CORONA, CA (March 4, 2019) - Darren Hardesty Jr. already is preparing himself for it, but knows the challenge will be immense.
The 18-year-old King of the Pro Buggy division in the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series is plotting the next step in his racing career, which is the Pro Lite division. But he's going to be patient as the move up unfolds, even if that means watching more than racing in 2019.
"What we're thinking right now is building that Pro Lite and hopefully getting it done by halfway through this season," Hardesty said. "When it's done, I want to go race in some regional events and get some seat time and experience and the set-up down on it.
"That way, when we go out for our first (Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series) National Series race in 2020, we're not tripping all over ourselves and not knowing what we're doing. Even if it takes some wait time, we're hoping to come out swinging in 2020 with a successful program."
It's been quite a racing ride for the youngster known as "Hot Sauce" (a nickname that stuck from his Junior Kart days when he drank Del Taco hot sauce) and especially the way he's ruled over the Pro Buggy class. After earning Pro Buggy Rookie-of-the-Year honors in 2015 he's reeled off three straight championships.
Hardesty, of Ramona, California, had six wins last season to run his series-record total to 16. He wound up nine points in front of Eliott Watson in the chase for the championship in 2018.
The third-generation driver said it's been strange not to be preparing aggressively for a new season. The team has the Buggy up for sale in hopes of using that to help fund the new venture.
"Driving is my passion. When I'm not driving something that goes fast and jumps, I get a little antsy," Hardesty said. "That part of it, I'm hoping that we can get out there pretty soon. That part is going to kill me, not being able to drive."
But he said the time is right to look ahead.
"Not to sound conceited, but I kind of figured there's not much left to do in Pro Buggy after getting three consecutive championships," he said. "You kind of turn and look around and say, 'Its time of move up.' "
A big key to how soon the team will get the Pro Lite rolling is funding.
"Sponsorships, partnerships, whatever you want to call it; it's all going to help and big a big influence in the Pro Lite program," Hardesty said. "Even after winning some championships, you can't just out-of-pocket fund another racing program."
Hardesty said he hopes his passion for Off Road racing matches that of his three heroes in the sport - his dad Darren (who drove both desert and short-course), grandfather Earl (a Baja 1000 champion) and multi-time Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series champion Rob MacCachren.
"Like many people in the Off Road Racing community, they all probably started from nothing or someone saw their potential," Hardesty Jr. said. "These guys took that and basically got on a rocket ship with it. They all became super successful after they thought about racing from the time they woke up in the morning until they went to sleep at night. I really admire that."
"Without that kind of drive and passion for this sport, you're not going to make it anywhere."
While Pro Lite is the next step, Hardesty dreams of somebody sitting behind the wheel of a Pro 2 or Pro 4 truck.
"You better believe it," he said. "One of these days, I would love to sit out there while they're doing the opening ceremonies and look at (other competitors) through the driver or passenger window or whatever and say, 'You're going down.' "
Story by Lyndal Scranton
About the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series Pro Buggy division:
The Pro Buggy class is for open-wheel buggies with a 2,000-cc maximum (air-cooled) motor. Other engine specs are two valves per cylinder at 1,715-cc maximum (water cooled) or three or more valves per cylinder at 1,650-cc maximum (water cooled). The vehicles have 210 horsepower and a 93-inch maximum width, 1,900-pounds minimum weight (including driver) and a 1,580-pound minimum weight (including driver). Pro Buggy numbers are 1-99.
About the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series:
The Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series (LOORRS) pits the top short course off-road racing drivers against each other across an ever-expanding series of fan-friendly, pulse-pounding tracks. Born from the long-standing traditional home of midwestern short course off-road racing, and enlivened by the fast-emerging west coast short course movement, Lucas Oil Off Road Racing is the premier series in the world off short course off-road. Driven by Lucas Oil and the company's founder and CEO Forrest Lucas, both of whom have been long-time passionate supporters of this sport, the series continues to progress and evolve, carrying on the heritage of short course, as well as pushing its limits into the future. Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series
Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series: This is Short Course! For more information, please visit www.LucasOilOffRoad.com and be sure to sign up for our newsletter in our Newsletter Signup section of the home page.