On a clear windy night, 22 miles south of Ridgecrest, California, amidst the Spangler Hills, 55 utility terrain vehicles (UTVs) lined up to run a 25-mile-long race in the Mojave Desert. These specially designed vehicles are also known as “SXS”, or side by sides, because the driver and co-driver sit side by side to manage their crafts through the challenging terrain. There were several local teams, including Kevin Self, Dylan Tharp, Austin Griffin, Jeremy Marsh, Shawn Stephey and Keith Thompson. Others came from Bishop, Anaheim, Salinas and as far away as Nevada, Oregon, Idaho, and Washington State.
The race was coordinated by the DP4 Racing organization, joined by the new west coast crew of On Mission Motorsports, led by Ridgecrest’s own Kevin Self and Mike Schatz. DP4’s co-owner Ryan Sanders was excited about the event and partnering with the On Mission folks. “We are an organization that fosters a fun, safe, family-friendly atmosphere,” Sanders said. “On Mission shares that philosophy and we will function as a team. We keep entry fees low so that everyone can afford to participate, and we always set up as “One Central”, with spectators and pit crews safely positioned so that everyone feels part of the event.”
It was one year ago that Kevin Self met Jeff and Melanie Goldsmith of Culleoka, Tennessee. Jeff co-founded On Mission Motorsports to connect veterans with off-road racing. The group’s mission is to “put American heroes (veterans, active-duty military, and first responders) in the co-driver seat of off-road SXS race cars for an experience that makes them feel included and important. This racing experience, coupled with a weekend with us, is provided at no cost to co-drivers. This provides outlets for stress by promoting connectedness with the communities of heroes and off-road racers, a key strategy in the prevention of suicide and substance abuse.”
Self invited U.S. Marine Corps 20-year veteran Andy Mrozik to be a co-driver, and Andy’s wife Athena, a former paramedic first responder, to be Dylan Tharp’s co-driver. “I think this is a great idea,” Andy said, with a nod to his wife, “especially supporting first responders. I don’t think they get the recognition they deserve. This is awesome.”
Mike Schatz is co-leader with Self of the west coast On Mission team. Schatz serves as the pit boss/crew chief. “My father was a police officer for 20 years and a military veteran. My brother is a police officer. We all like racing, so this is why I serve on the pit crew. As a mechanic, I want to make sure everything is working well for the participants.” Schatz went on to applaud the leadership of DP-4. “Ryan Sanders makes sure that everything is fair and accommodating for everyone. These are good people in a good atmosphere. My favorite thing is being here with everyone.”