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Anything an American can ride on, he will try to race. It has been less than two years since an American Airlines flight engineer named Dexter Schultz bounced an Attex to victory in the first-ever all-terrain vehicle race over a nightmare 17-mile course in New Hampshire's Ossipee Mountains, and this mud-soaked, bone-jarring brand of competition is catching on. An ATV "rally" is a mad flat-out scramble over humpbacked mounds that cause the competitors to make short-lived attempts at flight, and through fiendish mudholes. Comfortable as riding inside a concrete mixer, ATV racing has already become the domain of supple young men like 20-year-old Deek Scott, a McCahill employee who is currently the top ATV racer. Strapped into seats mounted on shock absorbers, Scott and his rivals crash and bang, flip and bounce, float and fly. "I don't know how much longer I can take it," admits the champion.
McCahill raced his own machines for a while. Then he, Flannery and his sales manager, a former North Texas State halfback named Jim Arrington, quit. "Somehow, getting covered with mud in the races didn't seem to be creating the right image with the so-called leaders of the industry," says McCahill.
Competition has escalated to a point where some specially modified ATVs can do better than 90 mph, and truly professional teams are being fielded by a number of manufacturers, including Attex. Racing has spawned NATVA (National All-Terrain Vehicle Association), which is attempting to bring order to the competition in the form of rules and safety regulations and to create a cohesive lobbying force for the dozens of ATV builders. New ones pop up nearly every day. While there are some 20 serious manufacturers, nearly 50 different companies, including the Sensation Manufacturing Co. of Ralston, Neb., Playcat International of Drummondville, Quebec and the Camel Manufacturing Company of Knoxville, Tenn. (whose ATV is named the Centipede), are in for a piece of the terrain. Model names include Coot, Pug, Beaver, Ferret, Wolverine, Lobo, Sidewinder and American Eagle, and the feline kingdom is well represented with such as the Amphi-Cat, Play Cat, Cat-A-Gator and Fast Cat. Still other models utilize earthbound names: Terra-Tiger, Terra-Star, Terra-Jet. Where to place the Bazoo I haven't a clue.
It is questionable how long the smaller ATV manufacturers can compete with Attex and other expertly managed operations. Sperry Rand is in the field with a madcap fat-tired Tricart—the only tricycle in the world that permits you to vault a sand dune at 50 mph. A division of the W. R. Grace Company produces a six-wheel ATV, although McCahill happily claims that a member of the august Grace family operates an Attex on one of his estates. LTV, AMF and Lockheed all make larger eight- and 12-wheel units for military and industrial applications. Allis-Chalmers, the tractor outfit, builds the Terra-Tiger.
With all this activity, there is bound to be a collision between the ATV owners and builders on the one side and the conservationists and the Government on the other. Just as the flood tides of karts, motorcycles and snowmobiles have been checked by laws and public indignation, the ATV business seems due for similar limitations if it gets too big. However, McCahill, who is a powerful force in NATVA, intends to profit from the problems of his spiritual predecessors. "We are trying to get laws on the books now, so that the business can grow in an orderly fashion and we can nip the criticism in the bud," he says. McCahill notes that Michigan, where ATVs are especially big, is already considering a law to regulate their use. "As with snowmobiles, noise is a major problem, and we're working very hard to perfect mufflers that will make the vehicles quiet in the woods," he says.
Industry supporters say the puffy tires used on ATVs exert a mere 1� pounds of pressure per square inch of ground. A few of the bravest—and apparently hungriest—ATV salesmen are willing to permit skeptical customers to drive over their prostrate bodies in order to demonstrate the gentle kiss of the treads. "A horse will do a hundred times more damage in the woods or fields than an ATV," claims David McCahill.
Nevertheless, the ATVs automatically will be linked with bikes, buggies and snowmobiles in the rising public outcry against the racket, trespass, litter and ecological upsets caused by all types of off-road vehicles. In a recent six-week period police in the Los Angeles area received 2,000 complaints about riders of recreational vehicles. Already some parks and land preserves are enforcing strict regulations concerning the use of such equipment. Just the same, David McCahill III, quantities of eager folk and the odd Arab monarch have no doubt that they will be transported into tomorrow in a plastic bathtub mounted on six chubby tires.