In the few days leading up to the Best In The Desert series Tonopah 250 race in Tonopah, Nevada the weather experienced drastic extremes. During qualifying for the unlimited cars on Thursday, the sky was clear and the temperature was quite pleasant. During contingency on Friday, strong winds, and frigid air slammed anyone who ventured outdoors. People on contingency row were bundled up in winter jackets and moved quickly between strong gusts of wind.
When race day came along on Saturday, the weather was near perfect for racing. The wind had died down to a nice breeze that was enough to blow the dust off the course and the sun warmed things up as the day wore on. Jeepspeed racers saw their own extremes during the 250 mile race. Depending who you talked to, the race was either a pleasant drive through the countryside, or a daunting test of perseverance.
In the Jeepspeed Challenge class 1700, Vegas to Reno winner Mark Kammerlohr, and his son Clayton, were looking to build on their previous win and move up in the championship points standings. Their plan went south when a competitor in another class made substantial contact with them from behind. “We started the day with high hopes on what turned out to be a fast track,” said Mark Kammerlohr, “Our goal was to finish the race as I knew Suebert was going to be fast, and tough to beat.
At about mile 41, our Alertrax indicated someone was behind wanting to pass. I hugged the right side waiting for the pass not sure who was behind. No one passed but then we received the signal again. We were not sure if it was a glitch or somebody was actually trying to pass. I maintained my speed hugging the right side. A few seconds later we were hit like an explosion and sent off course. It took a few seconds to collect our faculties and realize that we were punted and sent tumbling through the desert. After making sure we were each ok and climbing out of the jeep, we saw the “punter” stopped about ¾ of a mile down the road. The co-driver made his way down to see if we were alright, and in conversation about what happened he said they were driving in excess of 80 mph. A true testament to the quality build by T&J Performance is that my son and I walked away with little more than a headache and some sore muscles the next day. Hopefully we can put the Wrangler back together quickly and mount a run at Pahrump.”
For 1700 class racer Rob Suebert, and his co-driver Dustin Hoffman, they could not have had a better race. They ran trouble-free all day. Rob was down in Mexico preparing for the Baja 1000 race he will be running with the Strobel Trophy Truck team, so we talked to co-driver Dustin Hoffman.
“We got out front at mile 30 and had no problems; no flats; we never got out of the truck. The course was super fun; we averaged about 46 miles per hour. Our crew really likes these chase races because they get a chance to move around and see us on the course several times. We caught up to Bunch (3700 class) and made a pass on him.
We had such a perfect race it gave us the chance to talk back and forth in the truck about all kinds of stuff; we were having a fun time. We had one bit of a strange thing happen to us. We came across a huge stranded fifth-wheel trailer that was sitting close to the course way out in the middle of nowhere. The win gives us the points lead going into the final race in Pahrump, but we need to finish. We will go out and race hard in Pahrump. The plan is to set the pace and make the rest of the field catch us.”
The reason Billy Bunch was slowed on the course was a front hub that was going out. The part later failed and put him on the trailer. Fellow open class 3700 racer Eric Sigwing also had problems. Sigwing lost a transmission that took him out of the race. The 3700 class is for Jeep or Dodge sport utility vehicles and light trucks. They have to be recognizable as a Jeep or Dodge by brand grill, hood and fenders. The class draws all types of vehicles and is popular with the fans.
In the intermediate 2700 class, the race was a classic tortoise and hare battle with the hare coming out on top but the tortoise preserved his chances in the season long points chase. The hare was played by Wayne Guidinger in his 4 cylinder Jeep Comanche pick-up. Many of the vehicles in the Jeepspeed series are built in the family garage using readily available parts from the series sponsors like General Tire, KMC Wheels, Currie Enterprises, King Shocks, Rugged Radios, Rubicon Express, G2 Axle & Gear, Smittybilt, Howe Performance, NEO Synthetic Oil, Jasper Racing Engines, Southwest Boulder & Stone, and GG Lighting. Jeepspeed is the only spec class that allows you to build your own vehicle; as long as it conforms to a few simple rules. Many of the vehicles racing in Jeepspeed have competed in other classes with impressive results. Guidinger’s Comanche is the same truck that Mike Lesle took to victory at the Baja 1000 in 1989; racing in SCORE Class 7. Guidinger does his own work on the truck, working on it in his brother’s back yard. Jeepspeed is like the early days of offroad racing where grassroots racers built their own stuff and had tons of fun on a real world budget.
“We had a couple of little issues but we loved the course,” says Guidinger, “Before we got to pit 2 we started to hear a clunking noise in the front end. We limped into the pit and discovered that the right front shock shaft had come loose from the rod end. We just put some thread locker on it and threaded it back together. We focused on getting a good finish; stopping in every pit to get a splash of fuel and take a good look at the truck. We still managed to average 38 miles per hour. We learned a lot when we won at the Mint 400. We broke the front suspension there and lost some time fixing it in the Checkers’ pit. We chased after the leaders not knowing they had lost their transmission. They were moving on the tracker because they were on a trailer headed to the main pits. We did the same thing in Tonopah. We ran our own race and got to the finish. If we had not finished, our chances of winning the championship would have been over. With our second win, we have a chance to take it in Pahrump.”
The tortoise in Tonopah was Mike Shetler. Shetler is also in contention for the 2700 championship and needed to finish the race to stay in contention. “We certainly had an interesting weekend in Tonopah,” says Shetler, “During testing before the race our Jeep Cherokee ran great. We were sitting in line to take the start and the engine started running rough and missing. We left the line and it went into limp mode. At mile 30 we had to stop to top off the radiator but didn’t know where the coolant went, we weren’t overheating. When we got to pit 1 Mike Barnett, and Ian Massey jumped in to help our crew drain the oil and top off the coolant. We were getting water in our oil. We kept limping along with stops to top off the radiator. As we made it around the course, a lot of teams pitched in to help us. We got a five gallon can to carry extra water with us and a Trick Truck team gave us some fuel. Somehow the motor was still running and after pit 4 we actually passed the only other car on the course and went on to finish; it was a long day!”
Mike Shetler races with his sons who got an incredible life lesson on perseverance. A piston wrist pin on the motor came loose and wore a hole in the wall of the cylinder. The coolant flowed into the crankcase and mixed with the engine oil. That usually is a death sentence to any engine. The engine lasting for the entire race is just plain amazing, and is a reason why Jeepspeed racing is so popular. The tough vehicles they race are inexpensive and durable.
Established in 2001, Jeepspeed is the longest running Spec Class in desert racing. Its affordability, sensible rules, and strong backing from supporting sponsors make it very popular with budget minded racers who crave competition. The enthusiasm has spread to tube framed Jeep racers as well. In 2018, the 4700 class will be launched for open framed/chassis vehicles with any make production or crate motor and up to 37” tires. This class will draw Ultra4 type cars amongst others and several new builds are already in process.
Think you would like to give Jeepspeed racing a try? For information about the Jeepspeed racing series go to www.jeepspeed.com. There you will find additional info, deals on some attractively priced race Jeeps, Jeepspeed news, rules, forums, race results, videos and much more. Go to the Jeepspeed forum and you can read in-depth race reports from many of the Jeepspeed teams.