When Mike Penland originally discussed me race testing his Team Green Kawasaki Prairie, I had no idea of the historic events that were about to take place. At the time that we were organizing this test, my thoughts were focused purely on the fact that I would be racing the 11-time GNCC Utility champion's race quad. Better known as the Godfather of Utility ATV Racing, Penland has many feats under his belt. Whether in the dry dusty desert of Baja, Mexico, enduring the 12 Hours of ATV America or winning countless GNCCs, Penland was bred to be the icon of all utility ATV riders around the world. I felt unworthy to mount up and race on this legend's quad, yet I did, knowing this would be an opportunity of a lifetime.
As if those circumstances were not enough to scrounge together an outstanding story, something even bigger and better than I could have ever imagined fell into my lap. It was absolutely a journalist's dream come true. Just two weeks prior to the race, I received a call from Penland explaining that he and teammate Scott Kilby had just signed huge deals as factory Bombardier riders. After seven years of riding for Team Green, Penland took a huge leap of faith to a machine he knew little about, and I was the first to obtain this top-secret information. Then it occurred to me, Penland would be racing for a new brand for the first time ever, and I would be partaking in this historic event alongside him.
When I arrived the day of the race, it was as if I, too, were playing a major role in this momentous day. Swarms of racers and race fans were dropping by the Bombardier pits in disbelief of the switch Penland had inked. Several of the fans even took me for being part of the team. I might as well have been, as Penland and his crew treated me with the greatest respect. They prepped, cleaned and polished the quad to my liking. My only task of the day was to mount up and go racing.
Four-Wheelin', LiterallyAs I sat on the line feeling good and awaiting my utility debut, several uplifting comments were cast my direction. "What are you doing now? You're gonna kill yourself on that thing!" Pro rider Johnny Gallagher exclaimed. "Reality check-maybe he's right," I thought to myself. I've never raced a utility ATV before-what am I doing? As I gave the machine one last look-over, I began to notice how massive it was, weighing in at just over 600 pounds. And to top things off, this was to be the tightest, most technical GNCC course on the schedule this season.
When the 10-second time marker was screamed over the loud speaker, I knew there was no turning back. The flag dropped and 15 big-bore utility ATVs roared to life and blasted furiously toward the first turn. Penland was off like lightning never to be seen again. My machine, on the other hand, hesitated for a short half second resulting in a midpack positioning around turn one. Between the massive power of the Outlander 800 and the superb traction on the Maxxis Bighorn radials, I was able to motor my way into an acceptable start. Like a pack of ferocious wolves, we all turned hard right in a fight for the best position as we entered the tight, wooded section. Fortunately for me, I was able to cash in on a few passes because of an early pileup I'd managed to avoid.
Now I was in better than a middle-of-the-pack position on the roller coaster of utility adrenaline through the woods of North Carolina. My confidence was building quickly, and I felt comfortable running with this group of experienced racers. I noticed I was pulling away from those behind me, the unheard-of stock power of the Outlander 800 allowing me to make up time in the appropriate moments. Even in the rare wide-open straightaways I was able to pass and pull on several of those ahead of me. The power of the Outlander was impressive, and I continued to pick up the pace.