Return of Nitrocross Calgary features debut of bumper car-like 'Baja Bugs'

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Nitrocross Calgary action heats up this weekend at GMC Stadium.

But with unseasonably warm weather in the forecast affecting the original dates, organizers have opted to let the racing machines idle for a few days.

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The racing is now set for Sunday — from 4:55 p.m. to 9 p.m. — moved from the scheduled Friday and Saturday set-up to accommodate the ice-track build, which has been impacted by the current rise in temperatures.

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“Nitrocross has been preparing to deliver a world-class racing experience in Calgary, pushing the limits on ice,” said Nitrocross in a statement Tuesday to announce the shift from a two-date show to a one-day adventure. “To ensure the best possible conditions for our racers and a spectacle for our fans, we have made the decision to reschedule the event.”

Regardless, Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone knows you’ll fall in love with the new class of racing machines in the return of Nitrocross Calgary.

They’re revved-up Volkswagen Beetles or — as they’re known on the Nitro Circus circuit — ‘Baja Bugs.’

Eat your heart out, Herbie.

“The most fun you can have with your clothes on,” said Cerrone, of driving the Baja Bugs. “It reminds me of a crazy bumper-car experience, you know.

“You’re racing 1960, 1970 heavy Volkswagen Beetles. And I want to call them ‘Battle Bugs,’ since we slam into each other with them all the time. But It’s just a nostalgic fun thing to do.”

And to watch, as well.

Calgarians can do just that Sunday when Nitrocross is back for a second year at Stampede Park.

“It’s kind of the crowd favourite — it’s like the novelty race going on,” Cerrone said. “Fans love to see the bugs out there — it’s a nostalgic cool experience, and it’s something they can feel like they can get in and do.”

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Drivers race in revved-up Volkswagen Beetles, known on the Nitro Circus circuit as ‘Baja Bugs.’ Supplied photo

The Calgary stop of Nitrocross — the only one in Canada this year and the only track to feature ice — is the eighth of 10 on the season schedule, which winds up with Rounds 9 and 10 in Las Vegas in March, when champions are crowned.

Crowds at GMC Stadium reached more than 20,000 in 2023, and organizers are expecting much the same in the way of fans this weekend.

No matter, because whomever is on hand is bound to enjoy ‘Cars That Fly. Tracks That Thrill’ — the tagline for Nitrocross.

“Calgary still takes the cake — they’re the craziest fans,” said Jamaican driver Fraser McConnell, who was the E Class Battle Brackets winner last February at GMC Stadium. “I can’t wait to go back.”

Nitrocross, formerly known as Nitro Rallycross, is the ultimate fusion of short-form competition and action sports.

Founded in 2018 by global icon Travis Pastrana and the limit-pushers of Nitro Circus, Nitrocross is a disruptive motorsport property that features purpose-built courses with huge jumps and banked turns for intense pulse-pounding action.

In Calgary, ice and snow barriers — weather permitting — offer added enhancements, making for added drama in an event that’s already fraught with action, thanks to 1,000-horsepower spec cars — putting everything in the hands and feet of the drivers — topping 160 km/h and negotiating tight turns, sky-high jumps and fierce competition.

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Nitrocross offers thrill-loving fans the high-adrenaline excitement and electrifying action of Group E class, featuring the most explosive electric race car ever built. Also part of the show are the younger generation drivers, climbing into cars in NEXT, Nitrocross’s developmental class.

Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone
Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone is pictured in 2019 during his UFC career. Photo by Ernest Doroszuk /Postmedia

And then there’s the Baja Bugs.

“At one time in everyone’s life, your crazy Uncle Larry — or someone you knew — owned a Volkswagen,” Cerrone said. “You can remember those times. They’re different than the NEXT cars and the Group E Class — they’re a little bit out of people’s grasp, because they couldn’t actually easily get in one of those cars and race them. So the bugs are actually something everyone can race.”

Seven total drivers — all American — have been doing the racing of Nitrocross’s Baja Bugs class in its first campaign.

American Ryan Rodriguez leads the pack with 1,191 points.

Cerrone, himself a 40-year-old UFC Hall-of-Famer, has 1,114 points, hoping to make up ground on Rodriguez and others by navigating the slick conditions of GMC Stadium.

“Never never raced on ice before — this will be a first for me,” Cerrone said. “But I love it. I’ll race any day in any conditions … I don’t care. But I don’t know what to expect. I hear it’s like Velcro — that the studded tires really give you a lot of traction.”

Off the track, it’s a fun festival environment around GMC Stadium, with live music and entertainment, interactive games and remote control car racing for patrons.

Fans can also get up close and personal with the cars and their drivers thanks to access to the paddocks in the Nutrien Western Event Centre next door.

“My whole career I’ve been nothing but a thrill-seeker,” added Cerrone. “If it makes your butthole pucker, I’m going to go try and do it.

“These Baja Bugs? They’re a good time.”

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