Carson Wernimont Is a Rookie Flying High on Success
Words & Photos: Jason Stilgebouer
A Kawasaki program built on simplicity, creativity, and a desire to win.
Carson Wernimont first showed up on our radar when we heard about a new Kawasaki Teryx KRX which was built to race the 2021 Best in the Desert Parker 250. He and his dad were the architects of this custom car, but who is Carson? More importantly, who is his dad? None other than the legendary Russ Wernimont – the man responsible for developing the first-ever Trophy Truck in the early 90s. And now he has been putting his brilliant energy into his talented son’s own career. Boy, were some feelings hurt when the pair won their first event with the KRX. But it wasn’t just the first competition with that mean green machine…
It was Carson’s only race ever. While he has had no previous experience, he’s had plenty of seat time developing and tuning purpose-built UTVs and trucks. With a little guidance from his dad, the men went to work developing a race car utilizing the Kawasaki Teryx KRX platform, following the rule book as close as they could push the envelope of engineering while remaining fully qualified. However, the interesting fact is that the car was built only using a bit of spare tubing, some sheet metal, and a lot of creativity. Altogether, this is a relatively simple car.
That sort of creativity, plus some mastery at the wheel, yielded incredible results. So far, Carson has won five out of seven races they’ve entered – an impressive 71% victory rate racing in the Pro UTV NA class. Astonishing for only having those seven events under his belt. These results quickly gained recognition from the Kawasaki Team Green who welcomed Wernimont for the 2022 season to sport the factory livery in the field.
Carson’s effort hasn’t gone unnoticed within the community as well. He’s made a few friends, as well as gained some rivals, along the way. His journey through desert racing has been interesting, to say the least, which is why we were excited to sit down with him just days before he sets off on the 650-mile Legacy Baja Nevada to see how he feels his journey has been thus far.
UTV Sports: What did it feel like going into your first ever race at the 2021 BITD Parker 250… And winning?
Carson Wernimont: It was pretty surreal. We obviously had high expectations going into that race. I kind of had [a telltale] taste in my mouth – like a win was maybe going to happen – when I reached the first pit 30 miles into it. And my team came on the radio, “Hey, you’re leading by a minute.” I was like: Oh, shit we can do this! I wasn’t even trying. It was the most excited I’ve ever been in my life. I mean that. To do it in front of all my friends and my dad and everything was cool. The KRX performed flawlessly, and it just worked really well.
USM: You surely surprised a lot of people…
CW: You always have the people who doubted you in the beginning and question why I was racing or why I chose to build a Kawasaki. Or the fact that I had never raced before. So it’s always cool to put it in their face a little bit. [Wink.]
USM: You’ve had a lot of seat time testing purpose-built race cars and trucks, plus shock and suspension tuning for other drivers. Is that correct?
CW: I was able to spend a lot of time growing up around the sport, I mean, obviously because of my dad. With that, I learned a lot about developing cars. The first time I really worked hands-on with the drivers was for Brian Deegan on his short-course program. After him, I worked at Walker Evans and had the opportunity to drive a bunch of cars, set up shocks and see how the car felt for myself. When you go out and set up shocks and develop suspension packages on cars for other people, you drive a lot of different types of vehicles and really learn to become a better driver. That was a huge part of crafting my skill.
USM: Did you do anything else to prepare yourself for racing?
CW: I’m a huge nerd for the sport. And literally, to this day, I watch videos of desert races every night before I go to bed. I go onto YouTube, and I’ll just type in “90s desert racing” then study how vehicles react through terrain based on driving styles. And I’ll watch the same section being filmed and study how Ivan Stewart, Rob MacCachren, and Robby Gordon went through the same section 10 seconds faster than the average racer. From there, you’re able to see how each car reacts and study how they drive.
USM: Wow. So clearly you’re learning a lot from watching those old races?
CW: Yeah, I guess so. I think there are some things I picked up. I mean, I’ve always wanted to be a driver, but I got into it with the intention of being like my dad and building fast race cars. We studied a lot of films watching how Brian’s Pro 2 truck would handle differently in different corners during practice in an effort for better lap times. Not too sure it is common in desert racing. This is all on the side. We do this after we put in long hours at the family business [Russ Wernimont Designs].
USM: How has it been working with your dad developing this program and racing together?
CW: It’s cool learning from him and working hand-in-hand. He’s a huge part of why I’ve had such a short learning curve. I’m involved with pretty much everything from building and re-valving shocks to fabrication. But he makes sure I don’t do anything dumb and fall on my face. Also with design ideas and challenges, he can give me his expert input. That has been huge. But it was not just him; I learned from a bunch of smart people. For instance, I worked at Walker Evans for Randy Anderson, who built all Walker’s trucks. Even Tommy Morris, who worked for Cal Well’s team, has been a huge influence.
USM: How much testing did you do to the car before the 2021 Parker 250?
CW: Funny story. Many people don’t know this, but I rolled the KRX during the first test in Barstow after the steering rack failed. And this was the weekend before the race! We came back, fixed it, went to Parker with only 20 test miles on the car, and raced.
USM: And won… Wild. How do you feel going into the Legacy Baja Nevada this weekend?
CW: I feel good. Like I know that the car is prepped and more than capable. I’m confident in my driving and endurance, equally. I seem to do better during the long races. But I’m usually pretty good off the start as well. I always go back and after the race and look at all my selector times. And for some reason, I become more comfortable [later in the race]. I always seem to go faster during the part of the race when everybody else fades off.
USM: So, what’s next for your race program? Any chances we will see you in Baja California?
CW: I want to. My goal is to solo the Baja 1000. I just don’t have the budget to do it at the moment. I don’t have the chase trucks or the crew. Maybe San Felipe in a few years. I hope we can experience it one day!
USM: We look forward to seeing you out there at the Legacy Baja Nevada event. It is a long race, but you’re a pro, nonetheless. We can’t wait to follow your journey!
**Carson will be racing the Legacy Baja Nevada race this weekend; make sure to keep an eye on him on his 2022 journey and follow his social media: @carsonwernimont