BARK RIVER - The wait is finally over; the 38th annual Bark River Off-Road races officially kick off today, and it's hard to tell who is more excited - the spectators or the racers.
Escanaba native and returning Super Stock Truck World Champion Danny Beauchamp is set to begin his season on Saturday, and he hopes to pick up right where he left off and pave the path to another title run.
"It's been a long wait, but I'm ready for the races to start," he said. "I'm pretty stoked."
Escanaba’s Danny Beauchamp hits a jump on his truck last season, where he was named overall points champion in the Super Stock class. Beauchamp’s season begins Saturday at Bark River International Raceway. Having made some improvements to his truck, he hopes to retain his title.
In addition to finishing at the top of the points race last season, Beauchamp's team also won Team of the Year honors. They were all in Wisconsin over the weekend to make some final preparations to his truck, and he said it's been tested and everything is looking good.
After all, as the returning champion, the last thing he wants to be concerned about is his vehicle. But Beauchamp's team does a great job making sure he doesn't have to be concerned.
"I know the competition is going to be close this year," Beauchamp said. "I'm aware that people are going to be gunning for me, but I'm ready for it. I've got the truck and the team to do it again, now it's all in my hands."
Beauchamp's cousin, Scott Beauchamp of Gladstone, is in his first year racing in the Pro-Light division. Before that, he also raced in the Super Stock class since 2001, and over that period he was a four-time champion.
Scott said jokingly that he moved out of the way so that Danny can win championships, but on a more serious note, he said he is very proud of Danny's accomplishments.
"It's great that he has kept the Beauchamp name going in that racing class," he said.
He added that for the local racers, there is a little added pressure going into a race like Bark River because they are performing in front of their friends, family, and sponsors. But there is also an added importance because of those reasons.
"Nothing is more important than racing in front of the home crowd," he said. "It's great. You're out there for the racing fans, because that's what it's all about."
Scott also commented on this weekend's live television coverage by the SPEED Network, saying that when he sees his truck and the sponsors that represent him on TV, it gives him a surreal feeling.
"People watch TV all day long and think of it as a fantasy world," he said. "Then you get to see yourself at a nationally televised event. It's an awesome opportunity for us."
Beauchamp will be racing alongside another pair of U.P. based racers. Nick Baumgartner of Iron River and Mark Kleiman of Wilson also compete in the Pro Light division.
After a nine-year hiatus from racing, Kleiman has returned to the sport he loves, and is currently in fourth place in the standings heading into this weekend. However, he said it's been seven years since he's been on the track at Bark River, and he knows many changes have been made since then.
"This track is a little bigger than some of the tracks we've been on," he said. "It's going to be a new experience, but the Pro-Light class should be one of the most exciting events of the weekend."
Kleiman added that getting into the pro class was one of his goals, and it was finally achieved.
"The competition is very good here," he said. "It makes you really push your talent."
He also said that he has made a few tweaks to his vehicle going into the weekend, but most of his preparations have been mental.
"You start working out lines in your head," Kleiman said. "What you plan on doing and where you plan on going. The primary thing is just psyching yourself up for it. Obviously, you want to have a good run, and not disappoint anyone."