C.J. Greaves (Champ Off Road photo)

C.J. Greaves Conquers Crandon

CRANDON, Wis. — For the past 54 years, the center of short-course, off-road racing has been held in upstate Wisconsin, in the small, quiet town of Crandon, Wis. World Champions are crowned in Crandon. Points championships are won and lost on the famed track’s final turns. Big paydays and legendary moments are made at the Big House.

All that was in play on Saturday as AMSOIL Championship Off-Road, presented by the U.S. Air Force, held its final, full day of racing of its 2023 season. The Sportsman classes were geared up, ready for the end of a competitive year and the chance to get both a points title and a World Championship ring. The Pro classes still have a whole weekend of racing in Oklahoma later this month, but a win on Saturday is equally as necessary for the points as it is for prestige, as a win at Fall Crandon will be remembered forever.

The rest of the season will be a dogfight in Pro 4, especially at the top of the standings, where C.J. Greaves came into Crandon with a 25-point lead over Jimmy Henderson. The pair have been near equally following the first weekend when Greaves gained a 33-point advantage over Henderson.

Henderson has been a more consistent points driver since round two, but Fall Crandon and Greaves has been nearly historical at the Big House. On Saturday, which will be the only Pro 4 race of the weekend that counts towards points, Greaves was near perfect. He hauled in the hole shot and hit his marks lap after lap, driving to his class-leading sixth win of the season. Greaves attributed the success to all the hard work done off the track in preparation for this weekend’s festivities.

“We came out and did a bunch of testing and basically threw a whole new set-up at the truck,” said Greaves. “Hats off to all my crew. We had a problem in practice and broke two trannies right off the get-go. Then, my transmission came apart again in qualifying. Everybody that’s been working on the truck, thank you guys. I know it’s a lot, and that’s what it takes.”

Henderson gave it a max effort on Saturday in his quest to catch the points leader. He started dead last after qualifying but worked his way into early top-five positioning. His first test came in a showdown with Johnny Greaves, and later with RJ Anderson for second. He continued to charge after the race leader from the runner-up spot but had to settle into second as the final turns came into play.

Anderson had a good, clean run for the contest’s first half. He and Greaves jockeyed for position before the mandatory caution. He would fall behind Henderson after the restart and had moments of pause when his transmission briefly stuck in gear. The round-six winner kept pushing, finishing third.

Pro 2 driver Cory Winner may be the most consistent driver in short-course racing. He built an eight-point lead coming into Crandon over Mickey Thomas by finishing in the top three in eight of the first ten rounds while finishing fourth and sixth in the remaining two contests.

His two have also helped, and he picked up number three on Saturday while increasing his lead by 11 points. It was another impressive run for Winner at Crandon. He used an inside starting position on the land rush and snuck under defending class champion Jerett Brooks in turn one. He had clean air in front for the remainder of the race and was briefly challenged by Brooks, Ryan Beat, and Keegan Kincaid at different points throughout the race, although the pressure was never heavy enough to give the points leader pause.

“I knew (my starting position) was a good spot, and everything here at Crandon depends on that start,” said Winner. I got right next to Jerett going into turn one, and I knew that I had to clear him. I just committed and got by him and then just had to run smooth lines. We made a big swing on set-up before the race, and it worked out.

Brooks’ return to competition this season looked good until it came to a rolling stop. He pulled off the track while in second place on lap seven. That put Kincaid into second and Beat into third. Those two drivers would dice it out over the next several laps, with Beat gaining the advantage. Beat couldn’t track down Winner, but the three-time victor grabbed his seventh podium of the season and is unofficially tied with Thomas for second overall. 

Kincaid is historically fast at Crandon, and the hometown kid found lines that only an experienced Big House driver would dare try. Several times, he pulled close but could not lock down the second spot on the podium, instead finishing third for his fourth podium trip in 2023.

CJ Greaves opened the season with a weekend sweep at Antigo and has been looking for his third victory ever since.

He earned number three on Saturday, outlasting another pair of Polaris teammates for the victory. Greaves didn’t get ahold of the lead until lap seven when he got around Robert Loire. Greaves held off Loire and Andrew Carlson over the final three laps.

Carlson would finish second, using early race patience before making late moves to put him in contention for a race win. He would cross the line just 3/10ths of a second behind Greaves for second. 

Loire crossed the line 6/10ths of a second behind Carlson for his sixth podium of the season.

Chad Rayford was on a tear on Saturday, leading the Pro Spec field from the start and stretching out to a five-second lead. But the points leader wouldn’t finish what he started, having to pull off the track with two laps remaining.

That meant an opportunity was available for either Nick Visser or Chris Van Den Elzen. Both drivers had swapped positions throughout the first ten laps, with Visser having the advantage. That proved rewarding as Visser moved into the top spot and drove to his fourth win of the season.

Van Den Elzen wasn’t far off the pace behind Visser as he drove to his best finish of the year in second. Cory Podolski had locked down the fourth-place spot with a great run and moved into third after Rayford pulled off. It marked his best season finish and first Pro Spec podium.