In the blink of an eye, the 2021 Best in the Desert racing season has come and gone. The points race is over and the official winners have been declared. Team Rugged really pulled through, claiming podium finishes across classes.
When it comes to dynamic duos, the Grabowski brothers are a pair that drove their way to podium finishes at every race but one this season. With such success for Dustin in the 6100 Spec Truck Class and Troy in the 5000 Unlimited Baja Class, the brothers both took home the championship title in their respective classes.
As Dustin puts it, the 6100 Class is “potentially the toughest there is right now in desert racing between the amount of entries, the quality of trucks, and the drivers in the class; almost anyone can win.”
Desert racing is all about time and from inside the truck, it’s extremely hard to know where you’re at in the pack without having communication between you and your team.
“With Rugged Radios, we are able to clearly communicate with our chase crews the entire race so we know exactly where we are on time and can strategize accordingly. This has led to us being on the podium every race this year with multiple class wins."
When it comes to Troy racing in the 5000 Class, in-car communications are vital in order to talk to his team over the engine noise of the car.
“When I’m racing for 5 to 10 hours at a time, it’s key that I have a full Rugged Radios intercom setup as well as a Rugged Radios kit in my Impact helmet,” Troy explains. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to communicate effectively with my brother Jack, my pit crew, or hear at all for that matter.”
Jack, the third Grabowski brother that co-drives for Troy, emphasizes the importance of another key Rugged Ready product that plays a role in “staying hydrated and keeping your body temperature down” to win the race: the MAC Air Pumper.
“With Rugged Radios pumpers, we get cool air pumped directly into our helmets,” he said. “This helps us stay cool, keeps the dirt out of our eyes, keeps the helmet lens from fogging up, and most importantly keeps us focused on the task at hand, to win the race.”
It was a close points race between two members of Team Rugged in the UTV Turbo Class, with just 3 points separating Ryan Piplic from Dustin “Battleaxe” Jones. Piplic and Jones fought hard all season, alternating wins between the two of them as the season progressed. Piplic’s ultimate win, however, was solidified with his 2-point lead over Jones at the Cal City Desert Challenge in the last race of the season.
“Communication between myself and my co-driver Blake is one of the most important tools!” Piplic said. “Without the best communication and support from Rugged Radios, my program would not be what it is today!”
“We were able to earn 2 Pro Desert Championships this year and it is a huge accomplishment to our small team!” said Piplic. “Couldn’t be more proud and couldn’t have done it without them!”
Another comms perk for Piplic is being able to talk to his pits, whether it’s for “updates, time splits or just to say ‘hi’ and [for them to] rub in they might be eating ice cream!”
For Jones, like many other racers, communications is non-negotiable and played a “vital role” in his successful 2021 race season, ultimately leading up to their Mint 400 win last month.
“Rugged has always been a part of our race program from the very beginning and will continue to be for years to come.”
The UTV Unlimited Class was nothing short of a battle either. After putting up a fight all season, Jim Beaver took home second place for Team Rugged.
"We had a great 2021 season with a win, two 2nd places, and a 2nd place in the BITD championship,” Beaver said. “Our communications were flawless all year and a big part of our success in 2021.”
Josh Row earned a Champion title in not one, but two classes with Rugged radios playing a “huge part” in their success this season.
In the UTV Pro N/A Class, comms allowed Row and his co-driver to “stay in contact with the truck at all times and know [their] exact position as well as let them know if anything was needed on the car.” Factors like that are “very important and time saving pieces” as Row puts it “that all add up for a championship winning season in the Pro N/A Class.”
When riding in the Quad Pro Class, comms help him “[prepare his] pits for any issues the quad may have” as well as keep him informed on where he is in the race, how much he needs to make up if he’s behind, when he can back off, and when he needs to push harder to get to the top spot.
“This season was one for the books. I’m so thankful for sponsors like you guys that are at every race and always keep my stuff dialed in and working perfectly. Thank you so much!”
Next up in our Rugged Ready Report is 14-year-old Jack Olliges. Not only is he the youngest back-to-back winner of the Mint 400, but he’s also now the 2021 Champion of the UTV Rally Class after what he declares an “amazing” season.
“I am truly honored to be given the opportunity to race at such a young age. I strive to be the best I can on and off the race course,” said Olliges. “The competition is amazing and to be able to run amongst such great racers is an honor by itself.”
Having a strong support system is a big factor when it comes to racing, and for Olliges, it was what helped him be as successful as he was this year.
“My team prepped an amazing car and my great sponsors helped me make it to the races. We had clean races every time. We never got a flat, broke a part, or lost comms,” he said. “I couldn't be happier with the season. I am beyond thankful for the support of my parents, sponsors, and crew.”
“Communication is key for having a good race and safety, for being able to communicate with our pits and tell them what we need when we are coming into the pits.”
Another teen, 15-year-old Luke Knupp, proved himself in the 6000 TrophyLite Class with a second place finish. He was one of three Rugged Racers to finish in the top 5 of the class, the others being Greg Bragg in first and Josh Cobb in fourth.
“Rugged Radios really helped me out there in the desert for sometimes almost 10-15 hours,” said Knupp. “Comms play a huge role in racing, especially with your co-driver. You have to have the trust in your co-driver and the trust in your comms to last and that’s why we chose Rugged.”
“I had a solid first desert season racking up a top 5 in every race I competed in, most importantly the 2 podiums I had and the 2nd place in standings!”
For Mark Kammerlohr in the 1700 Jeepspeed Class, having top notch communications is important and Rugged support is something he notices both behind the wheel and as the co-owner of Jeepspeed.
“Rugged Radios is the best in the business by a long shot. The products are top quality and cutting edge and the customer support is second to none,” he said.
When he’s racing, he values being able to communicate with his crew throughout the race and when he’s wearing his Jeepspeed hat, he feels the power of Rugged in a different way.
“I can say that Rugged was awesome in 2021, providing racer packs to winners of selected races and helping to service our drivers for all the needs.”
Jeren Gunter claimed the 4400 Ultra4 Class championship, emphasizing that comms “play a huge part in racing” and that races would be ”significantly harder” without them.
“Being able to report problems and also location with your pit makes everything smoother. Being able to get split times on leaders or know how far ahead you are can determine how much or hard to push it.”
Of course, we can’t forget our youth racers! Dexter Warren and Cameron Leaming, two rising members of Team Rugged, earned first place finishes in the Youth 170 Stock 9 Class and the Youth 170 Stock 9-13 Class respectively.
Leaming, the youngest of three sibling racers, was ecstatic to announce on Instagram that he had taken both the BITD and AZOP championships in his Polaris 170.
“It was an awesome year of racing with so many fast kids and great tracks!”
Coming over from Australia, Warren and his iconic mini mullet had “an absolute cracker of a year,” as his team put it in their celebratory Instagram post after the awards ceremony. He ended 2021 with not just a BITD Championship, but also UTV Legends, Mid America Outdoors, and Visions Outdoors Championships as well as other podium finishes throughout.
"As the year progressed he consistently became more comfortable in his car and started to push harder and longer in races. He kept his focus and took each weekend one step at a time,” Team Dexter Racing told us. “In the end, we just can’t express how grateful we are to all his supporters and sponsors as he ends 2021 with some wild achievements in his first full year in off-road racing."
Another Best in the Desert season is in the books and we’re extremely proud of everyone on Team Rugged. Thank you for letting us be a part of your programs and for being a part of our Rugged Family.
Here’s to a year of success – we can’t wait to see what the 2022 season brings!