulled off to the side and Cory said he’d check to see how much time was left. He came back and said only 18 minutes to go, so I should be able to finish with season points if I decided to pull out of the race now (rules say you must complete at least half the number of laps as the 1st place finisher in your class to get points). Cory also mentioned that Phil was still racing, but he was nursing a flat rear tire. I said thanks and then headed back to my truck to see if I could air up the low tire. I broke out the bicycle pump and hit it 70 times as fast as I could. By the time that the tire seemed almost back to normal size, I was completely out of breath! LOL
I hopped back in and headed back to the scoring schute area to start Lap 4. I realized there was no chance of catching Phil and Landon if their car was in good condition. However, I thought maybe I could catch them if they decide to slow down and nurse their car around the track with the flat rear tire.
As I made my way around Lap 4, I could tell that the front right tire was not holding air. It was obvious by the way the car handled turns and big bumps. But I chose to press onward and see what happened. What I didn’t know at the time was that the stump left a 2-inch gash in the sidewall and there was no stopping that leak.
After the mid-way point of lap 4, I noticed Phil’s car parked on the right side of the trail and no one was inside. I was shocked. What happened to his car and where did he and Landon go?
A few turns later, I saw both guys walking back towards the front of the property and they waived as I passed them. Holy Toledo! I just re-took the lead. I found out later that Phil slid into a tree that completely took out his entire right front wheel. He had similar bad luck in the first race of this season (again, when he was in the lead). Doh!
Now all I needed to do was complete lap 4 to win the race. So I kept going and prayed that Big Blue would make it all the way back to the scoring schute. When I finally got there, I was so relieved! The lessoned to be learned here is to NEVER GIVE UP! Good things happen if you keep trying and today was the perfect example. I sure enjoyed racing with Phil and Landon and hope to do it again soon. This was one for the history books for sure.
I’d like to give a BIG SHOUT OUT to Terry, Cory, and the entire TX4 staff for hosting another incredible event! It was obviously a ton of work to mark off a nearly 6-mile course for the 50 or more racers who showed up this weekend, but I know everyone who came enjoyed the track immensely and will remember this event for a long time to come. I hope to see everyone at Round 6 on December 17th & 18th.