The Best In The Desert series Vegas to Reno race, at 505 miles, is the longest offroad race in the United States. The course traverses every type of punishing terrain you could imagine, and some you can’t. This year there was a section of deep mud, in a normally dry desert, only a few miles from the finish. The rest of the course is made up of silt, sand, and rocks of all sizes. Mother Nature also supplied some extreme temperature swings that were over 100 degrees during daylight, and then plunged to near 40 degrees at night. The higher you go up, the colder it gets, and elevations on the course varied from 3,000 to over 7,900 ft. The high temperatures cause the fuel to boil in the lines, which creates havoc when the engines die without warning. One racer dubbed a section of the course “Vapor Lock Mountain” because so many trucks had problems scaling the steep trail in the heat. Some Jeepspeed racers succumbed to the course, while others achieved important milestones. When you are tested to the breaking point, and endure to the checkered flag, it changes you forever.
One racer who is creating a personal milestone at every race is defending Jeepspeed Challenge Champion Rob Suebert. He and co-driver Dustin Hoffman drove the entire race without relief on their way to their 4th win in a row. They wrapped up another championship with one race to go in the season. They are planning to race in the 4700 Jeepspeed Trophy class as soon as their other truck is ready. When that happens they will be racing against Billy Bunch and Jesse Archer. That will be a clash of the titans. At Vegas to Reno they had a conservative plan.
“Vegas to Reno is a grueling race for me, mostly because I'm crazy (or dumb?) enough to drive the entire thing,” said Rob Suebert. “Luckily I have a co-pilot that I guess is just as crazy to sit next to me the entire distance. We talked strategy prior to the race and decided to take a relaxed pace early on and let everyone sort out positions. We were helped in this task by drawing the last starting spot. Then two late entries put us sixth off the line out of eight. The two drivers behind us, 1741 (Gieselmann) & 1714 (Biehl), have been pretty quick in past events, so it was going to take some self-control not to get wound up in a sprint right from the start with them. Between the start, and pit one, we had gotten around 1788 (Murrell) and 1733 (Bosley), but Biehl was going faster than us and he got past. We followed Perry, who was following Nissley, all the way to pit 2. It was a little comical as Perry called us on the radio and asked if we wanted by. We replied that he was doing fine; we were good where we were, and content to follow for now. Dustin and I laughed at this as it didn't sound like we were in a 'race'. Out of pit two as the course started to climb, Nissley had some issues, and pulled over allowing us to go by. Now we were sitting second behind Jimmy. Not much further though, Jimmy had to pull over too as he was having vapor lock/heat issues. Suddenly our Sunday drive pace put us in first place. We had some high temps as well, but we crested the summit before we got hot enough to have to pull over. From there on we kept putting time on the rest of the field. We had some crazy go arounds with stuck or broken cars blocking the course, but we had the four wheel drive front end installed for this race, and that paid off. The last 15 miles of course was horrible as always, and after nearly 14 hours in those seats we cleared the finish line for win #4 of the season.”
Jimmy Perry was one of the racers who got a tombstone at V2R. He had vapor lock problems which cost him a lot of downtime. When he then broke a leaf spring at race mile 224, he ran out of time making repairs, and could not make it to the next pit before it closed.
Second place in class 1700 Jeepspeed Challenge went to Scott Biehl. He and his co-driver Eric Brown shared the driving with Travis Fletcher and his nephew Brad Fletcher. They started last but were in the lead by pit 2. “When I got into the Jeep at pit 2 we were already down a couple hours due to vapor lock problems,” said Scott. “The fuel was boiling in the lines so the engine would cut out. We were lucky to maintain 60 miles per hour, even on the flat, fast roads. We were just going for a finish, but we kept passing people stuck or stopped on the course. We normally stop to help, but we had to keep our momentum. Our tracker wasn’t working so we did not get a warning when we approached a stopped vehicle. Once the sun went down, the truck came alive, and we made up a lot of time. Then we hit something in the dark. I don’t know what it was, but we broke a brake line, and bent a wheel so bad that it wouldn’t hold air. We limped to the next pit with no brakes where we were able to change the wheel and get one front, and one rear brake caliper working. We decided at the last minute to come, and I’m glad we did; it was fun. We had 2 chase trucks, and running so slow at the beginning turned out to be a good thing. The chase trucks were able to get ahead of the truck before each pit. We thought it would be great to finish so we are happy to get 2nd. The racing really started at the top of the course when it started to cool down.”
Third place went to Chris Nissley, a personal milestone for him. “It has been a goal of mine for many years to race my Jeepspeed at the famous BITD Vegas to Reno, this year I got my chance,” says Nissley. “I was joined by some Ex Jeepspeed racers that made up what we used to call The Cartoon Network; Mike Slater, Bryan Dodge, and Jesse Martin. We were lucky enough to draw the first starting position. My plan was to run as hard as I could to pit 1, and see how my time was compared to the fast guys in the class. By the time we got to pit one, the Jeep was running in the 235-240 degree range and we had to really take it easy. The plan then was to not worry about everyone else. and concentrate on figuring out how to finish. As we left pit 2, we were passed by 1720 Jimmy Perry and 1724 Rob Seubert. About a mile out of the pit the Jeep started acting up. This time we died and it didn’t want to start. Rene, and I sat for a few mins trying to come up with ideas as to what our issue was. I decided to try to start the Jeep, and it fired right up so we took off! We made it half way up the Radio tower hill when the Jeep cut out again!! This time the entire Jeepspeed class passed us!”
“The decision was made to leave to hood off and try to make it to pit 3 were our crew was waiting. After several mins the Jeep fired, and seemed again like it wanted to run. We left with the hood zip tied down on top of the spare tire. We made it up the hill, and started down. Our progress was quickly halted by a Trophylite that was stuck sideways on the narrow trail. BITD recovery showed up a few minutes later and took about 15 minutes to get the TL turned around, and moving. The very next corner a much larger truck was dead in the middle of the trail. This time there was some room to get by, but as I squeezed past the truck I caught its front fiberglass with my right rear quarter panel, but we made it. Taking the hood off the Jeep seemed to help a bunch and we were able to run at a decent pace through the massive silt bed heading to Pit 3. At pit 4, the guys took some time to look everything over, and then sent us on our way. As we headed out into the desert we came up on 1733 Mike Bosley stuck in the silt. It looked like he may have been hi-centered. I felt bad that I couldn’t help pull him out. I don’t have a place for a tow strap on my rear bumper, and with my Jeeps performance questionable at best I decided to leave him there; Sorry man! About 15 miles later the bad desert Karma from leaving the 1733 caught up with me, and we got our first flat. At Pit 6 Rene and I gave the Jeep over to Mike Slater and Aaron Adams for their 100 mile section. This break gave us time to re-hydrate and get some food for our final push to the finish. My ego usually doesn’t allow me to split driving duties but with the distance and the heat it was a necessary move. After passing the 1706 all we had left to do was finish to get 4th place. At about mile 503, I came around a corner, and blasted a huge rock with my right front wheel. I thought for sure it was going flat. My steering wheel was way crooked! At about mile 504 we saw lights in front of us. It was BITD recovery helping other racers. We stopped to ask if our tire was going down. They gave it a look, and said it was good. As were making our way past the line of UTVs, and trucks that BITD was helping, we noticed a Jeepspeed in the front of the line. It was the 1741 Kyle Gieselmann holy crap! Passing him put us in 3rd!
We passed him, but 30 seconds later we saw his lights coming. I’m pretty sure he knew this was for position. He was on us quick so I decided rather than push through that super rocky section we were in, I would let him by. As he passed us, I told Rene that Kyle was sitting on that hill for a reason. He may not make it to the finish. As soon as I said that, we saw Kyle's brake lights come on. He pulled off the course, gave us a thumbs up, and let us by. We had only a half mile to go to the finish. Suddenly we heard a loud POP as our right rear tire exploded. I said screw it, and drove the jeep in on the flat to the checked flag!” Kyle Gieselmann did make it to the finish for 4th place, and Jeff Garzik was the last 1700 to finish in 5th. He had been struggling lately so it was a huge victory for him getting to the finish at such a brutal race. Michael Bosley, Mark Murrell, and the previously mentioned Jimmy Perry did not finish.
In the 3700 Jeepspeed Outlaw class, Robert Thomasson, and Scott Dzierzanowski would battle the elements, and each other. Dzierzanowski was unable to finish, but Thomasson made it to the checkered flag for the win. His race was literally like night and day. When the sun was out, he was crippled by vapor lock. Once the sun went down, it was like a different truck. “We started on the pole position, and held the lead for 70 miles,” said Rob Thomasson. “We tried a couple things but the vapor lock did not go away. We had not raced this truck up there, and it was our first time with this engine so we didn’t know it would be such a problem. Once the sun went down it was a completely different truck. We got back 2 hours that we lost earlier in the day after it got dark. We thought we should cross the line at 5 am, but we finished at 2:00 in the morning. It was still a long hot day; 14 hours in the truck. We can only get better at the next race in Laughlin; we are excited about that race. We’ll dump all the spares to save weight and go for it.”
In the Jeepspeed Trophy class, Billy Bunch and Jesse Archer took another win, but it wasn’t easy. “At 76 years young, Billy Bunch started at Vegas to Reno,” said Jesse Archer. “This was the first time in a year that the truck owner Billy had been in the driver’s seat. He ran the truck to Pit 1, and handed it off to me in perfect condition. The truck was awesome as we picked our way through the pack. The dust was heavy, and we had to take some chances to get through the pack. By Tonopah, we were deep up in the Turbo UTV's. I hit a sidewall killer rock in the rocky, silty lines around the back of Tonopah. That flat cost us a bit of time. From there we had a clean run the rest of the way to Pit 9. Thursday evening, and into Friday morning before the race, I wasn't feeling great. I had some bad Pizza. Luckily Bob Keehran happened to be in town, so we had Bob fill in for a 100 mile section from Pit 9 to Pit 12; so I could get out for a break. This was the first time in the truck for Bob. Around race mile 385, Bob had zero visibility, and ended up getting stuck on a silt hill. It took an hour, and a half for them to get out. I waited at Pit 13 to get back in. Rob Suebert had a great run, and came through about 15 minutes before Bob showed. Ryan, and I jumped back in, and the push to the finish was on. We passed by Rob on the old road after Pit 14. From there, the truck cruised at an amazing pace, up, and over the last 20 miles. It was such a great race filled with endurance, and team work. Congratulations to all the other winners, and finishers.”
2020 will be Jeepspeed’s 20th season. We are the longest running spec class in U.S. desert racing. Racing in the Jeepspeed series is challenging, and rewarding. Designed to be an affordable racing series, Jeepspeed racers benefit from strong sponsor support. In addition to the Jeepspeed bonus money at every race, Jeepspeed racers also get the normal prize money offered by Best in the Desert, plus contingency awards. Tuff Stuff 4X4 gives offroad accessory products to the winners of each class at each race. Action Sports Canopies will be giving away a canopy for the overall Jeepspeed champions at the end of the season. The support for the Jeepspeed series by sponsors General Tire, KMC Wheels, Currie Enterprises, Action Sports Canopies, Jasper Racing Engines, Rugged Radios, Tuff Stuff 4X4, Rock Krawler Suspension, King Shocks, and T&J Performance helps to make the series very affordable, and contributes to the excellent quality and performance of the vehicles.
Another reason Jeepspeed is so popular is the very simple rules that allow you to build your own vehicle if you choose. Jeepspeed has 4, progressively more modified classes available. Jeepspeed now has a class for any desert race vehicle that is recognizable as a Jeep or Dodge. Jeepspeed racers at Vegas to Reno showed that anyone can be competitive on a shoestring budget. When you want to go faster, it’s easy to make changes to your existing race truck, and move up into faster classes as you go. Jeepspeed is the best series for the average racer as the costs are reasonable, the sponsor support is very strong, and the fun level is off the charts. 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 for sale, 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. The next race will be in Laughlin, Nevada on October 10-13. Whether you show up as a competitor, or as a fan, you won’t want to miss it.