You won't recognize Jordan Townsend from a Wheaties box, but he's competing at some of the highest level off-road races in America. He's traveling the country, racing, and better: he's winning. All that with a family and a day job. What's your excuse?
Jordan meets you with a firm handshake and a thousand-watt smile. He speaks with the humble confidence of a true professional, but zoom out from the Borla Exhaust endorsement decals on his rig and you'll see his racing operation is a scrappy upstart.
Camped out in desert California for the 2015 King Of The Hammers off-road race, he walked me around his truck while his co-driver Case Dalton fiddled with broken gear and their dog Bosco ate my water bottle.
"Yeah, we picked that up... somewhere out there," he says about a few gashes in the thin sheetmetal that gives an Ultra4 race buggy vague resemblance to a Jeep. "But here's where our tool bag caught fire!"
The vehicle he's just beaten the hell out of in one of America's meanest off-road races really did start life as a 2004 Jeep Wrangler. In fact, it was Jordan's daily driver just a few years ago.
Want to see it in action over a rock-track and way too many explosion graphics? Of course you do:
Jordan wasn't groomed for professional racing from childhood. He'd always been into everything with wheels and an engine, even tried his hand at autocross and dreamed of getting paid to drive fast. But he went to college for mechanical engineering and got a real job instead.
This sounding familiar at all?
So it's 2010 and Jordan's come down from Colorado to see the spectacle that is King Of The Hammers. And if I haven't impressed upon you that this is a pilgrimage you too must make... Get. Your ass. To that race. Anyway, that's another story.
Jordan was rapt, because there's no way to soak up this much off-road insanity and not want to get behind the wheel. But unlike most spectators content to crush a Budweiser, rip a few donuts in their Grand Cherokee, and go party in LA (I mean, that's what I do) Mr. Townsend was determined to get involved in Ultra4.
"I knew I could take what I know, the skills I have, and build something competitive," he told me. When he first got into Ultra4, the rules stated vehicles had to ride on a stock frame. So the Wrangler he'd used to get groceries and go wheelin' in college was stripped down to its skeleton and rebuilt as a racer by Jordan and his friends in the margins of life when he wasn't with family or busting ass in the office.
Thanks to that "real job," his truck's no broke-ass shoestring build. That's not really a possibility in Ultra4. But he's was obviously way behind the corporate teams on funding.
"It's achievable with less investment and more sweat equity if you educate yourself. Having good friends willing to help is huge too." Now that he's racing all over the place, and often, he reckons "doing this alone would be pretty much impossible. Our core group is four guys, for King Of The Hammers we brought in twelve!"
So say you're mechanically inclined, not starving for money, and think you could do work on a race course. Then what's the hardest part about getting started?
"The fear of financial commitment is a big one to get over," Townsend explains. "And of course racing is tough on family time. If you're lucky enough to pick up sponsors, that's a great for race time but it does come with more obligation."
His main advice to hopefuls; "Understand what your ultimate goals are up front. Everything is gonna cost more than you expect, everything is gonna take more time than you expect. There will be so many opportunities for the temptation to give up to be overwhelming in a hobby like this."
For now, off-road racing really is still a hobby for Jordan. But his background in engineering gave him the skills to build a competitive vehicle and now his obvious aptitude for driving is getting the attention of serious sponsors like Borla. He and Dalton took an outstanding second place in their 2015 King Of The Hammers class, and wound up on a podium in every Ultra4 event they made it to last year. If he keeps improving at this rate and hangs on to that casual-professional attitude, he just might make his goal of going pro.
"I mean, yeah, I'd love to be doing this for a living," he said. "I've been dreaming of driving Pro4 trucks professionally. Just gonna keep hammering at it, keep practicing with what we've got to get on more people's radar and maybe we'll get there!"
Here's wishing Townsend and his team the best of luck. There's nothing I love more than seeing level-headed hardworking guys get after it, and with the help of his continuously-increasing list of sponsors the humble "JRT Offroad Racing Team" just might end up going all the way!
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