Side-by-side (SxS) vehicles have surged in popularity on off-road race circuits because of their affordability and accessibility. Rigs like the Polaris RZR are a great value for dollar when you want to get into desert racing, but UTVUnderground does a solid job breaking the whole proposition down here.

Make no mistake: at $20,000 the RZR and its rivals from Can-Am, Arctic Cat, Yamaha and Honda are not really what any sane person could call “cheap.” The idea of these being inexpensive is only justifiable in comparisons to other, vaguely comparable vehicles. For example, you’d absolutely blow a Jeep Wrangler, costing twice as much, out of the water over any obstacle.

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“But you have to tow this!”, you’ll say. Yes, but if you put enough play-parts on your Jeep to earnestly keep up with an SxS, you better believe you’re going to want to tow that too.

Now $20,000 on a SxS plus $15,000 or less on a used pickup truck and trailer setup starts looking pretty solid against a $45,000 Wrangler Rubicon. Once we start talking about racing, numbers go up. Way up.

Yes, you can buy seven and a half race-prepped UTVs for the price of one Trophy Truck. But as UTVUnderground lays out, competitive off-road racing is going to involve immense logistical complexity and cost on top of your toys.

This is a desert racing season-prepped Polaris RZR. Hardcore. (Image: UTV Underground)

They cite $7,500 in fees alone to do a season of desert racing, and lay out estimated remaining costs for support vehicles, spare parts (everything), fuel, food, hotels, days off for a whole lot of folks, and at the end of the spreadsheet you’re probably spending another $50,000 after getting your SxS dialed in. Which cost you $30,000 to $60,000.

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If that sounds like about twice as much as you want to throw down, short-course racing (where your SxS runs around bumps and turns in a much smaller circle) can be done for much less coin and with a frankly weaker vehicle.

At a series like WORCS you can show up with a basically stock SxS, $100 and a few cans of gasoline and get some fun laps in. I mean, as long as you don’t break anything. (You will break things.)

This is a competitive, but cheaper UTV. It’s probably worth around the same as a new Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. (Image: UTV Underground)

Is SxS racing cheap? No. Hell no. “Cheap” motorsports are a used PlayStation and a copy of Gran Turismo.

But if you’re serious about building a competitive off-road racing program that you’re willing to commit to, something like a Polaris RZR is a great place to start because you can buy it basically ready to race out of the box, aftermarket support is massive, the learning curve to operating it is a lot softer than an old race buggy, and yes, it costs a lot less than pretty much every other racing class in off-road.

UTVUnderground has the whole breakdown and a lot more information about builders, how to get sponsorships, and where to race if you’re getting ready to go hardcore.