Red Bull Scramble Series: A Real-Life Video Game

May 25, 2024
Chris Leone

2024 Red Bull Beach Scramble—1

If you’re a fan of UTV racing, chances are you’re used to seeing names like AJ Jones, Seth Quintero, and Mia Chapman sending it through the sand. But chances are, when you think of them flying the Red Bull colors, it’s out in the desert, whether in the southwestern US or, in Jones and Quintero’s case, around the world in the World Rally Raid Championship. Well, there’s plenty of sand on the beaches of the East Coast, too, and so last weekend was a little bit different: they were among the dozens of racers in Wildwood, New Jersey for the second annual Red Bull Beach Scramble, part of the 2024 Red Bull Scramble Series.

2024 Red Bull Ranch Scramble—2

If you’re not familiar, the Red Bull Scramble Series has been growing steadily over the past few years. This year’s campaign features five events, taking racers as far south as Texas, as far east as here in New Jersey, and even as far northwest as Alaska. And those three events are just the ones set for this spring; the series wraps up with an all-new event in Iowa in October.

The gambit compared to other promotions is that every event features terrain wholly unlike the last—whether it’s sand, farmland, mountains, or even snow and ice. Most of the Scramble Series entrants, including the 90-plus drivers across two classes on the Wildwood entry list, won’t see another course like this all year.

2024 Red Bull Beach Scramble—7

“For us side by side guys, this is really different than anything we get to do,” explained Corbin Leaverton, the newest face in the Red Bull stable and winner of the opening round in Glamis. “(Glamis) is sand dunes, where this is a completely different animal. Yes, it is sand, but it's on more of a kind of motocross style track, like jumps and turns and stuff like that. So it's going to be really tight, really racy.”

For drivers like Leaverton, the roughly two-mile course and short races are a familiar concept. For others, like Jones, it also marks a massive difference in strategy from his day job.

2024 Red Bull Beach Scramble—6

“It's a completely different event that I'm used to, you know?” admitted America’s first two-time Dakar Rally winner. “Being in Dakar is so long and such long days. This is just a sprint. So it's literally the opposite—(you’ve) gotta change your mindset. Like, we gotta push, push, push. There's a hole, you've got to go for it. Try to get by people and just kind of send it.

“There's no time to try to conserve the car. Because if you do that, then the race will be over before you even know it.”

2024 Red Bull Beach Scramble—4

Beach Scramble might be the centerpiece event of the Red Bull Scramble Series, and some of the names and faces I saw in Wildwood backed that up. Even Australian Supercars champion-turned-NASCAR prospect Shane van Gisbergen was on hand, albeit without a spot on the entry list. It’s his only off weekend from the start of the NASCAR season in Daytona all the way to July. Was he happy to have a rest? “No, I wish I was out there paddling it!” (Don’t worry, he still got some laps on course during media rides.)

All that adds up to what might be the closest thing to a video game in real-world motorsport (something I might know a thing or two about). The races are short bursts of wheel-to-wheel action in exotic settings, the entry lists are huge, and the courses are rough and tumble, with plenty of chances to get airborne. If I were designing a game from scratch, it’d look a lot like this.

2024 Red Bull Beach Scramble—CL

In fact, when Jones took me for a demo lap in the four-seat Can-Am Maverick that would later be used as a recovery vehicle on race day, it made me wish I was driving, not just riding. It really felt like a driver’s course with all the tight turns and bounces, more than enough tools for a precise racer to work with if they needed to move through the field, and plenty of fun in a solo ride. I’ve been pretty content with what I do for most of my career, but for once, I was a little jealous of the guy in the seat to the left of me. But getting one of the best cell phone photos of my life was certainly a nice consolation prize.

2023 Red Bull Snow Scramble—2

Due to a back injury suffered in Texas, Chapman had to sit this race out, an awful blow to her 2023 title defense and rough timing as she had just become fully Red Bull branded for the new season. Fortunately, thanks to series rules, she could have a substitute driver score points for her in Wildwood.

Enter Scott Speed.

2024 Red Bull Beach Scramble—2

Once America’s lone Formula 1 representative, Speed has since reinvented himself into one of the most versatile drivers in the world. After half a decade in NASCAR, we worked together at Global Rallycross through three of his four career titles, where he led manufacturer-backed programs at both Volkswagen and Subaru by excelling on America’s pavement-heavy, technical courses and matching factory support with precise vehicle feedback.

Scott’s pretty busy nowadays, from countless Red Bull and Subaru demos, appearances, and video projects, to helping Josh Wise coach some of the biggest names in stock car racing, but he still jumped at the opportunity to fill in for Chapman. And as someone who’s been around the world with Scott, this was some of the most fun I’ve ever seen him have in a racecar: chatting up the media and other drivers, learning what makes his new ride tick, even texting van Gisbergen selfies from the cockpit on Saturday. He’d taped a shop towel under his visor so he could flip it up to prevent fog, but not eat sand from the cars around him. "I'm a problem solver!" he laughed.

2024 Red Bull Showrun DC

“What a cool event!” he said. (Considering that he’s coming off doing donuts in his Subaru for Red Bull Showrun in Washington DC, as seen above, I trust his judgment completely.) “It's super cool for Red Bull to be able to bring something like this so close to where the people are, right? It's not in the middle of nowhere—it’s right between the boardwalk and the beach. It’s a really cool atmosphere here, and an awesome event.”

The biggest challenge? Scott had never really driven a UTV before, much less raced one. His handful of demo laps on Friday were interrupted by multiple axle replacements, but even that couldn’t undo the start reflexes of one of the best rallycross drivers in the world. A torrid launch in the heats saw him jump out ahead of Jones and Quintero, two of the best UTV racers in the world—until he pushed a little too hard and rolled on the first lap. “Mia, I’m so sorry!” he said when he got back to the Red Bull trailer, and they shared another laugh.

2024 Red Bull Beach Scramble—5

“This is (Scott’s) first UTV off road race like this, so yeah, he was asking pointers,” Chapman explained later. “It's hard because the track changes so much. As long as you keep it on its wheels and keep the car from breaking you'll finish up there and finish decent. He came out of the box and absolutely killed it. I couldn't think of a better guy to fill in for me.”

“Yeah, they told me I had one job: to keep it on its wheels,” Speed joked. “And what did I do?”

In some ways, though, this atmosphere is what makes Scramble Series uniquely charming. Yes, it’s professionally run—the same event production folks at States and Kingdom, same officiating folks from USAC, and same Response Motorsports Safety team that I knew so well in my time at GRC are the unsung heroes that keep things on point behind the scenes. Yes, the headliners have some serious racing clout. But even beyond the burgeoning Sportsman entry list, there’s an everyman aspect to the racing that feels more like when NASCAR stars would go on barnstorming tours decades ago. (Case further in point: when the rental vehicles for the Red Bull-backed trio showed up on Friday, Jones was quick to quip that he’d find out which one was his on Saturday morning.)

2024 Red Bull Ranch Scramble

Still, for all the good spirits and fun-first attitudes, there’s a championship to be won, and after Leaverton fell short last year, he’s as motivated as anyone to take it. After winning in Glamis, he missed the podium in Ranch Scramble in Texas, and he was determined not to let it happen again in Wildwood.

“If I'm out here racing, I'm going for a championship. Same as if I'm (only) here today, I'm going for a win. And that's just how it is. It doesn't always work out that way, of course, but that's what we're all trying for. We've started off the year ahead—I’m stoked to be with the Red Bull team and make 'em proud out there in Glamis with a win. I had a little bit of struggles here in Texas a couple weeks ago, but (I’m) looking to kind of bring it home back here this weekend.

“It's kind of lighthearted and fun for everyone. But just like any other race, it gets serious come race time.”

2024 Red Bull Beach Scramble—3

With 34 Pro and 63 Sportsman entries before late withdrawals, the stakes for making the feature were very different for both classes. Heats would simply set the grid for the Pro racers, all of whom would move on; those who struggled in the Sportsman heats would have to brave one of two last chance qualifiers in hopes of cracking the 32-car grid. With only local yellows to work with, a rollover could be the difference between making the show and going home early. (RMS owner Rob Sease estimated that he and the safety team must have flipped over 30 UTVs over the course of the day’s racing, including one on the sight lap first thing in the morning.)

This year’s course covered a bit less surface area than the last, eliminating the one-lane elements that wrapped around Morey’s Pier in 2023 in favor of more twists and turns in the infield. Further complicating matters was a massive difference in conditions from last year. Where the inaugural Beach Scramble was nice and sunny (below), this was a bit cooler, with off-and-on rain that chose mostly to stop during post-race celebrations.

2023 Red Bull Beach Scramble—2

“Last year it was 75 degrees and sunny, this year we come in and it's rainy—and the course is shorter and more technical than it was last year, which definitely made it more challenging,” Chapman noted. “And you know, this is a scramble series, and they're not going to be easy. I think a lot of guys struggled a little bit but picked up on it pretty quick and found the fast lines.”

“I think that the course this year is more fun,” Jones added. “Personally, for me, I like it. It's a little bit more technical. and it's got a lot more jumps, so there's more places where you kind of fly the car. I'm really enjoying it. The ruts aren't so bad because the track crew is taking really good care of the track in between heats and races.”


Leaverton, Johns Barnes, and Timothy Slocum would win the Pro heats, while Quintero and Jones would line up fifth and eighth on the final grid after finishing second and third in Slocum’s heat. But when the green flag fell, Leaverton surged out front like a bat out of hell. Few drivers came remotely close to his fastest lap time of 3:10.866, and his margin of victory over Tyler Coletti wound up being more than a minute after the seven-lap main event.

“I'm glad the weather held out a little bit for us,” Leaverton said after his second win of the year. “And, yeah, luckily I was able to stay a little bit clean today and make my life a little bit easier, I guess. But I still had to do work to stay away from these guys for sure. I was running for my life!”

2024 Red Bull Beach Scramble—10

Quintero and Jones would finish fifth and sixth, while Speed would claw his way from 22nd on the feature grid to eighth at the finish, gaining more spots from green to checkered than almost any other driver. He’d make more than half of those passes on the first lap before persevering where others fell short as the race wore on.

“This type of racing with the ruts is something I’d never done before,” he said. “It was really unique. It's really hard to run behind people because of the vision. I felt like I was racing motocross. You had to really be accurate and technical with your driving, which suits me pretty well.

“The car's really difficult to drive, but they're pretty awesome for just—these cars are dead bone stock. So it ripped it for a long main event!”


With the Sportsman field usually the bigger one, they tend to run the final show of the day. Remember when I said someone rolled on the sight lap first thing in the morning? That was Devin Smith, who would end up winning the whole thing after issues befell early leaders Ryder VanBeekum and Ryder Chapman. Chapman suffered various issues that dropped him from second on the holeshot to the edge of the top 10 before falling a lap short of the finish, while VanBeekum dropped out entirely from the lead just after halfway.

“I rolled right there into the water—that was me,” Smith admitted, pointing to a large puddle from the top step of the podium. “(So I) wasn't too confident coming into today. We just had a good race following (VanBeekum) all day, and then just a good turn of events for me. I got out in front and checked out. We drove out here from San Diego, so it made it worth the drive.”

2024 Red Bull Beach Scramble—8

Time for a little more self-insertion: it’s been a little over six years since GRC dissolved spectacularly and my career path totally changed. After reinventing myself in the worlds of desert racing and racing sims, this was my first time seeing a lot of old friends since well before you’d ever heard the term “COVID-19.”

What I’m responsible for (both personally and professionally) has changed dramatically over the past few years, and being on the road more than a few times a year just isn’t an option for me anymore, so I was eager to pop back in as an outsider and see how things had changed. I even made it into a road trip with my personal car, something I normally don’t do unless I’m sleeping in my own bed at the end of the night.

What I saw was what I wished my old series could have pulled off a little more, and its success with so much of our old crew was proof that we’d have had the right people to do it given the resources. The locale was unexpected and picturesque, sure, but the course and race format were also genuinely compelling, and each part of the crew met every challenge with hallmark professionalism. I always knew these folks were good at what they did; seeing them do it again after this long away only reinforced it.

2024 Red Bull Beach Scramble—9

Even more fun than that was getting to catch up with everyone and see how all of our lives had changed in that time apart. It felt like homecoming week, and I felt like a celebrity in ways that just don’t compute with the humility I try to carry. That’s to say nothing of the folks I met for the first time and the unique perspectives they bring to the sport. When you break into racing, you’re always a part of the family—even when you spend a few years away.

For me, that connection to so many of the folks that made Red Bull Beach Scramble what it was made this race a little extra special. Was it one of the coolest race concepts I’ve ever seen, with plenty of top drivers to boot? Absolutely. Was it that much more satisfying to see so many old friends putting such a great show together? You bet.

There are a handful of folks who have heard me talk about needing a few years off the road, and between the heartbreak of GRC and the depth of iRacing’s pandemic response, I wasn’t kidding. I needed a reset pretty badly. But after that… I might need to start carving out a little more travel time again. And asking for a travel budget. (Just giving you the heads up now, Matt!)

All images (except for the cell phone shot) via Chris Tedesco/Red Bull Content Pool