Desert Dash

Resurrecting Laughlin’s favorite off-road racing tradition could very well be the cherry on top of this year’s racing cake when the 2018 Polaris RZR UTV World Championship powered by Monster Energy comes back to town Thursday-Saturday, April 5-7.
Off-road racing has been a popular draw here in the desert community for years with different racing entities challenging just about anything with wheels to have a go on one of the most difficult race courses of any circuit or series. And the fans loved to watch some of the top drivers in the country negotiate all the twists and turns, until some of those entities like SCORE stopped coming.
A couple of racing associations took up the gauntlet and brought off-road racing back in full-force the last few years, but there was still something missing — Laughlin’s signature calling card event — the Laughlin Leap. However, this year, the event returns.
“What’s new this year, is we’re bringing back the Laughlin Leap,” said Donald Jackson, operations manager of Best In The Desert (BITD) Off-Road Racing Association. “So this is the first time that the UTVs will compete in the Leap event, which is the Kick-Off Party for the event this year.”
Jackson’s title basically means he oversees the nuts and bolts of the event, with an emphasis on the nuts part.
“We’ve gotta be a little bit crazy to do this,” he adds with a laugh.
But the whole point is to bring UTV drivers and fans together for one action-packed event where anyone who wants to can participate or watch from a comfortable distance, get to know the drivers and learn more about this racing artform.
With off-road racing, fans don’t just watch from the sidelines, they also can get to know the drivers and educate themselves on the latest and greatest in all things UTV at the family-friendly portion of the program, Technical Inspection & Contingency, which takes place at Don Laughlin’s Riverside Resort Hotel & Casino, the event’s host hotel.
One of the best ways to get immersed in the world of UTV racing is to come out to the Tech Inspection & Contingency in the south parking lot of the Riverside Resort on Thursday (noon- 6 p.m.) and Friday (9 a.m.- 6 p.m.). This is where all the drivers have to pass inspection and will be available for meet-and-greets and autograph sessions with the public. There is no charge to attend.
The site also will be converted into vendor space, a manufacturers midway offering the newest stock and customized UTV models as well as the industries top aftermarket accessories.
“We’ll have about 45 vendors down there along with two days of Tech and Contingency because we have divisions for youth and teen drivers and two days of racing this year,” Jackson said.
There will also be a UTV Family Poker Run on Friday, April 6. For those who want to participate, the registration takes place Friday (8 a.m.- 9:30 a.m.) at Don’s Celebrity Theatre. It is for stock UTV’s only, and costs $80 per vehicle to enter.
“The Riverside Resort & Casino is once again our host hotel partner for the 2018 UTV World Championship,” said Matt Martelli, UTV World Championship CEO/creative director. “They are able to accommodate the massive space we need in order to continue to expand our event, and they offer the best amenities in Laughlin. The Laughlin family has been supporters of off-road racing for decades and Matt Laughlin, COO of the Riverside Resort, is a racer himself.”
This year’s Pit Crew Challenge is also a whole different animal.
“We’re switching things up a little bit this year and in conjunction with the Leap, we’re going to do a kids pit crew challenge,” Jackson said. “So the youth will do the pit crew challenge on their cars, changing a couple of tires. It will be onsite at the Leap, and it will be between heats. We’ll have a jump contest, then we’ll have a couple of kids do a UTV pit crew challenge then another couple of jumps — that type of thing. We’re just focusing on the youth this time.
“That starts Thursday (7 p.m.) and will be in the main pit area of the Laughlin Events Park. It will be open to spectators so come out and ‘spectate.'”
The park is located at the corner of Bruce Woodbury Drive and Thomas Edison Way, a couple of blocks west of Casino Drive. It is the start/finish line for all racing events Friday and Saturday. For the Tech & Contingency, racers will line up and turn left onto Thomas Edison Way, traveling all the way down Laughlin Civic Drive to the Riverside Resort’s south parking lot.
The UTV World Championship is part of the Best in The Desert’s race dance card and will be produced by media heavyweights, Mad Media.
The format brings together UTV desert racing, UTV short-course racing, motorcycle and quad racing, veteran drivers, amateurs, and all ages for this massive three-day event.
The event will feature three world championship UTV races, including a Best In The Desert Championship points race and a short course UTV Championship race, and a youth class RZR 170 championship race is also planned for the fourth year in a row.
In addition to the growing prize purses and contingency cash, Polaris RZR will be awarding the winners of all championship races a brand new Polaris RZR XP Turbo with winners in the youth championship races each receiving new RZR 170s.
Also UTV World Championship owners, the Martelli Brothers along with Joey DiGiovanni, CEO of will launch a new Stock UTV (Unlimited Terrain Vehicle) Rally class at the Laughlin event.
The new class allows for stock Turbo & Naturally Aspirated UTVs with added safety measures to race in the desert specific race portion of the UTV World Championship. Now all UTV enthusiasts can try their hand at the desert race in addition to the short course race at the formidable Laughlin race.
As with all of the racing classes, safety requirements are strictly enforced. Detailed specifics are listed on the website.
Once again, top racers from all over North America will descend on Laughlin to test themselves against the best of the best on one of the most challenging courses all year.
“We estimate about 370 entries this year,” Jackson said. “The ProTurbo UTV class is by far the premier class and that’s where you’ll get a lot of your factory sponsored teams. Some of the guys competing are Craig Scanlon, Brandon Schueler, R.J. Anderson, Dustin Jones, Mitch Gunthrie and Phil Blurton. Those are some pretty good names right there.
“There’s quite a few youth riders coming out, and we’ve split that segment into two divisions, the 170 class and the 250 class,” he added. “The winner of each of those classes wins a brand new UTV from Polaris, which is really cool.
“Age groups are anywhere from the age of 6 to 14. The race course is a 16-mile loop, and the short course is just a condensed version of the long loop,” he explained. “Everyone is going to do the 16 miles, but on the ‘short course’ they’re going to do less laps. They’re only going to do three laps, while all the other classes are doing nine laps.”
“We are ramping up to return to Laughlin for the UTV World Championship in 2018 and I know this will be another record-breaking year. Developing the UTV World Championship into the world’s premier UTV race event has been amazing, and returning for the fourth year in a row to host this event has us really excited,” DiGiovanni said. “Since creating the UTV World Championship in 2015, we have remained committed to giving racers, companies and all those involved in UTV recreation an event they can all come together at. With the sport at an all-time high, this year’s event will be one of the top off-road race events in 2018.
“Of course, we could not do this without support from Polaris RZR who is coming back as title sponsor for the fourth straight year. We also welcome back Monster Energy, who has been an amazing partner since we launched the event.”
The reason the Polaris RZR UTV World Championships proved to be such a huge success the last couple of years was explained by Martelli.
“It is the world’s largest UTV racing event,” says Martelli. “The event is evolving into a great place for those interested in UTVs to come out and get introduced to the latest products, as well as introduce those who know very little about UTVs, to the overall world of UTVs.
“There will be more than 70 top line UTV manufacturers and after-market manufacturers with products on display and for sale at both the tech contingency and at the race site. It is a great place to come out and do some serious shopping.”
An After-Race Party takes place Saturday (9:30 p.m.) in Loser’s Lounge within the Riverside. Must be at least 21 to attend.
For more information about the event, check out or or call 760-721-3600.

About spectator parking…
Spectators can park along Bruce Woodbury Drive in the designated area for $5 per car collected by the Laughlin Tourism Commission as a fundraiser. Spectators also can still watch from their favorite spot, “Spectator Hill,” but according to organizers, they are not allowed to park there. They will have to walk to the area.

Schedule of events
Thursday, April 5
• Early Tech Inspection (noon-5 p.m.) Riverside Resort south parking lot;
• Early Youth Registration (3 p.m.-5 p.m.) Don’s Celebrity Theater within the Riverside Resort;
• Laughlin Leap Registration (6 p.m.-7 p.m.) Don’s Celebrity Theater;
• Laughlin Leap, Kids Crew Challenge and Kick-Off Party (7:30 p.m.) Laughlin Events Park race course infield.

Friday, April 6
• Family Poker Run Registration and Youth Registration (8 a.m.-9:30 a.m.) Don’s Celebrity Theater;
• Family Poker Run starts (8 a.m.-10:30 a.m.) at the Start Line of the Race Course;
• Motorcycle/Quad/UTV Registration (9 a.m.-5 p.m.) Don’s Celebrity Theater;
• Motorcycle/Quad/UTV Technical Inspection and Contingency, Riverside Resort south parking lot (9 a.m.-6 p.m.);
• Youth Race Staging (11:30 a.m.), Mandatory Driver Meeting (noon), Escort all classes (12:15 p.m.); Youth 170cc race starts (12:30 p.m.); Youth 250cc race starts (1:15 p.m.) start line of race course;
• Youth Awards; Mandatory Riders/Drivers Meeting (7 p.m.) Don’s Celebrity Theater.

Saturday, April 7
After the first race, all start times are approximate, depending on number of entries.• BITD Motorcycle/Quad Staging (5:30 a.m.), at race course Start Line (9 laps), racing starts (6 a.m.);
• Short Course UTV Staging (8:30 a.m.) at race course Start Line (3 laps), racing starts (9 a.m.); finish line cut-off (10 a.m.);
• Desert UTV Team Staging (9:45 a.m.) — NA, Sportsman, RS1 (9 laps), race starts (10:15 a.m.); finish line cut-off (1:45 p.m.);
• MC/Quad Awards Presentation (11 a.m.), finish line, sponsored by Ford Mesa;
• Desert UTV Team Staging (1:30 p.m.) — Turbo, Unlimited (9 laps); racing starts (2 p.m.), finish line cut-off (5:35 p.m.);
• Awards Presentation (8 p.m.) Harrah’s Laughlin Beach;
• After Party (9:30 p.m.) Loser’s Lounge at the Riverside.


Riverside Resort & Laughlin Events Park

Thursday-Saturday April 5-7

Free for spectators; $5 parking fee