Antigo, Wis. ~ AMSOIL Championship Off-Road, presented by the U.S. Air Force, kicked off its 2023 schedule in Antigo, Wis., on Saturday with clear skies and captivating racing across all 18 classes.
The season opener featured 287 entries for the Antigo Off-Road National, the first of seven weekends and 14 rounds of short-course action in 2023. Rain soaked the horseshoe-shaped track at the Antigo Lions Roaring Raceway overnight, but the skies were clear to start the day, allowing for near-perfect racing conditions throughout Saturday. That gave the best off-road racers in the world the opportunity to work towards their season-long objective: being crowned a 2023 Champ Off-Road champion.
Defending Champ Caps Three Win Day with Pro 4 Victory
The storylines for the opening round of Pro 4 were simple: absence and adrenaline.
Leading up to Antigo, Kyle LeDuc announced that the past champion and 2022 runner-up would be stepping away from competition to focus on family. Then the news broke on Friday that Johnny Greaves would miss several rounds after suffering several injuries during a Friday incident. Add a missing Andrew Carlson and Scottie Lawrence’s absence after a Friday crash during qualifying.
That left a hole at the top of the field, with two of the top three drivers from last season out for the foreseeable future.
But a field with seven-time champion CJ Greaves in the mix is still a must-see for race fans. And the rest of the Pro 4 class was amped up on Saturday, including Kyle Greaves, who was behind the wheel of the #22 Toyota that usually has his uncle Johnny sitting in the driver’s seat.
The adrenaline was flowing, especially into the first turn. Cole Mamer grabbed the holes hot with CJ Greaves in tow. But things got crazy in the first few turns, with Mamer coming to a spinning stop and damage to Kyle Chaney and Jimmy Henderson on the first lap.
CJ was able to get clear of the carnage and stretched out to a big lead heading into the mandatory caution. That’s when Adrian Cenni found his groove. He catapulted off the restart and used an inside move to take the lead from Greaves. For the next several laps, Cenni held off Greaves, who continuously tried to find a way around the Wildman. But a calmer Cenni would not be able to hold off the defending champion, who moved back into the lead with three laps to go and drove to the 91st win of his career.
“Between Adrian and I, we used just about every line on the track, from the bottom to the top to the wall and back to the bottom,” said Greaves. “The track is tricky. It’s difficult. It’s not a beginner track. Kyle got thrown in with the wolves right off the gate at one of the most technical tracks we race. It’s been an up-and-down weekend already, so to come out and put it all behind us and give it 110% is all we can ask.”
Cenni would keep hold of second place, crossing the line just a few truck lengths behind Greaves. Kyle Greaves, in his first career Pro 4 race and with just one practice lap under his belt, found his way to the podium in third.
A Fast Beat Takes U.S. Air Force Pro 2
The start of the Pro 2 race was much like the beginning of Pro 4. It was a slugfest heading into turn one, with Ryan Beat and Cory Winner coming out of the first turn unscathed.
Beat would continue to stay clean, but Winner would find another battle later in the race. For Beat, he was on a different level on Saturday. His truck came through the Antigo offering nearly as clean as it was when it left the pits. Beat had a handful of podiums in 2022 but no wins. That was an easy fix for the opener as Beat never lost his lead, taking home a dominant opening-round win on a track he has grown to adore.
“Last year was the lowest of lows, then to the highest of highs this year,” said Beat. “We’re starting the season off with two wins. I won King of the Hammers and now here. I love this place. Antigo feels like home to me, with our shop just down the road.”
As for Winner, the 2022 Pro 2 runner-up had his hands full in the race’s second half. He, along with Mickey Thomas and Ricky Gutierrez, went three wide into the first turn after the restart. Gutierrez came out slightly ahead before Winner took back the position, and Thomas bumped up to third.
Three big trucks in such a tight space created contact, and smoke was coming from the rear of Winner’s truck. Thomas snaked his way into second, and Gutierrez and Winner would swap paint and positions over the next few laps. Ultimately, Gutierrez made the final move that put him on the podium, in third behind Thomas.
Kyle Greaves Opens Pro Lite Title Defense with Win
The 2022 Pro Lite championship came down to three trucks and the final race. When the Crandon dust settled, Kyle Greaves sat atop the final standings, six points ahead of Brock Heger. The third driver was the surprise late-season push from Trey Gibbs, who finished third but was only three points out of the lead going into the finale.
With Heger not racing in Antigo, the expectation was for Greaves and Gibbs to put on a show inside the tight track. Gibbs threw the first punch, grabbing the holeshot and leading the race’s first half.
Greaves was stuck behind Brody Eggleston for that entire time, except for half a lap when Greaves scooted past Eggleston and into second just before the mandatory caution after the restart, which set up a sprint between him and Gibbs over the back half of the race. It was a sprint that Greaves would win, setting up Gibbs with several moves before finally getting a lead he would not relinquish.
“I just had to figure out some more lines,” said Greaves. “I’m used to working without blue groove, and then the track had a lot of traction. Those Kenda RTs definitely work the second half.”
Gibbs never lifted or gave up over the final laps. He continued to charge, picking up the second spot on the podium. Eggleston also kept charging, crossing the line just a few truck lengths behind Gibbs in third.
Pro Spec Victory for Visser
From a single entry two years ago to four trucks last season and now nine trucks on the starting line in Antigo, the Pro Spec class is all grown up.
In 2022, Pro Spec had only four racers, but they were pioneers in a cost-effective class that will continue to grow. Now there are competitors from all levels of off-road lining up in the most level field of racing in a short course.
Rayford is no rookie in the Pro truck classes, having won in Pro Lite over the years. But Pro Spec allows Rayford to show up and show out at more Champ Off-Road events. He put that to good use right away in Pro Spec, moving into second with a veteran move past defending class champion Gray Leadbetter. Then after the mandatory caution, Rayford used a fast outside line to take the lead from Nick Visser, but two laps later, he had to serve a stop-and-go penalty giving the lead back to Visser.
The final laps brought back the 2022 duel between Leadbetter and Visser. They finished three points apart last season in the final standings, with Leadbetter getting the crown. Visser got the advantage this time, powering through the final few turns for the opening-day win.
As for Rayford, he was forced to get back into the race and on the podium. He was able to catch a quick Tony Keepers, but the rookie Keepers kept his foot on the throttle and held onto the final podium position.
Greaves Gathers Up Victory in AMSOIL Pro Turbo SxS
Last season it took CJ Greaves ten rounds to finish on the top spot of the AMSOIL Pro Turbo SxS podium. Development and comfort of a new Polaris race car kept Greaves motivated in 2022, and that increased tenfold this off-season.
That motivation paid off as Greaves took home a solid opening-round win on Saturday. He grabbed the holeshot and stretched his lead over Owen VanEperen, who would close the gap on the race leader just before the mandatory caution. But Greaves nailed the restart and mashed the throttle to victory lane.
Robert Loire also mashed the throttle off the restart, gaining an edge over VanEperen. Loire moved into second and never gave up the position as they went bumper-to-bumper for the final podium positions.
Greaves Gets Win in Pro Stock SxS Opener
CJ Greaves won four Pro Stock SxS races in 2022 but still found himself sitting second overall in the final standings. He spent the first part of the season dialing in his Polaris and found his rhythm in the second half of the year.
In 2023, he found his rhythm off the start; He quickly worked his way from an eighth-place starting position and into the lead by the beginning of lap two. The former class champion didn’t miss his marks from there, driving to a convincing opening-round win.
Behind Greaves, things got a bit chaotic. Scott Wasz held onto second for several laps, with Owen VanEperen in third. A mid-race crash would take them both off the leaderboard, moving Trey Eggleston into second and Tyson Marquardt into third. They would hold those positions through the checkered flag, with both drivers picking up their first podium finishes in a Pro SxS class.
Pro Buggy: JD Koran held the top spot early in the Pro Buggy final, but a mountain of experience came knocking as the race wore on. Mark Steinhardt used several veteran moves to get into the race lead before pulling away for his first win since Dirt City last year.
Pro-AM SxS: Bryer Pingel held point in the Pro-AM SxS for the first nine laps, but Kolton Krajicek found an opening with two laps to take his first career Champ Off-Road win. It was Krajicek’s first career race in Champ Off-Road, and he was opportunistic at the end to put himself in position for the victory; Ping would challenge for the win but crossed the line in second. Matthew Boerschinger would cross the line in third.
570 SxS: Ryker Remington just missed out on the 2022 570 SxS championship (2 points), but he started out on the right foot with an opening-round win in 2023. Bryce Powers and Hudson Houle had a back-and-forth battle for the runner-up spot, with Powers securing the second position on the final lap.
Super Stock Truck: It is always an edge-of-your-seat finish in the Super Stock Truck class, and that was the case for the season opener in Antigo. Nick Byng did everything he could to chase down Joey Maciosek on the last lap, but time ran out as Maciosek held off Byng by half a second at the finish line. Ben Holtger also held off Trey Beauchamp on the final lap for the third position.
Sportsman SxS: Lucas Houle finished the 2022 season with his first podium in Sportsman SxS and ended the year ninth overall. Houle now sits atop the championship standings after opening up 2023 with the wire-to-wire win in Antigo. Ben Heiting finished second, and Erik Hill crossed the line in third.
Mod Kart: Defending Mod Kart champion Porter Inglese picked up where he left off by winning round one on Saturday. Avery Hemmer worked through some early traffic to finish second, and Carter Vanden Heuvel crossed the line in third.
1600 Single Buggy: It was a tight start to the 2023 1600 Single Buggy campaign, but Travis Trelsted got the lead on lap three and held off the sharks for the win. Michael Seefeldt charged throughout the race but came up just a car length short of Trelsted at the line. Defending class champion John Fitzgerald weaved through traffic for a third-place finish.
170/200 SxS: Raymond Deininger worked his way to the front of the combined 170/200 SxS race, grabbing his first win. Ellie Hentges kept pace, finishing second, and Tanner Thibeault was third.
Short Course Karts: Wesley Vande Voort won the final 2022 race and now has two straight Short Course Kart wins after taking the Antigo opener. Vande Voort had to work through early traffic but got the lead over Trent Beauchamp with three laps remaining. Beauchamp held on for second, with Lincoln Mandsager overtaking Lila DeLorey on the last lap for the final podium spot.
1600 Light Buggy: Twins Connor and Colin Schulz spent much of last season battling for the top spot in 1600 Light Buggy, and this year opened with more of the same. Connor led from start to finish for the win, edging out defending champion Colin who had to work his way into a podium finish after starting fifth. 2022 runner-up Greg Stingle finished third.
Stock Truck: Colt Wierzba only ran a few races in 2022, but he may look at a full 2023 schedule after taking home the win in the opening round of Stock Truck. Kyle Ambroziak ran a strong race for second, and Dylan Sharkey filled in for Katelin Wierzba, driving to a third-place finish.
Youth SxS: Champ Off-Road added a new Side-by-Side class for the 2023 season, Youth SxS. The class is a step up from the 570 SxS class and is for kids 13-18 to use as an entrance into short-course racing or to graduate to more robust competition. Ryker Remington, who finished second in 570 SxS in 2022, took home the inaugural Youth SxS win. Libby Nielsen finished second, with Livy Hentges in third.
Up next for AMSOIL Championship Off-Road, presented by the U.S. Air Force: Day two of the Antigo Off-Road National in Antigo, Wis., on June 11, 2023.
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