This being Texas, it’s a given everything is big. There are big BBQ cook-offs, big country music concerts and big races of every kind. Crawfish are served by the gallon. ATVs are lifted to the heavens. It’s 4,000 acres of the biggest off-road event on the planet, nestled into the rolling hills of Jacksonville. As far as the off-road world is concerned, it’s the center of the universe.
It’s called Highlifter Mud Nationals 2012. If you love off-roading, it’s mandatory to visit at least once in your life. Like anything with “mud” in the title, getting filthy and smelly isn’t just part of the experience, it’s mandatory. Even with heavy rain in the morning, the place is a dustbowl by the afternoon.
Now in its 10th year, the five-day event pulls in 15,000 mudding enthusiasts annually from across the continent. The Can-Am ® sponsored event also draws the best mud racers in the world and the top mod shops and dealers in the business.
“It has everything,” says Event Coordinator Tracie Engie. “Trails, low muddy areas, hills, dry trails, flat areas perfect for camping. This park offers it all. I talk to people throughout the year, and they’re planning their yearly vacation for Mud Nationals.”
The “Sand Pit” — a combination of sand, water, and mud — is packed during the day but truly comes alive at night, especially with a DJ pumping tunes for the crowd. It’s a two-mile ride on Highline Road to get there, and the place is lit up like Christmas in March at night, with bumper-to-bumper lights.
“This is like Christmas,” says Mud Nationals attendee Travis Baird. “It only happens once a year and I can’t wait for it to come around. I love coming out here, looking at girls and all the four-wheelers.”
Travis normally rides a Honda around his favorite yearly event. But he saw the demo ride as an opportunity to try something he’s always wanted to ride — the 2012 Can-Am Renegade™ 1000 X™ xc.
“My first thought was ‘I gotta get one,’” Travis says. “Way more power. I used to own a Kawasaki® Brute Force™, but that Can-Am just blows it out the water.”
There are close to 100 vendors on the grounds. Everyone from mega-outfitters like Gorilla Axle, to regional dealerships like Louisana’s Sawgie Bottom Outdoor Power Sports.
“It’s unreal for business,” says Sawgie Bottom owner Harold Rush. “Just yesterday, we sold 70 percent of our Can-Am vehicles. Can-Am is a special breed of people. It’s hard to explain. It’s an entirely different category of rider.”
The draw of Mud Nationals is obvious — an unmatched riding experience anyone can enjoy with their friends. There are contests, concerts and riding everyone can enjoy. The vast majority of those people will never enter a race — but the competitions easily draw thousands throughout the weekend. Everything is emceed by Big Don, a man that truly lives up to his name in both girth and personality. In between his play-by-play race commentary, he’s prone to scream “OH NOOO!!!” loud enough to blow a speaker when somebody breaks down, or he’ll bellow “You just got beat by a girl!” whenever one of Mud Nationals’ able female riders takes down a male counterpart. There’s no doubt the guy loves his job.
“Even if I won the lottery, I’d still come here,” says Big Don.
Racing starts early Thursday and continues through the weekend. The opening race is the EPI Endurance Challenge, where two teams compete in a half-mile event through the thickest mud in the park. Later in the day is the Can-Am Mud Bog, the race that started it all. This one’s all about power — a straight-ahead sprint. On Friday is the Muddacross, a head-to-head competition that pits racers together in an oval track.
“Every year we clean up all the events,” says Bob Ballard, regional Can-Am district sales manager for the heart of mud-riding country, east Texas. “Especially at the Mud Bog and Muddacross, it’s a Can-Am sweep almost every time.”