It’s on in the deep-south piney woods region of Texas if you’re a wiggly mudbug in need of a fix. The annual High Lifter Mud Nationals comes to the sleepy little town of Jacksonville Texas every year at the end of March and brings with it some really radical rides. Not to mention thousands in tourism revenue. The locals know this quiet little town of Jacksonville Texas as the Tomato capital of the south, but it uses this fertile earth to grow thousands of happy off road enthusiasts during the year. The world of UTV is thriving in this sport of mud riding and it gets no deeper or taller than the High Lifter Mud Nationals.
Hundreds of lifted trucks towing large trailers stacked with UTVs, as well as huge campers and motor homes start to come into the park as early as Tuesday. Before the opening event on Wednesday, the hills of the Mud Creek Park are covered with off-roaders who have staked out their claim for the week’s event. On Wednesday, High Lifter Products fires off the action with the show and shine competition. This gives garage based UTV builders a chance to show off their creations in the hopes that they would be voted as best of show. This also means they would take home the prize money for their blood, sweat and tears. Many very exotic rides showed up in the vendor area this year, including one extremely large Polaris RZR4 with a V8 race engine powering it from the rear. The details were amazing and it left us staring into the steel tubing for ideas. This rig wasn’t the only large scale ride though, as the Polaris Ranger recovery rig with Hydraulic steering, known by most as the rescue vehicle for the racing events and owned by High Lifter, was also in attendance. There was even the Awesome Polaris Sportsman Ace 1000, affectionately called the “Spider Monkey”.
Speaking of the Polaris Sportsman ACE known as “Spider Monkey”, High Lifter’s own engineers and fabricators hand built this custom rig as an ongoing tradition to wow the crowds at the event. Every “lift” part from high clearance a-arms and on in this machine is actually a catalog item from High Lifter products own book. The engine however was a little more than. stockish. The Polaris Prostar XP 1000 engine had been shoehorned down between the fenders out back where the 570 used to reside and frame cutting as well as tube steel was involved to make it work properly. They even removed the typical independent suspension out back and dropped in a custom mount to accept the trailing arms from the same XP RZR platform. Quite the marvel for sure and one we found it hard to walk away from.
Many fine SXS’s lined the vendor road at the front of the park on Wednesday to show and shine and then take part in the Audio Formz Mud Jam. These competitors show up each year with machines ranging from $5000 and up and it’s simply amazing to see where people can stuff another pile of cash into the fenders.
When the racing officially began on Thursday, it was down at the Obstacle course and I wish I had been in the room when HLP started dreaming up just how they would torture all of the competitors in this event. From one single seemingly small mud puddle (obviously positioned to wet the unsuspecting entrants tires) straight into huge logs right off the start and a tire garden to maneuver through each driver had two timed runs as if once wasn’t hard enough. Throw in a mud bog and even buried cars right after two huge rolled hay bails and it added to the entertainment. The SXS’s had only one seemingly tough obstacle though and that was the massive twin round bails of wheat straw that awaited on the lower third of the course. After a few attempts it was nothing but a speed bump though. One very excited racer even jumped the last hill as if he just couldn’t get enough.
We have attended this event for many years now and the flooding received by Texas over the few weeks leading up to the event had made the park and its big mud holes serious contention for those who dare dive in. The small rivers and flowing streams were raging and some would succumb to the flow without realizing what they had dropped into. But despite the water levels and deep mud, the regular schedule of events would keep the over 11,000 visitors busy and most would find themselves digging deep in the trails around the property.
If you had a dream test your mud riding skills in contest, then you have a chance to do this several times during the week. The S3 Powersports sponsored Endurance challenge was held down on the highline and it was to be a true endurance challenge. This stretch of water separated by a main high bank road tests riders each year on surviving the long trip down and back with at least one machine and two riders. This is always a sight but this year it was made especially tough with water levels rivaling any year we’ve seen to date. The first step choked many ATV guys out right off the bat and the driest yet slowest ride was in a six-wheel floatation machine by our friends at ARGO. A small Trolling motor might have sped these guys up a bit but kudos for their persistence as it took them all the way out and back. Unfortunately these guys were the only “SXS” team involved.
As the day rolled on, we headed up to the mudda cross track which had been revamped for this year’s event schedule. High Lifter had taken out the regular straight-line mud bog racing this year in favor of trying an ATV/UTV MX exhibition on Saturday. This left us with the Mudda Cross on Friday afternoon and the competition in the RUV/UTV class was vicious. There was one specifically interesting Arctic Cat Wild Cat driven by Michael Poolman. This big cat showed up and gave all of the spectators as well as fellow racers a jaw dropping 1.5 laps of extreme racing. Unfortunately when you try to tame that much kitty it has to left off steam. There is no word on just what happened to the power plant but for the first time in a Wildcat this racer bumped fenders with top teams in the RUV class. If the motor had held on just a few more turns this AC Wildcat would have made even more of a statement. Other wild racing rigs included a twin turbo Can-Am machine that looked super impressive but something wasn’t jiving in the engine department and it failed to live up to the whirling hype.
For the final official event on Saturday, the promoters of the HLMN had brand new event or exhibition and one that may very well become a regular event at the mud nationals. An ATV/UTV MX exhibition brought people from all over the park to a small four-acre section right in the center of the action. Although there were only three starters in the UTV class it was a sight to see for sure. I think the regular UTV drivers never thought that launching a huge 1400-pound machine could be so tough. This High Lifter sponsored Polaris RZR driven by Conner Bowlin took everything in stride and drove to a win, launching each jump like a pro.
With the 2015 High Lifter Mud Nationals in the books, it was time for us to head up into the food corral and grab some great southern Cajun food and a huge lemonade to wash it all down. This year’s event was a success and we plan to head back in 2016 for even more crazy fun in Texas.
HLP is looking straight into the eye of their next big event called the Quadna Mud Nationals. If you want to find out more information about this and other High Lifter Products, check them out on the web at Highlifter.com