In recent years—and of course, inspired by the officer-related murder of George Floyd and the COVID-19 pandemic—we’ve seen organizations like NASCAR and Formula One commit to building a far more diverse and inclusive sport that’s reflective of the “the world in which they race.” And while the results thus far have been mixed, their efforts have been bolstered by Black and Brown folks who are more than willing to venture into uncharted territory in order to try something new after spending years of their lives trapped in the house—thanks to that pesky, punk-ass coronavirus.
I know this because I just so happen to be one of them.
Quarantine was a particularly gruesome experience for those of us who reside in Los Angeles, and aside from forgetting what it was like to experience human interaction, I spent a vast majority of my time lamenting all the things I took for granted in a past life—barbershop banter, obnoxiously loud concerts, sowing seeds of dissent among the Lakers’ indoctrinated fanbase—and obsessing over all the things I would finally do if I was ever allowed to go outside and play again. And believe it or not, at the top of that list was off-road racing.
Sure, I had dabbled with ATVs before—what Black person with a passport hasn’t?—but there’s a clear distinction between coasting along the beach in Cabo San Lucas on a 4x4 and tearing through the outskirts of Las Vegas with about 225 horsepower in one of the dopest off-road vehicles known to man: The RZR Pro R.
And I craved the latter.
So in recently partaking in my first off-road experience in a utility terrain vehicle—not to be confused with y’all’s cute little all-terrain vehicles—I was not only amazed by how powerful that thing was, but how much concentration and discipline they take to drive. Navigating big-ass boulders, sharp turns, and even sharper rocks is no small feat when you’re soaring at around 50 or 60 MPH with clouds of dust punching you in the face. You quite literally can’t see anything five or six feet in front of you, so that puts a premium on trusting both your instincts and your co-pilot—whose job it is to keep an eye on your GPS navigation and spare you the humiliation of a nasty accident or a far more humbling flat tire.
(Is this a judgment-free zone? Because I sure as hell split one of my tires to the white meat.)
But aside from quenching my need for (dirt and) speed, I also had the privilege of meeting father-daughter duo Randy and Sierra Romo of Romo Motorsports, who not only kick plenty of ass on the track for a living, but are doing the Lord’s work in helping to diversify the sport. On the night before the Mint 400—the oldest active off-road desert race in the country—they were gracious enough to let me infiltrate their garage, pick their brains, and provided a sneak preview of the tricked-out RZRs they would be driving the next day. And as someone who knew absolutely nothing about off-road racing beforehand, between getting behind the wheel myself and meeting the people who live and breathe this sport, it really helped to contextualize what I would experience the next day when I attended the immensely popular Mint 400.
Now I’m not gonna lie: I’ve never attended a NASCAR race in my life since the painfully unseasoned crowds and omnipresent Confederate flags aren’t exactly the most welcoming environment to myself or other Black and brown folks. So admittedly, I had similar apprehensions about attending its second cousin, the Mint 400. And while I was greeted by flags (but not Confederate ones) and other regalia that openly declared “Fuck Biden and if You Voted for Him Then Fuck You Too”—which made me cackle for a good five minutes—I genuinely had a good-ass time meeting Polaris RZR racers like Kristen Matlock, chopping it up with the various pit crews, going on a scavenger hunt for a bathroom, and witnessing my guy Randy Romo finish 2nd place overall—because I’m good luck, dammit. So of course, he did.
But most importantly, and even to my own surprise, I never once felt uncomfortable or unwelcome in an environment in which I was clearly out of my element. Quite literally everybody was extremely affable and kind, more than willing to answer all 50-eleven questions I had about the sport, and I even saw sprinkles of color throughout the event. That being said, I had a really dope time and hopefully, my experience inspires other Black folks to venture outside of their comfort zones and check off every single one of those bucket list items that you’ve been uneasy about. If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s to seize the day and live life without regrets. So get back outside and live your best, uncompromised lives.
And hopefully, that also includes a little off-road action in a RZR Pro R. Because your life is incomplete until you experience one yourself. Trust me on this.