By Seth Fargher, JRi Shocks
Whoever coined the phrase Someday well look back on this and laugh probably never broke down in the Nevada desert. If they had, they probably hadnt been operating off four hours of sleep and spent 6 hours flying across the country immediately before finding themselves stranded along interstate 15.
That however is how we began our trip to the 2015 Oregon Dunefest. Im not normally one to wince at a 10 or 15 hour drive. Especially if it involves UTV riding with a group of my friends somewhere along the way but this particular drive certainly got off on the wrong foot.
Our Dunefest adventure began when I picked up my co-worker at 4AM on Saturday July 25th. The plan was to fly to Vegas, hop in our west coast support vehicle and boogie on up to Oregon, with plenty of time to settle in and prepare for the week to come. All was going according to plan until the van engine cut out heading south on I-15 leaving Las Vegas. The cloud of white smoke following the vehicle and the oil soaked engine very clearly spelled CHANGE OF PLANS.
Two hours later after multiple conversations with roadside assistance and several towing companies I was on my way to pick up a rental truck while my partner in crime, our Offroad Market Manager Tony Cuva, was riding shotgun heading back north on I-15 in a tow truck.
By 7pm we were rolling back out of town, fortunately only 5 hours behind schedule. Technically we had an extra day as we didnt have to move into our booth until Tuesday but the goal was to be there early to be able to enjoy the dunes before the madness began.
We arrived in Winchester Bay on Monday evening and checked into our campground. Winchester Bay RV resort is close enough to the event to enjoy the festivities but far enough away to escape and find some peace and quiet. The only downer is you cant drive UTVs in the park.
Tuesday was move in day and by the looks of things we werent the only ones that were a bit behind schedule. As vendors began trickling into the new and expanded vendor row, we made our way out to the main stage and set up our booth in Vendor Camp. Vendor Camp was among the new ideas brought to the table at DuneFest 2015. The aim was to have vendors actually set up and camp in the sand near the spectators to foster more interaction. Particular during the evening hours after vendor row was closed. While we enjoyed the prime location next to the main stage, after long days in the sun and sand we were eager for a little serenity so we opted to stay at the RV park.
Because of our relationship as an OEM supplier for Arctic Cat, they were kind enough to lend us a Wildcat X and a Wildcat Sport for display in our booth. Since it was only Tuesday and we were set up relatively quickly, we opted to take a joy ride before things got really busy.
The event officially begins on Wednesday but things dont really start hopping until Friday. On Wednesday evening, Polaris hosted a BBQ dinner to celebrate the release of its 2016 model year vehicle line up so of course we indulged in that. Being a part of Vendor Camp definitely has its perks.
Thursday was a relatively slow day in the booth despite the dunes being packed with people. We did notice when arriving on Tuesday that it seemed like there were a lot of people there for it being so early in the week. While we heard roomers that some people were upset with some of the new changes, you wouldnt have known it by the number of rigs in the sand so early in the week.
Although the drag strip is humming all week long the number of UTVs participating is pretty small. Its still worth checking out to see some of the insane drag quads and whatever else people decide to race down the strip. One year we actually saw two guys racing ATC 70s. They certainly werent setting any land speed records but they definitely won over the crowd.
Unfortunately the sand motocross track has kind of waned in popularity over the last couple years and this year it was pretty hit or miss. There were a few UTVs providing some entertainment in the Side X Side showdown and one even ended up on its lid but the track failed to draw much of a crowd all weekend long. Wed love to see the OEMs get involved and create some sort of a manufacturers cup or a UTV shootout. Maybe with the recent announcement of Robbie Gordons partnership with Arctic Cat well see him out their banging bars with RJ Anderson. We can hope right?
Vendor row featured a new layout this year and appeared to have more companies present than years past. Instead of just one aisle down the middle and booths on either side, organizers split the area and created two aisles for four total rows of exhibitors. While RVs took up the bulk of the center rows it was still good seeing industry companies like SSV Works, Pro Armor, GMZ and Rugged Radios in attendance.
One event that continues to be a big draw year after year is the Show N Shine presented by Mod Quad. Classes for this years event included King of Bling, Best ATV, Best UTV and Utility. There certainly werent many utility vehicles entered and the ones that were, you probably wouldnt see getting used around the farm.
A few of our favorites were the General Lee XP 1000 complete with the iconic horn, a 911 tribute XP 1000 and Kalani Korns Hawaiian Punch themed XP 1000. Sure were a little biased considering it was riding on JRi Shocks but he definitely took his time with this build. Evidently the people agreed because he took home the top prize in the UTV class.
While we were on the west coast we took advantage of snapping some pics of Kalanis mean machine. With the all the lush vegetation on the Oregon coast and having the ocean as a backdrop, its almost difficult to take a bad picture. Kalanis color combination made my job even easier as the reds and blues really pop against the tan colored sand and all the greenery. Despite running without paddles and only in 2 wheel drive, we managed to get some great photos of his car that captured the essence of riding at the Oregon dunes.
Another big change for DuneFest this year was the absence of the ATV Freestyle team. It was an exciting time a few years ago when organizers brought in the Moore brothers, mostly because this is primarily an ATV event so it would certainly make sense to have ATV freestyle verses dirt bikes.
While the dirt bike riders put on a great show, the real pièce de résistance came Saturday night as Marc Burnett attempted not one but two back flips in his Polaris XP 1000. Burnett had reportedly been working on the back flip in a foam pit in southern California and at Allens request, decided to bring his specially designed ramp to DuneFest and attempt it to an actual landing for the first time.
It took a dozer crew all day Saturday to construct the landing and while fans patiently looked on, Burnett finally rolled towards the ramp a little after 9pm. Unfortunately on his first attempt he came off a little off axis and landed perpendicular to the landing causing him to flip onto his lid.
After checking things out and deciding the car was still drivable, he wheeled around for another pass. Unfortunately he got off the gas a little too soon on his second attempt and came down right on his lid. Props to whoever built his roll cage because it didnt appear damaged in the slightest. Not the outcome anyone was hoping for but it was certainly awesome to see in person and the fact that Burnett came away uninjured leads us to believe hell be back to get it dialed in.
Immediately following the RZR flip attendees had an opportunity to bid on the brand new RZR XP Turbo at the DuneFest charity auction. As Polaris did a few years ago with the original XP 1000, the manufacturer donated the first machine sold in the US to the charity auction which ended up going for over $27,000. A host of other products were auctioned off including a set of JRi XP 1000 shocks, Rugged Radios communication system, accessories from Axia Alloys, plenty of shirts, sand tires and more, with all of the proceeds benefiting local area charities.
As a final hoorah for the event, Bon Jovi tribute band Steel Horse took to the stage and rocked the dunes until around midnight.Despite the logistical complications, breaking down in the sweltering Nevada heat and being forced to operate out of a rental truck with limited supplies was certainly a test of our wills but overall we felt that DuneFest 2015 was a success. We received a warm welcome from the northwest crowd who seemed to appreciate our deep roots in the motorsports industry as we solidify a name for ourselves in the UTV world.
Despite some organizational changes, DuneFest continues to be a popular gathering place for ATV and UTV enthusiasts to come together and enjoy all aspects of the off-road industry. Were excited to see what changes they have in store for the future!