Las Vegas, NV
Competitors at the Best In The Desert’s Vegas to Reno event are usually racing all day to beat the setting sun to the finish line. At this year’s 25th anniversary event, a red flag condition on the course delayed the starting time for several classes including those competing in the Yokohama Tire Jeepspeed series presented by KMC Wheels. Setting off after 4:00 P.M. meant they would only have a few hours of sunlight; even less in the shadows of the high mountains; some of which rise to over 8000 feet. The route actually traverses those peaks, so getting over in the daylight is ideal. In addition to the rocky mountain passes, the course is comprised of fast powerline roads, dry lake beds, and sandy washes. For the most part, it’s fast, but that’s the big challenge of this race. There are 489 miles of punishment, all taken at high speeds.
Whether it’s in the daylight, or the dark, competitors have a race against time to cover that much ground in the allotted time. There is a nagging sense of urgency that permeates the drivers and their crews. If you start losing time, it’s not easy to get it back. If everyone is running flat out, you get left behind. It must have been torture sitting in the heat at the starting line with their subconscious minds screaming go, go, go. Once they did hit the dirt, they were greeted by thick, hanging dust for most of the way. It does rain frequently during the event, but this year’s sporadic downpours did little to knock down the wall of thick dust on the course. The long drive in the dust, at night, made it especially demanding on drivers, and navigators. The anxiousness, and constant pounding drained the energy from their minds, and bodies. Those who made it to the finish were as grateful as they were jubilant.Nobody made it through Vegas to Reno unscathed, in fact, both 3700 class Jeepspeed Outlaws that entered in the race suffered dnf’s (did not finish). Scott Wagstaff said they spent more time testing for the event than they did during the race, and Jerry Simonson also dropped out before the finish. Their fellow competitors in the Jeepspeed Challenge 1700 Class, the closest trucks to being stock, had a strong showing with 4 out of 6 making it all the way. Those who finished were Tim Martin in first, Mark Kammerlohr was second, Steve Palmieri third, and Michael Bosley in fourth. Martin and Kammerlohr finished in the same order at the previous race as well. It looks like the race to the championship is on.
Martin ran a very respectable time of 13:37:43.479. “Due to construction traffic that took longer than expected, we were “late” for our staging time but early for our eventual starting time,” said Martin. “We eventually started around 4:30; Vegas to Reno had now become a night race. Tony and I started and everything felt great. We thought we were running at a pretty good pace, but shortly after the course detour, we received a push to pass from 1785 (Mike Barnett was driving). They had caught us so I moved over. It was early in the race, and I had plenty of time to pass them back. Then I got another push to pass. This time it was 1714. I guess I was off the pace, so I picked it up a bit, and passed 1714 back when they were pulled over with problems. We caught 1785 at Pit 3 and got out ahead of them. Once we pulled ahead, we never saw them again until the finish line.
We watched the sunset and soon realized the upper light bar wasn’t adjusted correctly. The middle of the road wasn’t being lit up. We pushed as hard as we dared without over driving the lights. I was surprised at how some of the square edge washes were still very square after so many vehicles had already driven the course. We did a driver and co-driver change at Pit 5. Joe and Corey took over and continued to widen the lead for us. We pitted for gas again at Pit 7, adjusted the lights, and they motored on with no problems. At Pit 9, Tony and I got back in to finish the race. Joe and Corey had maintained the same pace and handed me a jeep in great shape to finish the race.
At least that’s what I thought. Just a couple of miles down the road, the fuel pressure started acting up. I couldn’t believe it. I had made some good changes to the fuel system, but here we were in the same position as Silver State. I quickly stopped so we could swap to a backup pressure regulator. Fired it up and everything looked good. However, after the first downhill section, both pumps continued to act up. Oh well, nothing to do but try and finish. At Pit 11, I jumped out to rewire one of the pumps to another circuit to see if it would help. No luck; still the same problem. Pit 11 to the finish took forever! I’ve been over the summit several times and knew when the uphill sections were over. What a relief! Gravity could take control as we had only a few more miles to get to the end. We both counted down the mile markers as we approached the finish.
With the sun now starting to rise, we crossed the finish line, and honestly there wasn’t much celebration. We were both so exhausted it was kind of hard to believe we finished. We did it! We are the 2021 Vegas to Reno Jeepspeed 1700 winners. That was a rough race, miles and miles of braking bumps into corners, acceleration bumps out of corners, rocks and more rocks, and square edge washouts. I smiled a little every time a bump knocked an involuntary “ugh” out of my son. It wasn’t just the old man in the driver’s seat that was getting roughed up. I’m very happy with how the jeep held up. I’ve got a long list of things to prep for Laughlin. Hope to see everyone there.
Thanks to my team: Tony (co-driver), Joe (driver), Corey (co-driver), Sara, Tyler, Jeremy, Jessica, Lance, Matt, and Squish. They were great all day and all night long and made first place possible. Thanks to JAZ Products, Jeepspeed, KMC Wheels, and Yokohama tires. No flats again at this race. The tires still look great.”
Mark Kammerlohr and his extended team had their own issues “We experienced a four hour delay,” said Kammerlohr. “Mike Barnett and Jeff Garzik were tasked with driving from the start to pit 3. Mike had probably one of the worst sections to drive with the dust from all the vehicles off the start. He did phenomenal job setting the pace for our day. He was hampered early on with some high temps so was not able to push as hard as he wanted to save the Jeep. He passed several vehicles and was pressuring Tim Martin. Before pit 2, the light bar broke; dangling in front of Mike while he was driving. At the pits, he had the 1714 cut the light bar off so he could continue driving with two hands. Coming into pit 3, Mike had taken the physical lead when we stopped to fuel, to switch drivers, and to look over the Jeep. At that point I got behind the wheel with Chris Nissley as my co-dawg. During the extended stop, Tim Martin took back the physical lead, and we unfortunately never saw him again until the finish. The light bar loss proved to be important as we began our stint at dusk. The A pillar pods were set as turning lights so they didn't help much. One headlight was intermittent, and the good one was pointed toward the sky. While it proved difficult without all the lights, I am convinced it may have been a blessing as I was not able to over drive the Jeep. From pit 3 to 6 it was really technical. There were high speed sections and washes. Chris was awesome as a co-dawg calling out everything and keeping me focused.
At pit 6, we handed the Jeep over to the Tichy's; Ken was driving and Adam co-dawging. The plan was for Tustana Motorsports to go from Pit 6 to pit 9. Still in second place physically, Ken was being tailed closely by the 1717 of Bryan Reagan. They passed each other back and forth with Ken leading about halfway to pit 9. Ken and Adam did a great job of maintaining their pace and bring the jeep back in mostly one piece. Somewhere along the way the head pipe cracked and was dangling. Pit 9 was another fuel stop and driver change; Adam stayed in as co-dawg. I'm not sure I could have pried him out of the seat as he wanted to cross the finish line in Reno even more than me.
Watching the tracker, it became clear that we weren't going to catch Martin unless he had a breakdown. There was a brief point when he had some trouble, so I was thinking we had a chance. Behind us, we had about a 50 mile lead over 3rd place so I knew we just needed to keep it together. We were able to pass a few UTV's and saw several broken down cars along the way. Each time we saw a light, Adam and I were both hopeful it was Tim, but it was not him. We kept pushing, and as the sun began to rise we were able to go a little faster. Adam was still calling a great race and it was cool to hear the excitement in his voice as we got closer to the finish. With about 10 miles left and still trying to catch Tim, I was driving through the surface of Mars. With race ending boulders and rocks on the course, I was praying for no flat tires or breakdowns. As luck would have it, we skated through all of it without having to stop. We crossed the finish line congratulating each other as we knew we had just accomplished an amazing feat. We finished the longest single day off-road race in the United States on the podium. I’m truly blessed and grateful for all that helped make it happen. Thank you to those in the Jeep, Mike Barnett, Jeff Garzik, Chris Nissley, Ken and Adam Tichy, and to those that chased the whole day, John Whitlow, Tommy Hare, and Kyle Perusse and his crew; Connor, Daren and Devon. Thank you also to T & J Performance for prepping the Jeep and all the sponsors that make it happen. Yokohama and KMC helping us go 500 miles with no stops for flats. Rugged Radios for helping us stay connected with the Jeep and chase crews and GG Lighting for providing the light to let us see.
”Much of this race takes place in some very remote country where radio communication can be tough. In the 4700 Jeepspeed Trophy Class, 4725 Jeff Harmonson battled against 4733 Andrew Hulse, and 4744 Brett Maister. Each team was either chasing the lights ahead, or fleeing from those behind; sure it was their competition. Harmonson unfortunately dropped out, so that left the 4733 Wolfpack team out front with Maister chasing. Every set of lights in the rearview mirror of the 4733 was thought to be Maister, and every set of lights Maister saw in the distance were thought to be from Hulse.
“It was the first time we raced Vegas to Reno in this 4733 truck, with this team,” said Wolfpack racing’s Wayne Guidinger. “It was really hot on the starting line so we were putting ice packs in our driving suits. After taking the start, we caught up to Harmonson, but had to back off due to the dust. It was too early for a risky pass. We then came upon them rolled over off the course. We circled back to make sure they were ok, and then continued. Our first issue was when the brakes went out. The T-fitting on the rear end broke, and the reservoir went dry. Maister got past us before pit 5. We also slipped a belt off; it was really hot so working on the truck was brutal. There were a lot of rocks buried in the silt that you couldn’t see. We caught Maister in the pits in Gabs, and beat them out. It was dark, and very dusty, but we put the hammer down. On a narrow mountain section I put a tire over the edge but kept on the throttle to save us from going over. It helped to get the adrenaline flowing and keep us alert. There was no wind so the dust was hanging like thick fog. You could not see ahead so we were going off the GPS. After pit 10, my co-driver started getting car sick; he was having dry heaves. It’s not easy watching a GPS screen when you’re bouncing around like that. We did a driver, co-driver swap at pit 11; still in the lead. The truck ran flawless, and we got the win. We had 17 people in 6 trucks; all volunteers. We had chefs prepare sack lunches for everyone before the race, and then they dumped fuel during three pit stops! We now have a win and two second place finished so our focus is on the championship.”
Brett Maister has teamed up with veteran racer Matt Lovell in a former Pro Truck that they modified to race in the Jeepspeed Trophy Class. They finished in second place. “We can’t hit the UTV’s but they sure hit us,” said Maister. “They bent our rear bumper which made it difficult to get the spare tire out. A fender mount tab rubbed on a tire causing a flat. Once we were in position to chase the leader, we were eating his dust for 2 to 3 hours. I blew a corner and hit my driveshaft on the only rock around. One of the bolts was stripped so we had to just putt it home. The course was super silty, and full of rain ruts, but when we could, we were flying. We were in a pine forest and the moon was bright orange from the fires; it was surreal. It was my Son Sean’s first race, and he’s hooked! Jeepspeed is just amazing; it’s definitely a driver’s class.”
The competitors were racing for bragging rights, and their share of prizes available thanks to Yokohama Tire, KMC Wheels, Jasper Racing Engines, GG Lighting, Rugged Radios, EVO Mfg., King Shocks, T&J Performance, and Action Sports Canopies. Vegas to Reno was brought to us by Jasper Racing Engines. The winners of each class also received a set of KMC Wheels, and a Rugged Radios gift pack. Because of such strong support, Jeepspeed racers are able to compete at a fraction of the cost other classes spend. The Jeepspeed series is the longest running spec class in off road racing. It allows competitors to build their own trucks if they wish, as long as they follow simple rules to keep the playing field level. When you want to go faster, all they have to do is go to the next class that allows more modifications. The teams also share a comradery that is unique in competition. They welcome the challenge, and rise to the occasion.