Word on the street is that America has seemingly fallen out of love with the Jeep Renegade. According to a recent report, there are about two years’ worth of unsold Renegades out there, just waiting for something to happen to them. Well, I think I found the perfect place for the unloved 4×4: The track. I took a Jeep Renegade on a HooptieX rallycross and I found the little Jeep’s hidden talent.
On June 1, our headlining story in that day’s Morning Dump was about the fact that there’s a 753-day supply of Jeep Renegades out there. That’s just over two years worth of subcompact Jeep crossover SUVs just waiting for buyers to bring them home. Here’s a quick reminder of what was going on there, from our Morning Dump:
This all comes from data from online service CarEdge, which scrapes publicly available dealer data and uses it to help consumers try to make informed car-buying choices. I first saw the data in a tweet from CarDealershipGuy (who is not named Michael, but has a newsletter worth reading). The big, big number is that Jeep stands at 753 days of supply.
I talked to CarEdge CEO Zach Shefska this morning to confirm the methodology and try and understand how they got to this number. Basically, CarEdge scrapes the vast majority of car dealership websites for listings every night. “We consider a vehicle listed for sale when we scrape it, and sold when it is taken offline,” he told me in a text. So if you take the days it takes to sell a car and apply that to the total number of lists you get the total inventory (this data comes from a scrape on May 24th).
While this is not a perfect number (for instance, Cars.com shows about 5,500 Renegades for sale and AutoTrader shows about 6,100) it does give a good relative sense of how the consumer retail market is performing. A lot of the data we get as journalists is filtered or skewed, so it’s fun to play with something a little more raw.
The short version is that there’s a glut of Renegades out there right now. Maybe the true number isn’t two years, but it’s clear that consumers aren’t exactly lining up to buy them. Perhaps we can change that.
Last weekend, I returned to the familiar world of setting hot laps in total junkers. HooptieX is one of my favorite forms of racing and whenever the show rolls into town, I have to take part. I may not always have something to run, but I will at the very least volunteer to help keep the madness alive. But this time, I had the rare opportunity to race something that wasn’t a pile of crap. And oh my, sending this little Jeep Renegade was even more of a blast than I expected. Better than that, it was way faster than anyone expected.
I’ve written about HooptieX a few times before, but it’s worth revisiting exactly what these events are because they’re a ton of fun. HooptieX (pronounced “Hooptie Cross”) is technically a spin-off of the Gambler 500. See, the Gambler 500 is about taking a total junker–purchased with as few greenbacks as possible–on a 500-mile adventure, with many of those miles being anywhere but pavement. Along the way, you’ll pick up trash, make friends, and maybe even donate to a charity in need. Have you ever watched Wacky Races? Yeah, the Gambler 500 is probably about as close to the real life version of it that you’ll find. Buy a $500 pile of junk, revive it with your friends, then take it on an unforgettable journey that leaves a part of the world better than when you arrived.
One thing that you will be made aware of from the very beginning is that a Gambler 500 is not a race. It is at best an endurance rally and really it’s the perfect excuse to delete some doors and windows from a rusty Ford Festiva and dress up as a golfer. When you go to a Gambler event, there is no award for finishing first. To be honest, most people are just lucky to survive the first 100 miles, let alone finishing at all. A Gambler 500 can be a competition, but you’ll be competing for the most amount of trash removed from a forest.
Clearly, there was some interest in having some motorsport aspect to the Gambler, and that motivated Chuck Brazer to create HooptieX in 2019. Like the Gambler 500 itself, HooptieX was initially a Western phenomenon. Now, you can find around two dozen HooptieX events dotting the country throughout every year. Thanks to HooptieX, most of those wacky Gambler cars now have a place to compete with each other. Want to know if your Chevy Venture that runs on just five cylinders is faster than a Chevy Aveo on ATV tires? Well, there’s only one place you’ll be able to find out!
What’s So Great About HooptieX
The best part about HooptieX is that it’s incredibly accessible. Vehicle requirements are slim. You basically have to make sure your vehicle has a fixed roof, a fire extinguisher, a secured battery, and no major fluid leaks. That’s pretty much it. You can run almost anything in a HooptieX from your grandfather’s Buick Roadmaster or a Ford Ranger with blown shocks and rotted body mounts to a Can-Am Maverick fresh off of the showroom floor. Want to rally a limo? Sure, why not! You can go to your local auction, buy the cheapest, worst vehicle imaginable, and run it that weekend.
This is reflected in the HooptieX vehicle classes. There’s a four-wheel-drive and a two-wheel-drive class, plus Hater Class and Super Soft. The first two explain themselves, while Hater Class is reserved for the folks who bring nice daily drivers to run laps. Daily drivers, perhaps, like a pretty Audi A5 with working air-conditioning. Meanwhile, Super Soft is for purpose-built racers. Vehicles in this class will be proper rally cars, various buggies, side-by-sides, and other vehicles built specifically for going stupid fast around a dirt and mud track.
Now, this seems intimidating. You might show up in a Chevy Cavalier with a slipping transmission, yet the car in front of you is a Subaru WRX STI with a full cage and rally tires. Here’s another fantastic thing about HooptieX. Yes, there is a points system and there are people who will drive around the country competing for the top of the leaderboard. There is absolutely real competition going on. However, HooptieX is racing for everyone, period, and it doesn’t have to be competitive. If you want to take a GMC Yukon out for some laps just for the laughs, go ahead and do it. If you want to go slow because you’re only just dipping your toes into motorsport, again, that’s perfect. HooptieX is competitive, but it’s really about having a good time.
You’ll see a variety of racers out there, from legitimate rally racers to a father just having a fun weekend with his kids. There are plenty of women racers, LGBTQ people, and everyone else you can imagine. I’ve been participating and volunteering in HooptieX since 2020 and, just like the Gambler 500, this racing series is something that can change your life. I’ve watched people who were scared out of their minds start off freaking out but finish the weekend addicted to trying to shave seconds off of each lap. Oh yeah, that’s another great thing about HooptieX, you’ll pay a flat fee and get to race as many laps as you want. You could spend your whole day and an entire tank of fuel putting down times if you want to. It’s truly magical.
Rallying A Renegade
The weekend saw dozens of excited racers descend into a roughly two-mile course with the power plant’s cooling towers as an epic backdrop. I couldn’t find an aerial view of the track, but here’s the promotional image. The dark track down there is the dirtbike track.
I’ll tell you the results of the weekend later, but I have to get into rallying this Jeep. I originally went to Byron that weekend to volunteer as a track worker. Basically, I monitored the first portion of the track in case someone began having a really bad day. If someone stalled out, I’d call it out on the radio to ensure another car would not be sent into the racer’s path. If they broke down, I’d call in a tow. And if they caught fire, I had a fire extinguisher at the ready. After my volunteering was done, I joined up with some great friends who were taking turns hooning a 2020 Jeep Renegade around the track. I asked if I could take it for a spin, and it turned me into a monster.
There were about four of us sharing the Renegade that weekend. Initially, we just raced each other. I mean, we didn’t expect a bone-stock Renegade on street tires to be that competitive. For reference, the Jeep Renegade rides on Fiat’s Small Common Components and Systems platform. Its platform-mate is the Fiat 500X and a variation of the platform is used for the Fiat 500L and the Jeep Compass. None of these vehicles are known for their rallying prowess. The Renegade has AWD with a system that sends power to the rear wheels through a power transfer unit and rear drive module. Power comes from a 2.4-liter four making 180 HP and 175 lb-ft torque.
That goes through a nine-speed automatic which in our example, absolutely hated being pushed. On the track, it seemed to shift slower than the single clutch automated-manual of a Smart Fortwo. Seriously, it’s almost as if the Renegade has to do its taxes before it upshifts or downshifts. Making matters worse was the throttle, which at times seemed like a suggestion box. Punch the accelerator and it seemed like you had to wait about two seconds before you got a reaction. On the street, that doesn’t matter, but two seconds is a lot in a time trial.
So, again, we never expected much from the Renegade, but it meant business. The track pictures you see here are from when my friends were behind the wheel. Sadly, my action cam is out of, well, action, or else I would have gotten some cockpit shots.
At the start of a HooptieX lap, I stare at the person holding the green flag while I go through the course in my head. This time, the person holding the flag was a man named Tyler and he was dressed up as a shark. Tyler was also one of my competitors as he sometimes took the wheel of the Renegade. As I waited for the track to become clear enough for my turn, I tried to make a pseudo launch control. I put one foot on the brake and the other on the accelerator.
The Renegade huffed for a few seconds before killing the throttle. Lame, but that’s ok, a few seconds is all I need. When the flag dropped, I welded that pedal into the floor, diving down the start and into the first corner.
Before you start your first lap of the day, you tell yourself that you won’t break the car. Especially if you’re like me and it’s not your car. I don’t want to ruin this pretty Jeep. But even if it is your own car, you don’t want to cause yourself any trouble. That goes out the window when the flag drops. Your heart begins racing and it almost feels as if your BPM is matching your engine’s RPM. You told yourself you wouldn’t send it, but the thought of a low time tells you to put the pedal to the metal.
For our runs, we disabled the Renegade’s traction control, turned off the stability control, and had the SUV in 4×4 Lock in Sand mode. Sure, the Renegade is short of a true 4×4, but it has some nice tricks up its sleeve. Putting it in Sand mode tells the AWD system to send 40 percent power to the front wheels and 60 percent to the rear. Stability control isn’t fully disabled, but the vehicle will allow sliding. We found this to be the best mode for rallycrossing.
Indeed, if I worked the throttle just right and the transmission downshifted at the right time, the Renegade happily kicked its rear end out around in a turn. Modulating the engine and transmission was actually the hardest part. I ended up using the throttle like an on-and-off switch, punching it before a corner’s apex, which gave it enough time to respond and begin revving and for the transmission to downshift.
Otherwise, my eyes and my focus were on the track. I would push that 2.4 to its redline, give the brakes a pump, flick the steering wheel, then back on the power. If I did it right, the engine would come back just in time to carry me out of a corner.
HooptieX also differs from other forms of rallycross with its thrills. Many HooptieX tracks will have jumps that will have your vehicle soaring like a Cessna on takeoff. You don’t have to hit these at speed and at Byron, the big air jump doesn’t necessarily impact your time.
So, a quick brake pump saves you from launching into orbit. Me? I’m equal parts daredevil and moron, so I told that little Jeep to give me everything it got. It responded by leaping into the air. I never lifted from the throttle and the Renegade was airborne long enough to bang off of the rev limiter multiple times. Landings were surprisingly soft. Inside, it felt like hitting a curb. But the Renegade always flew a bit like a lawn dart, digging its front end in on every landing. Then the soft rear suspension caused a double and sometimes triple bounce on landing.
We jumped the Renegade off of the tabletop perhaps a dozen times and nothing ever broke. The only obvious evidence of our jumps were dents in the front bumper cover. Additional approach angle, I say!
At times, it seemed as if the Renegade was definitely more biased toward the front, despite the Sand mode and 4WD Lock mode. Yet, that wasn’t a bad thing. I’d punch the throttle and the front tires would carry the mini-Jeep through a turn.
Eventually, running laps turned into an addiction. My first lap was a 1:44, then a 1:40. I became obsessed with seeing the scoreboard show a lower number. As a result, I took turns hotter, made that engine wheeze some more, and used less braking. This turned out to be a blessing and a curse.
See, this full-send mentality is sort of a bad thing when you’re trying to do more than say, a couple of laps. On my third lap, I came in super hot for one of the final curves. I knew from the second lap that the Renegade had more left in it on this turn, but I didn’t know that the Jeep’s left front tire wasn’t in agreement. I hit the turn hot, got about halfway through, then heard a loud pop. My lap was over.
I limped the car to the staging area, where the left front tire appeared to be trashed. Believe it or not, that was actually the fourth time the tire had come off that weekend. My other friend, Brian Werblo, was putting down times so hot that in some right corners, that tire would just give up on life.
At first, we thought that maybe there was something wrong with the wheel. The other three wheels never gave us any issues. But we’d put in a couple of laps just to hear that pop again. And how do you bead a tire in the field? I’m glad you asked!
Now, don’t do this at home, kids, but if you cover a tire in ether, attach an air pump, then light the ether as the pump runs, you can have a rather explosive reaction that results in you having an instantly mounted tire. Just, I hope you weren’t needing the hair on and around your hands. It’s like forbidden Nair.
Eventually, my friends had enough of the tire-popping nonsense and just replaced the whole tire. The logic was that there had to be something wrong with the wheel or the tire. When the tire come off during my run, the blow was so violent that the valve stem got taken with it. Once we got the tire mounted once again, it was moved to the back of the Renegade, where it never blew ever again. One of the rears was then moved to the front.
Unfortunately, our theories about bad wheels and tires turned out to be false, as the tire on the same front left spot blew off from the bead two more times that day.
The problem was that one particular corner of the track where Werblo and I were just hauling total ass. The sixth and final incident was violent enough to cause the strut to slice into the tire’s sidewall.
Werblo sent it so hard on that lap that the left rear tire also sprang a leak. We decided to throw in the towel at that point. But we weren’t sad, that Jeep was an epic rig for the whole weekend.
How good was the Renegade? Well, here are the numbers.
According to the organizers, around 30 vehicles showed up and laid down a total of 330 laps between Saturday and Sunday. I’ll spoil the results right away. My team’s Renegade wasn’t the fastest, but to the surprise of just about everyone, it wasn’t slow, either. The fastest vehicle of the weekend was Steve Kreiman, who piloted this Super Soft class Honda-powered Super Buggy to an impressive time of 01:30.821:
Taking second place overall and first place in the two-wheel-drive class was Patrick Nielson, who put down impressive lap after another in a stripped-out 1998 Toyota Corolla to a fastest time of 01:33.8:
Perhaps even more impressive than Nielson’s laps was his physical endurance. He was in that little green rocket from start to finish on both race days, and the days ran from around 9 am to 6 pm with only a lunch break halfway through.
Winning the Hater Class was my favorite car of the event. Pamela Schabica and her partner saved a flood-damaged 2009 Audi A5 from the scrapper. This car showed no signs of life, but they were able to cobble it back together with surprisingly minimal effort. The car basically woke itself up from the dead after replacing all fuses. Even the air-conditioner still works for those comfortable laps. I’ve tried to buy this car more than once! Pamela laid down a respectable 01:44.611 time and golly, she smiled through every single lap.
Winning the four-wheel-drive class was Chris Castellanos, who somehow made a 1997 Subaru Legacy get absolutely epic airtime from the tabletop, all while clocking in his fastest lap of 01:34.4.
For comparison’s sake, the slowest time recorded for a lap that didn’t involve a mechanical failure was Douglas Shaw, who limped a wounded 2001 GMC Yukon across the line in 02:21.0. Of course, Shaw and his buddy were not there to win, but to make that big beautiful whale of American iron turn some corners and to laugh along the way. Part of why their lap was so slow was the fact that the beast didn’t have working power steering. Oof.
As for us? Werblo raced the Renegade to a 1:35.1, taking second place in the four-wheel-drive class. He then hopped into his own XJ Cherokee and laid down a similar, albeit slightly slower 1:35 time. My best time was 1:39.5. I could have done better, but I try not to totally send cars that aren’t mine. I’d feel bad for breaking it. The Renegade was faster than numerous Jeep XJs, every Ford Ranger that showed up, most of the Subaru Legacy’s laps, the entire Hater class, most of the 2WD class, and many of the Super Buggy’s laps. Basically, our Renegade, which was completely stock, kept up with proper rally-prepped vehicles.
The Renegade’s Secret Talent
What did we learn that weekend? America may not be into buying Renegades right now, but maybe there’s a way to move some of these off of lots. Maybe there should be a spec Renegade rally series. I’d race in that! It was remarkable how composed the Renegade was and how it consistently scored good numbers during the weekend despite its lackluster tires and infuriating accelerator pedal. In fact, the Renegade will be making more HooptieX appearances this year. Though, my friends do hope to figure out how to stop the tires from popping off so often.
My takeaway from this is if you have any interest in motorsport, even barely existent interest, then give HooptieX a try. You will have so much fun that before you know it, you’ll be ten laps deep, sweating bullets, and trying to improve your time even more. It’s just that addictive. Even if you aren’t interested in racing, have you ever wanted to just see what a car can do without the restraints of speed limits? Come to a HooptieX, you won’t regret it.
(Topshot: Jeremy. Photos: Author, unless otherwise noted.)
- Readers Aren’t Having Georgia’s Bullshit Reason For Banning Kei Trucks: COTD
- Fiat Panda Six-Wheeler, Volkswagen Golf Country, Indian Sport Scout: Mercedes’ Marketplace Madness
- The Second-Generation Saturn Vue Lived, Then Died, Then Lived Again: GM Hit Or Miss
- Can You Guess The Three Cars The Autopian Has Tried To Buy This Week?