Over the past few decades, off-roading has gone from an activity mostly reserved for die-hard enthusiasts to a much larger audience. Of course, this means vehicles like UTVs and side-by-sides have exploded in popularity. And with a May 2023 event held at the Dome Valley Raceway in Wellton, AZ having brought the record for the world’s fastest UTV to the USA, there’s a lot to discuss.
Many people use the terms UTV (Utility Task Vehicle or Utility Terrain Vehicle) and side-by-side (SxS or SSV) as synonyms. However, the Utility Terrain Vehicle is arguably the broader category, so a side-by-side is a type of UTV mostly designed for recreational off-roading. It’s worth noting that UTVs and side-by-sides have a minimum of four wheels and are operated using foot controls and a steering wheel.
UTV drag racing: classes and track specs
UTV drag racing is a serious sport in multiple parts of the world, with the main areas being the U.S. and the UAE (have you seen the lifted muscle cars they build in the Middle East?) This polarity helps keep the competition alive.
And the said Dome Valley Raceway event saw a dozen world records being broken thanks to a combination between the low elevation (200 ft) and cool weather—the DA (Density Altitude), which is a measure of the air density in relation to the sea level standard atmosphere, calculated using the air’s pressure, temperature and humidity, was excellent at the event.
There are seven classes in UTV drag racing: stock turbo, 43mm turbo, 46mm turbo, 50mm turbo, Unlimited B, Unlimited A, and Unlimited AA. All these machines race on a surface that needs to be made as even as possible, thus limiting potential changes in traction and trajectory. This means the sand drag racing track prep involves digging into the ground and massive watering.
That’s just the theory, though. In real life, UTVs often lift their noses while drag racing, and the accidental traction differences or holes can sometimes lead to the vehicles tipping over.
So the UTV’s roll cages, bucket seats with multi-point harnesses, and the drivers’ safety gear have a lot of lifting to do. Speaking of which, as you’ll notice in the 1320video clip below, the Dome Valley Raceway event had its fair share of UTVs landing on their roofs, but nobody was injured.
The world’s fastest UTVs: power and weight numbers
As stated, the race brought together some of the fastest UTVs in the world, whose 1,200cc or smaller engines deliver up to 900 hp. All these machines use CVT transmissions so there’s no interruption in power, something that could destabilize the vehicle.
And, regardless of the class, there’s a 136-inch wheelbase. These beasts are heavier than they might appear, with examples from the race involving a machine that tips the scales at 1,430 lbs and another one that had been lightened from a scale footprint of 1,800 lbs, driver weight included.
One of the teams explains that running these high-boost engines, some of which use compound turbos (like this Ram TRX) and nitrous, can be a bit of a gamble, so while racing reliability can involve getting 65 passes out of an engine, 15 passes is also a plausible number.
Some of the advantages sand racing has over the more widely known asphalt drag racing involve oil spills causing fewer issues, as the lubricant is absorbed by the track, as well as the more spectacular dirt trail left in the air, which is known as the rooster trail.
Drag racing has specific terms for records, so while ET (Elapsed Time) determines the quickest vehicle, trap speed determines the fastest one. However, generally speaking, the said event saw the record for the world’s fastest UTV being broken by an American machine that completed the 300-foot run in 3.414s at 94.43 mph.