Discovering Yamaha's Racing Side-by-Side

Rick Sosebee
by Rick Sosebee
We watch the YXZ sweep the podium at Glen Helen

Take a quick look around the Sport Side-by-Side industry and you will see the evolution of many great machines. However, keep your eye on that mark and you will find one company coming through the scrutiny to find itself on the podium time and time again.

Yamaha not only brought the Sport-Rec segment of Side-by-Side to a recognizable level, but in its own words it has actually redefined and reinvented what pure sport is. Taking a deeper look into the racing heritage and humble beginnings of Yamaha’s Rhino and now the new YXZ1000R, you will find dedication to the exploration of new and exciting ways to enjoy the off-road experience. The YXZ1000R is now Yamaha’s pinnacle for this continued success, but it was a long road to get here.

YXZ1000R Front

Before the days of racing a Side-by-Side, the working side of our industry used these machines to drag fencing trailers, seed crops and haul equipment to the fields. With the introduction of the Yamaha Rhino, the world now not only had another tool but also had a reason to work hard and play harder. Rhino is one of the most recognizable names in the UTV market and with some tweaking of the engine and chassis it became another way for the competitive at heart to challenge their friends and fellow racers at the track.

When a young and determined Jason Weller began building up his Rhino single cylinder engines back in 2006, little did he know that an entire industry was hanging on this very movement. Weller Racing opened shop as the go to place for 660 and 700 engines for competition and eventually, as we all do, Jason was looking for a little more power for performance advantages. Even though his Yamaha Rhino motors could produce up to 60 horsepower, this was just a stepping stone to the future of the sport.

Weller Racing Rhino

Go back a few years and you saw many Rhinos modified for racing, like this one from Weller Racing. (Photo by Corry Weller)

One day Weller shoehorned a Yamaha R1 motorcycle engine down into the framework of the Yamaha Rhino and an entirely new form of racing was born. This is where the SR1 model Rhino jumped to life and that is not even an exaggeration. It was literally like strapping a rocket to your backside, lighting the fuse and hoping you could just keep the tears from your eyes as the 180-horsepower beast would lift off the starting line.

After seeing these machines in action a class was developed and the amount of competition of SR1 racing grew by leaps and bounds, opening a brand new segment of business for Weller Racing. Many serious racers found that Jason had the mechanical aptitude to really build not only a competitive engine, but also cornered the designs for framework tweaks as well as weld in components to make the machines hold up to the rigors of serious competitive racing. Between engine mounts, rear driveline designs and complete chassis kits, Weller Racing has everything a serious competitor needs to run the class according to the rulebook.

SR1 Racing Action

Weller Racing dropped a Yamaha R1 motorcycle engine into a Rhino chassis to create the SR1 class.

Now having a massive amount of horsepower on hand, you would think that the “run what you brung” system would fall into place, but it was not like that in Weller’s mind, as he wanted a spec-style class that could allow a budgeted team to get in and run competitively. And speaking of the racing side of the coin, it was Jason’s wife, Corry, that would do the driving duties for the company. An extremely talented driver, Corry has amassed many trophies and championships in the Weller Racing SR1 class rig “Honey Badger” and little did she know they were setting themselves up for the next big thing in the factory Side-by-Side racing market.

Let’s fast forward only a few short years to the release of the Yamaha YXZ1000R. This is the newest talk on the Side-by-Side racing circuits and it is also upsetting the status quo of other UTV owners who didn’t think it had a chance. Just like the SR1 version of the Rhino, the YXZ1000R is a manually shifted machine. The YXZ’s clutch pedal is mounted in the floor, while the SR1 has a lever on the shifter handle mounted just to the right of the driver. If you study the two machines you will see many similarities mechanically and you would have to be crazy to think that some of the engineers didn’t look the SR1 over when coming up with their preliminary designs for YXZ. For model year 2017 Yamaha mounted paddle shifters behind the steering wheel for the new YXZ1000RR SS.

Dustin Nelson Racing Colin Ignacio

We had a chance to watch the YXZ1000R in action at Glen Helen Raceway. (Photo by Colin Ignacio)

Just a short time ago I had the grand opportunity to spend some time watching my very first Lucas Oil regional race at Glen Helen Raceway in Southern California. It was there that I realized what all of the excitement was about for the new YXZ1000R owners when it comes to real competition. I was also able to even further dispel rumors about the difficulty of shifting a machine or the “concentration factor” we hear folks whine about as I watched a young man by the name of George Hammel, who is paralyzed from the waist down, get the number two spot on the podium in his YXZ1000R. Do you think he has too many things to think about while also being extremely competitive? Yeah, chew on that for a minute.

George Hammel YXZ1000R

George Hammel, who is paralyzed from the waist down, was tearing it up at Glen Helen in his YXZ1000R.

Of course, long time Yamaha racer Dustin Nelson also competed in the production class with Corry Weller in their YXZ1000Rs and eventually would end up taking the first and third place finishes, making Yamaha’s night at the races a podium sweep. This was a great night of racing as I and several other editors were able to feel the excitement in the stands for where our industry is headed. And it can only get better from here.

Dustin Nelson Trophy

Dustin Nelson celebrates his victory at Glen Helen.

I guess if you look at the evolution of the Yamaha branded Side-by-Side for sport recreation and now pure sport, you can see that Yamaha is continuing its “ear to the wall” approach in building what the consumers demand.

Rick Sosebee
Rick Sosebee

Whether he is in Mexico covering the Baja 1000, building ATVs for local racers, or out enjoying the trails, Rick’s passion shows in his stories. Learning to wrench his own machines from his grandfather, Rick also has an undying appreciation for the mechanics of off-road vehicles. Do not let the dirt and mud fool you, though, as Rick also has a deep love for street cars.

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