It’s a sunny May morning when I pull up to CR Racing headquarters in Kelowna, B.C. A peaceful and somewhat secluded plot of land overlooking the Okanagan Valley is buzzing with activity as over 200 riders sign up for the CR Racing 4th Invitational Side x Side Poker Run. Scattered across event organizer Chad Rebec’s property are trucks, trailers, campers and toy haulers. People have come from the West Coast and all over the Southern Interior to ride the arduous 50-kilometre loop the Rebec family and friends have marked out.
My shotgun pilot for the day is Polaris-backed UTV racer Al McBeth (yeah, the guy who broke a world record for longest UTV jump). Scared? No. But my hands are a little unsteady as I buckle into his heavily modded RZR XP Turbo.
Sliding a little sideways, we hit the trail and soon catch up to traffic, which is backed up as riders spin through the first mud hole—and there’s no going around it either.
Once through, we tackle a few rocky sections before arriving at the first checkpoint. The Kawasaki banner reminds me that there are some big sponsors backing this event—which in previous years has been by invite only. According to Rebec, the event has been growing by 30 to 40 per cent each year, and he just decided this year to advertise it.
After our poker cards are pulled, we hop back in the buggy and McBeth gets to open up the throttle, letting the turbo work its magic. I learn quickly why five-point harnesses are absolutely essential for any kind of aggressive riding—as are full metal doors.
Arriving at our next checkpoint, my shiny Shift helmet is covered in mud and I’m sporting a dirt goatee. A hot lunch is waiting, though, and everyone chows down, which gives me an opportunity to see what kind of machines and accessories people are running. Polaris seemed to the brand of choice but I also spotted Can-Am, Honda and Kawasaki. When it comes to aftermarket goodies, however, the list went on—from stereo systems and light bars to rims and roll cages.
The route selected by Rebec was a good test for everyone’s machine. Flat tires were commonplace and I was told that in this kind of terrain (which had everything from mud to hard-pack and boulders), you’re better off running a radial than a mudder. Even we got a flat, but thanks to tire blocks, McBeth shrugged his shoulders and kept rolling. Having raced the Baja 1000, he explained that tire blocks—which are custom-cut wedges of dense foam that replace most of the air in the tires—are essential for any kind of desert racing.
Other machines didn’t fare so well:
Nobody was hurt, and the smiles and laughter continued right to the end of this full-day’s ride.
Back at CR Racing, people were lining up for dinner, which was included in our $50 entry fee. Thanks to generous sponsors, there were lots of great giveaways.
Rebec does a seamless job of organizing this event, which he said offers a change of pace from his busy winters spent in the shop, working on the precision snowmobile parts he’s become so well known for. For me, it was a chance to experience first-hand what side-by-sides are truly capable of. And thanks to McBeth and his Concept Distributing-built RZR, I went home filthy and grinning from ear to ear.