Chasing Off-Road Glory at the UTV World Championship

Seth Fargher
by Seth Fargher
Almost 300 racers head to the desert for one of the premiere UTV races

It may be in the name, but the Polaris RZR UTV World Championship powered by Monster Energy caters to a much broader audience than just the UTV crowd. As a Best in the Desert sanctioned event, there were classes for motorcycles and ATVs, as well production Side-by-Sides and even youth racers. Throw in over 80 of the biggest aftermarket companies in the industry and you have a recipe for an off-road event like none other.

Just 90 miles south of Las Vegas, Laughlin, Nev. is the perfect host city for such an event. With all the necessary amenities for racers and spectators alike, the convenience of having the race track less than a mile from hotels and shopping makes it a fantastic event for people to attend whether they’re racing, watching the action or just passing through and wondering what all the hype is about.

2016 UTV World Championship Contingency

Contingency took place at the Colorado Belle Hotel and had plenty going on all day long for racers and fans alike.

While race haulers were still rolling into town, we made our way to the parking lot area of the Colorado Belle Hotel where tech and contingency was taking place all day long. Each of the 282 racers was required to pass a tech inspection and meet specific safety requirements in order to participate. While racers were busy waiting in line, spectators and crew members could walk the jam packed vendor area and check out products from some of the hottest names in the aftermarket industry, meet some of the big names in the sport at the pro drivers autograph signing and even take a ride in a new Polaris vehicle at the RZR Demo Experience.

2016 UTV World Championship Contingency

Attendees could also get a taste of the racing action themselves by participating in a family poker run on Friday morning. The poker run gave spectators a preview of the entire 16-mile race course that competitors would be battling the next day and a handful of racers took advantage of the poker run as an opportunity to spy out the course. A wise move if you ask us, considering there would be no site laps allowed on race day.

A big announcement from Can-Am that came during the event was the formation of a new partnership between the Canadian manufacturer and Dan Fisher of Lonestar Racing. Fisher peeled the cover off a brand new Maverick X DS Turbo that he would be racing at the UTV World Championship and the remaining rounds of the BITD series for 2016. As a part of the new partnership, Lonestar Racing will be manufacturing a new line of aftermarket accessories exclusively for Can-Am. The line includes aluminum roofs, bumpers, intrusion bars and more.

2016 UTV World Championship Dan Fisher Maverick

Lonestar Racing and Can-Am announced a partnership at the UTV World Championship.

Can-Am had its entire contingent of desert racers on hand for the announcement and the addition of Fisher certainly strengthens an already impressive lineup of racers, including Dustin Jones and Shane Dowden of S3 Racing, Murray Racing’s Derek and Jason Murray along with Logan Gastel, Cory Sappington and Dave Martinez.

2016 UTV World Championship Warning Sign

An ominous sign warns of the difficult course the racers had to face.

Saturday morning came early as the motorcycles and ATVs were slated to leave the line at 6:30 AM. With the Laughlin strip in the background, 25 ATVs took to the starting line in five different classes to tackle the same course the UTVs would race later in the day. We elected to use the ATV race to scout out some vantage points and get an idea of the course layout before the UTV races began. One section in particular was the Super ATV Proving Grounds, a half-mile section of deep, off-camber whoops that looked to wreak havoc on UTVs and could swallow an ATV whole. As the race wore on you could tell the course was taking its toll as many of the riders were moving slower and slower with each passing lap.

2016 UTV World Championship Motorcycle ATV Race

Motorcycles and ATVs raced side-by-side in the first race of the day, starting at 6:30 AM.

As the ATV and motorcycle race drew to a close, UTV racers took to the starting line for the first of two World Championship races taking place, the Walker Evans Racing Desert Championship race. Coming off a win at the Parker 250, Cognito Motorsports’ Justin Lambert was a favorite to win the race, but with a stacked field including such names as Mitch Guthrie Jr., Marc Burnett, Branden Sims and the Murray brothers, it really could have been anyone’s race.

2016 UTV World Championship Desert Race Start

UTV racers line up for the desert race in Laughlin.

Ten laps would mean 160 miles of rugged desert terrain and just keeping the vehicles together would prove to be half the battle. Can-Am’s Dustin Jones took an early lead and managed to hold off Lambert and Guthrie for a few laps, but as the race wore on it became a battle between the young gun and the seasoned veteran. In a dramatic finish, Guthrie managed to overtake Lambert in the final laps of the race when Lambert pitted for fuel. Unfortunately, Guthrie suffered a mechanical failure that included a front differential, both rear axles and a belt just moments after taking over the lead. Lambert capitalized on Guthrie’s misfortune and cruised uncontested to the overall win.

2016 UTV World Championship Justin Lambert

Justin Lambert was battling with Mitch Guthrie Jr. for much of the UTV race.

To give you an idea of just how fast Guthrie and Lambert had been moving, the second place finisher crossed the line more than 10 minutes behind Lambert. Ryan Laidlaw of Saratoga Springs Utah followed Lambert in second place overall and first place in the Turbo class with Terabbit Racing’s Kristen Matlock rounding out the Walker Evans Racing Desert Racing Championship podium. Both Laidlaw and Matlock started several rows behind the leaders, but managed to run a good pace and land on the podium with adjusted time.

2016 UTV World Championship Lambert Finish

Lambert’s win at the UTV World Championship makes it two in a row for 2016 after winning the Parker 250 early this year.

Organizers worked hard to ensure the event appealed to all ages and the Youth UTV race was a great opportunity to let kids get involved and help groom the next generation of racers. A total of 24 youth racers competed in two classes on a portion of the same course as the big machines. By no means was this merely an exhibition-style race, as there were many race prepped RZR 170s and unlimited class Youth machines battling it out for one of two Polaris RZR 170s to be awarded to the top finisher in each class. When the checkers flew it was Casey Sims and Julien Beaumer in the top two spots, each winning their respective classes and taking home brand new RZR 170s.

2016 UTV World Championship Youth Race

The future of UTV racing looks bright as 24 eager youth racers competed on a portion of the same race course as the pro drivers.

No other series in the world crams so much UTV racing into a single day and that’s why you can expect to find the best of the best at the Polaris RZR UTV World Championship. In the fourth and final race of the day, 103 UTVs rolled to the starting line, representing four different classes, all racing to be crowned the Holz Racing Products Production Short Course World Champion. Due to the extremely high car count, the Short Course Championship was moved to the same 16-mile desert course as the morning’s desert championship race.

Following his devastating loss due to mechanical failure in the morning’s desert championship race, Mitch Guthrie Jr. left the starting line with something to prove and never looked back. At the end of lap one, Guthrie was leading Lonestar Racing’s Branden Sims by more than 45 seconds. The brutal course took out several top pros who we expected to see battle for the lead, but in the end everyone was racing to catch Guthrie. Polaris’s RJ Anderson crossed the line physically in second place, but was bumped to third overall as Mickey Thomas of Cumming, Ga. managed to squeeze by on adjusted time. Thomas finished just 15 seconds behind Guthrie, earning first place in the Production 1000 class and second place overall.

Mitch Guthrie Jr Short Course Action

Had Mitch Guthrie Jr not suffered mechanical issues in the morning Walker Evans Racing Desert Championship race, it is very possible that he could have swept both Championship races and gone home with two brand new Polaris RZR XP Turbo vehicles.

Guthrie was surrounded by family and friends at the podium celebration along with his father, six-time King of the Hammers champion Mitch Guthrie senior. In fact, the Polaris RZR that Guthrie Jr. used to win the UTV World Championship was raced by his father at KOH just a few short weeks ago. “Checkers or wreckers” were the parting words Guthrie senior left his son with before the race and Guthrie Jr. took it to heart.

Mitch Guthrie Jr Podium

Guthrie Jr. celebrates his victory in the short course race.

To close out a jam packed weekend of events and racing, racers gathered on the beach at Harrah’s Hotel for the presentation of awards. Four racers, Justin Lambert, Mitch Guthrie Jr., Casey Sims and Julien Beauer took home brand new Polaris RZRs for their efforts and claiming the overall win in each event.

For the second year in a row, the Warfighter Made Perseverance Award was earned by a woman for overcoming adversity and refusing to quit despite the hard and unexpected challenges of desert racing. Katie Vernola flipped her RZR causing significant damage, but refused to throw in the towel and limped her broken vehicle, in the dark, to the finish line. She joins Donna Ellsworth as the only other competitor to receive the award after Donna pushed her ATV over a half mile to the finish line at last year’s event.

Katie Vernola Perseverance Award

Proving that women aren’t afraid to compete in this form of brutal desert racing, Katie Vernola was the second woman to claim the Warfighter Made Perseverance Award.

With more than twice the turnout of last year’s event, more vendors, spectators and major network TV coverage of the event, it’s safe to say the Polaris RZR UTV World Championship is here to stay and will continue to grow as one of the premier UTV racing events in the world.

With big brands like Polaris and Monster Energy getting behind the event and solid support from industry companies and hundreds of racers, we are very excited about the future of UTV racing.

Walker Evans Racing Desert Championship Top 10

  1. Justin Lambert
  2. Ryan Laidlaw
  3. Kristen Matlock
  4. Marc Burnett
  5. Branden Sims
  6. Dustin Jones
  7. Michael Cafro
  8. Mitch Guthrie Jr
  9. Jason Murray
  10. John Angal

Holz Racing Products Production Short Course Top 10

  1. Mitch Guthrie Jr
  2. Mickey Thomas
  3. J. Anderson
  4. Cody Rahders
  5. Marc Burnett
  6. Ryan Holz
  7. Cody Bradbury
  8. Dustin Jones
  9. Branden Sims
  10. Dean Wheeler Jr

Magnum Off-Road Youth Production RZR 170 Top 3

  1. Julien Beaumer
  2. Luke Knupp
  3. Ryder Chapman

Magnum Off-road Youth Unlimited 250 Top 3

  1. Casey Sims
  2. Jimmy Berry
  3. Stockton Bullock

BITD Quad Ironman Overall Top 10

  1. James Denton
  2. Billy Niccum
  3. Jake harrison
  4. Doug Bergstrom
  5. Sam Anderson
  6. Corey Rush
  7. Michael Sluski
  8. Dan Richardson
  9. Zack Richardson
  10. Ty Sanders

BITD Quad Production Overall Top 10

  1. Jeremy Gray
  2. David Scott
  3. Steven Carver
  4. Don Higbee
  5. Mark May
  6. Charles Borges
  7. Jose Torres
  8. James West
  9. Scot Viers
  10. Matt Hancock
Seth Fargher
Seth Fargher

Growing up in Oregon, most of Seth's involvement in the powersports world was limited to what he saw in magazines and videos. Following a brief stint in the corporate world, Seth took a flying leap (literally) and moved to California to pursue a career in freestyle motocross. Though short lived, the opportunity immersed him in the industry and is now a well-established off-road writer.

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