THE HISTORY OF SHORT COURSE RACING
The Big House unique history
Earlier we mentioned the Brush Run 101 Crandon, WI event. Over time they too had transformed the long course event into a more spectator version of short course off-road racing. The original Brush Run 101 event became the World’s Championship Off-Road Race that takes place on Labor Day weekend and has been at the current 400 acre site known as Plummer’s Farm since 1984. The event ran the long course until 1979 when it moved to Pitt’s Field and was run on a five mile course. The move in 1984 resulted in a new short course that was 1.75-miles in length then in 2002 Crandon created a shortcut to make the track less than 1.25-miles so the track would be in full view of all spectators. The shorter track is used for all races except the Heavy Metal Challenge Shootouts, which are run on the traditional 1.75 mile course that has made Crandon famous. Today the raceway features permanent amenities ranging from spacious campgrounds to luxury skyboxes.
In the early ’70s, off-road racing was popular in the deserts of Southern California and down the Baja Peninsula so one might ask how did an off-road event get started in the Nicolet National Forest of Crandon, WI. The answer to that is that local Jaycees President Rolly Yocum picked up a magazine with an article about the Baja 1000. He was intrigued and never forgot that article. When Yocum and his fellow Jaycees were kicking around ideas of putting on events that might create income for their community he submitted the idea of an off-road race. To Yocum’s amazement, it was agreed upon. The idea may have come from Yocum but he said in no way should he be credited with the running of the event. According to Yocum, Gary Cyrus was the backbone, in the early days and really took care of everything. Gary said, “I don’t want to toot my own horn but I was there through thick and thin, and often there was more thin than thick in the beginning.”
When asked how many entries were at the first event Yocum says he believes there were 47 four-wheel vehicles and over a hundred dirt bikes competing in two separate classes. Yocum said the best he could remember the entry fee was either $25 or $35 and it would be a few years before they began charging spectators $1 to get into the fairgrounds. The first event had a total purse of $1500. Winners of the event were off-road enthusiasts Wally Schauer piloting and Jim Zbella co-driving in a modified VW buggy turning in a winning time just over three hours.
As with any new organization, there was little sponsor support in the beginning. At the time Cyrus said that most of the off-road community considered the Midwest racers a bunch of country hicks until Jack Flannery went west to Las Vegas and put in a good showing against the best off-road racing had to offer. At the event, Dusty Time’s Jean Calvin took notice of Flannery and her mention of his ability brought some recognition to him and the other Midwest drivers. Soon after Walker Evans showed up at Crandon and Cyrus said that really opened the door for other west coast drivers taking notice of what Crandon International had to offer. The event gained enough recognition that in 1997, Sierra Entertainment released a SODA-themed racing video game called SODA Off-Road Racing. The races at Crandon became the most prominent short-course event, so big in fact a second event was added called the Brush Run. In 1989 ESPN took notice of the event and broadcast the first of many Crandon events that were now being billed as the World Championships.
Jack Flannery became one of the most well-known names in off-road racing for his talents as a competitor and innovator. At his induction of the Off Road Motor sports Hall of Fame it was noted, “Jack Flannery is credited for bringing short course off-road racing to the mainstream by being the first Midwest native to organize a professional off-road race team that was capable of competing against, and beating, the best off-road racers in the world. His passion and commitment to the sport and innovative truck designs helped bring short course off-road racing to a higher level. Being continuously involved in every aspect of the sport, from track designs and layout, to bridging the gap between promoters, racers, fans, and sponsors alike, he enabled more people to experience and enjoy the sport on all levels.”
The “Big House” as Crandon had become known has gone through several sanctioning bodies in its extensive history. The Wolfhead Sportsman Club, which ran the local short track events in the area, was the first to offer some organization. Later on the Short Course Off-Road Drivers Association SODA was created by the efforts of Jim Conway. He couldn’t remember exactly when SODA was formed but said some of the others involved that he could remember were Terry Wolf, Tom Swartz, and Terry Friday. Next to run the show was the Championship Off-Road Racing CORR. SODA and CORR were active in more than just the Crandon event they also raced in the upper peninsula of Michigan since 1975 at Bark River Raceway located just three miles from the town of Bark River, MI., Mirroring the Crandon community, the local community eagerly supports this track with the Bark River Lions Club in charge.
In what might be considered an attempt at making shortcourse a truly national series SODA drivers ventured west in 1996 for the SODA Chevrolet Off-Road Winter Series held at Glen Helen Raceway Park in San Bernardino, CA. At the event Jimmie Johnson from El Cajon, CA took top honors for the series sponsor in his Chevrolet. The following year it was the same group of racers but this time the sanctioning body and title sponsor had changed. The 1997 winter series was titled the CORR Championship Series/Exxon SuperFlo Winter Series. The racers were greeted with a new one mile course designed by off-road’s standout Ivan “The Iron Man” Stewart.
When asked how SODA ended Conway said that he had submitted a five year plan to SODA in the mid 90’s, but it didn’t receive the favor of the group so he then joined up with TV personality Marty Reid who formed the Championship Off-Road Racing CORR series. Many of the drivers were swayed over to the new series because of the ESPN TV coverage that Reid brought. Reid then expanded the series from its original Wisconsin and Michigan venues and included events in Kansas, Iowa, and Minnesota. With his TV production company, he was able to secure airtime on ESPN2 and soon after the SPEED Channel. More about CORR later.
The next title to cover the Midwest series was the World Series of Off-Road Racing WSORR created by noted off-roaders Jack Flannery and Doug Davis. When the World Series of Off-Road Racing WSORR became the promoters at Crandon they announced a multi-year agreement with Lucas Oil as title sponsor. The series ran in six states throughout 2007. The Traxxas TORC series became the sanctioning body next but then in 2010 ownership of the event passed to United States Auto Club USAC with Traxxas still the title sponsor. In 2011 TRAXXAS hired BlackBox Interactive, to develop and launch an interactive off-road racing game titled the TRAXXAS Short Course Shootout. The interactive game featured legendary tracks allowing fellow Wi-Fi racers to compete in Pro Truck and Buggy classes with incredibly realistic graphics and handling dynamics. Gamers earned upgrades to their racer and even win real-world prizes through YourRealRewards.com. At this writing the game was not found on the internet.
In 2012 the Traxxas TORC series held 14 races at seven different venues; Crandon International Off-road Raceway, Charlotte Motor Speedway, Red Bud MX, Chicagoland Speedway and traveled to Antelope Valley Fairgrounds in Lancaster, CA.
Ownership was yet again to pass in 2013 when The Armory, a Southern California advertising and production company, bought rights to TORC. The Armory, owned by BJ Birtwell, had been working with TORC since 2010 producing their Television coverage. Birtwell did point out that USAC would stay on as the sanctioning body while The Armory would handle other aspects such as strategy and on-site production.
Late in 2015, it was announced that TORC was purchased by Mountain Sports International, Inc. MSI. The group posted a 14-race schedule starting in May and ending the seven weekend series at Crandon International Off-Road Raceway in September.
With the new ownership, the announcement was the introduction of a new short course facility being built at ERX Motor Park in Elk River, MN. Which is located 40 minutes from Minneapolis/St. Paul Metro area. Chris Carlson, co-owner of ERX said, “The TORC event aligns perfectly with our vision for ERX, as we are committed to creating a world-class experience for both drivers and fans. He added the racers will find one of the more challenging tracks on the TORC Series with extensive elevation changes, high-banked corners with multiple race lines and well-drained soil for a fast consistent race surface. And the fans will be treated with fantastic visibility of the entire track as it is set in a natural amphitheater.”
Headquartered in Salt Lake City, UT, MSI is a marketing and broadcast agency said to bring a wealth of expertise to the sport with the intent of heightening the exposure of not only the brand but to the TORC drivers as well. According to MSI President & CEO Adam Comey the group was committed to providing more than 50 hours of HD quality digital broadcasts with a strong TV package for a worldwide fan base.
Mountain Sports International (MSI) is a private company, founded in 1997, to develop and produce action/adventure sports events and programming in North America. MSI has managed events including Red Bull Frozen Rush, Ultimate Fighting Championships Octagon Nation Tour, Sierra Nevada Beer Camp Across America, The North Face Park and Pipe Open Series, and the SCOTT Enduro Cup presented by Vittoria in addition to several other properties and concepts.
2018 changed Midwest racing again
A release from Crandon International Raceway on March 5, 2018, changed the whole landscape of Midwest racing. Citing the need to ensure the future of short-course off-road racing in the American Midwest, Crandon International Raceway, Bark River, and ERX Motor Park today announced their immediate withdrawal from The Off Road Racing Championship (TORC Series).
In addition, the three purpose-built facilities announced that planning is underway for a five-weekend championship race series that will incorporate both traditional PRO and Sportsman truck, buggy, and UTV categories as well as Crandon’s 49th annual Labor Day weekend World Championship/World Cup races. (More on this in the section titled Crazy Times).
Major change at Crandon International Raceway
A major change happened at the beginning of 2021 as Crandon International Raceway changed from a non-profit operation with new owner, Jamey Flannery, retaining the mindset that giving back to the community would remain.
Crandon, Wisconsin (November 17, 2020) When business entrepreneur Jamey Flannery officially takes possession of Crandon International Raceway on New Year’s Day, much more than the ownership will change. In fact, the entire way the historic racetrack does business will undergo a massive transformation.
Since its inception in 1970, off-road racing in Crandon has operated as a not-for-profit club created to help support many local and regional charities. It has been a highly symbiotic relationship for both sides, offering the 400-plus acre facility access to much-needed volunteer labor during world-class race weekends in exchange for year-end financial contributions to a wide variety of local charities.
In fact, the largest purpose-built facility of its kind in the world has contributed millions of dollars in much-needed support to the small city of Crandon and surrounding Forest County located deep in the Northwood’s of Wisconsin.
Crandon International Raceway is comprised of a 1.75-mile short-course off-road track, more than 2,100 designated grass camping sites, a modern grandstand and a hospitality facility, a designated off-road park, corporate hospitality suites, a trap range, and a VIP center and office at the location’s original barn. The track plays host to two major race events each year, including June’s Forest County Potawatomi Brush Run and Labor Day’s massive Polaris World Championship Off-Road Races® and Crandon World Cup – an event which saw a record crowd of just over 70,000 people at its 50th anniversary running in 2019. Both the new Champ Off-Road and Ultra4 series are scheduled to run at the track as part of their 2021 race seasons.
Jamey Flannery’s vision for the future of Crandon International Raceway may be operationally different than the past, but his already well documented interest in helping locally based community programs will remain a cornerstone in moving forward.
“It’s important to honor the service of so many people and organizations that contributed to this track by carrying things forward in the future,” Flannery explained. “There will still be an opportunity for volunteer organizations here at the track, and there always will be as far as I’m concerned.”
At the recent 27th Forest County Potawatomi race weekend the track and Jamey Flannery Trucking combined forces to contribute two new drug K9s to the Forest County Sheriff’s office. Flannery was also the driving force in kick-start the first annual “Crandon Rocks” concert with Kid Rock at the track’s 50th-anniversary race in 2019.
Racing at Crandon began under the umbrella of the original “Wolfheads Sportsmen Club” umbrella, also a non-profit entity. In 1984 the group moved into its present home on US Highway 8, eventually reforming under the official name of Crandon International Off-Road Raceway Association, Inc.
Following Wisconsin state law and the bylaws stated in official documents, the dissolution of a 501 (c) (3) organization requires that Crandon pay all outstanding accounts payable and other debt before distributing the remaining balance to a list of similar local organizations approved by the Forest County Circuit Court. The current intention by Crandon International’s Board of Directors and President Cliff Flannery is that these contributions will be disbursed primarily in Crandon and the immediate surrounding area.
In keeping with a long-standing Crandon tradition (COVID restrictions notwithstanding), next February, track management will organize and host its annual Volunteer Party. held at the local town hall. It’s a unique event to Crandon, a celebration that gathers more than 500 guests as an “official thank you” for their service to the track, with food, drinks, live music, and a huge raffle for all to enjoy.
The evening also features the most important thing of all; the distribution of tens of thousands of dollars in financial support to worthy groups. While the overall structure of the track’s operation will change on January 1, 2021, both Jamey Flannery and the outgoing members of Crandon’s Board of Directors are united in a mindset that giving back to the community remains an important chapter to the overall story of Crandon International Raceway.
The Big House has had several managerial changes throughout its history and yet another change occurred on March 28, 2022.
CRANDON, Wisconsin (April 7, 2022) — Created as a way to ensure the future while remaining true to its unique roots, Crandon International Raceway management today announced that the historic facility and all its assets have been purchased by longtime track President Cliff Flannery. One of the most iconic motorsports venues in the world, the 400-plus acre track located in the picturesque north woods of Wisconsin has hosted the largest off-road races in the sport since first opening in 1984.
Details of the historic purchase were officially finalized on Monday, March 28th, with the new agreement resulting in the historic raceway and its events operating as a for-profit business venture instead of a Wisconsin 501c3 non-profit entity for the first time since 1970. The highly popular facility, affectionately known as “The Big House” by three generations of fans, is now owned by the newly formed Crandon Off-Road Entertainment LCC, while the creation, execution and promotion of all Crandon events will be managed by the recently formed Crandon Motorsports LLC.
Crandon International Raceway is comprised of a 1.75-mile short-course off-road track, more than 2,100 designated grass camping sites, a modern grandstand and a hospitality facility, corporate hospitality suites, a trap range and a VIP center and office located at the track’s original dairy barn.
The track plays host to two major race events each year, including June’s Forest County Potawatomi Brush Run and Labor Day’s massive Polaris World Championship Off-Road Races® – an event which drew a record crowd of just under 65,000 people at its 52nd anniversary running in 2021. Both the exceedingly popular AMSOIL Champ Off-Road and recently expanded Ultra4 series are scheduled to run at the track as part of their 2022 race seasons.
The venue also serves as home to the annual Red Bull Crandon World Cup, held each Sunday of Labor Day weekend. Representing the biggest single payday in short-course off-road racing, the event crowns Crandon World Championships to all of the sport’s Pro-category classes culminating in the annual “Cup” race — pitting unlimited Pro 2 versus Pro 4 trucks via a unique staggered timed start.
This next chapter in Crandon International’s remarkable story also provides members of the track’s longstanding Board of Directors time to enjoy family and a well-deserved retirement from the facility’s day-to-day operation. These generous people have devoted decades of service in building Crandon and its events to a world-class level, while also staying true to the club’s cornerstone mission of donating millions of dollars back to the local community. Each year hundreds of volunteers earn these charitable donations by helping in all phases of track operation during major race weekends.
Keeping Crandon International Raceway a locally owned entity is part of the Flannery legacy, and an important factor in the family decision to purchase the venue. Cliff’s brother and legendary racer was the late Jack Flannery, while nephew Jamey (Jack’s son) was also a champion racer at Crandon. Both Cliff and Jack are also inductees into the Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame, the first family to earn such honors.
“The road to today’s announcement has been a long one that required us to overcome some bumps along the way,” explained Cliff Flannery. “This small but very faithful community, and our hard-working staff, have spent the better part of our collective lives building Crandon International literally by hand. After 53 years it was time to make a change on how we operate and do business. I am proud of where we have come, and also what we have achieved. Considering the success of the past six or seven years, our future looks better than ever.”
Crandon Office Manager Tina Kulaf will remain in her role of managing the track’s business operation, while current Promoter Marty Fiolka and his California-based TRG Rennsport group will continue their roles in event promotion and execution, sponsorship, marketing, content and public relations.
Nicknamed the “Big House” for both its size and influence on the sport, Crandon International is also home to an impressive list of corporate partnerships with top-tier brands including Lucas Oil, Red Bull, Polaris, MAVTV, Forest County Potawatomi, Ponsse, Fox Shox, STEEL-IT, Vision Wheel, Yokohama Tire, MasterCraft Safety, Rugged Radio and many others.
Currently the 29th annual Forest County Potawatomi Brush Run weekend is scheduled for June 24 – 26, 2022 and the 53rd Polaris Crandon World Championship/Red Bull Cup will take place September 1 – 4, 2022.
Season camping and grandstand reservations have gone on sale for the 2022 season by visiting www.crandonoffroad.com.