When you get an email that says “Hey, how’d you like to drive around with Ricky Johnson in a Trophy Truck?” you drop everything and head to Maine. My frienemy Brian Lohnes from BangShift.com and I got a chance to meet up with Ricky as part of a preview for Red Bull Frozen Rush, an awesome event he’s organized at Sunday River in Newry, Maine, on January 8 and 9, 2015.
Ricky Johnson is the man. Back in the 1980s, he was the king of motocross. He won his first national championship in 1984 for the Yamaha factory team, and in 1986 he went to Honda under five-time world champion Roger De Coster. He won the 1987 250 and 500cc crowns, and in 1987 won Supercross’s Super Bowl of Motocross at the L.A. Coliseum, considered to be one of the greatest races in Supercross history. He was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1999.
Motocross is tough on the body, though. He explained his injuries: a broken wrist, a dislocated hip, and “I’m a candidate for knee replacement.” By the age of 26, he retired from motocross racing.
But you don’t keep a guy like Ricky Johnson down. He quickly took his competitive spirit to trophy truck racing and stock car racing. He won the grueling Baja 1000 twice in 1997 and 2003, and won Rookie of the Year in his first year in the American Speed Associations stock car series in 1999.
In 2009, Ricky founded the Traxxas TORC short course off-road racing series. He sold the series to the United States Auto Club to concentrate on driving, and won the TORC Series Pro2wd Championship in 2010.
Johnson then began competing in the Red Bull-sponsored Frozen Rush race. The event features Pro 4 trucks (four wheel drive) racing with studded tires on the mountain slopes at Sunday River in Newry, Maine. Eight drivers from the two national series (TORC and LOORRS) competed head to head with the victory advancing to the next round. Johnson beat Johnny Greaves in the final round for the win last year.
(CLICK THE IMAGE BELOW FOR A LINK TO A VIDEO ANIMATION OF THE 2015 COURSE)
This year, we’re standing in a slushy parking lot in the pouring rain, two weeks before Christmas to see what Ricky Johnson is so excited about in 2015. The second event is taking place at Sunday River January 8th and 9th, and it’s set to be even bigger than last year, with a webcast and coverage on NBC. “We don’t have any trouble getting people up here for the event,” he says, but the live webcast is going to be key for fans who have never had the chance to see these trucks run in the snow.
We could talk all day, but getting to experience a bit of what these trucks could do spoke volumes. The truck is essentially a roll cage with front and rear suspension hanging off either end. It’s wearing Ram bodywork, but this Pro2 version is powered by a Ford-based 351 that’s good for about 500hp. The trucks running during the event will dial that number up to about 900hp, and they’ll also be driving another axle up front.
To maintain traction, Ricky messed around with a few different tire combinations before settling on BF Goodrich race tires bristling with 684 3/4-inch steel studs on each tire.
For the ride, I had to don a race suit and helmet, and climb in through the window Bo Duke style. This isn’t one of those Ram pickups with heated seats and a plush cabin. The truck doesn’t even have a windshield.
Strapped in and ready to go, Ricky fired the truck up we were off.
I can’t explain how loud this thing is at full throttle. It’s a sustained roar from the open exhaust that sounds like it’s directed straight into my earholes. Just as I’m wondering if brain fluid is actually leaking out of my ears, Ricky bangs second and we’re floating across the snow, leaping from level to level in Sunday River’s dirt satellite parking lots.
Donuts come instantly, while the porcupine-like studs dig trenches in the dirt parking lot. Rain is pouring inside the yawning chasm where a windshield should be. Where most trucks would have an inner fender well and a floorboard, Ricky’s truck has a gaping hole through which I see the tire turning. Every time he bangs a hard right, I get about 11 pounds of slush in my face and my lap.
We bang donuts and execute general mayhem for another ten minutes or so and Ricky rolls me to a stop in front of his trailer. “Man, that was incredible,” I yell through my Pete Townshend style tinnitus. “How can you tell?” he laughs, as I realize that my glasses are completely encased in snow and ice.
What an absolute blast.
To experience the event for yourself, you’ve got a couple of options: You can drive up to Sunday River in Maine on January 8th and 9th. It’s a free event, so get there early and stake out a spot where you can see everything.
If you’re in the 42 other states from which a day trip to Maine is probably out of the question, Red Bull Frozen Rush will be webcast live at 12:30 p.m. ET on Friday, January 9, 2015, via the Red Bull TV player on RedBull.com/frozenrush, and accessible online and through Android and iOS applications.
Red Bull TV is also available as a pre-installed channel on Samsung Smart TVs and Apple TV, and as a free, downloadable app on Roku, Xbox 360, Amazon Fire TV, and Nexus Player. As part of the Red Bull Signature Series, a full length broadcast of Red Bull Frozen Rush will air Sunday, March 1, at 2:00 p.m. ET on NBC.