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What is Project Race Ready?

Rocky Mountain ATV/MC is taking product development and community involvement up a notch by heading out to race UTVs. With a new RZR XP Turbo and expert fabricators, we’re creating a team of employees that’ll race in the Production 1000 Turbo class of the World Off Road Championship Racing Series. They’ll race the entire season, try to create the best RZR possible, and design new and improved products that’ll help them meet those ends. Follow along and watch each episode to see how the adventure unfolds.

 

WATCH EPISODE 1 – RACE PREP

Lots of people dream of their boss asking them to do something cool on company time. So what happens when you’ve got a team of expert fabricators, RM support, and your company’s general manager says you’re going to race UTVs?

If you’re Rocky Mountain’s head of product development (now RM driver) Eric Nelson, you start getting ready.

That’s essentially how it really started. And now Rocky Mountain ATV/MC has a RZR XP Turbo that a team of employees are racing in the Production 1000 Turbo class of the World Off-Road Championship Racing Series.

Why? Let’s back up for some context.

The Rocky Mountain ATV/MC RZR XP 1000 Turbo

What We’ve Been Up To

Some people may not realize this, but mixed in with all the brands we carry, Rocky Mountain has a number of house brands, specific brands owned by RM and created so we can develop and bring products to market that fill a customer’s need, whether it be price, quality, or a solution for a known issue with a stock component. In general, the house brands do well and have earned a reputation for having quality that’s well above their price range. We’re exceptionally proud of this. So much so that recently the company doubled down on the scale of our house brands, hiring on several experienced R&D guys, fabricators, and machinists, and built a new short run/prototyping workshop that has just recently gotten up and running.

It’s a big deal for us.

“We’re going to build a team of employees, give them a RZR, and show just how serious we are about our brands.”

But what happens next? When everything is in place, how do we put the capabilities to best use, get our customers excited, and let people outside the company know what we’re doing?

We weren’t sure, but during a meeting on the very subject, the pragmatic solution rose to the top. We’re going to show instead of tell. We’re going to build a team of employees, give them a RZR, and show just how serious we are about our brands.

So what? You guys stroll through your warehouse picking out bolt-on parts to make what’s essentially a full-on race machine?

Nope.

A huge part of the project is that we want to develop new products, and part of that process includes taking our testing to a whole new level. What better way to do this than by participating in competitive racing?

The Rocky Mountain ATV/MC Power Plant

Why Are We Doing This?

So we’re racing a stock (except shocks and required safety features) RZR XP Turbo with the intent of beating the crap out of it, stressing parts as much as possible, and subjecting components to drastically accelerated wear.

But we aren’t just breaking stuff for fun or stopping at the breaking point of a part, because when things break is when our product development team gets to start having fun.

After a failure either in performance or physical integrity, our team will analyze the part, come up with a superior design, and create the replacement part at our in-house shop. (We affectionately call it the Power Plant.) After that, they’ll head to the next race and see how it does. They’ll be analyzing, prototyping, and analyzing results again through the whole season. It’ll be a lot of work, but it’s a format that has the R&D team really excited. And at the end of everything, the fruits of these labors will be improved designs that we can potentially work into our lineup of products.

For the consumer, that means if there’s a bearing that tends to fail prematurely or a radius arm that likes to fold in half (there is – it happened to us), chances are we’ll know about it and turn out a part that has that stock weakness designed out of it.

So it’s exciting for the company, and we think it should be exciting for our customers.

Working on the RZR

Getting Race Prepped

It’s exciting for Eric and his team too because with the project in motion, they address the fact that none of the team has experience racing UTVs, they have a RZR that’s never touched dirt, and they only have three weeks to get everything ready.

Their first step is one that any prospective racer must go through, and that’s simply getting familiar with the race, its format, and the ruling organization’s regulations.

“A lot of people at Rocky Mountain race and not just for fun; it’s something we do for a deep amount of satisfaction.”

The team settled on the 1000cc Production Turbo class not just because going stupid fast is fun but because the turbo RZR is a relatively new machine with plenty of potential to explore. Of course, with any class comes limitations, so power modifications were skipped and the team focused on working with Shock Therapy to get better shocks so they could stay competitive and keep the machine handling in a safe way. After all, we’re talking about aggressive cornering and taking jumps at full race speed.

But safety was concern number one. So just like how an mx rider needs an approved helmet and a gp racer needs leathers, the guys needed to jump on a number of safety features like a stronger roll cage, window nets, metal roof panels, fire extinguisher, etc.

The Rocky Mountain ATV/MC RZR

WORCS – What It’s Like

Thankfully, none of this is guesswork since WORCS supplies every bit of info a prospective racer needs with rulebooks, PDFs, and detailed criteria. They even have people you can call if you want questions answered by someone personally. There are requirements that’re spelled out, tech inspections, and every resource you need to get acquainted with the process. A good place to start is on the WORCS website, where most of the info can be found.

One of the reasons why we sponsor WORCS, and it’s something Eric wanted to stress, is that the WORCS organization is a great group of people whose main goal is to get you racing. They make things super transparent, they’re really helpful, and they’re willing to help you during every step of the process to make the transition into racing much less intimidating.

Working on the RZR

The Machine Comes Together

So the team knew what they had to do, and they’re work was cut out for them. The car went up on the lift, a bunch of parts came off, and the crew went to work.

One of the biggest projects was the roll cage. But Vaughn, one of our main fabricators, has plenty of experience working with tube frames. So while he built a custom cage from scratch, the rest of the team put in long hours crowded around the machine making sure everything was done and done right.

And they had to because after a couple weeks and the initial build coming to a close, the first race had arrived. There’s still plenty of business to be done with representing the company as ambassadors at the race, running the logistics and budget of the project as a whole, and juggling the project’s other goals.

Working on the RZR

But there’s a deeper aspect to the project too. A lot of people at Rocky Mountain race and not just for fun; it’s something we do for a deep amount of satisfaction. Even better is that Eric gets to share that experience with his family as they come along to help as part of the pit crew. And as corny as it sounds, the project creates a similar comradery in the shop where the new team has had a chance to dive right in, show off their skills, and work on a project that has employees and customers alike really excited.

It’s a new type of project for us, one with a lot of facets, a lot of angles, and a good amount that could go wrong. We think everything will turn out, but then again it could explode in our faces. You’ll have to come back and watch Episode 2 to see how things go after the first race in Primm, Nevada.

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What Do You Think?

Don’t forget to comment, telling us what you think or what you’d like to see in the series. And if you have a question for Eric or one of his team, leave it below so he can chime in with an answer.

The Rocky Mountain ATV/MC RZR Ready to Race

 

WATCH EPISODE 2 – FIRST RACE – PRIMM, NV

The team’s two week deadline to build a RZR that would survive WORCS was over, and the pressure of that short timeframe shifted to nerves as the team immediately packed up and headed to the first SXS race of the season at Primm, Nevada.

The car had come together, the team was working well, and moral was high. But as race time crept closer, the team kept being faced by the amount of effort it would take to make a machine truly race ready.

Getting to Primm

With everything loaded, they started the 6 hour drive to Primm. The work kept on during the drive as there were details to sort, equipment to manage, and schedules to track. Rolling up to the track didn’t lighten the team’s burden either.  The skies had opened up and the track had turned from hard desert dirt to slick mud and standing puddles. Undeterred, the team started prep for the day’s practice. Zero seat time and zero track time meant several baseline settings for the machine were more of a grey area, so suspension and handling would have to be sorted out on the fly.

Vaughn and Brett get to work on the RZR before the worcs race

Working together, the team chose an open tread patterned tire to fit the conditions. They mounted a set of Tusk’s prototype Warthog tire to try and grab as much traction as the slick mud would give. They also started the routine of double checking the car and its systems, because tech inspection wouldn’t be too far away.

The Racing Community

Fellow racers had plenty of questions for the team and when they understood the goal of the Race Ready project; they were excited. They wanted to know about the race team, about the fact that the team was made of employees, and how everything at the race fit in with what they already knew about RM. Even more exciting is that they were very supportive, because they knew that RM sponsored the WORCS series, but it’s something completely different to see that sponsor out being a part of the community, rubbing elbows and racing with others that love the sport. It got people fired up and is a point of pride for everyone involved in the project.

“Racers knew RM sponsored WORCS, but it’s something completely different to see that sponsor out being a part of the community, rubbing elbows and racing with others that love the sport.”

Thankfully tech was painless due to the team’s work weeks prior. The rig was solid and the safety equipment was present and done correctly. It might sound simple, but fail tech and you’ll get turned away from racing until your car meets the standards.

worcs race in primm nevada

Potential Problems

Even with nasty conditions, Eric had a good run and learned a lot; mainly that the XP Turbo is an absolute handful to control. Getting on the gas meant you’d rocket forward, and when the turbo kicked in the tires would break free and lose traction. Eric also likes to double foot the controls, but there is a safety feature built into the machine’s ECU that cuts power to the engine when on the gas and brake simultaneously. So when Eric modulated the pedals to maintain control, the machine was actually swapping between full power and no power.

“Eric was dealing with serious fogging inside the helmet. He was keeping pace, hitting race speeds, and was driving half blind. This was a problem.”

After practice, the team regrouped and adjusted what they could. But with limited time and a lot of other things required of them, the day ended and the next days short course racing was there before they knew it. The weather cleared up to more promising conditions. The team took advantage of the harder dirt with a set of Trilobite tires, and because fewer cars run short course at the same time, things were looking promising.

eric lined up for his race in primm nevada

Short Course

Eric was strapped in and ready for his race. During the rolling start the cars stayed in formation as they came through the starting straight. The green flag dropped and the revs went up as every car mashed the gas to get ahead of the pack. Eric is a good driver since he’s got plenty of time with his own personal RZR, but now he was going full bore in a machine he was barely familiar with.

The car would squat more than Eric wanted on acceleration, and that’s not a good thing when it comes to jumps. Worse than that, Eric was dealing with serious fogging inside the helmet. He was keeping pace, going race speeds, and was driving half blind. This was a problem.

Eric thought it was especially sketchy when it came to jumps. You may not have picked up on it, but Eric is competitive, so he’s not the type to let off during a race or roll a jump. Eric would approach jumps as straight as the RZR’s power would let him, when he could see through his visor he watched for a yellow flag in case he had to scrub his speed, and otherwise Eric would throttle off the jump face just like you’re supposed to.

lining up for practice

And each time Eric did that, the machine would squat and sky shot off the jump, leaving Eric staring at the sky for what felt like an eternity. It wasn’t exactly confidence inspiring, but Eric was holding it down against solid racers. By the end he managed a 2nd place finish for the short course.

But big things needed to get sorted. First was the fog issue. The team set up the forced air system they’d been hooked up with from Dan Durray at Rugged Racing. That meant Eric had cool, filtered air in his helmet that killed the fog and made a night and day difference.

Next the team adjusted some of the goodies from Shock Therapy, playing with the clickers on the suspension and tweaking the adjustable sway bars. Even with unproven settings and power that was hard to handle, confidence was only building going into the long course race on day three.

Long Course

The long course has its own set of challenges. A longer course means you get varying conditions, more time to plan your moves, and a lot more cars racing at the same time. The race had a staggered start, meaning one row of cars go at a time with 30 to 60 seconds between each. Eric was in the third wave and at the green flag he shot off the start. With an idea of what to expect from the car in his head, Eric held his own.

the rm rzr xp1000 turbo waiting in the pits

Line selection was key. Eric didn’t have the most precision with the RZR, but if he could get a good line out of the corner the RZR was an absolute rocket down the straights. Once the course left the start, Eric was ready to hang it out. He made sure to out-brake the competition in the corners and made smart moves when it came to passing. With a solid plan of attack, Eric and the racer in first opened up a decent gap between them and third place. But after running into some traffic that gap started to shrink. With one eye on his mirrors, Eric was itching to make a pass before the group caught up.

He got his chance around a slightly wider section of track. Eric throttled up and passed inside of the other cars. He was now leading, gaining confidence, and the machine was running well. But the bad weather and lack of practice on the long course was about to ruin the day. Eric was near the end of the first lap and hitting his stride. One last wall jump was the final obstacle of the lap. With a bloodstream full of adrenaline and a foot that, in hindsight, was a little too heavy, Eric hit the jump. He was carrying too much speed. The landing bent a radius rod, caved the rear driver side wheel inwards, damaged the trailing arm, and destroyed the bottom end of the shock. Eric’s race was officially over.

He limped the car back to the pits, not even a complete lap to gauge his performance by. When Vaughn and Brett saw the RZR they were just as deflated. The team packed up and headed back home.

broken radius arm on the rzr after the race

What’s Next

A promising weekend ended up being a little bitter. But in some aspects, the entire Race Ready series is about setbacks. And even though the team hates to lose, they knew mechanical failures were going to happen. They’re creators and product developers, without failure there would be no point in creating new components for the machine. No weak areas to diagnose and treat.

“The race team is made of creators and product developers. Without failure, there would be no point in creating new components for the machine; no weak areas to diagnose and treat. ”

So what’s happening now? The team got back to RM and got started identifying problems and finding solutions for them. Baseline settings for the suspension were properly dialed in, the sway bars were adjusted correctly, the radiator was relocated to the b pillar behind the driver so it didn’t collect mud, the damaged components were replaced, and the team set out to make a stronger radius arm with reinforcement and gusseting that would support harsher loads. And that annoying ECU throttle cutout? They’ll tinker with the ECU to try and minimize that while simultaneously making more manageable power down low.

Once again, the team had their work cut out for them. A laundry list of improvements was detailed in front of them. And even after tallying up everything they’d accomplished already, there still wouldn’t be any rest. The next race was only a few weeks away and the team was ready to hit it with everything they had.

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What Do You Think?

Leave a comment and tell us what you’d like to see during the next episode. Or you can leave a question that Eric and his team can answer.

eric throwing dirt during the short course race in primm nevada

 

WATCH EPISODE 3 – Taft, CA & Lake Havasu, AZ

Regrouping after Primm

Primm was in the team’s rearview mirror, and while it left them with a long list of repairs, they had jumped headfirst into racing, tackled a steep learning curve, and gotten some important baseline information.

rmatvmc rzr at the races

The crew jumped into getting the machine back together, replacing broken components and redesigning the radius arm into something that would hold up to the RZR Turbo’s extreme forces. Shock Therapy was still behind the team with parts, advice and follow-ups so everything would be set up for Eric at the next race.

The race air and communications suite supplied by Rugged Radios were both wired up properly, which was crucial for Eric and his copilot to feel comfortable in the cab. But the biggest change to the UTV was relocating the radiator. The mud at Primm had clogged it up and made the RZR run excessively hot. To prevent that from happening again, the radiator was relocated from its stock position behind the grill to the B-pillar right behind and above the driver. After some custom mounts were made for the radiator and the roof was adjusted for proper clearance, the RZR Turbo was back in fighting form.

Taft, CA and Honolulu Hills Raceway

With the RZR back on its wheels, Eric headed to Taft, California, and Honolulu Hills Raceway for the second race of the season. Arriving and setting up was just as much work as Primm, so Eric was happy when track time rolled around. But that didn’t last long. The RZR was good until Eric started getting weird feedback. He pushed on, but the machine started handling crazy. Eric realized he had broken an axle, and he headed back to the pits.

getting ready to race at taft

The team didn’t have a replacement, but with the generosity of the WORCS crowd, Eric borrowed one from a fellow racer. The breakdown was definitely frustrating, but the gracious show of support from like-minded drivers had renewed his enthusiasm. Unfortunately, that didn’t last long either.

Eric’s plan was to stay behind his daughter and cheer her on. What he got was a front row seat to his daughter putting on a clinic, showing textbook control in very nasty conditions, and taking a win in her class.

During the first lap, Eric lost the same axle as the day before, and even more problems popped up. The transmission was coming out of gear, and the front differential was acting like it didn’t have much life left. The death blow came when the belt blew and took out the secondary clutch, the cover, and half of the aluminum clutch housing on its way out. Eric had to wait for the tow truck. Discouraged, the team packed up and headed home.

More Breakages and More Repairs

The mechanical failures were a bitter pill for everyone that had time and effort invested in the project, but the weekend wasn’t a total loss for Eric. His family had come along as his team, support crew and fan base. He was even able to ride in one of the same dirt bike races as his daughter. Eric was in the sportsman’s class, so his plan was to stay behind his daughter and cheer her on. What he got was a front row seat to his daughter putting on a clinic, showing textbook control in very nasty conditions, and taking a win in her class. Even listening to Eric recount the race, it was easy to tell he was incredibly proud.

havasu pit area rmatvmc

Getting back to the RZR on Monday wasn’t nearly as gratifying. It was complete teardown time, and while the team was already neck deep in the machine, they took the chance to flash the ECU back to stock settings to get more durability out of the drivetrain. They also made some adjustments to the clutching to try and take some power out. Less power in a race car? Yes indeed! They also had more suspension settings and springs from Shock Therapy. When everything was buttoned up, it was already time for the next race in Lake Havasu City, Arizona.

Racing in Lake Havasu City

Getting to Havasu was easy, and the weather was beautiful, but it got even better when Eric was able to get a full practice in without any issues. For the first time in a while, Eric didn’t have to worry about breakages and could instead focus on driving correctly and driving fast. But suspension continued to be an issue, and during the practice laps, Eric and his copilot, Kyley, took a beating as the car would nosedive with every jump. Vaughn’s roll cage stayed rock solid, but the radiator worked loose from its mounts. After some minor trackside adjustments and fixes, the guys kept their luck going for the rest of practice and into next day’s racing.

rmatvmc polaris rzr setup at havasu

Saturday’s course was filled with fast turns and large jumps. Eric managed 3rd out of the gate, but the difficult track demanded every bit of his attention since the jumps were blind and the car was still acting nose heavy in the air. It was physically and mentally draining for both Eric and Kyley.

They ran in 3rd until Havasu’s signature lagoon jump, when they decided to bypass the jump via the alternate route. They lost two spots and also picked up some river rocks that were now stuck inside their rims and behind the brake rotors. Eric heard rattling and grinding from the wheels and thought he’d lost another axle. Once he realized what it really was, he kept pressing, but the rocks were wearing down components in the wheel and the front brakes began to fade.  Eric held it together with smart lines and a bit of angry driving, eventually catching up to the cars that had passed him at the lagoon jump. Biding his time, he managed a handful of good passes before the end of the race. It wasn’t pretty, but it was a huge success and the most promising point of the racing thus far.

The Havasu race marked the point when the team had created a car that was truly race ready. It was still in one piece and running better than ever despite hard driving and a demanding track.

Eric knew they could do better. When he got back to the pits, he went looking for advice from fellow racers. Everyone was more than willing to share their knowledge, and it really speaks to the quality of people Eric was able to race alongside. Eric took the advice to heart, and the team made some refinements to the settings before the next day’s race.

Turning in Race-Ready Results

There was stiff competition in the Production Turbo class, and when the flag dropped, the #44 car made it into 3rd. Once they hit the first jump, Eric felt the difference immediately. The tweaks from the night before were exactly what they needed, and the car was feeling better than ever. With composed landings on the jumps and predictable handling through the corners, Eric went full steam and focused on nothing but his memorization of the track and going fast.

rmatvmc rzr worcs racing

He pressed forward, making a few passes and getting the timing right on some of the jumps that had given him trouble all weekend. Eric was in good position once the lagoon jump was coming up, and he wasn’t willing to lose his position again. He got on the radio with his spotter/wife, JoDee, and she confirmed that they would need to take the jump if they wanted to move up. Exiting the turn that lead to the jump, Eric got in his line, throttled off the lip and landed without too much carnage. The car was still in one piece, and so was Eric. His confidence went sky high, and he started pushing as hard as he could.

rocky mountain atv rzr worcs pit area

He made his way up to the next car and was poised for any opportunity to pass. Crossing the line, Eric watched for the white flag signaling the final lap. He got the checkers instead. Eric had missed the white flag and finished the race unexpectedly early. But the race had ended on a high note, and so had the project. The Havasu race marked the point when the team had created a car that was truly race ready. It was still in one piece and running better than ever despite hard driving and a demanding track. After a solid weekend of racing, Team RMATV/MC was sitting in 2nd for overall points and looking forward to successfully finishing their first season of racing.

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What Do You Think?

How did you like the Race Ready series? If you want to see something different, or if we left something out you would’ve like to see, tell us below in the comments.