NASCAR is one of the most popular spectator sports in the U.S. But imagine what would happen if instead of racing lap after lap around a stadium, the cars were speeding along a course designed by Mother Nature. Imagine if that course came complete with dirt, mud, sand and rocks to traverse. This wild sport exists, and it is known as off-road racing. It features legendary events, celebrity drivers and a crazy array of mods used to help vehicles perform in some of the harshest conditions on the planet, including some that would make NASCAR drivers hand in their keys!
That freedom from the confines of the track also extends to the vehicles used in this sport. Drivers can bring pretty much any vehicle to the starting line, from cars and trucks to motorcycles and buggies. Of course, the real secret to off-road racing success lies in building a vehicle that can tackle tough terrain, which means plenty of mods and upgrades long before race day. Off-roading success requires superior suspension, knobby tires for extra traction and engines designed to perform on surfaces ranging from sand to rocky peaks.
Think you know the history, highlights and players involved in the off-road racing world? Prove it with this quiz!
Actor Steve McQueen did his own racing stunts in "Bullitt" and "The Great Escape," but do you know what vehicle he chose when he raced the Baja 1000 in 1969?
In addition to his work onscreen. Steve McQueen was also a star in the racing world. While he steered a Ford Mustang through the streets of San Francisco in "Bullitt" and rode a motorcycle in "The Great Escape," McQueen chose a souped-up dune buggy for his 1969 Baja 1000 debut. His Baja Boot made it almost to the end of the race before the transmission blew, forcing him to withdraw.
Off-road racing isn't limited to four-wheel vehicles. What term describes motorcycle races that take place off the track?
Off-road motorcycle races originated in the UK in the '20s and became extremely popular in the U.S. by the 1960s. Today the sport of motocross — a combination of motorcycle and cross country — pits riders against one another in gritty races through mud, rocks and sand.
Which state is home to the famous Bonneville Speedway, which has hosted off-road races on terrain known as a salt flat for close to 100 years?
Racing fans have flocked to northwestern Utah since the 1910s to race across the expansive salt flats in the area. Today the course is known as the Bonneville Speedway and hosts a major event known as Speed Week each August.
The longest off-road race in the U.S. is held each August. Which two cities do participants race between during this event?
Los Angeles and San Diego
Las Vegas and Reno
Each August, racers start their engines and take on the longest off-road race in the country at the Vegas to Reno event. For 10 hours or so — - that's how long the winners take — riders steer cars, trucks, buggies and motorcycles 550 miles across the desert sands.
Do you know what racing fans call a truck that has been souped up for off-road racing success?
Prior to 1994, riders in sanctioned off-road races were forced to use production frames out on the course. Since that rule was loosened, the custom trucks found in off-road racing are called trophy trucks. Many aren't street legal but have the engines and suspension needed to beat the competition on dirt or sand.
The Baja 1000 is one of the most legendary events in the off-road racing world. Do you know the first year this event — then called the Mexico 1000 — was held?
Today the Baja 1000 is the final round of an annual four-race series. The best off-road drivers in the world steer cars, motorcycles, trucks and buggies through the Baja Peninsula. This iconic event began in 1967 as the Mexico 1000 before the name was changed to Baja 1000 in the '70s.
Hare and hound races feature dirt bikes speeding through rugged terrain. Do you know how long hare and hound courses generally run?
In a hare and hound race, participants race around two unique courses on dirt bikes or motorcycles. Courses are usually 40 miles or more long. Participants aren't allowed to preview the course before the race, and because the course doesn't repeat, riders are forced to think while they're racing to make it to the finish line.
Billed as The Great American Desert Race, which city plays host to the annual Mint 400?
Starting in 1967, the Mint Hotel in Las Vegas sponsored an annual off-road race. While this hotel no longer exists, more than 300 racers still come to Vegas each year to take part in this event. If you read or saw "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" by Hunter S. Thompson, this is the race being depicted in the story.
Which of these cities typically serves as the starting point for the Baja 1000?
Cabo San Lucas
Located 65 miles south of Tijuana along the Pacific coast of the Baja Peninsula, Ensenada is the traditional starting point for the Baja 1000. Races either go one-way from Ensenada to La Paz — a city near Cabo San Lucas — or start and finish in a circular route from Ensenada. Despite its name, the Baja 1000 can range anywhere from 600 to 1000 miles in length.
What name is given to Volkswagen Beetles modified for off-road racing?
While VW makes some pretty impressive dune buggies, racers who needed a more affordable option began modifying VW Beetles for off-road racing in the '60s. The first Baja Bugs to appear during a major race were driven during the 1968 Baja 1000. Since then, these tiny speed demons have traversed beaches, dunes and desert.
Many of the major off-road events include a Hammer Truck class. What is the primary focus of Hammer events?
Hammer trucks are designed for traversing rocky terrain. To qualify for this race class, a truck must have a transfer case and be 4WD-capable. Unlimited Hammer classes allow custom rides, while Limited ones require the trucks to have a standard production chassis.
Which 'Coal Miner's Daughter' country legend hosts an iconic off-road race at her Tennessee ranch every August?
Loretta Lynn's Amateur Championship is a major motocross event that has been held every August at the singer's ranch in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee, since 1982. It features the top amateurs in the sport and is considered one of the final stops before these riders go pro.
Do you know which term refers to a hare and hound style race in which the course repeats two or more times?
In a hare and hound race, riders traverse two unique courses, with no previews or walk-throughs permitted ahead of time. A hare scramble is similar, but consists of riders repeating the same course more than once, allowing them to predict the best path to take on future runs.
Said to have "The Best Dirt on Earth," which state is home to the Red Bud MX Track?
Off-road racers have been gathering at the Red Bud MX Track in Buchanan, Michigan, to ride its famous dirt courses since the '70s. The track is home to LaRocco's Leap, a 120-foot span that is among the longest jumps in motocross.
Want to win the Baja 1000? You might want to consider this brand of bikes, which has carried virtually every winner since 1997 to victory.
Since 1997, every winner in the motorcycle division at the Baja 1000 has cruised to victory on a Honda — except in 2014, when the winner drove a Kawasaki. Over in the truck division, Ford and Chevy tend to dominate.
Are you planning to enter a SCORE-sanctioned race on your tricked-out motorcycle? Here's the class for which you'll need to register.
Most major off-road events feature more than a dozen classes. Class 1 includes any open-wheel rides, like motorcycles, with unlimited mods. If you only want to compete with bikes up to 1600 ccs, stick with the Class 1/2.
Do you know which state is home to the legendary race tracks at Lake Geneva?
Racing at Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, began with a simple drag strip in 1963. Eventually, it grew to a major off-road racing hub. The checkered flag was lowered for the last time in 2006 when the iconic Raceway shut down.
Which of these off-road racing legends drove in every Baja 1000 from 1967 to 2016?
Rod Hall began racing in the '50s and won his division in the very first Baja 1000 — then the Mexico 1000 — in 1967. He raced in the event every year through 2016, always in a four-wheel vehicle, picking up 25 class wins along the way.
What was Travis Pastrana's vehicle of choice when he was filmed racing in the Baja 1000 in the '00s?
Given that he's one of the most successful motocross riders in history, it's not much of a surprise that Travis Pastrana chose a motorcycle when he raced in the Baja 1000 in 2007. The event was captured on film in "Travis Pastrana's Baja Diaries." Unfortunately, the X Games icon was forced to bow out just a few hours from the finish line when his bike gave up.
You're flying around the motocross track when the bike in front of you shoots a trail of mud that splashes across your face. You just got ...
Let's face it — off-road racing is a dirty sport, especially when you're riding a motorcycle. When a bike flies through the mud so fast that its rear tire throws up a shower of mud onto another rider, this is known as being roosted.
What is it called when you take all the dirt from off-road racing, move it into an arena and add in jumps and obstacles?
Hare and hound
Supercross combines the best of off-road racing, arena racing and trick riding. Motorcycle riders race over jumps and obstacles, competing not only for speed but for style points and trick-riding glory.
Are you riding at a level way below your actual skill level? Some might accuse you of this faux pas.
Sandbagging can mean two different things in the off-road racing world. The word commonly refers to a rider racing at a level way below their skill level for a guaranteed win, but it can also be used to describe a rider who holds back in a race until the last minute, then races ahead of the pack to claim the title. Either way, it's not a good look.
Can you guess what off-road racers call a banked-corner designed to be taken at high speeds?
Talladega is a legendary racetrack in Alabama. It lends its name to the off-road racing world, where riders use the term Talladega corner to refer to banked corners designed to be taken at scary high speeds.
Tear-offs in racing are controversial in some circles, but do you know what they are?
Plenty of mud and dirt go flying in off-road racing, which can quickly coat your safety glasses and obscure your view. Tear-offs are disposable glasses that you can quickly rip off when they get dirty, leaving a clean layer underneath. While some consider them an environmental nightmare, others invest in biodegradable versions to avoid ruining the environment.
Which of these is a rider most likely to focus on when souping up a truck for rock crawling?
When it comes to rock crawling, plenty of torque is required to keep trucks safely climbing and descending. That means plenty of engine upgrades to maximize torque, plus big knobby tires and a transfer case for 4WD.
Can you name the iconic actor who became the oldest every Baja 1000 finisher in 2004 at the age of 80?
After the peak of his acting career, Paul Newman decided to focus on off-road racing starting in the '70s. In 2204, the actor, who won an Oscar for his role in "The Color of Money," finished fourth in his class at the Baja 1000 in his Porsche touring car.
King of the Hammers shows off the best rock crawlers in the off-road world. Do you know which state plays host to this event at the Means Dry Lake Bed?
Johnson Valley, California, is home to the Means Dry Lake Bed, which is renamed Hammertown during the King of the Hammers event each January. Held every year since 2008, the event features 400-plus teams reaching speeds of 100 mph or more over steep and rocky terrain.
What's the best way to boost performance for off-road racing compared to pacing on asphalt?
Increase tire pressure
Lower tire pressure
Racers perform a process known as airing down when prepping for an off-road event. This means reducing the amount of air in the tires for greater traction and speed in off-road conditions. Of course, it's critical to air back up for safety before heading back to asphalt.
How do riders and racing fans refer to a series of mounds or moguls placed close together?
A whoop section is made up of moguls or mounds of dirt placed close together. If riders go fast enough, they'll skip straight over the top of this area. If not, the whoop section can really take up some precious seconds.
You're at a motocross event and you see three big jumps in a row. What is this track feature called?
A triple is three jumps placed one after the other. Skilled racers can often time the jumps to skip over one of the three hills, which can give them a major time advantage. The same obstacle with four jumps is known as a quad.
Though it's named for a city in Senegal, the Dakar Rally has been held on this continent since 2009.
Off-road racers flocked to the Dakar Rally in Senegal from 1979 to 2007. After safety concerns in the region, the race was moved to South America in 2009. Though it still goes by the Dakar name, this week-long race now starts in cities like Buenos Aires or Lima.
Can you name the island that holds an annual event known as the Tourist Trophy — an event considered the most dangerous off-road race on Earth?
Isle of Man
From its origin in 1907 through 2018, around 150 racers have died taking part in the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy — six in 1970 alone. This motorcycle-only event ranks as one of the most dangerous off-road races on the planet.
Built by Indy legend Parnelli Jones, this truck is the most famous vehicle in off-road racing history. Do you know its name?
After winning the Indy 500 in 1963, Parnelli Jones built a Bronco-like truck named Crazy Colt. After securing a sponsorship with Olympia Beer, the truck — which won the 1972 Baja 1000 — was renamed Big Oly.