by Ray Alexander • also see Blue Water Desert
Ahhh, back in the desert again. I am so thankful that most people traverse the desert without experiencing it. They experience the highway, plastic facades that cater their needs and discomfort when moving from one air-conditioned environment to another. When I go to the desert with a purpose for being there, my personality changes when my feet hit the dirt. That lasts until the starting flag drops, the timer counts to zero, or it is time to pack it up and head home.
JeepSpeed runs the General Tire-sponsored 1700 class and the Allpar-sponsored 3700 class. This was the first race with the newly named “Allpar Outlaws” class. See rules and team lists.
Race headquarters for this event was at the Aliante Station Hotel and Casino just north of Las Vegas. It is located on a freeway that is yet to be built. All of the surface street overpasses are built and look strange passing over nothing. Online maps don’t know the location of this hotel as they keep telling me it is in Henderson. With help from a UPS Store in Henderson I find the place, about twenty miles away. When I got on I-15 north of downtown I could have found it by simply following “chase trucks.”
The event overwhelms the hotel. Parking space is hard to find. The parking area designated for hotel use only had an ample number of race support vehicles parked in it. In contrast, the Silver State Race barely makes a ripple at Sam’s Town. The number of race entrants is similar, but the number of support vehicles is far less.
The method for applying decals is also very different; here a couple of quarts of water are poured over the decal then applied. A Silver State car is carefully misted where the decal will be placed; the outcome is about the same, three bubbles per square inch.
The first thing I tried to do was register as press and get my flashy vest. Printed material indicated this would be with driver registration. It was not. I was told it is in the tech area. Outside I find Jeepspeed and eventually hook up with Clive Skilton, the founder of Jeepspeed. He also needs a vest, but by the time we actually register it has moved inside. Mission accomplished, we both have beautiful yellow and orange BITD vests.
The race vehicles pass through “contingency row” as they go for technical inspection. Here they can pick up decals for products that pay finishers/winners using their products. Jeepspeed threatened to check wheel travel on some, but didn’t actually check any.
I am meeting people at a rapid rate. The Simonson clan rolled to tech together. The driver of the first is a man, the second is a woman. They are not man and wife, they are brother-in-law and sister-in-law.
A couple comes in with a Jeep of past fame. They wanted to race and bought the vehicle sight unseen. The vehicle was sent directly to a shop for race preparation. I notice the flex part of the brake line is suspended by a bungee cord. This looks more like an on the trail fix than race preparation. The Jeep was “rattle canned” military colors as a final step.
The man said, “I know it’s not much, but I just wanna race.”
He finished third.
Someone tells Clive that Billy Bunch just went through with illegal wheels.
Clive mumbles, “Billy is my problem child.”
We catch him before he clears tech. They discuss various options, none very drastic. Clive gives Billy a waiver for the wheels.
I noticed Bunch shown as age 68 in the entry list and asked him, “At 68, why are you still racing?”
He replied, “I have to race or I die.”
I wonder why I asked him. I am 72 and still open road race and drag race.
I looked inside a couple of Jeeps and noticed a hole in the floor. Dust is going to boil through that. I got home before I realized the hole was for the catheter tube.
The driver’s meeting was long and boring. The pits at Mina were under water this morning and some of the equipment working there got stuck. Assurance was issued that everything was now under control.
The race actually starts in Beatty, located about 100 miles north of Las Vegas. Another short night of sleep.
Parking and staging are nicely separated. Final race preparations are being made; still people have time to talk with idiots and strangers. The next group of vehicles will start to launch at 9:30. Clive loaned me a radio, so I assembled and tested it. I was sure it worked, but Clive didn’t answer. I picked a place to get some launch photos and began to understand the value of my vest; it is identical to staff vests and allowed me to go virtually anywhere. Other spectators were held well back from the track.
I saw a person that looked like Robbie Gordon, just as he was strapping in I went up and said, “You look like Robbie Gordon.”
He laughs and says, “Now let’s see if I can get out on the course and drive like him.”
It was Robbie Gordon. He looked taller standing on top of a motor home at Phoenix International Raceway.
Casey Folks is the main man for these Best in the Desert events. He had a sign that he held in the face of every drive. I am almost certain this sign read, “Reno 534 miles”.
I raced motorcycles in the desert for many years and I was amazed at how clean all areas were. Too many people think the desert is their trash can.
The 3700 vehicles stage before the 1700s because last year the 3700 class had the better time. That will reverse next year because 1760 beat everyone. With these two classes launched I am off to pit #1 of 15. From here the day becomes a blur, about 3 a.m. the next morning it was very blurry or is that bleary?
The part of the entrance to Pit #1 that I saw had a washout about a foot wide. The last thing anyone needs is a stuck rental car. It seems that everywhere I look there are race cars and dust. I go to Pit #4 at Goldfield. I don’t stay very long because I can’t get close to the action. So I go on to Pit #7 at Smoky Valley. There I talk with the 3799 crew and the Checkers pit people. 3799 is going to make an unscheduled driver change here. The Checkers tell me the 3799 regularly tears up the 3700 class. Today things are not so good; the 1760 started behind them and is now well ahead.
All the pits have been in flat areas, good for pitting, poor for action shots. I ask the Checkers where I might get some action shots and their reply was Mina. I head for Mina. It is going to be dark soon and I haven’t eaten all day. I get an excellent burger in Mina from a questionable looking place.
The road through the pit in Mina had been freshly worked. It was cut down about 18 inches. BITD had to dig that deep to find the ocean of basketball size rocks. One vehicle had turned over in this pit before I got there. There was a lot of time between vehicles now, but they seem to come in pairs. Here I met some locals who were volunteer course workers for BITD.
All day I hear only a couple of guys on the radio. Clive and I never touched base. Later I find that Clive’s son was hurt and Clive spent the night in Tonopah Hospital with him. A classic message that I did hear, “I copy all of that, now what did you say?”
I decide to try getting ahead of the 1760, so I go to Pit #15. There are not many people here. I check with Baja Pits and 1760 has gone through. The Baja Pits seem to have their act together. I wanted to get photos of them pitting a car. I waited and waited; no car ever came. A motorcycle eventually showed up. The closing time for this pit is 9 o’clock tomorrow morning. The crew was taking turns napping.
Even with most vehicles carrying multiple spare tires I saw flats being run. I am sure there is a tradeoff to run a flat if the distance to a pit is less than X miles. The value of X is likely determined by the driver.
I didn’t make it to the finish before the 1760, nor did I see it.
Here are the results; the 1700 class finished three out of ten starters.
The 3700 Class finished four out of five. The one that didn’t finish, was the one modified with a Chevy 350.
The class leader was 3722, run by Dan, Mikki, Chase, and Chad Simonson. Billy Bunch (with Tarek Karam, Craig Johnson, and Brandon Thompson) came in next, followed by Brandon Berge (with Joe Reyes, Scott Harvey, and Lee Orr) and Ted Holt (with Gary Cann, John Coleman, and Jimmy Penner). The other Simonson entry, 3767 (Kathy and Jerry, with Kelsey and Bryan Mueller), did not finish.
Stories I read after the event:
Events like this are good for the economy.
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