The Differences Between Racing a Truck and a Buggy
The green flag drops and we are off in a flash, the LS3 engine pushing me back in my seat. "Man, this thing really moves!" I think to myself as Sam Cothrun and I hurtle through the desert at triple-digit speeds in our attempt to win the VORRA Yerington 300. The race took place last Memorial Day weekend, but the story starts further back—a year Earlier, my friend Sam asked me to co-drive for him at the Valley Off Road Racing Association (VORRA) USA 500 in his 7200 truck.
For those unfamiliar with the class designation, 7200 is essentially a "mini Trophy Truck" with the only class rules being that you must have an 85-inch maximum track width, 37-inch maximum tire diameter, and six-cylinder engine. Otherwise, anything goes. Sam built his 7200 truck himself at his shop, Samco Fabrication, and it runs an inline six-cylinder engine out of a Chevy TrailBlazer. Despite only producing 275 horsepower, we went on to win the USA 500 last summer—not just our class but the entire field! Success like that is hard to repeat, but the experience definitely got me hooked on racing trucks.
As long as I can remember, I have always been into trucks. Prerunning, rockcrawling, mud bogging, it didn't really matter. I had other friends into Volkswagens, but air-cooled cars never really captured my attention. Volkswagens didn't have small-blocks or 37-inch-tall tires. It was not until I was introduced to desert racing that Volkswagen Bugs and their buggy offspring started to earn my respect. The light weight meant that big horsepower was not necessary, and these little Davids are capable of slaying some pretty potent Goliaths with the proper suspension setup.
So they have my respect … but there is a long, long way between respect and desire. In fact, in the desert-racing community, there is a marked distinction between "truck guys" and "buggy dorks." I didn't choose to be a "truck guy"; I was born that way. So was Sam, but even more than being a truck guy he is a desert racer. So when his 7200 truck was in a million pieces just weeks before this year's VORRA Yerington 300, he started to look for other options. Our savior came in the form of Frank Maciel, who sold his awesome Land Cruiser (which was featured in the August '07 issue of Off-Road) to fund a Class 1 buggy build. The Class 1 car started with a Jimco chassis, and Samco Fabrication added Fox coilovers and bypass shocks, a Fortin transaxle, and an LS3 engine. It was potent, but it doesn't have a bed on the back or an engine in the front.
Beggars can't be choosers, so Sam and I signed up for the Yerington 300 and strapped into Frank's buggy. I put my helmet on quickly, hoping no one would recognize me and start chanting "buggy dork." The first thing I noticed was that, instead of sitting with the transmission between us and burning my leg on the exhaust, we were shoulder to shoulder with the entire drivetrain behind us. Hmm … I might like this after all. Soon, the only thing my helmet was hiding was an ear-to-ear grin. Frank's buggy was fast. Actually, weighing 1,500 pounds less than Sam's truck and churning out 150 more horsepower, it was violently fast. Other initial impressions while prerunning the course included the easy visibility to check for flat tires or fast-approaching traffic from the rear.
When race day came, getting passed proved to be the least of our concerns. Sam and I started third off the line, with vehicles leaving in one-minute intervals. Just 20 minutes into the race, we passed the first car off the line, and we were in the physical lead less than half an hour later. Yerington is a 300-mile race set up with a 60-mile loop and a 40-mile loop. Racers have to complete three of each loop, and after doing the 60-mile loop on their first lap, they can do the remainder in any order they wish. We set the fast lap for the race on our first lap, and with some passes and small errors I felt that we were still leaving time on the table.