From the July/August 2012 issue of ATV Rider Magazine.
Every sport has that one big event everyone looks forward to every year. For football fans it’s the Super Bowl, baseball fans have the World Series, NASCAR has the Daytona 500, Indy fans have the Indy 500, and in the world of ATV mud riding and racing High Lifter has made its mark with the High Lifter ATV Mud Nationals (atvmudnationals.com
). For the last 10 years, Scott Smith and his hard-working staff have put on an event that takes over Mud Creek Off Road Park in Jacksonville, Texas, bringing in thousands and thousands of riders who have one thing in common: the passion of diving deep into the thick mud and swamps that encompass the ride area. This year was no different as they anticipated that up to 15,000 people would pass through the gates of the park to enjoy four days of fun-filled riding and events that would provide memories for days and weeks to come.
For the past few years, ATVR mud guru Rick Sosebee and I have made our way to the Lone Star State to cover the Nationals, yet when we rolled in on Wednesday, we were both surprised to see lines of trucks pulling fully loaded trailers five or six deep, waiting to make their way into the ride park. Once inside I was amazed at how crowded the park already was and approached Scott’s right-hand woman, Tracie Engi. I asked her when people began trickling in and was surprised when she said that many of them had come in over the weekend before. Normally the “die-hards” arrive to participate in all of the festivities that kick off on Wednesday, but a new generation is here to take in a full week of fun.
If you’ve never been and are wondering what kind of festivities and racing I’m talking about, there is everything from a barbecue cooking contest, the Bad 2 Da Bone Show N’ Shine, a poker run and some of the finest ATV mud racing that you can find anywhere. In the past, this was a stand-alone event where mud racing’s best would come and display what they have to offer before hitting the road to follow a yearlong series, but for 2012, High Lifter and the Championship Mud Racing (CMR) series pulled together to make this round the first stop of the seven-round series. I approached Clay Wylie, owner and promoter of the CMR series, and asked what his thoughts were about teaming with High Lifter; he had this to say, “This is a huge boost for our series. Having our first race of the year held at the largest mud event of the year brings great exposure for all of the racers and our sponsors. I couldn’t be happier.”
From the attendance and registration numbers, it seems that both racers and spectators share the same feeling on the introduction of the CMR series to the Nationals. Aside from the EPI Endurance Challenge, Clay and his crew handled the organization of both the Mud Bog and Mudda Cross races. These competitions were extremely organized, efficient and provided some of the best mud racing that I’ve seen in a long time. I think the spectators agreed since many stayed till the end of the last race in both events, when normally you’d see the crowds diminish as the day wore on.
For those who didn’t care to sit with the masses watching all of the bar-banging action, they took to the endless trails that wind throughout the ride park. With the large amounts of rain that doused the region, even as recent as a huge storm cell that rolled through on Thursday, there were plenty of swamps for people to test their skill and the ability of their monster machines. One word of advice from us, though: If you decide to venture out on these trails, be sure to ride with someone or at least be equipped with a winch or some sort of towstrap. I can’t tell you how many unfortunate souls were stranded because their machines were being swallowed up by quicksand-like mudholes and their riders had no way of being pulled out.
When the sun went down, the action and fun still went on well into the night. For those country-lovin’ music folk, High Lifter had enlisted some great groups to perform on the Red Dirt Hurricane Stage over the weekend. The crowd lined up their ATVs and SxSs almost as if they were at a drive-in movie theater to watch David Nail on Friday night and JB & the Moonshine Band for Saturday. Now I’m not really a country music connoisseur, but I did head over there with some of my friends from Team Gorilla to enjoy the sounds and atmosphere before calling it a night.
Those who wanted to do some late-night partying only had to make their way to the Sand Pit or simply pick a spot and park along the Highline, which is the main traffic artery for people to get into the Sand Pit. I’ve witnessed the nightlife at the Sand Pit quite a few times in my travels to this event, but this year I just didn’t feel like being stranded in my Yamaha Rhino until 3 in the morning trying to make my way out because of all the traffic. So I opted to watch the party with my friends along the Highline, and I can assure you it was just as much fun without the hassle of a traffic jam. Just be sure to get a babysitter and leave the kids back at camp for this one.
Even my descriptions can’t do this justice, but imagine what it was like back in the late ’50s or early ’60s when people would drive down Main Street USA with their hot rods looking for attention. Multiply this by one hundred while house party-style DJ systems pump the latest music to get the masses dancing along the trail, and you have a small idea of what happens. It’s a New Orleans Mardi Gras party of sorts. Either way, you need to experience it for yourself.
As the event wrapped up on Sunday, the line of trailers waiting to leave the premises stretched back what seemed like for miles. Machines with broken parts were scattered here and there waiting to be picked up and repaired at home, but everyone was still talking about the great time they had. With the numbers crunched, it was estimated that 12,000 to 13,000 people had attended, and Scott Smith couldn’t have been happier. “Everything went smooth, and we really didn’t have any major issues. Having this many attendees seems to be our happy number. We’ve had more in the past, and it made things pretty hectic, but this crowd was the best.”
There is a reason the High Lifter Mud Nationals is one of my most anticipated events of the year, and if you have a bucket list, I highly suggest that attending this be included on it. The people you meet, places you ride and action you see can’t be compared to anything else in the world. The High Lifter crew knocked it out of the park this year, and we appreciate their hospitality as well as Team Gorilla’s for allowing us to invade their camp for the duration of the event.
If you do decide to make it out next year, be sure to tell the staff thank you. They work all year round and even around the clock to ensure you have a great experience! ATVR