Ask our Experts, we're here to help!
Back in 2014, Chuck Brazer of Bend, Oregon, along with Tate Morgan and a small group of college buddies, decided to put together an informal off-road competition that would become known as the Gambler 500. “We’d gotten bored with camping and decided to do something different one summer,” he says. “The basic premise of the Gambler 500 was to not spend more $500 on a car and ‘race’ from Portland down to Bend. We’d camp out when we got there, and then we’d ‘race’ back the following day. It was really just an excuse to go have some fun with our friends – I think we had, like, fourteen cars the first year.”
He explains that while the Gambler 500 car count doubled the second year and the DIY event continued to see its numbers grow into its third year running, the fourth year was a whole different ball game. “There was a video on YouTube that caught on with people, and after that the Gambler 500 just blew up. We had 850 people show up the fourth year. It became too big for the racing format we had been using, and suddenly liability was a serious issue that we needed to consider.”
Around that time Brazer was also competing in rallycross events with some other groups, a racing discipline that takes the basic time trial-style format of autocross and puts it on a purpose-built dirt track. “I got together with Tate and said, ‘Why don’t we start a spin-off rallycross event for these cheaper cars? Something that’s cheaper to run in, more accessible to people, and really flexible in terms of what you can bring out.’”
And so HooptieX was born. While series like SCCA RallyCross are already focused on providing a low-cost option for competitors to get on-track, Brazer wanted to make his series less rigid while also maximizing the amount of seat time each competitor would get at a given event. “The first thing you’ll notice when you show up at a HooptieX event is the wide variety of vehicles that show up to race, and we love that. The whole idea here is to be welcoming to anyone who wants to come race. You can pay per lap if you want to, but we don’t charge any more than $65 to race as many laps as you can pack in. With some of these other series you might pay double that for five or six minutes of seat time over the course of an entire day. We want to give people more value for their dollar; we’ve got racers who’re out there running six or seven four-minute laps per day.”
With everything from Gambler-level budget builds to purpose-built trophy trucks showing up to HooptieX events, the series has become a melting pot for off-road enthusiasts who’re looking to lay down a time on one of these courses, some of which are more than three miles long. While friendly competition is part of the game, Brazer tells us that it’s really more about having fun.
“You earn points by being the fastest, but also we give out a lot of points to our favorite racers at the back of the pack, and to those who volunteer as well. You’re not required to work on-course if you’re racing, but we do like to incentivize it. We also give out points for things like Most Entertaining Recovery and other stuff like that. The whole idea is to make this racing fun rather than serious. There’s a lot of rallycross guys out there who want to be the next Travis Pastrana, and we wanted to loosen that up a bit.”
Rather than capping budgets and penalizing would-be teams who go over the budget cap – which is the way it’s done in many budget-focused series like LeMons – HooptieX’s class structure provides a home for just about anyone with a safe, mechanically sound vehicle – whether that’s a beater economy car that’s worth a couple hundred bucks or a tube-chassis Ultra4 buggy.
“We have the 2WD and AWD ‘beater’ classes – stuff that’s arguably worth about $500 – but we’re not checking receipts or anything like that. It’s the class for cheap cars. And then we have the Hater class, which is for stuff that’s arguably worth well over than $500. That’s going to be daily drivers, modified performance cars, etc. And then we have the Super Soft class, which is for anything that’s purpose-built for off-road racing – side-by-sides, race Jeeps, and so on.”
In terms of safety requirements, Brazer says the idea was to keep it simple while ensuring that competitors still have proper protection. “We looked at the rulebooks for SCCA, SCORE, and other series, but we probably took the most from the LeMons series. People did crazy things to their Gambler cars – chopping off roofs, taking doors off and things like that – but we need to make sure that the racing is safe, too. So for HooptieX you’ve got to have a fixed roof, or you have to have a welded cage on the car if you don’t have a top. You also need functioning seat belts, a windshield or mesh net in place of one, doors or door bars if you don’t have doors, a Snell-rated helmet, and a fire extinguisher in the vehicle. Aside from that, it’s basic stuff like functioning brakes, having the battery tied down, and not having any major leaks.”
There’s no special licensing required in order to be eligible to race at a HooptieX, so there are very few barriers for newcomers to contend with in order to get involved. For those who’ve never competed before, Brazer suggests coming down to a race to check out the action.
“It’s always a good idea to come out and put eyes on an event – you’ll quickly realize that the attitude of the racers at these events is inclusive and the equipment that they’re using is totally attainable,” he says.
The series runs about 20 events across the country over the course of a race season, the details of which can be found on the series race calendar. “Bring a car that you have low mechanical sympathy for,” he adds with a laugh. “And send it.”