About 25 years ago, in the hours between their salvage business on the plains east of Colorado Springs, the Mandels would admire the wide-open, neighboring property.
What the blank canvas could be, they weren’t sure. It was 86 acres right off Colorado 94, a desert mosaic that morphed between brush and scenic bluffs.
“We just thought it was a really neat piece of property, so we got a loan and bought it,” Katrina Mandel said. “And then Ray just started fiddling around.”
Her husband fiddled around as a motorsport enthusiast does. He carved paths and jumps for his dirt bikes and side-by-sides.
“It was just supposed to be a personal track, a private track,” Katrina recalled. “He would make a trail, and then people would ask, ‘Hey, can we come ride?’ And it just kind of evolved.”
It evolved into RAM Off-Road Park, the business bearing Ray’s initials and representing his life’s passion.
It’s a heart-pounding, bone-rattling, adrenaline-pumping, playground of speed, big air and rock crawls for all of the motorsport world. Souped-up trucks and Jeeps maneuver through natural obstacles, while ATVs and side-by-sides also attempt sections of terrain with names like Mini Moab and Death Jump, and motocross types choose their winding, rolling circuits. There’s even a dirt plot set aside for RC cars.
“It’s hard to find this many different types of terrain in such a small area,” said Ray Mandel, a former pro UTV rider. “I’ve been to a lot of different places, but I don’t think I’ve seen anything this size with these many things on it.”
In the 1990s, the Mandels bonded by riding around the mountains beyond their native Colorado Springs. Now, they’re sharing that love with customers out on the opposite landscape.
On the highway toward Ellicott, drivers have had their heads turned by the dirt bikes lapping and leaping the track by a parking lot that takes on a tailgating scene on summer weekends. Not all pull off to find the trails sprawling outward, through a rugged tract of gullies and rock guts perched high enough for sweeping views of Pikes Peak and the Sangre de Cristo mountains far south.
“People have come out here and been like, ‘Wow, I didn’t know this was here,’” said Ray Mandel.
The people have been more in recent years, since he’s been grooming that head-turning track and word of RAM has spread. The Mandels have regularly counted 150 visitors on Saturdays and Sundays. Hundreds more are common on race weekends.
Brian Barsh has been a regular, along with his 10-year-old son. They’re among the park’s pros-in-training and kids-in-training.
His championship success? “Having this in my backyard,” Barsh said.
He’s traveled to parks around the country racing his ATV, “but there’s something about this place,” Barsh said. “There’s something for everybody, that’s the No. 1 thing.”
RAM is different from neighboring tracks and others elsewhere that orient toward dirt bikes and are exclusive to members. RAM, meanwhile, charges vehicles that drive through the gate, where waivers are also signed. The forms lay out the risk of injury or death from collisions or any number of unexpected factors on the trail.
For the risks, the park breeds a kind of camaraderie, said another regular, Shaun Beauchamp. “Everybody’s friendly,” he said, “because you never know when you might need a friend.”
Friends have been made in an unexpected place. They’ve been made on Tuesdays called Girls Ride Toosdays. One of the five Mandel kids who grew up at the park, Shawna Mandel, has hosted dozens of fellow women on those days dedicated to skill-building.
“When I was younger, it was hard for me to meet other girls. All my friends were guys,” she said. “I just wanted to dirt bike with other girls.”
She’s made RAM her own, like her father before her. The park has demanded a lot of work — “the only downfall from all of this,” Ray Mandel said. “I work more hours now than I ever would’ve worked in my life.”
He doesn’t get to ride as much anymore. But he doesn’t regret his creation.
“It’s just seeing other people enjoy it,” he said. “That’s what makes it worthwhile.”