TORC Series/Crandon’s annual Brush Run celebrates 42 years thanks to guys like Jak Schaefer
The 72-year-old Crandon (Wisc.) local was the event’s first safety official – although ‘safety’ back then meant not losing anyone in the woods!
INDIANPOLIS (June 14, 2011) – This weekend, June 18-19, marks the first of two of short course off-road racing’s biggest events of the year – the 42nd annual Brush Run at Wisconsin’s Crandon International Off-Road Raceway, round two of the 2011 Traxxas TORC Series, presented by AMSOIL.
Forty two years of Baja’ing through the northeastern Wisconsin woods. Obviously lots have changed since then. Had they not the PRO 4 trucks would still be chasing dirt bikes around the 1.75-mile short course!
One of the event’s founders and pioneer of competition off-road racing in the region is Jak Schaefer, father of current TORC Series Race Director Tiffany Landru. The 72-year-old was given the title of “Safety Director” in Crandon’s inaugural off-road event in 1970, to which he just had to monitor four laps … albeit 25-plus mile laps in the grueling 100-mile contest that saw, maybe, one in four vehicles finish.
TORC Series: Rewind a bit here, Jak, back to the late 1960s – leading up to the first-ever Crandon Brush Run. What was the vibe like with off-road up in northern Wisconsin and Michigan’s U.P.?
Jak Schaefer: Baja, Mexico was the spark. We used to call it ‘Baja’ (emphasis on the “j” sounding the same as “J” in Jak). Everyone was talking about it and we just decided to have a Baja up here, you know? Talk turned to action and we decided we’d hold it at the fairgrounds. Then someone said ‘Wouldn’t it be better if we held it through the woods?’ So we all agreed and started talking to local property owners, getting their permission to run this race on their land.
TORC Series: That’s wild. No way that’d happen today due to insurance and environmental issues.
Jak Schaefer: Yeah, you’re probably right. But everyone seemed real excited about it back then. Many of the property owners had off-road vehicles and/or dirt bikes themselves. Bobby Carter and the Hobbs area, those people really stepped up to the plate. We also went through some national forest, got the DNR to approve that, along with some land owned by a large mill – Connor’s Lumber Land Company. So that really helped as well, removing a lot of the hoops we had to jump through.
TORC Series: How’d you personally get involved with helping start this event?
Jak Schaefer: I’ve always been a car guy, a race guy. Rode motorcycles back then.
TORC Series: That’s interesting. Unlike what Crandon has evolved to in recent years, dirt bikes or more accurately - motorcycles run in the dirt - raced right along with the trucks, cars and buggies back then.
Jak Schaefer: It was an off-road race, so we didn’t want to leave out the motorcycles – the enduro-type racers. A group came down from Jefferson, Wisc., called the Aztalan Motorcycle Association that made up the majority of the bikes there. And back at those first races the bikes definitely had an advantage.
TORC Series: So, as the Safety Director of the first race, you were unable to compete. The second year, in 1971, you did get to run. Tell us about that experience.
Jak Schaefer: I was never so happy to see a motorcycle break down in my life (laughter). I thought I had a big advantage because I set the course up. But it was really different when I got out there. I raced the 250cc class and, uh, I guess basically I just didn’t finish. It was about the second lap that my engine blew up. It was a Yamaha enduro, 1970 model I think. But what I needed was a dirt bike, something with a bit more pep and suspension.
TORC Series: Did you ever race a truck or other four wheel entry at Crandon?
Jak Schaefer: No, I didn’t – and I always regretted that. I did buy a truck one year, one of those old white body Fords. Beanie Mullins drove it and we had some success.
TORC Series: What’s some of your memories of that first year of racing?
Jak Schaefer: I was basically in charge of getting people out of the woods when they were lost or hurt. Believe it or not we were pretty poorly organized back then, compared to what we’ve got going on now (laughter). One time this kid got run over working a corner. They went out to get him and couldn’t find him. I was the only one who knew right where he was and, on my way out there, some other guys – who were tied up in one of these loops. They were still racing and came barreling out of the woods right on to the logging road I was on and hit me head on. Fortunately nobody was hurt real bad and I was able to get back in there and get the kid out. But it could be a pretty dangerous mission back then, getting out on the track.
TORC Series: You’re one of a handful of people, along with guys like Rolly Yocum, that can tell the story of Crandon from the beginning. What are some of the things associated with the old style racing at Crandon that we don’t see any more with the new style of short course racing at Crandon?
Jak Schaefer: Yes, Rolly and I are gonna be talking this weekend in the barn. Rolly was really pushing for the commercial aspect of the race. He was the head of our local Jaycees. Outside that audience participation is what I remember most. The fans wanted to see people get stuck, create more action. So they’d get all drunk and get out in the mud and slow the cars down so they’d get stuck. And then sometimes they’d push them out … sometimes they wouldn’t. That was at the Argonne Loop. That area was known for that kind of behavior.
TORC Series: Do those people still exist at Crandon in one form or another?
Jak Schaefer: There are generations of fans that come back to the same areas of the track. If you look at our track map there’s families at every corner – like a family reunion. There’s the Froggy’s Loop, Chicago Loop and the Pipeline, the Mullins corner – all with families behind them that come back year after year after year and run those corners for us. Flagging, helping get drivers out of the trucks and making sure people don’t wander out onto the track like they used to.
TORC Series: Jak, if you could kind of sum up the old days of the Crandon Brush Run, what was it about the race that would lead to what’s become the biggest off-road short course race in the world.
Jak Schaefer: I think what really helped us back then was that some of the fellas from California, Walker Evans and those guys, came over here to race. The locals that raced here weren’t really happy with that because of the difference in the trucks’ financing, but they also brought a lot of sponsors with them. Those guys really liked racing here, liked the area and several people that I know of ended up buying property here and built summer homes because they like the area so much.
TORC Series: That’s excellent. Thanks for your time, Jak. We look forward to seeing you at the races this weekend.
Jak Schaefer: Thank you. Weather’s supposed to be great, 70s during the day and cool at night. Entry numbers are very big I’m told. Should be another great weekend of racing at Crandon.
For more info on the Crandon Brush Run, including tickets, link to: www.crandonoffroad.com
The Traxxas TORC Series, presented by AMSOIL, is the fastest, most punishing short course racing series on the planet! TORC events are packed with flag-to-flag fender banging as drivers push the limits over whoops and jump-filled natural terrain race tracks. Off-road racing fans come from far and wide to experience the most challenging form of high-octane competition. And once they taste TORC for the first time they’re hooked for life!