Resentment and motorsports are two intertwined words for me. Growing up, I resented that my parents never let me indulge in my fascination with racing motorcycles. Then, as I got older, I resented the fact that if they had, we wouldn’t have had enough money for me to get anywhere in the sport. 

Damned if I did, damned that I didn’t.

And my love for motorsports only grew in sync with my resentment as I learned more about the feeder systems for different sports. Want to be in MotoGP? Get to Spain and into the Red Bull Rookies Cup, then dominate. Headed to Supercross? Prepare to travel the East or West Coast for years, spending tens of thousands along the way. Formula 1? Actually, that’s easy: just get a father who’s the part-owner of a team. There are rare exceptions, but this is the norm.

Look, I know motorsports are expensive, and we’ll never escape that, but the barrier to entry seems to get higher and higher with each passing decade. Romantic, grassroots stories of careers built on passion, skill, unbeatable work ethic, and a DIY attitude are just that—stories. 

I grew up around road racing where, yes, you needed money to compete, but there was still a chance that if you had the qualities listed above, you could make it to a high level without crazy money—a level where you could pick up sponsors and continue your career. Joey Dunlop initially dominated partly because he worked tirelessly on figuring out how to make his finicky 2-stroke motor sing higher than anyone else's.

Whether I was pessimistic or realistic, all I saw were fewer and fewer opportunities for future racers. Unless said racers come from mega-rich families or financially stable families willing to take on a serious financial burden, options are limited. But then, I discovered a class that's in its perfect moment of ascension—UTV racing.

After spending time with the Polaris Factory Racing team at the San Felipe 250, for the first time maybe ever, I didn’t feel resentment toward motorsport. I felt hopeful.

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Photo credit: High Rev Photography

Max Eddy Jr’s Rise to the Polaris Factory Team

My perception of people competing in four-wheeled off-road endurance events was that they’re either very rich or barely getting by as a driver, bar a few outliers. However, I’d failed to account for the rise in popularity of UTV racing and what popularity brings with it—money and the chance to be a professional driver. 

So when I interviewed Polaris factory driver, Max Eddy Jr, his story reminded me of something you’d hear from a road racer or motocross rider in the 80s. Max has all the qualities I listed as prerequisites for successful grassroots motorsport athletes and managed to find the class where they can still turn you into a professional racer, without the need for endless financial reserves.

“My family, like we worked absolutely hard for everything we had to do, you know? …it's pretty easy for kids that grow up in a rich family or a wealthy family to get into racing and succeed. And that's what you see a lot these days, you know? To really find the guys that come up from absolutely nothing and just grind and just never give up is kind of rare these days.”

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One caveat: Max is an accomplished off-road racer on two wheels, with more San Felipe 250 and Baja 500 wins under his belt than he could even recall, but he did manage to tell me that he holds precisely five Baja 1,000 wins. Oh, and he accomplished all that while holding down a full-time job unrelated to motorsports. 

But when Max hung up his riding boots at 38 years old, most riders would’ve left racing behind and have been happy to have collected so many accolades. Not Max.

Max stopped racing off-road endurance races and started racing amateur DP4 events in his cousin’s stock Polaris Turbo S for fun, and immediately blew away the competition. So he bought himself a Polaris RZR XP 1000 and made the modifications, not so it was ultra-competitive, but just so it was race-legal. Again, he started winning and, this time, in more competitive races. 

For reference, the UTV cost around $20,000 and required about $9,000 worth of modifications to make it race-legal, which Max estimates took him about a month to install as he mainly worked on it during the weekends.

His attitude was to take as many opportunities as he could, be that navigating for divers in the biggest off-road events or helping other, more accomplished drivers hone their UTV’s suspension setup when asked. All the while, he held down a full-time job and raced his XP 1000 on his budget until he picked up his first sponsor, 4WheelParts.

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Photo credit: High Rev Photography

“I raced whatever I could get my hands on, really, and I never said no to an opportunity or driving someone's truck. I mean, I raced the Baja 400 with Corey Keyser in his trophy truck— drove the second half. I have raced Vegas to Reno in a trophy truck… And I have done the Dakar twice already, I have done the Silkway rally, I did the Sonora rally as a navigator, and then I got a call from Polaris to navigate for them at the Dakar Rally… And that opened the doors to the whole Polaris family.”

After getting $20,000 in sponsorship, Max started competing in the biggest races in the US, but he needed to contribute an estimated $20,000 to $30,000 more to attend all the races. And listening to how he lived and made it work is like something you imagine happening 40 years ago.

“I'm telling you, we struggled to pay the entry fee and make the races and get the food for my pit guys—and I would take a crew of five. You take one truck because that's all I could afford, you know. We wouldn't get hotel rooms, we slept on the side of the highway or at the starting line on the deck of our trailer. No lie. We brought a grill and we grilled our food and breakfast and heated up some oatmeal through the coffee machine and went racing… This sounds pretty similar to what you would expect from the early 80s of racing and stuff. No, this was ‘21, ‘22 that we did that, and that’s my love for the sport.”

But then it happened, at 40 years old, instead of his racing days being behind him, Max was offered a factory seat with Polaris. And like that, the next, arguably best, part of his racing career had just begun. 

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Max deserves everything he has but was also in the right sport at the right time. As mentioned, UTV racing is at a perfect point of ascension, where it’s still possible to get in and make a career even if you’re not mega-wealthy. 

To find out how UTV racing got to this level when so many other racing classes fall short, I spoke to one of the men crucial to getting it to this point: Craig Scanlon. 

The Man Behind the Wheel

If you don’t know Craig, he’s the owner of the Polaris Factory Racing Team, a driver for the team, the CEO of K&N, was instrumental in developing the RZR from its inception back when he worked for Polaris, and has been racing RZRs for about 16 years. 

Apparently, he’s a man with more hours in his day than anyone else. 

When I first met Craig at the San Felipe 250, I was dumbfounded at the fact that there is a factory team for any UTV manufacturer, and secondly, what an incredible factory team Polaris has—pure insanity to see this operation in the middle of the desert. But Craig understood my confusion because he knew it wasn’t always like this. After all, he’d been there since the first race.

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“You'd have one or two trucks. They would have just regular old pickup truck beds on 'em and they would have a bin with tools in 'em and a bin with parts in it. And if you broke something, you went home—anything slightly more than minor. It was just a whole different story… It was a bunch of buddies that showed up wearing what they were wearing and a bunch of beef jerky in the backseat.”

I did my best not to offend Craig when I told him what my opinion of UTVs used to be, saying something along the lines of, “From what I remember, UTVs were slow and dangerous. You can be fast and dangerous or slow and safe, but you can’t be both. How did you get to this?” Because make no mistake, these things are bloody rapid now.

“Back in those days, if we would get up to 60 miles an hour in a race, we thought we were cool, and we thought we were lightning, and now we're at 60 just cruising. Now, like I said, last race I was at, I’ll round it up to 113, I was doing 112.6 miles an hour. So, basically in a matter of just over a decade, these things have doubled their speed from a racing standpoint. So I think you'd be hard-pressed to find any other race-type vehicle that doubles their speed in a little over 10 years.”

The huge increase in speed and durability of Polaris’ RZRs over the last 10 years has undoubtedly contributed to their rapid gain in popularity in the racing world and brought the competition up around them.

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Photo credit: High Rev Photography

In this writer’s opinion, we’re at a special point in the ascendance of UTV racing. Now, you can have a career as a factory driver, and if you have the qualities of a 1980s grassroots motocross racer, it doesn’t have to be financially impossible. Better yet, soon, there’ll be even more opportunities, not just to be a professional driver, but to be a mechanic, engineer, designer etc, on a team.

“You start to think about it like, okay, we employ 13 people, just say 13 people, and we now multiply that times the side-by-side class, which let's just say it's 60 cars in total. Now they won't all need 10 to 13 people. Of course, not everybody has four cars. But you start to think about it from that point of view, and then other classes and other classes and other classes, you can start to really see a picture where the off-road racing sport is starting to provide full-time employment for hundreds of people… you had to beg and plead to your buddies to help you out. Now folks are getting careers—to me it's amazing.”

UTVs Are Helping Create New and Would-Be Racers

Polaris has essentially made this class what it is today, and I think a hat tip is owed. The push to develop these vehicles to a point where they’re so fast and exciting to watch, yet moderately attainable, is what’s propelled the sport’s popularity and enabled people to have careers within an industry they love. 

You can’t discount the competition provided by the likes of Can-Am in furthering the development of high-performance UTVs, but we’re still waiting to see a BRP-backed factory team, and by the sounds of it, that kind of competition is something Craig would like too.

“When I first found desert racing, I was already in my 30s, and it changed my life. It changed the trajectory of my life… And it’s very important to me that, when I’m off this earth, that it’s healthier then than when I found it… growing this sport and leaving it healthy and making it strong so that it lasts forever is something that’s truly, truly the most important thing for me.“

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Ultimately, Polaris got us here, to this point in the class's ascension. But it won’t last forever. Like the major motorsports I mentioned at the beginning of this piece, UTV racing will become more competitive and have a higher barrier to entry as it gains popularity. So this piece is for you or someone you know who wants to pursue off-road racing. Now is the time to look in this direction. Don’t miss it.

No one is guaranteed to make a cent, but it’s impossible to say what doors would open for you by just competing and saying “yes” to opportunities that come your way. The worst thing that’ll happen is you make everlasting memories and probably friends. 

And this is what I needed to see firsthand to disrupt the association I had with racing and the feeling of resentment. Now, I’m optimistically looking for the next form of racing that could take off and help people with the same obsession as me get their foot in the door. When I find it, I’ll get the word out to strike right before the iron gets too hot.

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