Do you enjoy UTV racing? It’s a relatively small racing segment compared to other powersports vehicles, but its competitors are fierce, and its fans are passionate. But how does a utility vehicle evolve into a racing machine? The history of UTV racing is just as exciting as the sport itself.

A UTV Racing Scene on a Woods Course

A Brief History of UTV Racing

The rise of UTV racing is about as sudden as the general surge in popularity that UTVs enjoyed (and are still enjoying) when they were first introduced as recreational vehicles. Of course, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that racing soon followed. After all, competition is part of human nature.

Foundation of the UTV Racing Association

The Yamaha Rhino was first announced at the end of 2003, and it was less than two years later that Cory Sappington decided to turn one into a racing machine. Once his racing Rhino was ready, he contacted the officials of Best in the Desert (a premier desert racing series) and requested permission to race with his UTV. Permission was granted, and Cory became perhaps the first person to race a modern UTV in a top-end racing series.

Of course, history of this nature rarely goes unnoticed, and Cory was soon receiving requests to race-prep other UTVs as well. Soon afterward, he created a set of rules and regulations for UTV racing enthusiasts, officially forming the UTV Racing Association. It is still active and continues to put out an updated rulebook every year.

Many UTVs Lined Up at a GNCC Race

Classifying the UTV in a Racing Series

What class do you use for a type of vehicle that never existed before? That’s exactly the dilemma that Best in the Desert had to determine when Cory asked for permission to race. Fortunately, they had created a new class only a year or two previously for vehicles that didn’t fit in any defined class – the Sportsman Safari class. Most of the entrants in this class were desert racing trucks and dune buggies, and it was against these vehicles that Cory first raced the Rhino.

Although UTVs were new on the horizon, vehicles capable of traversing similar terrain were not. Desert racing had been around for years, and UTVs were often lumped alongside these same vehicles. Sometimes this is still the case. For example, in the Dakar Rally, classes are split into four main categories:

  • Bike
  • Quad
  • Car
  • Truck

Can you guess in which category the Polaris RZR XP fits? In the car category, part of the T3 Group (light vehicles).

The Rocky Mountain ATV/MC Polaris RZR XP

Of course, this doesn’t stop other off-road racing series from permitting UTVs to race, even if they don’t have a focus on larger vehicles. GNCC is well known among dirt bike and ATV enthusiasts as being one of the elite off-road racing series in America. It began accepting UTVs in 2008 (though only for four rounds). WORCS is another major off-road series that includes a major focus on UTVs.

UTV Racing Today

UTVs are no longer the odd man out in the off-road racing scene. They participate in most major off-road racing series. They are popular enough that many series now have a specific UTV class. There are even some UTV-exclusive race series.

UTV Racing at GNCC

UTV racing may still be smaller than other kinds of motorsports racing, but for a type of vehicle that has barely existed for a decade, there are a surprising number of both competitors and spectators. And it’s only likely to keep growing.

Do you race UTVs? What makes UTV racing unique and exciting? Let us know your experiences in the comments!

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