Nevada is a place of extremes. Consider the dry, harsh, triple-digit summers juxtaposed with the cool, clear waters of Lake Mead. Consider the platinum-plated plush lives of casino tycoons compared with the poverty and drought in which the region's first settlers lived. Consider a short cruise down the Las Vegas Strip with the dry, dusty, pounding washes and two-track roads that Best in the Desert racers faced on their 500-mile trip from Las Vegas to the checkered flag in Reno. You want moderate? Sorry, not here.
For 2003, the longest race in the United States was sponsored by the Tube Specialties Company (TSCO) and organized and run by BITD's top-of-the-totem Casey Folks. The race began outside Las Vegas in the town of Alamo, Nevada, and ripped through Nevada's backcountry to finish 500 miles later in Reno. Racers had no time to stop for history lessons, but along the way lay several towns with links to Nevada's rich past as a silver-mining region. Hawthorne, Silver Springs, Tonopah, and Virginia City all helped to put Nevada firmly on the map as a place to find hidden treasure. Virginia City in particular was instrumental in financing the Union during the American Civil War with its vast silver deposits. Literary treasure was also discovered in Nevada, as satirist Mark Twain's writing career began with a stint at a Virginia City newspaper.
If the racers didn't notice Nevada's history, they certainly noticed its terrain. Nevada's topography is formed by a series of uplifted and down-dropped tectonic blocks, which alternate across the state. Steep, high mountain ranges look down on low, flat valleys. This topography, called range and basin respectively, is difficult to traverse. Yesterday's explorers and today's racers negotiated steep mountain passes and silt-laden dry lakes. The very act of finishing the race was akin to striking it rich. This year's bonanza went to Kyle Taylor and his Fabtech Trick Truck. Taylor, 33, of San Jacinto, California, teamed with Gordon "Smokey" McKiel, 34, of neighboring Palm Springs. The duo's familiarity with harsh desert conditions combined favorably with premium equipment for a winning combination. Nevada's silver boom may be over, but its racing boom is in full swing.
While Trick Truck drivers bask in the plushness of unlimited wheel travel, stock mini-truck racers such as Mike Koenig must not only use production framerails, they must also retain their vehicles' stock upper and lower A-arms. Class-mandated 12 inches of front travel took Koenig from Vegas to Reno for a Fourth Place class finish. Way to tough it out!
Phoenix, Arizona's Jesse Jones keeps fast company. For Vegas to Reno, he teamed with fellow off-road standout Scott Steinberger. The team lost their driveshaft not once, but twice, on the way to the finish line. After the second driveshaft called it quits, they received a tow to the next pit where the repairs were made. The third driveshaft took them to the finish line for 32nd overall, Third Trick Truck.
Al Hogan enjoys wide-open spaces, calling Big Sky Country home in between SCORE and Best in the Desert contests. The Columbus, Montana-based racer finished 17th overall, 18th Protruck.
From the Supercross champ of the late '80s to the Southwest deserts of the new century, Rick Johnson is a name shared by some fast individuals. This Rick Johnson, Rick D. to be exact, took his Barstow, California-based F-150 Protruck across the finish line for First in the Protruck Class and Fourth overall, beaten only by Kyle Taylor's Trick Truck and two Unlimited Buggies.
Curt LeDuc has his own stable of racing trucks, but other teams have called on his services on several occasions. For Vegas to Reno, LeDuc took the wheel of his own Skyjacker F-150 to win Class 8000. LeDuc, of Cherry Valley, California, and his wife Nancy are the parents of three children. Todd LeDuc is a professional downhill mountain biker who won the 2001 National Downhill Championship. Kyle, also a professional downhiller, joins his father on the CORR tracks of the Midwest, competing in the Pro-lite wars. Valerie LeDuc is an aspiring singer. Curt is adept as slower speeds, too, as he's placed well in several rockcrawling competitions.
For those who want to race an SUV but don't want the restrictions of the Pure Stock 3100 class, the Production Utility Short Wheelbase Class 3000 offers an attractive alternative. Front wheels are allowed 15 inches of travel, while rear travel is unrestricted. This class also allows for V-8 engines displacing as much as a whopping 470 cubic inches! The classic '66-'77 Ford Bronco has long been a favorite ride for Class 3000 entries, but Carlton Beal III and the rest of his Midland, Texas, crew campaigned a Nissan Pathfinder to a Class 3000 victory.
Kevin McGillivray won Vegas to Reno's Protruck division in 2001, and he was looking to mirror that performance this year. The Agua Dulce, California, resident nearly pulled it off, finishing Second Protruck in the 500-mile contest. While many Protruck drivers opt for Ford power and F-150 body panels, McGillivray filled his spec-built chassis with a small-block Bow Tie, figuring that a Chevy engine belongs in front of the Chevy Turbo 400 transmission that every Protruck uses.
When Nick Baldwin isn't pushing his Riviera Racing Trick Truck through the Southwestern deserts, he's pitting his Pro-4 racer against the fender-slammin' tracks of the CORR series. Mr. Baldwin crossed the finish line in just more than nine and a half hours to claim Second in the Trick Truck division.
While Scott Douglas's two racing trucks are both Fords, his Pure Stock Ford Explorer is radically different from his CORR Pro-4 F-150. The CORR truck is a scratch-built thoroughbred with fiberglass skins, while the Pure Stock Explorer retains original doors, framerails, and suspension components. Even the OEM ignition must be retained in this class. Douglas pushed the OEM gas pedal and Rancho-damped OEM A-arms to Fourth in class.
Despite the arrival of the overshadowing Trick Truck Class, Class 8000 still has a lot to offer. While the rules mandate stock framerails and stock engine placement, the production fullsize truck division takes advantage of four-link rear suspensions and as much as 18 inches of front suspension movement. Keith Moore took his Fly-N-Hi Chevy to Reno for a Fourth Place finish in Class 8000.
The General's 4.3L V-6 is an extremely popular powerplant. Basically a small-block V-8 minus two barrels, the Vortec V-6 pumps out as much as 200 hp in stock trim. Eric Hardin figured that a speedy Open Mini Truck should be based around this venerable V-6, so he chose a GMC Sonoma that came with the sought-after powerplant from the factory. His Vortec motor, Deaver springs, and Bilstein shocks took him to Second in the Open Mini Truck class.
Stock Full Size contender Mark Handley knew that his division required OEM suspension configurations, so he chose a Ford for the Blue Oval's proven I-beam front suspension. The Carlsbad, California, resident gassed his Goodyear-shod F-150 to Reno for Third in the Stock Full Size contest.
If flames make a vehicle faster, then Marc Stein is going warp speed. The San Diego, California, resident pushed his Ford Expedition to the top of the Pure Stock Production Full Size SUV division. The Goodyear tires, Bilstein shocks, and Borla exhaust may have helped, too.
Wisdom and experience often emerge victorious over youthful energy. Need proof? Corky McMillin consistently places high in Unlimited Buggy races at 74 years of experience. Need more proof? Malcolm Vinje decided to build a proven Ford Ranger for Vegas to Reno's Stock Mini Truck contest. Final proof? The 60-year-old won Stock Mini at Vegas to Reno. Case closed.
Protruck's other Rick Johnson, Rick L. of Oak Hills, California, went against the grain and bolted a Toyota I-Force V-8 in his Protruck chassis. Though smaller in displacement than the Ford, Chevy, and Dodge offerings, the Toyota mill makes up for it with newer technology, such as dual overhead cams with four valves per cylinder. Johnson occupied his Protruck-mandated Mastercraft Pro-36 seat for most of the race, sharing driving and codriving duties with teammates Ken Nance, Lee Perfect, and Louis Chamberland. The quartet took the Toyota Protruck to 12th in class.
Aaron Dixon's Lompoc, California, home is closer to great surfing and fishing than it is to prerunnin' and racin' terrain. Dixon's driving skills and vehicle preparation took his Pure Stock Mini Ford Ranger to Best in Class and 26th overall. Pure Stock Mini trucks must use stock I-beams or A-arms as delivered from the manufacturer, and reinforcing these components is severely limited. As a result, a successful Class 7300 driver must use caution to save the damage-prone stock components. Deaver springs and Fox shocks make the most of the limited suspension travel.
If you haven't heard of Larry Roeseler, now is the perfect time to get familiar with one of the fastest guys on the dirt. Larry has driven with Terrible Team Herbst, MacPherson Racing, and has ridden for Team Kawasaki, Team Husqavarna, and Team KTM. Two wheels or four, L.R. is a tough one to catch! Vegas to Reno saw Roeseler pilot Team Orbit's Open Mini Ford Ranger to a class win, 18th overall. Later this year, L.R. will take some time off from his Hesperia, California, KTM dealership to ride in the Paris to Dakar rally.
Mike Falkosky decided that late-model was the way to go for his Pure Stock SUV. The '01 Ford Explorer Sport made the Vegas to Reno trek in just more than 12 hours to a Class 3100 win.
Like Falkosky, Greg Foutz went for a late-model Super Duty for his Stock Full Size race truck. Stock class rules dictate the OEM dash and bed must be retained. Fortunately, some reinforcement is allowed in key areas of the vehicle. Although he races a Stock Class truck, customers of Foutz Motorsports can commission Greg and his crew to craft a scratch-built race vehicle out of his Tempe, Arizona, shop. The silver F-250 won the Stock Full Size contest.