Drivers can spend years competing in a given level to never win a race. John Holtger was able to do it in just one.
Saturday’s Championship Off-Road round at Bark River International Raceway saw the 17-year-old make his début in the Pro 2 class with a bang by leading flag to flag. Keegan Kincaid and Kyle Kleiman joined him on the podium.
A Pro Lite regular, Holtger entered Pro 2 at Bark River driving a Yokohama truck prepared by 2010 TORC Limited 2WD champion Mike Vanden Heuvel. He qualified tenth of thirteen but started on the pole courtesy of a field invert, from which he greatly benefitted by leading all nine laps.
While wins are always difficult to come by, Holtger received some help in the form of carnage involving his adversaries. Ricky Gutierrez, who started third, collided with second-placed Kleiman in the opening corner and suffered nose damage, preceding a series of truck issues for him. Kleiman stalked Holtger for the first lap before being swamped by a massive pack of trucks, which allowed Holtger to build some margin while Doug Mittag moved up to second. Points leader Jerett Brooks challenged Holtger on a restart before a flat tyre in the front of the field caused Brooks and those behind him to bunch up together.
Brooks’ trouble promoted Gutierrez and Mittag to second and third, respectively, before Mittag went off course and lost his spot to Kincaid. Gutierrez’s truck, sans nose and rear quarter panel, was overtaken by Kincaid and Mittag. An attempt to salvage a podium by Gutierrez resulted in contact with Mittag and Ryan Beat, and Kleiman snuck by for third.
With his opponents fighting among themselves, Holtger cruised to the victory by over four seconds on Kincaid. Although not a win, the runner-up comes as a much-needed break for Kincaid as the defending Pro 2 champion scored his first podium of the year.
“I’ve never been so scared in my life,” Holtger said in his post-race interview. He is the second first-time Pro 2 winner of 2022 after Cory Winner at Crandon in June. “I’d like to thank Keegan for pulling a ten. That’s the only reason I got up front right away.
“It was ‘Go and don’t look back.’ My spotter Trevor finally told me, ‘Dude, you’re clear by twenty, you’re gone,’ and it’s just making no mistakes.”
The triumph marked a happy conclusion to his Saturday after his Pro Lite race ended with a flat left-rear tyre while battling Madix Bailey for third, ruining an otherwise strong run that began with him at the back after missing qualifying. The 2020 Pro Lite champion now sits sixth in points with a win at ERX in July.
Holtger’s résumé also includes a pair of Lucas Oil Midwest Short Course Mod Kart titles and experience in disciplines like the Stadium Super Trucks and Nitro Rallycross Lites. Multiple drivers on the Pro 2 grid have also raced in SST including Beat, Brooks, Kincaid, and Winner.