Respect in the mud racing community is earned, not given. There’s no boasting allowed — riders are judged by their results and character, nothing else.
Despite being a relative newcomer to the racing scene, John Ferranti has not only earned that type of respect, but made lifelong friendships with some of the top riders in the world.
It wasn’t always like that. When John first met Gorilla Axle rider Dakotah Klein in an Internet forum, the pair were oil and water.
“We actually started hating each other on the Internet,” Dakotah says. “I didn’t know him, and he didn’t know me.”
Obviously, things have changed. This year, Dakotah invited John to camp with the rest of the Gorilla crew, an eight-member team that travels the country together on the Championship Mud Racing circuit. On a dewy Friday morning at Gorilla’s basecamp, Dakotah and John are cracking jokes while tuning Dakotah’s 2012 Can-Am® Renegade™.
“Since I got to meet him in person, we’ve been the best of friends,” Dakotah explains. “John’s like a big Jolly Green Giant, there’s never a dull moment. He does a lot for the sport, rides some really fast Can-Am ATVs, and always gives us a run for our money.”
Dakotah’s in a hurry to prepare his ride for the EPI Endurance Challenge, known on the grounds as “The Buddy Run.” It’s by far the most grueling race at Mud Nationals — so much so that many racers are afraid to enter, or risk being too tired to compete in the Can-Am Mud Bog in the afternoon.
“The Endurance Challenge is a good name for it, it’s an extremely tough run,” Dakotah says. “If you can compete here, you can compete anywhere in the country.”
Dakotah’s ATV is ready to ride. Only one problem — he still needs a buddy.
As a good friend, John volunteers.
These are the rules: Teams of two ride together, or take separate ATVs. In the latter case, only the slower time counts. However, if an ATV gets stuck, they’re allowed to jump on with their teammate.
Getting stuck is a major problem in this event. By the time John and Dakotah are set to take off — the last group to go out of 20 teams — the half-mile stretch resembles an ATV graveyard. Only five teams have actually finished the Endurance Challenge. The remaining 14 litter the landscape, obstacles on the way to victory. Nobody said it was going to be easy.
With streams of onlookers eagerly craning their necks for a view of the final pairing, the green flag goes down and the team is off. Dakotah, powered by a nitrous oxide booster, practically flies off the starting line. That’s the gameplan: Dakotah will forge ahead on his high-powered Renegade, while John will follow closely behind, riding his trail rig, a 2007 Can-Am Outlander ™ 650. Normally, John would never take his trail rig into this sort of race, but he opted to leave his true mud racing Can-Am Max 960R back at basecamp. It shouldn’t be too big of deal, he thinks. He’ll be the only one riding it. And Dakotah’s paving the way.
The team is off to a strong start. They opt to race down the left side of the track, the better to avoid all the broken and stuck machines in their way. The only risk here is their own wake crashing back into them after hitting the wall. Regardless, Dakotah is nearly halfway down the first straightaway when something appears to go terribly wrong. “Oh NOOO!” screams Big Don, the race emcee, after seeing Dakotah left for dead. Dakotah has the same thought running through his head. What happened? Everything was working great, he wonders.
It appears his Can-Am is stuck, or worse, it’s malfunctioning. It’s not uncommon for snorkels to get clogged or axles to break in the event. (Dakotah would later admit he accidentally put the machine in neutral.)
Dakotah feverishly turns around to find John riding up behind him. Dakotah hops on the back and the duo is off — 500 pounds on a four-year-old trail rig in the deepest mud at Mud Nationals. The crowd grows restless and looks disappointed. They think this final group has no shot at the finish line. The excitement is over.
In the beginning, it appears they’re right. John and Dakotah, having prepared very little for this unfortunate contingency, look awkward sharing the two-seater. Should they sit one in front, one behind? Or should one take the left side and the other the right? Precious time is wasted.
Eventually, they opt for John on the left and Dakotah on the right. And ever so slowly, they begin to pick up steam, rocking the ATV left and right to get traction. By the time they’re on the backend of the final straightaway, the crowd goes nuts, sensing they’re witnessing a one-of-a-kind moment. The duo flies through more than three feet of oozing sand, sticky mud and churning water. The Can-Am is getting incredible traction, and the duo is back in the race. It’s entirely possible they could win.
Just as things are looking up, the duo runs into trouble. Only feet from the finish line and instant Mud Nationals immorality, the ATV sputters and refuses to move forward. Unwilling to give up for a second, John and Dakotah don’t even look at each other, but rather jump off in perfect unison, and push their chariot across the finish line to the delight of the screaming onlookers.
Mentally and physically exhausted at the finish line, John and Dakotah can’t wipe the glow of satisfaction off their faces. They’ve completed the impossible. But then again, this race is always about power, rider skill and Can-Am endurance.
“I can’t believe it did what it did, especially with 500 pounds of meat hanging on it,” John says. “I don’t normally beat on my trail rig, but I was really beating on that thing. It’s more endurance of the machine than anything else, and that’s a testament to Can-Am.”
John and Dakota learn at the Sunday night trophy ceremony they’ve earned a spot on the podium. The trophy is nice, but not the important part. It’s how they got the job done.
From enemies, to friends, to a “Buddy Run” trophy: It’s been an incredible ride.
“This trophy is something I’ll remember and hold onto for a long time,” says John. “It wasn’t just about winning — it’s how we won it.”