One of the top names in 1600 Buggy racing in the Midwest for the better part of the past decade, Dylan Parsons will take on the growing Pro Spec category of Championship Off-Road for the 2023 season starting at Antigo Lions Roaring Raceway next month. It’s the latest step in a journey that started in Parsons’ childhood, and has taken him from convincing his parents to get back into the sport after decades away to winning a Crandon Off-Road World Championship, races, and championships.
In this interview, conducted before he debuted the new truck last week’s Mayhem at the Motorplex from Dirt City, Parsons talks about how his experience in the 1600 Buggy and side-by-sides has prepared him to make the jump, his work at Shock Tech Racing when he’s not behind the wheel, and looking ahead to his rookie Pro Spec season:
First things first—let’s start with the basics. What got you into off-road racing?
My parents raced when I was a kid—they raced till I was like two or three years old, back in the old SODA days. And ever since then, I was hooked. I can barely remember those days, but I always wanted to race. Once I was done with college, I found the 1600 car that I currently have. And my dad was like, oh, you can go buy it. And then he was hooked again, but he wouldn’t go to the races for almost 20 years.
For sure. It feels like a lot of racers get their start through family. Was it a hard task to push him towards actually showing back up to the races again then?
Yeah, for sure. Like, the first race I went to was the first race that ever happened at ERX. And I drove up there by myself, no one with me. One of my buddies that went to college and played lacrosse with me came up and met me, and I practiced there by myself. I found someone to spot for me. And then he came up later that day.
And the bug just bit him again?
Oh, yeah, he’s hooked! <laugh> Yesterday he was messing around with the truck. He hasn’t helped a lot with the truck—it was up at Mike Vanden Heuvel’s all winter. But I got him on the gear ratios, and that’s right up his alley.
It must have taken a little bit of work on your end to convince him to get back in and be like, “yeah, okay, fine, we’ll get you a race car!”
Oh, it took me 20 years! <laugh>
So you finally wore your parents down on the 1600 Buggy to get started. What were some of the biggest things you learned in those first few years of racing?
The first few years, the biggest thing was not wrecking the car—keeping clean and not hitting things, not breaking things, and then figuring out what happens when you do break something and the parts you have to fix. The last couple years have been better, and once you get faster, you stop breaking those parts and you stop hitting things and rolling over and stuff like that. <laugh>
You started in 2016 and raced in the 1600 for a few years. What were some of the big wins and things you were proudest of?
Coming into all of this, I told dad I wanted a ring. My mom has a ring from way back in the late eighties or early nineties at Crandon, and I wanted a ring. So to win the World Championship in 2018 was the best. That was the first race I won, and that was the best accomplishment ever. That night dad was like, “what do we do now?” I’m like, “I don’t know, but I got a ring!”
It’s gotta be extra special too to get that first ring at Crandon!
Yeah, it was my first win and the ring, everything all in one. I was getting close to wins, and I would just barely fell short. It was a whole year of that—I was getting close on the podium in the end of 2017 and then all of 2018. And then I finally got a win the last race of the year, and to be at the biggest race possible at Crandon… even right now, I’ve got like butterflies. It’s awesome. Like to know that that was your first win. Like you can’t make that up.
For sure. I mean, you’d been close before that win. So was there anything then in that breakthrough race that you kind of did differently?
I wouldn’t say I did anything different—it was just right place, right time. I got out front and I had Tony Keepers and Bruce Fraley on me the whole race. I watched that race back over and Kyle LeDuc was actually helping announce that race. So it was pretty cool to go back and listen to that, to hear how someone like that was reacting to what was going on.
Definitely—that’s a lot of heavy hitters and people who have really made their names in the sport. And once that first win comes, the rest of them start following, and soon enough you’re able to contend for and win championships. So it’s been a productive few years to say the least, it seems like!
For sure. Once you get that win out of the way, then it was just, where can we improve the car? We don’t have a huge budget or anything like that, but it was just wherever we could improve the car. Then, the next big step was when I built my side-by-side. It was the COVID year (2020), and it was just like, what do we do? I picked up a YXZ through just buying and selling stuff and decided “I’m gonna build this into a race car.” It was June when I decided to do that, and I hit up the first SXS Sports race at the end of June, so we didn’t really know what was going on or nothing.
Getting into the side-by-side racing a bit: the past couple of years had your 1600 points title, but you had good points finishes in both Champ Off-Road and SXS Sports. How did the skills that you learned in the 1600 kind of adapt to that side-by-side? Are there any major similarities and are there any major differences where you kind of had to relearn?
The similarities are definitely there as far as line choice goes. You almost run a side-by-side, surprisingly, really close to the same lines as a 1600 car. You can drive it in a lot further with the side-by-side, and you have the four-wheel drive to get you out. But it’s still the momentum game. You’re limited in horsepower, and everyone’s the same. So if you can carry more momentum than the guy ahead of you, you’re gonna be faster than they are.
Of course, it also helps that you’re working in the industry at Shock Tech when you’re not racing. What do you do at Shock Tech and how does your experience there kind of help apply to what you’re doing at the racetrack?
Shock Tech started when I was a little kid. My dad’s always rebuilt shocks. Back when he was racing was when Fox Shocks and King Shocks and everyone first came around. And so he had always had the tools to do rebuilds. And when I was growing up on snowmobiles, we were always rebuilding our own shocks for our friends and stuff like that, but not like what I’m doing now. For the last 10 years I was racing cross country snowmobiles and I was racing with and working for a SnoCross team. I started doing more shocks and now we’re doing thousands of shocks a year. And the last few years I’ve been getting into a lot more of the spring setups and stuff like that on the side-by-side, and now even now the truck side.
I can imagine that there are a lot of different racers over all sorts of series and probably even some of the people that you race against that you know, that rely on the work that you do at Shock Tech.
Yeah, for sure. I just did Michael Meister’s Pro Buggy the other day, and when he was down a couple weeks ago, he’s like, “whoa, you got a lot done!” When he came the first time, oh, there were probably 50 shocks over there. <laugh>
You have quite a bit of experience in both racing and with Shock Tech, but you’re still relatively early in your career. You made a big change for this year when you decided to go Pro Spec racing. Why the Pro Spec class?
I think Pro Spec is going to be similar to like how the 1600 is, or the side-by-side, as far as talent in the class. There aren’t many people that have a huge budget and I feel it’s still going be like the same kind of driving style a little bit. Everyone’s got the same thing, so it’s going to be a momentum and driver class. Like I said, the momentum thing is what’s huge in all of this. You can be the fastest, but you can’t go blow every corner—you’ve gotta keep your momentum up in that kind of thing.
Not to mention that you picked up a truck that, in Pro Lite, had been a pretty competitive truck with Casey Currie. What made that the right truck while you guys were going out and looking, trying to figure out what you were going to do?
This truck just popped up on Marketplace! It was these brothers from up by Wausau that had ended up with like all of Casey Currie’s stuff, and they were currently racing the other truck they got. I stopped by Mike Vanden Heuvel’s shop and I’m like, “what do you think of this?” He said “it’s probably a good start!”
We ended up not using much of what’s left. There are a lot of pieces that we kept, but we pretty much had to build a brand new truck out of what was left there.
You mentioned that you’re working with Mike Vanden Heuvel, who is a name that is very familiar to a lot of people in the industry, to get the truck ready for this year. If there’s anything you can really share about them, what are some of the specific improvements on it that you’re excited about the most?
I know Mikey’s got the front end figured out—he pointed me in the right direction on shock setup and stuff like that. And I’ve actually been doing shocks for him just because he can’t keep up on what he’s doing in the builds this winter. I was up there this morning picking up and dropping some stuff off. So having Mikey in my back pocket is pretty awesome. To bounce off him and just get the knowledge off of him… he’s almost like the Pro Lite whisperer, I guess, for the Midwest. <laugh>
Not a bad name to have on your side then!
Yeah, for sure!
So you’re looking at another full Champ Off-Road schedule. Are there other races that you are doing over the course of the year, whether it’s in the Pro Truck or even in anything else? Are you picking up any other classes, just one-offs, things of that nature?
Yeah! There’s a non-points race in Lena, Wisconsin at the end of May. That’s where we’re hoping to debut the truck. Just a test race, no pressure, that kind of thing. And I think we’re gonna bring the buggy out just, just for more seat time. (Editor’s note: Parsons finished second in the truck’s debut over the weekend, and added a 1600 Buggy win as well.) Wheatland, I really wish we could have had the truck, but it would’ve been pushing it. So I went down there with my teammate Colin Kernz and to see what we can do down there just for fun. We’re not gonna race that whole series. I’m not sure what the end of the season looks like—we kind of talked about it going out to Primm or one of those races, but I’d really like to go to King of the Hammers next year, that looks like a blast.
I’m sure Crandon’s an obvious answer, but is there anywhere that you’re really looking forward to racing the most this year?
Crandon has all the hype, but it’s probably not all of the racers’ favorite racetrack. Definitely I’m really excited to run the truck at ERX and even Bark River. I really wanna drive the truck at ERX, with the elevation changes and the whoop sections they put in there. It’s constantly changing. I really do well at ERX, so I’m really pumped to run the truck there.
Obviously it’s your first season in the Pro Spec truck, and there’s so much that’s new, so much that’s different. Have you really kind of set any goals for this season in terms of performance and results? Or is this more of a learning year?
It’s definitely going to be a learning year, but I hope with the resources we have we can hit the ground running and go for it. There are probably going to be be 10 trucks this year, and there are a few guys that I’ve raced against before in 1600s, side-by-sides, and stuff like that. So like I feel that we should be close.
It’s pretty impressive to see how Pro Spec has grown as well, so it’s not like you’re stepping into a class that’s only got a handful of vehicles. There probably will be some pretty stiff competition then.
For sure. There’s quite a few of us jumping up into it, but everyone’s still learning on the same level. There’s the few that raced last year, but we’re all jumping into this and we all have our own driving styles and ideas of how stuff works, so we’ll see how it goes.
For sure! Finally, you and Shock Tech Racing have a ton of different partners in this effort. Who’s really been helping you out in terms of getting this truck ready and getting your racing program in the shape where you can go out and contend?
Matt Gerald, Mike Vanden Heuvel, Noah Sanders, & Curtis Kroenig… my buddy Jayce at Fab Worx just finished up the aluminum last week and we got the paint truck painted and powdered right away. My teammate Colin Kernz and his family, Specialty Box & Crate, We’ve brought Liqui Moly on board and Maxxis Tires. We’ve been talking to the engineer Chris already on what they’re working on for the year too. And my fire suit from Impact showed up today—I just opened that an hour ago, that’s pretty cool!
We’d just love to give a shout out to all of our partners for making this move to Pro Spec possible, Shock Tech Racing, Specialty Box & Crate, Liqui Moly, Maxxis, JJ Insulation, LiveTime Scoring, Sticker Dude, RT Salvage, Impact Racing, Ultra Wheels, HyperCo, FK Rod Ends, and lastly Fab Worx & Flying Dutchman Off-Road.