By Ray Alexander
Several years ago I was driving in the desert along a dirt road, and a moving experience was imminent. I desperately searched for the most worthless piece of paper in my possession. Ah, here it is – a tire warranty. In those days you could return a tire with 80% of the tread remaining and a hole in the sidewall that would accommodate a fist, the manager would look at it and shake his head saying, “We can’t warranty that, you put air in it.”
Today that piece of paper would be a BITD map. Their map shows the Henderson Convention Center along Water Street. The streets bordering the convention center are also named. None of the streets are connected to an external traffic artery. The words Lake Mead (Parkway is missing) are vaguely at the edge of the map, with nothing connected to it.
Downtown Henderson was barricaded with contingency row and technical inspection held on Water Street. This was like borrowing pages from K. J. Howe’s original Mint Race where competitors teched on Fremont Street. While they were busy smiling, shaking hands, and slapping behinds, us motorcycle guys were out racing. I didn’t see the test station for the tracking devices, but I guess all the tech work got done.
Twenty-five vehicle numbers had been randomly selected, and these numbers were called at the drivers’ meeting. One “wrist-banded” team member from each entry called must be present and identified. The penalty for missing the drivers’ meeting was one hour in time. Attendance was 100% with the Jeepspeed classes having several competitors called.
The Bureau of Land Management seemed to work at a hyper level in the Las Vegas district. If you broke down none of your support vehicles could assist you, only BITD and BLM vehicles were allowed in the racing area. This course had sections defined by orange cones; knocking down a cone was a time penalty. So, a guy is in a tight turn heading into a cone section, he decides he can’t make it without knocking down a cone or three. He goes outside the cones, what is his penalty? I hope there is not a parking lot in his future.
Some classes will be subjected to certain specification checks after finishing. A warning was issued about speeding along any of the roads in or near the race area. The next day I was doing seven mph with my front air dam grading the road, and I was hit with radar.
The course was south and east of I-15, near Jean, Nevada. It was long as it parallels I-15 and not very wide as it changed direction. I raced in this same area almost 40 years ago; the 15-story hotel and the prison were not there. I wonder if there were course markings advising against picking up hitch hikers?
The motorcycles, quads, and UTVs started at 6:15 in the morning. The classes containing Jeepspeed started at about 9 and ran two laps on an 80-mile course. The fastest classes started about 12:30 and ran three laps. Classes were started with contestants side by side. An odd number in a class meant someone started solo.
As the Jeepspeed classes roll to the starting line, Mamer and Berge were paired. Mamer cleared the start area first. Billy Bunch had a shoe tied to his rear bumper. I asked him, “What’s the shoe about?”
He replied, “Oh, I ran over someone, and that was all I could find.”
Bunch went off solo.
The 1700s followed. The 1712 and 1760 started side by side and the 1712 was taking no prisoners.
With that done I dashed across to the alternate pit. I found the 3704 leading with the 3777 second and the 3799 in third, or just as they left the start.
From starting deep in the field the 1712 came in leading, but Houston, we had a problem. The Baja Pits ripped the hood off and mucked around with various engine parts. The 1721 also stopped. They were teammates, but how far does this team thing go? There was a race going on here.
The 1717 Jeep took the lead; 1712 left pit road and did a couple of speed bursts along the road for pit vehicles. The problem was still there; his co-driver jumped out and got on top of the engine with some tools. Wasn’t it hot up there? Todd tried to reverse over an incoming pit vehicle.
Now I raced back across the course, trying to follow the path I had graded on the way over. I arrived and found a place to get some shots where there were not several other photographers. The 1717 came into the main pit in the lead. They had planned a quick fuel up and a driver change. Mechanical inspection revealed a loose tie rod.
The new driver squirmed in the seat while Vernak and Frey went by. They passed Frey and caught Vernak at mile 38 and ironically broke several front-end parts at that point. They did manage to get repair parts and completed the required two laps in 6 hours and 29 minutes. The duck and the frog came to mind, never give up.
The 1712 came by; it sounded like one sick puppy but still managed to get one wheel up. He had to have all the speed he could muster to make it up the rest of the hill.
I practiced taking shots of other vehicles. I am not a photographer and this is not easy. It seemed like forever before I saw the 3777 then the 1760 about 30 seconds behind, followed by the 3799 about one minute behind the 3777. The 1769 finished a very solid second, and the 1756 finished third. Clive told me the 3704 rolled.
Now the points situation might be unraveled to figure out class champions. An untold number of possibilities existed. There were six points events, with only the top four used for determining the champion; this made the points differential tight.
In the 3700 Class Billy Bunch (3799) was on top with 285 points. Bob Mamer was second with 280, and Brandon Berge third with 275.
The 1700 Class saw Michael Vernak (1760) winning with 265 points. Blue Water was one of his throw-away races. Eric Heiden was second with 260 points, and Todd Jackson third with 235 points.
Prior to this race I saw posts about Jeff Coan wanting to attend. After the race I found that Jeff was a Jeepspeed racer diagnosed with Lou Gehrig disease. The Thursday before the race he drove round trip to Phoenix to get an off-road wheelchair just so he could come see his pals. In the main pit there was a “tug at your heart strings” moment when Todd Jackson jumped out of his Jeep and ran over to hug Jeff.
In the finish area I saw some of the lighter vehicles being given a four-wheel weight check. One official said some of these were within 15 pounds of the limit. I didn’t see any fuel dumps around so I assumed the weight was finishing trim. Full of fuel the vehicle would weigh considerably more, conversely if one of the light ones had burned two more gallons of fuel he would be under weight.
The orchestration for one of the events has to be an overwhelming task. The people power and expertise is anything but small. At least a core of competency must be retained. Starting lights, scoring and tracking, vehicle weighing, and lighting are all electrical/electronic and must be transported, set up, and torn down. Miles of road and track are watered. Dirt is moved, flooded areas drained, the course is marked and unmarked. None of the event days are short, unless you consider the second day of V2R as short. But the one thing that BITD could use more help in is making maps.
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