by Eric Oslund
The Off-Road Championship series made it’s way to Bark River, Mich. July 15 and 16, and the racer to highlight the weekend may have been one of Elk River’s own.
Andrew Carlson was making his PRO 2 debut on Saturday, driving in a truck he had purchased a month or two earlier. He was not planning to be racing it so soon after buying it, but after getting everything he needed to do to fix it up done ahead of schedule, he thought he’d bring it along to see how things went.
Carlson and his crew tried to rent out some time on a nearby track before the race, but rain made it impossible to get out to drive. So the only seat time he had in the truck was a short warm up on Friday, prelims Saturday morning and then it was race time.
He ended up getting the pole with his qualifying time, and then allowed him to jump out to an early lead, which was probably the best possible thing that could have happened to him.
“The first half, I was leading. I had a significant margin on second place and I hadn’t had many laps in the truck, so it allowed me to get used to the truck without being pressured,” Carlson explained. “I could find the fast lines and just kind of have fun and relax, and focus on learning the truck.”
But halfway through this 10-lap race, there was a mandatory caution that keeps the order the trucks were in, but brings them nose to bumper – just as a way to make for a more interesting finish to the race. Unfortunately for Carlson, though, it meant the points leader for the PRO 2 series was suddenly right on his bumper.
Many thought the veteran racer was going to be able to pass by the rookie, but lap after lap he was able to keep him at bay, eventually taking first in his debut race and earning the Vision Wheel “Bad Mofo” honors – an award handed out to the driver showing the most moxie on a given race day.
“It was weird afterwards, like the feeling. I didn’t really know what to think kind of deal,” Carlson said when asked how it felt to win his debut race. “It almost made it more pressure for the next day because I had never raced it. Coming into it I had no pressure to do well, so the second day I had nothing but pressure. People were wondering if it was a fluke, or if I would back it up kind of deal.”
One thing that certainly didn’t help him on Sunday was that, unlike Saturday, their starting position was based on point standings, not a qualifying time.
Since Carlson had only raced once the day before, he started in 12th out of 15 cars – his first-place finish on Saturday gave him more points than some of the drivers in the back of the pack. But 12 spots is a lot to make up in a 10-lap race. He knew he had a lot of work to do, and the sooner he could do it the better off he’d be.
“In the beginning of the race, the first lap is the most important because everyone is grouped up,” he explained. “That’s when you can do the most damage. You don’t have to pass a guy and catch the next guy, they’re all bunched up. I knew I needed a miracle in the first lap. I had to get by like five guys right away and it would be a lot easier.”
Carlson’s not entirely sure how it all happened, but he got his miracle, passing five cars on the first corner.
“It was one of the more weird experiences I have had racing where you want it to go a certain way, maybe chance is it will, but it does,” he said of that start. “It was cool for me.”
From there he just continued to work his way up the pack every chance he got, and by the time the mandatory caution came around halfway through the race, he had worked his way into third place. The rookie once again had the chance to come away sitting atop the podium.
Things wouldn’t work out in his favor this time around though, as there just wasn’t enough time left to pass the leader after moving into second place, but he’s OK with that. Going from 12th to second is an impressive feat to accomplish in just 10 laps, and it almost made Sunday’s finish sweeter than his first-place one the day prior.
“To me, that almost felt cooler than the win,” Carlson said. “It was a second-place finish, but it was a lot more stressed on me to get it done kind of deal. I had a little more pressure. So the fact I could come over that and work through that many people in only a few laps is cool.”
Now, after proving he can compete at this level, Carlson is looking forward to jumping in his new truck at his home track – ERX Motor Park – when the TORC series championship returns to Elk River Sept. 24-25.
He’ll have more races before then, but there is always just something special about racing in your hometown.