Mud, sweat and cheers: Amateur drivers get dirty with races
By STEPHEN HERZOG - firstname.lastname@example.org
June 15, 2010 at 1:15 a.m.
TELFERNER - The engine on her souped-up Ford Ranger rumbles as she waits for the flag to drop.
With the sun bearing down, she gets the signal and takes off as her 38-inch tires spit mud 20 feet into the air. Her windows are down the whole time.
The engine roars and the crowd cheers, but "Lucky" Chomitzky is not hearing any of it. She's in the zone.
"There's so much adrenaline," she said. "Sometimes I have a passenger, and they'll be yelling, 'go, go, go,' and I don't even hear them."
A crowd of about 200 lines both sides of the pit. Off-Road Adventures draws about that many every week to the mud bogs or mud drags.
With their pickups backed up to the rope, the fans sit in truck beds - many with the entire family along.
Drivers at the mud bog races have to travel 50 yards in a mud-filled pit.
If they get through in less than 15 seconds, the drivers have a chance to finish in the money. That is, if they make it through at all.
"Sometimes you get stuck," Chomitzky said.
The staff at Off-Road Adventures worked to keep that from happening too often this week.
Last week, four or five trucks "broke," because the mud was too sticky, a staffer said, so this week they watered it down a little more.
According to organizer Tony McGarrah, the bogging drew as many as 600 one week when they were doing both events on the same day.
On weeks opposite the mud bogs, they hold mud drags, in which there are no pits, and the trucks reach speeds of 80-90 miles per hour.
Now, they stagger the two events every other weekend.
"When we were doing both at the same time, we would start at 10 a.m.," McGarrah said. "It would be so hot that it would just wear everybody out."
Now the races start at 5 p.m. and nobody seems worn out.
Patrons bring coolers and can buy barbecue, snow cones, or something called "redneck nachos" from the concession stand. Then they can just relax and enjoy the races.
And if they're so inclined, they can join in.
The organizers regularly invite anyone in the crowd to enter the races. If they're willing to give it a shot, they can pay the $30, put on a helmet and take a chance in the mud.
After a fairly standard truck got stuck near the finish line, public address announcer Jerome Ruddick invited the fans again.
"That's pretty much stock," he said. "If that truck can make it that far, you could probably drive your wife's car and make it."
Ruddick's friendly ribbing kept everyone loose as they waited for the tractor, affectionately named "Nellie," to pull the truck out.
Chomitzky didn't get stuck this week, but she didn't finish in the top three either.
The top three finish in the money, usually $200, $100 and $50.
McGarrah said they usually have about 15 trucks competing, but if they start having a lot more participants, they could probably increase the pay out.
The races have been going on for about six weeks at the current location. Last year they raced at a spot on Ben Jordan Street, but organizers sold that land to the city and moved to Telferner.
Chomitzky has been competing in mud bog races for about a year now. She said she's been to "literally every mud bog they've had." But she's been part of this unique family for quite a while.
"I've been around big trucks for about 15 years," she said. "I had an older brother who was into it."
Now, she races her truck every other Saturday at Off-Road Adventures, which is east of Victoria between Telferner and Inez.
"It's just a lot of fun," she said. "It's a rush and a challenge."
Chomitzky is currently the only woman who races in the mud bogs. She said there's at least one other woman who races in the mud drags.
Chomitzky said she's not quite ready to go that fast. The mud bogs are more her speed.
"It's great when the other guys get stuck and I don't," she said.
This week, a couple of trucks got stuck, and one received enough damage that it couldn't make it to the second round.
"It's expensive," Chomitzky said. "Things break. My tires are 38-inch TSL Super Stompers - about $1,500 for a set. Plus, you have to lift your truck and give it more power."
In February of 2009, Chomitzky's husband, Will, bought a cheap truck and got another for free.
He took parts from both and created "Susie," the truck his wife now competes with.
It took three weeks, night and day, to build the truck, Chomitzky said.
The time and financial commitments can be steep, but it's something she loves.
Her husband knows it, too.
"We were supposed to race against each other this week, but his truck's not ready. It's broken," she said. "He always gets my truck ready first because I love it a little more than he does."