When the 2013 Stadium Super Trucks season came to an end in Las Vegas, it was the culmination of a vision of one man, hoping to bring back something that he was involved with years earlier, and to bring in new fans to may not have seen such events. Sure, it had some tough moments, and some overhauling changes during the year, but to say the season was not successful would be far from the truth. Instead, it was something different that became a sensation, and one that heading into a new year would see more changes.
The biggest change...the title.
Robby Gordon introduced the Stadium Super Trucks in early 2012, and it ran under that name until earlier this year, long before the season started. With new backing, the series was renamed Speed Energy Formula Off-Road Presented by Traxxas, showcasing both the energy drink and the leading RC maker in the country. For the 2014 season, the tour will see many different venues, and many different track surfaces.
To kick off the year, it would be something that was very popular last season by both fans and drivers, as these high-horsepower trucks, complete with off-road suspension and deep-cut tires, would take to the asphalt and metal ramps placed on the track at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in Florida, as the trucks would run alongside the Indy Car Series which was also opening their 2014 tour.
The first event would be on Saturday, slated to go green at noon. However, just like a few other places that were holding racing on the east coast, Mother Nature threw in a bit of a twist. While the trucks were on the starting line ready to go, heavy rain hit the track and caused visibility issues, so there would be a delay in the action. Some trucks would come on the track to try and soak up, or push away, some of the heavier puddles that developed, but as the rain let off, the track was still wet. However, unlike the open-wheel cars that would do battle the next day, these trucks were ready and willing to take to the track despite the wetness. The wet track wasn't the issue, because the drivers wanted to go. The biggest problem with the storm that came was lightning, so officials were worried about both drivers and fans being around these trucks that could become lightning rods.
A nine-truck field would start the opening round, as Scotty Steele drew the pole position and would be flanked by newcomer Gavin Harlien. Gordon would start fourth while the driver that won last year's finale, PJ Jones, would be right behind. One driver not in attendance this weeken was last year's runner-up, Rob MacCachren, meaning that one of the two contenders for the title would be two events behind to start the year.
Finally, after waiting out the delay, the green flag was out and the Off-Road tour was under way. Steele would get the strong jump, and would be a big contender as the race wore on. Meanwhile, Jones and Gordon were both making their way through the field, adjusting to the wet track and still hitting the metal ramps with high speed. At the same time, youngster Jerett Brooks was making his way through the field to try and get a win, something he was able to do a year ago in Crandon. Joining him to the front was the gentleman that won two of the four paved races a year ago, Justin Lofton.
As the laps wound down, it was Lofton and Jones that were battling for the win, but on the final lap, Lofton made the most costly mistake of the day. The driving rain caused him to slip in the first corner, spinning his truck out and opening the door for Gordon to make the pass to the lead. Lofton would recover, but it was already too late. Brooks tried to make it up, but Gordon would not be denied, as he would take the win in the first race of the 2014 season.
“That was a lot of fun, but it was probably the slipperiest conditions I have ever raced in,” Gordon said after. "It was a really good race despite the rain and we’re looking forward to putting on another good show tomorrow."
One day later, the race would see a 2 p.m. start, but there was a very dramatic difference from the previous round. The wetness of the track was gone, and the spray off the tires would be nonexistent. The weather for Sunday's race could not be more excellent, as mild air moved into Florida and the sun was abundant in the sky. There would be no delays for this round, as all nine drivers and trucks were ready to go at it on the same track, but one that would have a much different feel to it.
The starting lineup was almost a reverse of the day before, as Steele would start shotgun on the field, while Gordon would roll off sixth. On the pole was Davey Hamilton followed by two-time winner of a year ago, young 16-year-old Sheldon Creed.
On the start, Hamilton got the jump, but the one who was being very methodical the entire 10-lap race was Jones. Starting from fifth, he worked his way up through the field, managing his brakes and keeping the tires mostly on the ground, and worked up to getting the lead. Gordon was coming up strong, as was Brooks. Gordon in fact made a couple attempts to get around Jones on the final lap, but it was not going to happen.
Jones made his way to the top, and never let go, taking home the second round of action at St. Petersburg.
“We had a really fast truck and kept our mistakes to a minimum, but you do make mistakes in these trucks,” said Jones. “Robby and Jerett got racing each other behind me which helped, and I had to hold Robby off when he made a couple of late dives on me on that last lap.
What Jones was most impressed by after all that went down in the race were the fans themselves. Nearly 75,000 people were on hand for the second race, as it was the prelude to the Indy Car race later that afternoon. But, many fans simply couldn't believe what they were witnessing. Trucks that have suspension flex you'd find mainly on tracks such as Baja or in Crandon were taking to the asphalt with incredible skill. Add in the metal ramps, and the fans at times were getting louder than the engines. For fans of either open-wheel racing or traditional road racing, it was something totally new, but something that many wanted to se more of.
“Best thing is that the crowd was really into it and people have been coming up to me all weekend saying how much they love the trucks and love watching them jump," Jones said. "A lot of them said we were the reason they came here this weekend and can’t wait to see us race again. The fans that didn’t know about us already are fans now, I’m sure.”
The fact of the matter is, those fans don't have to wait long as round 3 of the Speed Energy Formula Off-Road will also be on asphalt, but will take place out west at the track that hosted the first street race for these machines. On April 13, the series heads back to the Grand Prix of Long Beach in Southern California. Tickets are already available and are sure to be a big hit after two exciting days of action.
For fans wanting to see the St. Petersburg action on television, on April 17 the broadcast will be on NBCSN at 1 a.m. ET/ 10 p.m. PT (April 16). For more information on the Speed Energy Formula Off-Road Presented by Traxxas, visit StadiumSuperTrucks.com, follow them on Facebook and on Twitter (SSuperTrucks).