Printed in black on a yellow “school bus” backdrop, three words lay across the bottom of every Alaskan license plate: ‘The Last Frontier.’ This short phrase speaks for itself if you’ve ever been to the 49th State – still united but not contiguous. Separated from the rest by a vast swathe of land littered with mountains, lakes and bears (oh my!), Alaska is, quite literally, the end of the road, however you shake it. And the slogan on their license plate is a tell-all sign if you’re paying attention.
The cities seem surrounded on all sides by snow-capped peaks. When you’re flying into Anchorage, the descent provides an amazing perspective of just how uninhabited this place truly is. Lakes are scattered beneath you, carved out amongst the trees, across an evergreen landscape like puddles of oil underneath an old race car. You can’t count them all. And even before you consider it, the wheels touch down and you’re in the largest city in the state, with around 300,000 residents according to the internet.
The drive from Anchorage to Wasilla, where Red Bull decided to host their first annual “Solstice Scramble,” takes about an hour. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest and spent the better part of my life on the Olympic Peninsula, which, from what I’ve learned, is sort of like Alaska Lite. But there’s something that separates those two places from each other – maybe it’s Canada, I don’t know?…
But aside from the geographical divorce, there’s a clear connection and an obvious contrast at the same time. Alaska feels like an island, in the middle of Texas. The temperament is mild and polite, the energy is intoxicating, and the landscape is, for lack of a better word, breathtaking. You’ll never have a better excuse to use such terms as awe-inspiring or heart-stopping than when you’re in Alaska, trust me.
So, when Red Bull pulled the curtain back for their next inaugural Scramble Series event, I would be a fool to say no to attending, would I not? The track was tucked against the base of the Denali National Park and featured a variety of terrain across the 2.2-mile off-road course. It was purpose -built by local Billy Long for this event, so the opportunity to create exciting corners was not left undone.
And while the temperature was warm and the air static, the recent rains kept the dust from flying and provided a bit of mud through certain sections, which became increasingly slick as the race rolled on. Twenty registered drivers competed across two classes: the SXS Pro for experienced drivers and the SXS Sportsman for amateur off-road enthusiasts. Qualifying to seed the two final races later that evening took place at 8 pm with the sun still hanging high overhead.
Mia Chapman, who leads the Pro Class National Scramble Series Championship Pro Class standings, took the hole-shot in the SXS Pro final when the green flag waved at 10 pm for the six-lap race. She charged out ahead early, as her pace was noticeably faster than her fellow Red Bull racers, Seth Quintero and Austin “AJ” Jones who both struggled off the starting line. But four laps in, Chapman suffered a broken front axle which slowed her down tremendously.
“The track was an absolute blast to race,” Chapman said. “I ended up breaking the front axle on lap four, so that put us out a little bit. But I am still super pumped to be on the podium. I couldn’t have asked for a better event.”
Shortly after Chapman lost her front axle, one of the local racers put their UTV on its side coming out of the woods and into one of the sweeping corners above the lake which subsequently allowed Quintero and Jones to catch up with the frontrunners. After the race, Quintero excitedly noted that he didn’t think he stood a chance at winning the race after his lackluster start, but when the front three drivers slowed to avoid the UTV sitting on its side, Quintero and Jones charged forward, passing everyone but Chapman to make it a Red Bull one-two-three.
With just one lap to go, Quintero overtook Chapman in the final corner and led out ahead just as the white flag was waved. Chapman and her broken axle somehow managed to hold off Jones who was pushing hard to take the second step of the podium from her. But in the end, Chapman managed to retain second place and with Jones just behind her provided Red Bull with a podium sweep for the first time in the SXS Pro class this season.
“That was one of the most fun races I’ve ever driven, and the least expected win, to be honest,” Quintero said. “Racing at 10 pm in broad daylight is the craziest experience ever.”
With a race time of 16:56.158, Quintero won the inaugural Solstice Scramble. However, it was Chapman’s performance both in the qualifying race and the final that had everyone talking. With her P2 finish, Chapman now leads the championship in the Pro Class with 285 points. Corbin Leaverton and Cody Bradbury are still tied for P2, each with 275 points, while Austin “AJ” Jones has climbed to P4 with 227 points.
A longtime racer but first-time competitor in the Red Bull Scramble Series, Cora Nail won the Sportsman class with a total time of 17:11.261. “I’ve been racing in Alaska for 25 years, but I’ve never raced side-by-sides,” Sportsman winner Nail said, who borrowed equipment from friends and colleagues to join the event. “But this venue and this track is amazing. I didn’t even realize I had won.” And if that doesn’t sum up the spirit of Red Bull’s Scramble Series, I don’t know what would!
The remaining 2023 schedule features five unique locations:
- Sept. 16, Red Bull Stone Scramble in Huntsville, Tennessee
- Dec. 9, Red Bull Sand Scramble in Glamis, California
SXS PRO CLASS
- SETH QUINERO – 6/16:56.158
- MIA CHAPMAN [TQ] – 6/17:21.135
- AJ JONES – 6/17:37.560
SXS SPORTSMAN CLASS
- CORA NAIL – 5/17:11.261
- PEYTON WADE – 5/17:14.089
- GARY JAMES – 3/10:40.607 (DNF)