SOMEWHERE WEST OF CRANDON, Wisc. – Kenny Freeman and his wife concluded their visit to Crandon Sunday afternoon where the couple experienced the beauty of the country 100 miles north of Green Bay along with an off-road racing event like no other in the country.
The Freemans are now 3,200 miles into their trip headed back to Las Vegas from Crandon and while the return home will last several days the memories will remain engrained in their minds for the rest of their lives.
Off-road racers are an interesting lot because they thrive on adventure and this particular trip has been all of that and more.
“This is an experience like I have never experienced before,” said Ken Freeman, who packed up a motor home, hooked up and trailer with a 1600 buggy and headed for the Midwest.
The idea wasn’t to win as much as it was to simply compete and discover new country while enjoying the people of Wisconsin. Freeman finished seventh in his race Saturday after doing a 360 in front of more than 15,000 fans before settling for a ninth place Sunday when even more fans attended.
“They make it kind of tough because there really isn’t enough practice,” said Freeman adding that track officials discouraged practice to save the track from decay. “We got three laps to try and learn the track. I went 1/3 mile, went into a blind corner at 75 mph and couldn’t see.
“You have to hold the accelerator to the floor and not lift.”
Freeman’s philosophy was almost like that of Mesquite, Nev. hotel owner Randy Black, a former off-road racer who once said “In this sport, you stick your foot to the floor and one of two things happen. You either win or you die.”
With all the preparation that went into the trip including packing the motor home and getting the off-road buggy ready to go, the practice in Crandon was a real challenge. While the sport requires special planning anytime whether talking about the Mint 400 northeast of Las Vegas or SCORE events in Mexico, the gathering in Crandon was also an eye-opener since it had terrain much different than that of the desert especially considering the endless amount of trees along the track.
Even the pit stops presented another set of headaches
“It’s balls to the walls in Crandon,” laughed Freeman.
In fact, the mass start utilized at Crandon was so crazy that the Forest County Potawatomi Chairman’s Cup race was a demolition derby eventually won by renowned competitor Ricky Johnson in what might be better deemed a true example of survival of the fittest – or the luckiest.
If ever there was a free-for-all in off-road racing, this was it.
Seventeen of the nation’s competitors entered the event and while Johnson was victorious in his Red Bull Kumbho Ford F-150, Las Vegas standout Rob MacCachren pulled out early when a number of spectacular collisions in an assortment of areas including Crandon’s notorious Calamity Corner.
It was a battle of 4x4 and two-wheel drive trucks and Johnson became only the second driver to win in a two-wheel drive vehicle. He won $13,500 for his talents which undoubtedly included having to avoid a slew of accidents en route to his triumph.
“You can’t believe the start of a race,” said Freeman. “It’s absolute bedlam.”
The 1.5-mile layout required two spotters and two Freeman sons --- Cody, 23, and Bryan, 29, along with Bryan’s wife, Jessica, flew into Green Bay before renting a car to lend assistance.
“I was blessed to have them,” Kenny Freeman said.
But it may be the wild nature of Crandon that stands out most. In fact, the infield of Crandon is reportedly as crazy as any NASCAR track infield in the country.
“The campground at Crandon is called Jurassic Park,” Freeman explained. “One guy had a Doughboy swimming pool with a slip and slide where people went down it naked. One girl did a nose dive and broke three teeth. People get pretty messed up at Crandon.”
Now that the excitement of Crandon has died down, the Freemans and their pet Yorkshire, Maxie, have planned a return trip through Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado and eventually back to Utah where they will do some off-roading while also checking on their cabin.
“We’re planning to be home by the Fourth of July,” he predicted adding that the return route undoubtedly will include fishing stops.
Crandon may be done for now, but there is still another race in the fall when the BorgWarner World Championship off-road races are run on Labor Day Sept. 4-6 in the Traxxas TORC Series.
The Freemans are reviewing the idea of returning along with friends Tommy and Kelly Bradley, who were among the many Southern Nevada fans to attend the recent Crandon event. Both of the Bradleys referred to the trip as a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
“It was a little low on entries but this is a strong series,” said Tommy Bradley, who won his class five times from 1999-2002 in Sportsman 2 trucks. “All of the pros were here."
But like so many competitors who spend time as a spectator, Bradley has other ideas.
“I don’t like being a spectator,” he said. “I told my wife I’m going to win the Borg Warner trophy for my 50th birthday.
“This was a blast It’s a full-time weekend thing and they have dancing and live bands. There is something going all the time.”