We got some quality time with star off-road racers Bryce Menzies and Ricky Johnson at the Red Bull Frozen Rush race last week, who offered their thoughts about drifting on ice, studded race tires, and the nuances of man-handling a Pro4 truck down a ski slope.
Photos and interviews come to us courtesy of Bootleg Media Group, who sent Frozen Rush fanatics Matt Weaver, Alyssa Garland-Fry, and Will Lamm to check out the action at Sunday River and chat up the drivers.
Bryce Menzies grew up off-roading, but really got his career going when he won the 2007 CORR Single Buggy Championship and the CORR Rookie of the Year. He's been prolific in big off-road events like the Mint 400, Baja 500, and Vegas 2 Reno and lately spends a lot of time behind the wheel of a Pro2 truck for Red Bull.
Bootleg: How does the truck handle in the snow and packed ice compared to the desert?
Bryce Menzies: "You know, I thought it'd be a lot different but it's kinda similar... I grew up in the sand dunes... and that kind of reminds me of this. The biggest difference is it takes you a lot longer to stop. When you're trying to slide the corner it slides out a lot more, so you have to be real patient with the throttle but...I'm getting used to it."
"It's the first time that I've actually been in the snow and also in a Pro4. I usually race Pro2, which is 2WD so still trying to get used to the truck. But we put on a real good show yesterday when we came out... and qualified second going into today. It's single-elimination— you make one mistake you're done for the weekend, so I just need to be patient and smooth and hopefully we can make it to the main [stage]."
B: What are the main differences in the truck setup for racing in snow?
BM: "Just some little things, we put blankets over the tranny to help [warm it up]. BFG came up with some studded tires that we're putting on the truck to help us get up and down the hill, but I mean we're doing 90 MPH coming down the double-jump so not too much different stuff, I mean [the Pro4 truck] is pretty well set up for the jumps [already] so I'm pretty much just looking forward to getting out there today and putting on a good show."
Bootleg also got some time with Ricky Johnson, an incredibility talented racer on both four wheels and two. A wrist injury got him off competitive motorcycling in 1991, but since then he's won the Baja 500 and 1000, and now mixes it up in Pro2 and Pro4 race trucks in Red Bull livery.
Bootleg: So how hard do you stay on the throttle through the course?
Ricky Johnson: "Doing this is like driving a Jet Ski... you come in, let off, and go to turn, if you don't have that jet, [in this case] if you don't have those tires turning, that momentum is gonna take you wherever it wants."
"I hit the wall yesterday [in practice] trying to get a game plan. The problem was... and what I learned a long time ago, at O'Neils [rally school] is that you can't attack the first one the hardest, do the last one the hardest.
With these [tire] spikes, the ruts are gonna be like 'this' deep, and the fluff is like 'that' deep on the outside."
B: How does the course hold up with multiple runs?
RJ: "They watered it a lot last night to give it more ice, so I think it'll hold up quite a bit better. But still, when you've got 900 horsepower and half inch spikes something's gonna give and it's gonna be the ice and the snow so if you walk it you're like 'oh, this is really hard' but it can only go so deep, you know what I mean?
We got some faces of the jumps hard and we got some turns pretty good. It's still gonna get messed up, but that's the racing— that's why it's not a street car it's an off-road car. We got twenty inches of wheel travel."
B: Have you changed anything since Mount Snow [last year's venue for the event]?
RJ: "I changed my brake bias 'cause yesterday... it was a little pushy, I had too much [front] and that's what made me come around... [now] I'm about 60% rear, 40% front and now I'm gonna make some changes on my bypass tubes 'cause it's not rough it's just the big hits.
So I'm gonna make it so I can jump further off the jumps and crash into the stuff a little harder."
B: If this series keeps going, are you going to try to keep competing?
RJ: "Yeah, we're gonna see what everybody does with it you know? I think the teams love it, I think the spectators are gonna love it, the sponsors are gonna love it and hopefully they get behind it and we come back and get some other places as well, maybe make it a series."
B: Would it be mostly East Coast or would the powder out west work for some race?
RJ: "You know one thing for [the west] is that most of the teams are there. Not going for it is altitude. Most of the mountains and everything are nine, ten thousand feet so carbs and jetting and stuff like that [creates potential problems]. Also the snow is typically softer... it doesn't get that arctic blast of cold and wet and hard base [we get in the east].
Also [their hills are steeper], this place scared the crap out of me when I first saw those hills I'm like 'ho-ly crap, hope I'm not racing up those' cause they definitely got some vertical here."
B: You said you hit the wall, was the truck okay?
RJ: "The rigid light got ripped right off but didn't even break, I had to do some body work... but it didn't hurt the truck, I just felt like an idiot."
B: What are your plans for racing after this?
RJ: "Ill be doing desert and short-course, we'll be running Pro4 in the Lucas Series... I'll be doing the Mint, Baja 500, Baja 1000, Vegas 2 Reno, and maybe a couple [others]."
In case you need a reminder of what an awesome spectacle the Frozen Rush is, here are my favorite images Bootleg came back with. If you want to see the event for yourself, I'm told it's going to be on NBC February 2 at 3pm Eastern Time.
Images: Bootleg Media Group, Red Bull