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2014 BITD Vegas To Reno: An Adventure Across The Nevada Desert

Posted in Events on October 15, 2014
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Photographers: Eric MinksPhil Kaos

Our adventure begins in the 100-degree heat just out front of the Aliante Hotel and Casino parking lot in North Las Vegas. A record 325 vehicles have to pass through contingency and technical inspection. Racers from every class mingle around the parking lot to bench race, discuss race strategy, and look at parts on each other’s vehicles.

Harley Letner was one of 33 Class 1 cars at qualifying for Vegas to Reno.

The Qualifier
The story started a day earlier with qualifying 30 miles south of Las Vegas, in Jean, Nevada, behind the Gold Strike Hotel and Gambling Hall. Forty trick trucks and 33 Class 1 cars lined up vying for that top spot that would get them out front early in the Vegas to Reno race. It was no surprise that defending trick-truck champion Jason Voss had the fastest lap of the qualifying session. Voss is the defending Best In The Desert Champion. Voss also won last year’s Vegas to Reno race. Sam Berri, a Las Vegas off-road veteran qualified his single-seat buggy in second. Berri is one of those few elite racers who doesn’t rely on his GPS to guide him through the desert. He really only uses it to monitor his speed. Berri says he shuts it off several times throughout the race. That’s what makes him a veteran. He’s been racing by himself in the car for years. It wasn’t all balls and strikes for an unlucky few. Las Vegas native Bryce Menzies would start in the back due to rolling the truck in qualifying. Menzies typically does well in long endurance races like the Vegas to Reno. He has put in his time in the deserts of Baja.

Officials have to check 325 vehicles before they are cleared to race Vegas to Reno.

Easy and Cost Effective to Chase
Vegas to Reno is the longest off-road race in the United Sates. Casey Folks has been working on this race for 18 years. Folks says, “There is no other state where you can race off-road vehicles across an entire state.” Folks also says, “Vegas to Reno attracts people from all over the world to come and take that challenge.” The race is 535 miles long. It runs a variety of Nevada terrain, including 8,000-foot elevations to dry lake beds where a vehicle could easily top speeds of 120 to 130 mph. Folks points out the Vegas to Reno is affordable to race. “You don’t need two weeks of prerunning.” The 15 pits have been strategically laid out so chase teams can easily chase the race down the highway and go from one pit to the next. “A lady from New York driving a motorhome can pit for her husband,” Folks says.

Excitement Building
At 5 p.m. the convention room in the Aliante is packed on all sides with racers and chase crew for the mandatory drivers meeting. Over one hour and several “booyahs” later, Casey Folks tells everybody to have a safe race and the meeting is over.

At 7 p.m., we find ourselves heading out into the middle of nowhere chasing the setting sun over the Nevada desert. We are in Chase 3 for Steve Sells Wrecked Racing Class 1 team heading to the small town of Beatty, Nevada, 1 hour and 40 minutes northwest of Las Vegas. It’s not a large town. Population is just over 1,000 residents. There are only six hotels, each with an average of 50-60 rooms. All of the hotels have been sold out for months. The lucky few who managed to get a reservation are getting settled in for the night. Beatty is convenient for race teams because the start line is here. Beatty is a popular spot among those looking to check out the mystique of the famed Area 51 or those traveling to Death Valley National Park. Car manufacturers stop in the town after long hot days of testing air conditioning and engine performance.

Robby Gordon raced his Dakar vehicle—the Gordini—at Vegas to Reno.

Race Day Adrenaline
It’s 5 a.m. and the blazing Nevada desert sun hasn’t even peaked over the mountains. The bikes, quads, and UTVs have an early start. The first bike is off the line just before 6 a.m. The four-wheeled vehicles start at 9:30 a.m. There is one odd entry in the bike class. Two brothers have entered a snow mobile in the race. The Erickson Brothers are racing a turbo Polaris Rush to raise awareness for MS.

Chase teams begin pouring into Beatty. The local Denny’s is filling up with teams trying to get a last-minute bite to eat. Gas stations are doing swift business. Teams are topping off their tanks for the long drive. Everybody is gearing up for a long day. Coolers are being filled with ice. Cases of water and sodas are being purchased. As we enter the starting area, there is a long line of chase trucks trying to get in. Crews are scrambling to make last-minute adjustments on race vehicles. The Best in the Desert radio channel crackles with radio traffic as Jason Voss’ trick-truck heads over to the starting line. The other trucks and class 1 vehicles stack up in qualifying order behind him. Anyone who has raced Best in the Desert knows Casey Folks is a hands-on type of person. It’s no surprise to find Folks at the starting line shaking hands and holding up a sign wishing the racers luck.

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Green! Green! Green!
At precisely 9:30 a.m., the electronic light at the starting turns green and Jason Voss blasts off into the desert. We jump in the chase truck and head out to Pit 1 in Springdale at Race Mile 33. Voss and a handful of Trick Trucks are already moving through at the carefully regulated pit speed of 25 mph. At the end of the pit is a sign stating they can resume race speed. Sam Berri, who started second comes in late and makes a pit stop. A minute later he’s back on the move. As we leave the pit, radio chatter comes in that Brandon Bailey in the Stronghold/MAVTV Class 1 has rolled the car. We see his chase team coming from different directions on the highway to assess the situation. We push on.

Jason Voss is the first truck out into the desert when the race starts.

We make a quick stop at Pit 3. The snow mobile crew is there; they were involved in a heavy repair. They have been down for some time and are trying to get back into the race. We move on to Pit 4 located in the town of Goldfield. Set behind the town cemetery, it seems like every chase team involved in the race is here. Space is tight. Voss has already come through and is still leading the race. We watch as the TSCO race team, all decked out in fire suits and helmets fuel one of their trucks. The pit stop takes about a minute. Our Class 1 driver, Steve Sells decides to do a codriver change back at Pit 3 so we move on to Tonopah. It’s a town with a couple of hotels, several gas stations, and some fast food restaurants. Chase teams will stop here to refuel and grab food as it will be couple of hours down the highway before there are any services, and they still have several pits to stop at. As we are eating we get a call that Steve Sells needs a power steering belt. Other chase crews attempt to handle the situation, and we need to keep moving north toward Reno.

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No Sleep Till Reno!
The road is long and desolate. Several pits are scattered throughout the highway. There are no services for miles. As we near the town of Hawthorne at race mile 389, Best in the Desert announces over the radio Jason Voss has won the Vegas to Reno race. Voss now has two consecutive wins at this race, and this year’s Parker 425 race, which sets him up nicely for another season championship.

The sun begins to set. We can see dust in the valleys and race cars begin to turn on their lights. It’s still a hundred miles to the finish line. The never-give-up attitude of the racers and chase teams is incredible. At this point all they want to do is finish. We get a phone call stating the Steve Sells is out of the race with a broken hub. Sells only made it 170 miles into the race. Throughout the night race cars and teams will stream into the finish line accomplishing the impossible, realizing they have just embarked on the most awesome adventure and the longest off-road race in the United States. Casey Folks is right there to congratulate every single one of them.

Steve Olliges brought back the old Ford Rough Riders paint scheme for Vegas to Reno.

Overall Vegas To Reno Results
1 1- Jason Voss 8:29:28
2 7- Dale Dondel 8:44:09
3 98- Gary Weyrich 8:46:35
4 94- Steve Strobel 8:56:00
5 76- Jesse Jones 8:58:00
6 1577-Justin Loftin 9:00:12
7 91-Troy Herbst 9:01:13
8 1520-Corey Keysar 9:11:01
9 32- Shawn Croll 9:11:59
10 16- Cameron Steel 9:13:41

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