Lousiana Good Ol’ Boy Is A Tough Competitor
Dustin Jones’ description of how he got his “dream ride” for Can-Am verges on the unbelievable. As a somewhat shy, and unassuming racer, Dustin loves being underestimated by his competitors. So much so that this native Louisianan came all the way out to the Western Deserts to win, in his first attempt, the prestigious Mint 400 in the Pro UTV division.
Who is this unlikely guy, who beat the best desert UTV racers on the planet, at their own game? Did we mention he’s adventuresome as well? Well he is. He traveled to the Western Deserts from his hometown in Shreveport, Louisiana to begin racing side-by-sides on virtually a whim.
Did we mention that Dustin, as shy and unassuming as he appears, could quite possibly kick all our asses? This is no joke. As a fan of cage fighting and the MMA, Dustin has gotten into the ring with bigger, stronger and possibly more talented fighters, and still beat them. Not because he’s intimidating, not because he’s bigger and stronger, but because he loves the challenge of beating the other guy using his own wits, skills, and perseverance. Traits he readily brings to his UTV racing game, as his competitors readily acknowledge.
Jones MMA nickname was “Battle Axe,” which he came up with himself. Like he did with his fellow cage fighters, Dustin analyzes the competition, sizes them up, and proceeds to beat them at their own game. If he wasn’t so darn good at racing side-by-sides, he would have carved himself out a career in this other extreme sport.
We spoke with Dustin recently and got his take on what it’s like to be a young racer and co-owner of his own racing shop in Shreveport, called S3 Power Sports. What has it been like since Dustin got his dream ride with Can-Am aboard one of their Maverick X ds turbocharged UTVs? Our interview below will answer this question and many more.
Dustin, first of all, you’ve gotten a lot of notoriety for winning the Mint 400. What was that like?
Winning the Mint 400 was simply mind-blowing. It was a big deal. It’s something surreal. Going into this season and having Can-Am pick up our team was unlike anything we ever expected to happen. We were so thankful to be part of the desert racing scene, and race on that level with all of those notable guys. Our goal for the season was to finish all the races we could. Naturally, with racing you want to win the race, but we’ve always been realistic and set realistic goals. So, ultimately we wanted to finish some races and maybe end up on a podium.
To win the Mint 400, in our third desert race ever was a moment I’ll never forget! We’re from the swamps in Louisiana. We don’t have deserts there. So, this was something completely new for us. We built our complete car at our company headquarters, S3 racing, not knowing how well it would do. We went out and, in our third race, won the Mint. It was an exciting event for us. We were very thankful and appreciative that we were able to do that.
How long has S3 Power Sports been in business?
We’ve been open since 2011, so we’re about four years old right now. We’ve always been known for big lift kits, suspensions, roll cages and mud riding — things like that. We’re from the South, and that’s just what we do around here. We’ve always been known for building big, lifted mud-riding vehicles. When we got picked up to race ‘Best in the Desert’ by Can-Am, it gave us an opportunity to expand a little bit and a good reason to do just that. We went from building lift kits to our own long travel suspension kits for the Maverick X ds Turbo. That’s one thing that was very important for us, and a main reason we started desert racing. We wanted to build everything on our race cars ourselves.
Instead of using someone else’s long travel kit and using someone else’s chassis, we wanted to build everything on the car. Even if it was new ground for us to cover and learn, we wanted to build it. Judging by our success, and our first long travel car and cage, it’s worked out pretty well. It won us the Mint 400.
Did your team also build the chassis for your Can-Am race car?
Yes. We also built the chassis for that first car, so it’s designed especially for desert racing. The way we did it was simple. We got on Google Images and started looking at race cars and asked, “What do they look like?” and “Here are the rules you need to follow to build it. Let’s go ahead and try it.” So, based on Google Images, and the ‘Best in the Desert’ rule book, that’s how we built our first car.
You picked up a Can-Am sponsored factory ride. How did that happen?
The last couple years I’ve been a regular mud racer. We race in several series around the South. Myself, and my co-pilot, Shane Dowden, have been racing for the last two years. Shane has been racing a bit longer than me, at around four years. We kind of got introduced to our local Can-Am rep and I made friends with him. But, in the past few years I had also won several championships racing in the mud.
Most people know about us for winning mud races and championships in mud racing, so Can-Am approached me at the end of 2014. They had some interest because I’d won a championship in 2014. They said, “What are your plans for 2015?” They were evaluating what my race plans were and I told them; “I’ve won several championships in mud racing. I’ve won a cross-country championship. My ultimate goal in 2015 is to chase more podium finishes than championships.” This means I want to continue doing some mud racing. I also want to do some different series, possibly cross-country racing.
One thing that I also told them, and didn’t think anything about it at the time was, “I’d like to compete at a desert race or two, just to do it, kind of a bucket list thing.” They said, “You know what? Let us think about this and we’ll get back to you.” They called a couple of weeks later and said, “We would like you to ride as a co-pilot with one of our desert race teams. We know you said you had some interest in racing in the desert.” I said, “Man, that would be awesome. Just call me and let me know a good date when you guys could do that.”
Then what happened?
They called about two weeks later. The voice on the phone said, “You know what? Instead of co-piloting with one of our desert racers, we want you to be our ‘Best in the Desert’ racer for 2015.” I said, “Man, do you realize I’ve never raced in the desert. We don’t have deserts where I’m from.” They said, “We understand that. We have realistic expectations for you guys. We want you to get your feet wet. We want you to try it and see how you like it.” I said, “That’s a big decision to make being that it’s a 20-hour drive for us to go anywhere. Let me look at everything. Let me evaluate everything. I’ll meet with the folks I work with at S3 Racing and I’ll get back to you.”
When we met we were obviously excited about the offer, and we talked. The conversation was mutual, and we realized this is a dream come true for us. When that door opens you either step through it or the door may slam closed.
It was decision time — now or never. We went back and told them, yes. We want to race ‘Best in the Desert’ for 2015. That’s where our Can-Am program, and us getting picked up as factory racers, came from. It was originally going to be for mud racing only. But, when we showed some interest in desert racing, they picked us up for that, as well.
Do you still compete at mud events?
Absolutely. I raced the 2015 Mud Nationals in the ATV classes, and I won the Pro A Class at that event. I still love racing in the mud, and I also do some of the cross-country races as well. I always tell people that racing is not what we do; racing is who we are. So, the desert racing was a good fit for us. I’ve won championships in cross-country. Shane Dowden, my co-pilot, has won multiple championships in mud racing. So it’s in our blood. Racing is who we are, so when we had the opportunity to race in the desert we said, “Man, let’s do it. Let’s try it.”
Tell us more about your MMA nickname, “Battle Axe.”
“Battle Axe” comes from several years ago. I got big into MMA, or cage fighting, so I acquired the nickname during that time. As with everything, I take competition very seriously. I had fair success at cage fighting, so I kind of acquired the name and it’s just kind of stuck. I don’t tell many people about this, but that’s where the name came from.
Tell us about your racing, primarily ATVs, in the mud? Are you also racing side-by-sides?
Currently I race ATVs, mainly in the mud. The last few years I’ve raced the side-by-side classes. I made the trade-off to race in the desert series, so that kind of changed things. It was going to be difficult for me to maintain a race ATV, a side-by-side, a cross-country side-by-side, and a desert side-by-side. I had to sacrifice something, and since I had pretty well accomplished what I wanted to in mud racing, I decided to drop the mud racing side-by-sides. Shane Dowden, my co-pilot, was having some good success racing the side-by-side classes in the mud events. So he took up the slack there. He’s doing a great job of representing S3 Racing and carrying on that torch.
Has desert racing in the side-by-side class taken priority?
I had to trade one for the other. There’s not enough days in the week to get all those race quads and UTVs ready.
What’s it look like for the future? What type of events are you looking at now?
After winning the Mint 400, it opened a lot of people’s eyes and they started to take us more seriously, and realize that we want to do well, and we’re working hard at doing the necessary things to move forward. I think it built a little faith with Can-Am in us, as a race team. He hope they were saying, “Man, if these guys took third in their first race, and they’ve never raced a desert event ever, they’re poised for success.” That builds trust and this was a good investment for them. We’ve got some cool things in the works right now that nobody knows about. So, it’s going to be a good 2015 for us, and an equally good 2016.
What’s the biggest difference between racing an ATV and racing a side-by-side?
I’ve always heard with age comes experience. While I have that competitive nature, and I do enjoy racing ATVs, there’s a little more comfort in racing side-by-sides. You feel a little better when you’re racing at those speeds, and you’re just screaming through the desert, and racing with trophy trucks and stuff like that. We’re strapped in and protected by that roll cage, so it’s easy to have more confidence. You feel better racing in a side-by-side.
The side-by-sides have really created a class where anybody can compete. Somebody that used to be a motocross racer, or used to be an ATV racer, with age they’ve kind of strayed away from racing those things, because it takes such a toll on your body. Fortunately, the cost of the side-by-sides (at least in comparison to other motor sports) with the benefits of a cage and added protection, has opened the door for a lot more people to race. I think that’s why it’s one of the fastest growing classes in racing. It has afforded people the chance to race on an upper level, and offered them the protection where they’re comfortable racing again. It allows people physically to be able to race these long races without taking a beating on their body, because ATV racing is grueling and it’s tough on your body. I think the main difference is the comfort in racing a side-by-side and being confident that you’re going to be safe.
What did you notice the most between racing in the mud and the desert?
The big difference that I had to learn the hard way, especially for the type of racing that I came from, was that when racing in the desert you have to limit yourself. What I was used to, especially with mud racing, is that you have two laps to do it. You run 100% for those two laps to win a race. Similarly, with cross-country or woods racing, it’s an hour straight of racing. So if you don’t drive at 100% then you’re not going to win those races, because your car is set to run at that one-hour limit.
We went from that kind of racing to the Mint 400! At the Mint we were in the car for 7 hours and 29 minutes! You have to bring your pace down a little bit to preserve the car. You have to learn a different type of driving. Whenever you’re doing that, so it’s more of a preservation-type racing instead of driving at full capacity. If you can find that happy medium of driving as fast as you can, but preserving your vehicle, that’s kind of where everything culminates and works well.
The biggest thing that I had a hard time with, and it showed at the UTV World Championships when I broke two rear axles on the first lap, is I had to reel it back a little bit and drive a little more conservatively. Desert racing is more about racing smarter than racing harder a lot of times.
Yeah, you got to finish…
You have to, because the famous saying says, “To finish first you must first finish.” That’s what everybody told me, especially at the UTV World Championships. They warned me about that. They said, “Maybe you’re fast, but to finish first you first have to finish,” so I had to learn that the hard way at the first two races.
Anything you want to add, throw in there?
The main thing that is important to us and why this is such a good fit for S3 Power Sports and desert racing is because this is what we do for a living. We build suspensions. We build roll cages. We want to push the industry. It’s very important to us to stay on the forefront of things and build reliable, strong parts that everybody wants to run.
Our most important thing, and for our company is job #1 is that if I want to sell this to somebody, or if I want somebody to believe in our products, I’ve got to run it first and prove it works. So the stuff you see us run in mud racing, in desert racing, that’s the same stuff I put on my side-by-side and ATV. That’s the same stuff we sell to a consumer. It’s very important to us that we run what we build. We sell what we’re running and, so fortunately in our operation, we build everything in-house. We don’t have to rely on anybody else. We don’t have to point the finger at anybody else. It’s our products that we’ve built, that we’ve tested, and that we’re running. That’s always been very important to us, and that’s why we’ve started S3 Racing. We wanted to build our own parts. We felt like we could do them better. That’s what we work hard to do. Build the best, coolest, strongest parts we can.
Tell a bit about your mud racing experiences?
Two racers from Performance Power Sports were our main competitors at the High Lifter Mud Nationals. They were also Can-Am mounted and represented their team. It was a win-win for Can-Am. There were three Can-Am racers in the final. I was racing against two really fast guys that have won a lot of races themselves. They’re both good friends of mine that I’ve competed with for a long time, which are very fast racers. To beat those guys, it’s an exciting thing because you know you’ve really beat somebody that is fast. Besides that, they’re your friends. There’s a lot of camaraderie in mud racing, and a lot of pats on the back.
Did you find that true with desert racing?
Absolutely. We were pleased, excited, to see the camaraderie in desert racing. For us, being a new team coming in with no experience, it was unbelievable how many people pulled together and gave us advice, told us how we needed to race, and how we needed to prepare for the races. Regardless of brands, it didn’t matter. People were willing to help us in that first desert race. That’s one thing we were very happy about with the ‘Best in The Desert’ series; how willing they were to help us as a new team. That was a cool thing, especially since we were new guys. We were the underdogs. These are people that you have to compete with. But, for them to share information with you, and encourage you, and tell you different things that they’ve learned over years of racing, it’s a big help. I don’t know how much people are going to help us anymore, now that we’ve won the Mint 400. But, everybody’s been very helpful and very friendly with us.
I think that’s it. Unless there’s something you want to add.
What’s important to me is we’re talking about our business here. This is our livelihood; it’s what we do. It’s very important to me that we make people aware of what we do. We’re passionate about this; we love what we do, and we want people to be passionate about the sport. We want to help push and grow the sport. I think that also comes through in the vehicles we build.
Do you like doing this more, or do you like cage fighting?
I enjoyed cage fighting because the competition was so pure, it’s one-on-one. I’m like Ricky Bobby (the movie); I’m a driver. You know what I mean? That’s what I love to do. I’m just a racer. That’s all I know.
Since childhood, this is a dream come true for me. I remember talking about doing this as a job when I was little kid, just like Ricky Bobby, but never anticipating that one day I would get to do it. Mr. Al and Ms. Linda (owners of S3 Racing) were kind enough to afford me the opportunity to do what I love. I’m thankful for that. It’s easy to go to work when you love what you do.
How cool is that?
By Dennis Cox
Photos by Jack Wright