SCORE Journal

SCORE Journal Issue - MAY 2017

SCORE Journal - The Official Publication of SCORE Off-Road Racing

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Page 46 of 98

 By Stephen Romero Photos by ATV Riders, SCORE International, 
Harlen Foley, Jackie Lynn
 In the early days of UTV off-road desert racing, sponsorship was limited to parts and contingency money. Today, the UTV manufacturers that are financially underwriting many of the best side-by-side racers, and nearly every major UTV manufacturer — from Polaris to Can-Am — are campaigning factory teams. In the process they are seeing marketing and technical benefits from this new association in motorsports. Win On Sunday A half of century ago, the adage “Win on Sunday and sell on Monday” was used by Detroit’s Big Three automakers to help explain their involvement in motorsports. When an early NASCAR driver won the Daytona 500 for example, sales would skyrocket at the dealership. That philosophy still holds true to this day with UTVs and manufacturers are learning much more about the technical aspects of their products from factory involvement in desert racing than ever before. This translates to offering race-proven UTVs that can hold up to any kind of punishment. It also creates valuable consumer confidence, according to industry sources. “We learn just as much from the marketing side and what people do with our vehicles, as much as product opportunities,” says Craig Scanlon Chief Marketing & Retail Officer at Polaris. “Our racers also trail ride on weekends so it’s important that we pick the right people to fit our brand.” Can-Am Factory Team “Customer awareness is very important for Can-Am,” says factory team leader Jeff Leclerc. “Racing is a great way to improve the customer’s awareness of the Can-Am brand,” said Leclerc. “Research and development is another essential component that benefits from our investment in racing.” Leclerc has seen firsthand the results from this partnership between racer and factory and says Can-Am uses this information to the improvement of their products. “It’s hard to replicate the aggressive inputs placed on a vehicle by a racer in Baja,” said Leclerc. “SCORE racing itself is also a great marketing tool.” Leclerc also revealed that they are racing the Can-Am Maverick X3 as close to stock performance as possible. He noted that customers envision their own X3 against the Can-Am factory teams. “The fun factor is a lot higher when people can say the guy won with the same machine they own,” said Leclerc. This close proximity to production, he continued, means the input gathered from racing has a more direct correlation to Can-Am products versus a unit that has been modified. Leclerc emphasized that their Maverick X3 is a relatively new platform, but they are already seeing successes by having the right people in place. Polaris Factory Team Six months after the first Polaris Razor was introduced, the company developed a racing team with Brandon Schueler of Jagged-X. “Our goal wasn’t necessarily to engineer and test our vehicles,” said Scanlon. “Although racing definitely allows us to learn more about our products, we simply want to support the lifestyle of people who use our products.” The Polaris Razor is one of the most widely used UTVs in SCORE desert racing and to date, Scanlon says Polaris supports about 40 teams in a variety of different levels. “We supported teams before any other UTV manufacturer did,” said Scanlon. “In doing so, we’ve developed a culture of the Polaris Razor lifestyle which brings our teams together. That’s the one thing that separates Polaris teams from everyone else. They compete against each other but truly are part of the family and want to see each other win.” Life of a Factory Racer On the surface, a factory racer’s life seems like a dream job, and for the most part it is, as we’ve been told by the top SCORE racers. But there are also the daily pressures of proving yourself and handling the logistics, support crews, hotels and the like. Also, factory racers represent the company brand after the race ends, so it’s not one big party, because they are often the direct link between off-road racing fan and factory. Brothers Derek and Jason Murray of Murray Racing have been racing Pro UTVs for many years, and since 2011 they’ve become an integral part of the Can-Am factory team, making Murray Racing one of the longest running factory-backed teams racing in SCORE and are the current SCORE Pro UTV FI Class Champions. For 2017 they are campaigning a Can-Am Maverick X3 turbo. “Being a part of the factory team carries a lot of responsibly,” says Derek Murray. “We are mindful that everything we do on and off the course must represent what Can-Am is about, as we are often the direct link for the consumer. Murray Racing is very hands-on with Can-Am and we offer lots of engineering feedback about their products because we’ve raced every platform they’ve made. Sometimes this feedback translates to real world research and development, because what we put one of these vehicles through in a single SCORE Baja 1000 is probably more than what a consumer will see in the life of their vehicle.” Can-Am’s Leclerc agreed. He said they can get more technical data from competing in a single SCORE Baja 1000 race than a full year of trail riding. “This harsh environment is unique for testing and development,” said Leclerc.  “Also, because SCORE is an international race, it gives us a global flavor that we can’t get anywhere else.” While racing a UTV might look easy, the factory contracts being offered are not simply for showing up. Factories expect their racers to compete at the top of their game at every event. “It’s not Formula 1, but the amount of factory support you get is very in-depth to do whatever is needed,” said Murray. “When we started racing we did it for fun, but over the years after Can-Am supported us, the sport has grown to a point that to compete now without factory support would be challenging.” Polaris factory UTV racer Wayne Matlock offered another view. “The factory helps us by providing the race cars, engineering, parts, and financial support, they basically back our entire program,” said Matlock. “We do the logistics and run the team, you have to have all the right things in place, some wins for sure to be a factory racer. I raced ATVs for years with American Honda leading up to this.” Competition for Riders UTV manufacturers do their best to keep the best riders, but sometimes the lure of bigger contracts or other incentives make that impossible. Longtime Pro UTV racer Marc Burnett explained. “I came from Can-Am then went to Polaris and then back to Can-Cam,” said Burnett. “I have a three-year contract with Can-Am again. Our goal is to make the race car better and they know the quality of input I give them about the vehicle. They also share a lot of information with me, and so to have factory support it makes it a lot easier to win.” According to Burnett, he originally came from motorcycles and trucks. “I drive my UTVs super hard, and if anything breaks, the factory just makes the product better for the consumer,” said Burnett. “Can-Am has really stepped it up in 2017, the machine screams and they are only getting better with each race and you are definitely going to see Can-Am win a lot of races.” Witnessing the races on behalf of the factory are the traveling motorsports managers, and they are often at each event when possible. All of the racers that SCORE Journal spoke to explained that the managers are extremely helpful and provide any type of support that is needed, not just parts. “Leclerc is a great guy and he’s always there,” said Burnett. “He definitely wants us to win, but he also wants the non-factory Can-Am riders up on the podium.” Is Factory Sponsorship Enough? Even though the factory contracts underwrite the teams, there is still a need for additional sponsors to successfully campaign a Pro UTV team. “You need as many sponsors as possible, you need support from others as well to get us to all the races and events if you want to win, that’s why our team is also sponsored by Monster Energy, because our whole persona is about looking professional, and everything has to look like NASCAR and we pride ourselves on that.” Obviously a great looking team strengthens a brand’s image. But the bigger prize for the manufacturers is breaking into untapped markets like Polaris has done. Since women make up only a small percent of off-road racers, especially long course desert racers, Kristen Matlock, who runs in SCORE’s Naturally Aspirated UTV class was a real treasure for Polaris. For those who aren’t in the know, Kristen is married to Wayne Matlock and she got into Pro UTV after being part of her husband’s chase team. “I raced ATVs for ten years and won five championships and then took time off to raise a family,” she said. “2016 was my first year racing UTVs, I got lucky getting in with Polaris because we pitched ourselves as a husband and wife team and they took a risk. But I got a podium finish at the UTV World Championship right away and that helped.” Her credentials also include a remarkable two years racing SCORE, Kristen has had a podium finish at every race she has entered since 2016, including the 2017 SCORE San Felipe 250. Above all, she is the first woman ever to solo the notorious SCORE Baja 1000 with a podium finish in the Pro UTV naturally aspirated class. These are type of accomplishments that make the marketers salivate, considering that woman also make most of the consumer buying decisions at home. Developing Race-Ready Machines The evolution of UTV racing is taking new turns in development of race-ready machines as well. Todd Romano and Robbie Gordon formed SPEED RMG Partners LLC to do just that for Arctic Cat, as they entered into an exclusive, five-year product development and marketing agreement. What came from that was the Arctic Cat Wildcat X, a made for desert racing UTV that anyone can buy that wants to get serious about the sport. “In the last five years UTVs have become one of the largest classes in off-road racing,” said Romano. “It’s my opinion that there is more factory support for UTV racers than in Trophy Trucks. This is clearly the biggest category in desert motorsports as factories sell more UTVs than Ford does Raptors. Just look at the kind of marketing money that goes into the Ford Raptor. I think now the UTV manufactures are finally catching up.” In all, the support from manufacturers in desert racing has definitely fueled the growth of the UTV market for both vehicles and accessories. Nobody sees this more than Polaris who also own the huge 4Wheel Parts stores that span the country. “Opportunities expand the product offerings over time,“ said Scanlon. “Both Polaris and 4Wheel Parts are tremendously passionate about off-road racing and what it means to the UTV lifestyle.” When the 50th SCORE Baja 1000 approaches in November, the Pro UTV field is expected to be the largest ever recorded at a dSemanding CORE Race ed, and there is no doubt that the factory teams will be fighting for a podium finish in this highly anticipated event. Whatever happens, it will be a major turning point for the fans of UTV racing, perhaps, even rivaling the race witnessed between Trophy Trucks .SJ

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