By Scot Harden
The following is from the February issue of Dealernews
While improving economic news is trickling in from around the country regarding new unit sales and dealers are feeling a re-newed sense of optimism and confidence about what 2019 holds in store; one segment that continues to shine for many dealers is UTV sales. And while this news isn’t particularly earth shattering it is rather interesting to hear that when questioned about their business’s primary focus most dealers still respond, “I’m a motorcycle dealer”. Well kudos for your loyalty and for carrying the torch for the two wheeled industry but a deeper dive will quickly demonstrate just what a huge impact UTVs have had on the bottom line of most powersports dealers over the past five years.
By definition UTVs are “utility” vehicles and in truth the majority of sales still lie in the recreational, agricultural, commercial and special use case categories. However, another area that deserves special focus and the subject of this article is UTV sales for racing applications. Across the country from short course racing to long distance off-road racing UTV racing has grown from an interesting sideshow to center stage in many racing series and organizations. From the WORCS Series to Lucas Oils Short Course Racing to SCORE and Best In the Desert UTV class entries have increased significantly over each of the past five years and in many cases are now the largest classes at these national level events. So what’s behind all this and who is driving this surge in participation? Most important of all, how can you capitalize on it? Let’s take a look under the hood at one series and see what we can learn.
Best In The Desert is the largest off-road desert racing series in North America. They offer racing classes for cars, trucks, motorcycles, quads and UTVs. Their specialty is long distance off-road races held in the friendly geographic confines of the Unites States. They are the promoters of the Parker 425, Silver State 300 and Laughlin Desert Classic to name just a few of their events as well as the longest point to point race in the United States the Vegas to Reno event. At over 500 miles in length and run over the course of a single day Vegas to Reno is one of the largest and most prestigious races in off-road racing. Best In The Desert has seen phenomenal growth over the past two years with growth in almost every racing category but particularly in the UTV segment. Some events like the UTV World Championships draw as many as 374 UTV entries between the combined short course and long course races. More commonly they draw between 120 and 150 entries per event at races like the Mint 400, Parker 250 and Vegas to Reno. These entries are spread out over sixclasses. To show you how far they have come, here’s a quick history lesson on UTV racing in long distance off-road events.
BITD held its first race for UTVs at the 2005 Vegas to Reno event. At the request Cory Sappington, Desert Toys Owner andUTV enthusiast, series owner/founder Casey Folks agreed to create a special UTV Exhibition class and for safety concerns started thesingle entry at the back of the field. Current BITD Race Operations Manager Donald Jackson remembers the day well, “Honestly at the time the vehicles were little more than glorified golf carts.We really had our doubts but Cory was so passionate about it so we gave it a try. After nearly 10 hours and only 200 miles in, the UTV broke its drive belt and required a tow out. When our retrieval team reached the vehicle and towed it down a graded access road to the highway in a bone stock Ford Ranger, the UTV driver commented, “That was the fastest we have gone all day”. It would take another 3 years for the 1stPolaris UTV to cross the Official Finish Line at the Vegas to Reno event. Fast forward 13 years, as the manufacturers have delivered better and better production equipment, the UTV’s are now finishing in the top 40 vehicles overall against million dollar Trick Trucks and specialty built, high performance race cars.”
So what’s the attraction? Why have so many gravitated to this form of racing? Well first there is the overwhelming sense of adventure and accomplishment long distance off-road racing provides. Anyone who’s ever set out on a cross-country trip or back road adventure knows what I’m talking about. And then there’s the team nature of the sport and the involvement of friends and family. For every racer you can count a dozen people behind the scenes supporting the effort. The camaraderie and team atmosphere brings people together in a way no other recreational activity can. On the equipment side manufacturers like Polaris, Can-Am and Yamaha have done a tremendous job building some very competitive and reliable production equipment more than capable of taking on the demands of this type of racing. As a result entry-level costs are the lowest of any form of four-wheeled racing. And while like any other form of racing competitors eventually push the boundaries with performance modifications and competitive upgrades to the vehicles; thus driving up costs to remain competitive, the series organizers have done a great job within the rules and class structures making sure production entry level classes exist for those just starting out. “We’ve been paying close attention to what is going on at our races and as rules and class structures have evolved we’ve tried to stay in front of the curve. We recently created the Rally class to insure true production class racing remains an option and to keep costs to a minimum,” according to BITD’s Jackson. “Furthermore we are seeing a trend that parents have a UTV so they buy a UTV for their kids. At several of our events, we have added youth races where we have seen racers as young as 5 years old.”
If what’s been shared so far doesn’t have you thinking about how to get your share of this business then maybe this will. For the most part these racers are new to powersports and motorized recreation in general. They rely heavily on their local dealer and the aftermarket for basic service and support. When they bring their vehicle in for a new set of tires it isn’t two but four tires they are looking to replace. Basic service and maintenance also fall into this category. They would much ratrher their local dealer provide this service. And by the way, these folks really burn through parts. In fact over the course of a single race weekend they can put more wear and tear on their vehicle than most customers in a year. Typically a fresh set of tires, a suspension rebuild, new belt and full engine tune-up are required before every race. Last and certainly not least is the wide demographic represented in this group. BITD has racers of all ages, ethnic backgrounds, sex and economic profiles participating in its series. It’s not uncommon to find an all girl team participating alongside fathers and sons, fathers and daughters, husbands and wives, very young to very old. Most important all of BITD draws quite a significant number of the “M” group to its fold. Yes, Millennials are a big part of the equation. According to BITD’s Donald Jackson, “I never know who I’m going to meet at the finish line. When that driver takes off his/her helmet it could be anyone from Robby Gordon and his son, Max to Sierra Romo and her father Randy to Brett Comiskey all the way from Rock Hampton, Queensland Australia. UTV racing really cuts across all barriers in terms of participation and it’s the best thing I’ve seen in outdoor recreation in a long time.”
So what does this future hold? Is this just a bubble that will burst anytime soon? The short answer is “No”. In fact many believe we are just at the beginning. The quality and performance built in the production machines rolling off the assembly lines at Polaris, Can-Am and Yamaha are revolutionizing outdoor recreation. More and more people see a pathway forward to getting involved in off-road racing and doing so at a competitive level without mortgaging the house or spending their child’s college fund. What was once the domain of the super rich and well healed is now open to the average Joe. According to BITD’s Donald Jackson, “I see a sport still in its growing stages and the UTV community is a driving force in developing the future vehicles that will eventually compete for overall victory!!
In closing, UTV racing is going on all across the country. No doubt there is a racing series of some sort in your local market. Now is the time to make sure your dealership has a presence in this form of racing, a connection to what is going on at the grass roots and is getting your share of the business. This is a huge opportunity to expand your customer base, engage a passionate and enthusiastic clientele and have some fun in the process. Following are links to some of the key national series. I’m sure if you look just a little harder you’ll find plenty more in your backyard. UTV racing is here to stay. Time to make sure you are getting your fair share of the business.
WORCS Racing www.worcsracing.com
Lucas Oils Racing: www.lucasoiloffroad.com
Best In the Desert; www.bitd.com