By Ray Alexander • Also see Vegas to Reno
The starting area for this race is just off U.S. 95, and I assumed still within the city limits of Parker, Arizona. The format was for each class to race two days, making three laps each day over a 25-mile circuit. If an entrant failed to complete three laps on Saturday, they were still eligible to race on Sunday. Two vehicles would be set off together. They had three very wet turns and about a half mile to sort out who would be the early leader of the pair.
A desert racer has few opportunities to run on slippery terrain, still I saw some good skid control. Others need to go to Bondurant and get in the skid car. The entire course was laid out in a very small area; it switched back and forth three times across the pit area. This provided easy access for spectators. From the starting line the course heads directly back into town, crossing under U.S. 95 twice.
I applaud the effort required to make this race happen; however, I didn't like the outbound and inbound trails being very close together in several spots. There were a limited number of vehicles on course at any given time. This served to minimize face-to-face meetings, but I would bet some meetings occurred under the highway bridge.
I chatted with Bob Mamer (#3704) about his turbo application. Bob said, “I am using only three pounds of boost, but was getting a big horsepower gain.” What does that tell us? The AMC six-cylinder had incredibly bad breathing?
Every racer has a cross to bear in preparing for an event, let’s peek at a few:
Bob Mamer (#3704) blew an engine on the dyno while preparing for Vegas to Reno. He didn't make V2R so his preparations began then.
Eric Heiden (#1717) confessed to being the guy who held the starter in place after a rock cleaved it from the block. He blew the engine several miles later. Heiden is in the thick of the points battle. That made it much easier to understand why he tried to continue when faced with adverse conditions. Even though it’s an extremely effective method for preventing theft, Heiden does not recommend it.
Todd Jackson (#1712) rolled twice very early in the V2R race. He replaced three doors, the top, both front fenders, and the hood. The top is integral to the body, so the old top was cut out and a replacement welded in. Then he got a spiffy new paint scheme.
Brandon Berge (#3777) has a built 318 engine. It is not an engine that excites me, but on his second and third laps on Sunday he was chewing up the terrain.
The 1700 and 3700 classes were in the group that started at 5:45 a.m., when it’s cold and dark. Quick-release straps that functioned perfectly in bright sun refused to release in the dark. Be prepared.
First a disclaimer before discussing Saturday’s action. The primary driver listed in the program was not always the driver; in fact they might not be in the vehicle.
The most astounding incident was that Richardson (#1724) knocked out his co-driver. I saw the helmets being inspected in tech and assumed they were rated by Snell for “special applications.” Richardson said his co-driver was out for about three minutes. BITD had a rescue team come check the guy out. During my racing, I have seen all of the planets in multi-color and most of the stars in the universe, but I have never been knocked out while wearing a helmet.
Jim Hall (#1763) struggled about four hours but completed the required laps.
Nikki McGee (#1793) beat her husband. Never mind that he had trouble because on Sunday she was ahead of him again before coming face to face with a DNF.
Brandon Berge (#3777) had trouble and posted a video of being hit by Billy Bunch (#3799).
Michael Vernak’s (#1760) DNF threw the rod for cylinder number two on lap two.
First in the 1700 class for the day was Todd Jackson (#1712). For the 3700 class it was Bob Mamer (#3704) in first.
After the race I went back to town for breakfast and to the hotel for a nap. I came back to the pits about 4 p.m. and discovered my note pad was missing. I used the inside of a McDonald’s bag for notes, and the next day I used the back of sheet of paper having my room reservations in Ely, Nevada, for the Silver State Race in May of ’13.
I found most of the class 1700 cars parked together. The first vehicle I noticed was this sad-looking Jeep with no engine parked away from everything else, like it was quarantined with a contagious disease. Then I saw an engine hoist in front of the #1760. This was when I discovered a small hole had been punched in the engine that was powering it earlier.
Vernak and three other guys were working on this vehicle. The guy doing the least amount of work was obviously in charge. I asked him, “Will this be ready by sundown?”
He replied, “That’s what we’re shooting for.”
Vernak had located a Jeep that was going to have the engine changed and bought the engine. Then the guy gladly agreed to let Vernak remove the engine. So Vernak bought an engine hoist, towed the Jeep to the pit area, and yanked the engine. I stayed to see this finished.
I strolled through the area and Jackson offered me beer, whiskey, or water. I declined because my van was just a few feet away, and it had whiskey and water.
Eric Helgeson (#1708) was checking shock and tire pressure. He had bent a rim so badly it was leaking at the bead. If I were racing in this environment, I would run tubes.
Kevin Adler (#3702) burned a spark-plug wire on aftermarket headers. I noticed that the air filter for the engine was located in the cabin. The air there would be cleaner and cooler than any taken from under the hood.
I noticed Mike Barnett smoking a very nice-looking cigar, probably smuggled in from Havana.
Back to the #1760. The last thing Vernak did was change the oil. The first thing I would have done would be drain the oil and run a magnet through it to see if metal particles were present. The oil just sat there and when I could no longer constrain myself I asked hum, “Aren’t you going to run a magnet through the oil?”
Vernak replied, “Nope, that’s all I have, and I don’t want to know.”
The engine fired on the third revolution and ran as if it had been started yesterday. There were no leaks, no adjustments, and no “oops we forgot this.” Great work under far-less-than-ideal conditions. The horizon was just beginning to clip off the edge of the sun.
All of this work and Mike can earn only minimal points for laps completed.
Sunday action, it started even earlier than yesterday. I wanted to ride out on the course to get some better photos. If I would have had a map instead a cartoon, I might have gotten to where I wanted to be, instead I made it only as far as the rock pile.
By 5 a.m. the course was already heavily watered for at least a mile. On an ATV you pick one of the ruts; the other side is in the middle of the trail. Combine the slick ground with the deep ruts and several times I thought I was going to roll. I got off the trail and rode beside it as soon as I could. I got to the rock pile about the time the flag should have been dropped for the first pair.
On the first lap #3704 and #3799 were close together with #3777 trailing. On the second lap #3777 was leading making fast tracks across the sand. The #1724 came to rest very close to me. He said he had a broken link and would make it in. I asked, “Is there anyone in the pits you want me to tell?”
He replied, “There is no one in the pits to tell.” These guys are from Oregon. It immediately reminded me of having to drive myself 200 miles with a broken collar bone. I had no one in the pits then either.
Todd Jackson (#1712) took a run at me just to scare me, and he did. I could tell the car was under control but it just kept coming. Some of the UTVs dipped so low in deep ruts that they threw dirt on themselves. I would fix that.
It was time for me to pack up and go to the finish line. The first Jeepspeed to the finish was #3777 of Brandon Berge. Not only did he not get beat by a 1700 class, he beat the 1700 class winner on corrected time for Sunday. Still, it was not enough for a 3700 class win, given his troubles on Saturday. Bob Mamer (#3704) got the class win, and Billy Bunch (#3799) was third.
Todd Jackson won the 1700 class. Gorge Mortis (#1721) was second, and Eric Heiden (#1717) was third. Mike Vernak finished the Sunday race in fourth.
The points race is very tight in the 3700 class and not quite as tight in the 1700 class. Stay tuned for the last race of the season Dec. 1st in Henderson, Nevada, also known as “Las Vegas.”
I wish I could capture a picture of sand feathering off the top of an open wheel at high speed.
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