Round 1 of the Mickey Thompson Tires – Kalgard Lubricants SXS Stadium Series Presented by Skin Industries

By Joey DiGiovanni

Round 1 of the 2009 Mickey Thompson Tires/Kalgard Lubricants SXS Stadium Series Presented by Skin Industries (a.k.a M4SX) was kicked off in a major way on February 21st at Perris Auto Speedway in Perris, CA.  A lineup of the hottest SXS’s, Trophy Karts, Stadium Buggies, and Stadium Trucks entertained a crowd of thousands on a perfect winter night in Southern California.

Vendors lined up inside the gates to show off their products and show support for the Dirt Alliance who, together with Mickey Thompson, Kalgard Lubricants, Skin Industries, and Perris Auto Speedway have produced a venue unmatched by anyone else promoting this type of racing here in Southern California.  Since the collapse of CORR, short track racing has been in disarray with racers and fans not sure what series to get behind and commit to.  This has especially plagued the SXS and Trophy Kart racing community.  Good news is M4SX just may be that series this community needs.  With the 2009 series having eight races on the schedule, the Dirt Alliance and their committed sponsors have given these racers and their teams a consistent race series that is sure to please three years in a row.

Just under 20 SXS’s showed up to race round 1.  A mixture of Yamaha Rhinos, Polaris RZRs, and – the new racer favorite – the Kawasaki Teryx were all in attendance.  As is always the case with racing, each car had its own style and look but all racers had one thing on their mind and that was beating the guy or girl next to them on the track!  The competitive juices were flowing and you could really feel it in the pits.

I first walked over to Robert “Bobby” Vanbeekum’s pit where he and his crew from XMF were busy pulling an axle out of the front end of his one-race-old Kawasaki Teryx. “I think I broke the diff in practice,” Bobby says calmly.  I ask if he will still race if he can’t fix it and he just looks at me like I am crazy. “Heck yeah I am going to race.  I will run 2-wheel drive if I have to!”

This is the type of spirit all these racers have and all off-road racers have to possess to be successful.  A will to never quit and the ability to adapt to your machine because it is rare (and I mean RARE) you will ever have a race where a part or something won’t break or go wrong.

Heading out onto the track to take the first of my 200+ photos for and Side x Side Action, I stopped to shake hands and give my best wishes to the boys, girls, men, and women who were all lining up to go out and qualify.  See that’s something else that I just love about SXS racing: a 14-year-old girl can be competing against a 40-year-old man and a 30-something woman can be lining up against a 20-something hot shot.  The diversity alone is enough to make you want to watch and see what happens.

Once qualifying was wrapped up, it was clear where the battles were being waged in each division.  Amateur Mod was seeing a race brewing between Code Rahders in his Starving Racers/Ultra Boats Rhino and Tyler Winbury in his brand-spanking-new FUNCO Teryx.  In the Pro Mod, it was clear that the two fastest on the track that day were RJ Anderson in his Walker Evans/XMF-built RZR and Bobby Vanbeekum in his R-N-R Steel/XMF Teryx.  Before the final round, Vanbeekum decided to pull a front diff swap, but even more impressive was the full motor swap performed by Austin Kimbrell, his team, and members from other competing race teams.  It was awesome to see everyone come together to ensure another racer was able to get back out on the track.

The finals under the lights were extremely exciting.  The fastest of the qualifiers were put to the back to start, which put youngster Kayla Smith and Court Crowell up front to start the Am Mod class.  Once the green flag waived, it didn’t take long for Code Rahders to maneuver his way through the pack to get into the lead and start “doing work” on the rest of the field.  Tyler Winbury finished second on the podium, about 2 seconds behind Rahders.  Gary Thompson rounded out the podium with a solid 3rd place finish only about 4 seconds behind Rahders.  These young guys in the Am Mod class have a bright future; Rahders and Winbury were turning Pro Mod lap times with ease!

The Pro Mod class really came alive under the lights.  Everyone was waiting and expecting Anderson and Vanbeekum to shuffle their way up to the front of the pack – and that they did, but I kept my eye on another couple of racers as well.  One in particular was Chris Blais, a former factory KTM/Red Bull motocross rider who was piloting an HRT-built Polaris RZR.  He started up near the front for the final and I think anyone who knew Chris’s story was pulling for him.  You see, last year at this time Chris was focused on racing his dirt bike in Baja or Dakar but after a crash while pre-running for the Vegas to Reno off-road race, Chris was left paralyzed from the waist down.  Now I know, it’s an unfortunate story, and if you don’t get behind a guy who has been through that then you probably don’t have a heart, but I don’t think Chris wants any sympathy.  No, what Chris wants is a WIN!  Despite his new disability, Chris has found a new ability!  Through an accident, Chris has found a new way to express his competitive nature and, although Chris didn’t finish on the podium, he got one race better at racing his new 4-wheel machine equipped with hand controls!

As the first two laps went by, you could see just how much faster Anderson and Vanbeekum were.  They were quickly leading the field and battling one and two, setting the crowd on fire with their turn sliding pace.  Coming into each corner hot and leaving it even hotter, the two were pacing themselves for an epic battle to the finish line.  Just as things were heating up and just as they raced in front of the crowd heading back into turn one, Vanbeekum’s right front wheel did something that, up until this point only Anderson could do…pass him!!  That’s right; Vanbeekum sat on three wheels and was out of the race watching RJ Anderson fly off into turn two with the closest competitor (Doug Mittag in his SDR-sponsored RZR) about 7 seconds behind and now in second place.  Mittag would hold on for second with Austin Kimbrell in that motor-swapped Rhino pulling in strong to finish on the podium for 3rd place in the Pro Mod SXS Class.

It was a bitter loss for Vanbeekum, who only two weeks before this race had been leading the pack (RJ Anderson included) handily at the Soboba GP before losing power on his battery and putting him out of the race.

This win at M4SX was also a bitter sweet victory for RJ Anderson who showed immediately after taking the checkered flag that winning like that was not what he wanted.  Before doing any victory lap or celebration, Anderson pulled over next to Vanbeekum, who was still on the track, and gave him thumbs up, acknowledging he knows he got a break.

RJ Anderson showed a lot in that moment.  He showed his character, he showed he knew how to haul the mail on a short course, and he proved that this sport has a bright future ahead!

Until Round 2……..

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