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Game Changer

Posted in Features on May 1, 2013
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Robby Gordon set a fast pace and ran a flawless race to take the overall win until he was penalized by BITD. Author: Matt Kartozian Photos: Durka Durka Photo/Art Eugenio/HighRev Photography

Robby Gordon TT Photo 67320598 Robby Gordon set a fast pace and ran a flawless race to take the overall win until he was penalized by BITD.

Many things come to mind when hearing the name Robby Gordon, and at the top of the list is racing. Not too far down the list are controversy, temper and winning. Robby has had a long career as a professional racing driver that all started in the 1980s in the deserts of the southwestern U.S. and Baja. His off-road resume is nothing if not impressive, and known by almost everyone in the Dirt Sports Nation. Seven SCORE championships (five consecutive), two titles in the Mickey Thompson stadium series, countless wins in Baja and the first American stage winner in Dakar. The versatile racer has also enjoyed modest success on pavement as well with multiple wins in NASCAR and CART. Most recently he returned from the legendary Dakar Rally with two stage wins and eight stage podiums. Just twelve days after Dakar finished in Santiago, Chile, Gordon was in Parker, Arizona, for the Best In The Desert Parker 425 to qualify his Speed Energy/Toyo Tire Trick Truck and defend his 2012 championship. Gordon would have stiff competition gunning for him in Parker including Rob MacCachren, Jason Voss, Kyle Conlon and Juan Carlos Lopez. The five-mile qualifying course was brutal as always, featuring rocks, deep sand, big whoops and huge high-flying jumps. Gordon was out of the gate like a rifle shot with his well-known aggressive driving style and looked to be the fastest of the day in the minds of most people watching. However, in the end, MacCachren’s ultra smooth driving earned him pole position by just six seconds over second-fastest Gordon. While six seconds may not seem like a lot, MacCachren averaged 64.39 mph to Gordon’s 62.93 mph.

With his eye on staying at the front, Gordon looks to introduce new technolgy to desert racing to give him an edge on the competition. Robby of the Future We spoke to Gordon before the race about his crazy schedule, the Parker 425 and his future plans. Right off the bat he shocked us with news that he will not defend his Best In The Desert championship. “I would like to run the full BITD series, but it is impossible schedule-wise, car-wise and with other business projects. Last year was a bit weird for me. It was a transition year from NASCAR racing back toward off-road. Maybe I will race the Mint 400 and maybe Vegas to Reno, but those would be the only two. Obviously I will be at the Baja 500 and 1000, but not the San Felipe 250. I love desert racing, but stadium truck racing is where I need to put my focus right now.” Given the sheer number of large projects Gordon is shuffling, we had to ask how he does it all. “How do I do it all? I work harder than everybody else and am creative. I also have a great support staff underneath me. A lot of times I don’t even make the decisions, I have good people around.” With Gordon having just completed the Dakar, of course, that subject also came up during our interview. “Our car, engineering-and racecar-wise, is flawless, but in driving it I failed. Last year the driver was there but not the car, but from Day Four home, I beat Stephane (Peterhansel) by 26 minutes. Even without our 30 minutes lost on Day One we would not have won the race. The reality is you have to be on it, every single day. It is so different from American motorsports.” While the Parker 425 is one of the rougher and nastier desert races in the U.S., Gordon really puts things into perspective compared to the Dakar. “A lot of people think coming here (Parker) with qualifying on Thursday, then tech and racing Saturday is hard. This would be Day One of Dakar followed up with six more days of racing after Saturday, and then seven more after that. It is just different than what we do in America. The work philosophy of my Dakar guys, coming here and running a one-day race is like a vacation to them. Obviously your attention to detail has to be good, but we have been pitting and finishing the car for three days and have only gone 12 miles.” Many in the Dirt Sports Nation wondered if 2013 would be Gordon’s last Dakar race now that he is starting the new Stadium Super Truck series, especially after seeing that the Dakar Hummer and the entire team are for sale. “I’ve got a couple people who have made me offers on my race team, lock, stock and barrel,” notes Gordon. “It’s north of five million dollars. When you look at all the tools, the support trucks, two racecars prepped and ready to go, it’s a bit more than five million. We put my Hummer on Race Dezert for one million and people said ‘yeah right’ but if you look at how many man hours are into that car to get it to the level it is at, it would scare people. The cars have no fiberglass and no aluminum on them, they are complete carbon racecars with a steel chassis. They are proper Formula 1-style off-road cars.” Even if the complete Dakar team is sold, Gordon does not completely rule out a return. “If the team is gone then it probably will not work into my schedule, or I will have a lot of work ahead of me building new ones.”

Robby Gordon 199x300 Photo 68808720 With his eye on staying at the front, Gordon looks to introduce new technolgy to desert racing to give him an edge on the competition.

Robby Gordon and his crew were ready to rumble (literally) at Parker. Corey Keysar was able to stay at the front of the huge field of 41 Unlimited buggies to take a class win. Secretive about the new technology found in his Trophy-Truck, Gordon even went as far as covering the shifter. Changing the Game? At the Parker 425 Gordon, who is always looking for an advantage over the competition, was testing a variety of prototype parts on his Trick Truck. “We are on a complete prototype program here at the Parker 425, trying a bunch of new things in prep for the Baja 500, it is our next big target. Obviously this is a good race though with 47 trucks, a huge race with lots of competition.” While Gordon declined to answer when asked for information about what parts are new, Albins has promoted that he is using their new ST-6 sequential six-speed gear box. The sound of his truck at full song and during gear changes was very distinct and most spectators knew something new was in the works. Despite the press releases from Albins and Weddle (Albins’ U.S. distributor) about the gearbox, Gordon is still secretive about it and the other changes even going so far as to cover the shift lever while the truck was on display at his merchandise trailer after the race. When Gordon talks about being a game-changer he is onto something, and uses examples from the current racing scene to illustrate. “The Riviera truck was built 25 years ago, it’s hard to believe, and that is literally what a Geiser truck is today. The Dondel truck that is sitting out there (at tech) is really no different than the Riviera truck either, it is within 1/2 inch at all pivot points. Our last truck was built 10 years ago and I don’t just build a new one to build it. The next one has to change the game again. There are so many ways to skin the cat, do you need 42-inch tires or 37-inch tires, or do you need 39s? We run 37s on the Hummer and 39s on my Trophy-Truck. Do I need 42s? I don’t know, I have not run them on the car. I know with the 39s the car does not stop as well as with 37s.” While avoiding specifics, Gordon did talk about the new parts in general terms. “It’s an evolution of engineering technologies, things we did not have ten years ago, or last year or were cost-prohibitive. If our package lives, it is going to change the game of Trophy-Truck racing, because you had better put another $100,000 on your truck bill. That is just for a couple of small pieces of carbon. I think all front-engine trucks will be outdated. I don’t want to talk about the changes, its proprietary. You don’t see my trucks in magazines. Guys take the pictures and use a wheel for the scale and piece it together, all you have to do is have a little common sense to do it. Why undress ourselves in front of everyone, we are here to beat people.” Fast forward to race day and that is exactly what Gordon set out to do. The Parker 425 was made up of three laps on the 142-mile course that wound its way from Parker, Arizona, east toward Bouse, north to the border of Bill Williams River National Wildlife Refuge and then southwest back into Parker and finishing with a pavement straightaway just a few feet from the shore of the Colorado River on the way into the Bluewater Casino.

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Jason Voss was able to stay close to Gordon the whole race and took the overall and TT class victory after Gordon’s penalty. The race started on the pavement of Highway 95 in downtown Parker as the sun was rising. MacCachren was first off the line with a one-minute gap and then Gordon took off in hot pursuit like Roscoe P. Coltrane chasing the Duke Boys. Recent rains in Parker kept the dust down on course, making it a non-issue for most. Gordon made the most ally what a Geiser truck is today. The Dondel truck that is sitting out there (at tech) is really no different than the Riviera truck either, it is within 1/2 inch at all pivot points. Our last truck was built 10 years ago and I don’t just build a new one to build it. The next one has to change the game again. There are so many ways to skin the cat, do you need 42-inch tires or 37-inch tires, or do you need 39s? We run 37s on the Hummer and 39s on my Trophy-Truck. Do I need 42s? I don’t know, I have not run them on the car. I know with the 39s the car does not stop as well as with 37s.” While avoiding specifics, Gordon did talk about the new parts in general terms. “It’s an evolution of engineering technologies, things we did not have ten years ago, or last year or were cost-prohibitive. If our package lives, it of the opportunity and caught and passed MacCachren by Race Mile 19 of the first lap. About the time of the pass, MacCachren started to suffer from engine issues and shortly after called it a day, pulling out of the race. After passing MacCachren, Gordon took the physical lead on course and never gave it up. He drove a flawless race with no mechanical issues or significant downtime, and did so at a blistering pace. However, lurking not far behind Gordon the entire day was Jason Voss. He kept pace with Gordon through most of the race. Five miles into the final lap, Gordon still held the physical and corrected-time lead over Voss with seven minutes separating the two on course. With just a few miles to go, Voss had shrunk the lead to six minutes but that proved to be just short of what was needed.

Voss Trophy Truck Photo 68808732 Jason Voss was able to stay close to Gordon the whole race and took the overall and TT class victory after Gordon’s penalty.

Jerry Whelchel helped pilot the Camburg Engineering 6100 truck to a class win. Penalty Box Gordon finished with a time of 6:59:14, with Voss five minutes back and a total time of 7:04:14, both drivers averaging speeds better than 60 mph. Gordon would not be awarded the win, however, as BITD’s Casey Folks hit Gordon with a 15-minute penalty for helicopter race support. The penalty dropped Gordon to third overall, with Voss getting the win and Gary Weyhrich taking second. Gordon was understandably upset with the decision and vowed to take action, demanding proof of the allegations when we spoke to him a few minutes after finishing. “We had a great race, a trouble-free race. I don’t believe we got a penalty. When I read the rules and what he (Casey) said we did, he can’t give me a penalty for that. He is saying the chopper talked with the pits. I asked him what did they say and he repeated it, but that is not the chopper communicating with me. They don’t have a leg to stand on, so not a big deal. He better not take the win away because it will go to a defamation of character clause because he said I communicated, unless he has physical proof, a recording. I want to hear their recording and I won’t take him to court. If he takes the win from us he will end up in court in a couple months, which is not going to be good for him or anybody.” The BITD rulebook addresses helicopter use stating that no aircraft are permitted for the purpose of race support. This includes but is not limited to flying over any race vehicle, transportation of drivers/riders and or support crews, communication with race or pit support vehicles or pits and spotting for race vehicles. Initially there was confusion over whether the penalty was for communicating with the racecar or the pits, but when we spoke to Casey Folks he was very clear that any communication between the helicopter and race team is considered race support and against the rules. Gordon and Folks talked the morning after the race to work things out, though Gordon still wants the penalty reviewed by third parties. A third party of a different sort entered the controversy a few hours after the race had finished. “Pistol” Pete Sohren wrote “F*** You” on the side of Gordon’s racetruck and then signed his name to show his displeasure with what he believed was Gordon cheating with a helicopter. Gordon and crew discovered the graffiti while back at their house and the team promptly loaded up and came back to town to confront Sohren. The two drivers and members of each crew clashed on the dance floor of the casino bar, but it was not a freestyle rap battle or a break dance fight. It was an actual fight and, much like a UFC event, it was even aired on the big screen TV behind them. The bar was full of people during the fray, but reports of what happened vary greatly. Some claim punches were thrown by both drivers, others say it was only crewmembers, and some claim it was nothing but hair pulling. What we do know is that Sohren was escorted out of the casino and given a citation, several members of Gordon’s crew were detained by security and a chunk of mullet hair was found on the floor of the bar. Gordon’s initial test of his updated Trick Truck at the Parker 425 was a success. On the clock he won the race by a significant margin over the competition, but the jury is still out on whether the new gearbox and other skunkworks parts will change the game again and make front-engine Trick Trucks look like obsolete Class 8s running in the premier class. However, it is safe to say that Gordon has a fire in his belly and is not done advancing the technology of the sport—or winning races.

Camburg 6100 Photo 67320604 Jerry Whelchel helped pilot the Camburg Engineering 6100 truck to a class win.

An absolutely massive field of Class 1000 buggies showed up at Parker and Ross Savage bested them all. BLUEWATER RESORT & CASINO PARKER 425 CLASS WINNERS February 2, 2013 Parker, Arizona

Ross Savage Class 1000 Photo 68808735 An absolutely massive field of Class 1000 buggies showed up at Parker and Ross Savage bested them all.

1400 35 Jason Voss 7:04:14 1500 1520 Corey Keysar 7:26:15 6100 6175 Jerry Whelchel 7:56:53 1000 1075 Ross Savage 8:11:14 1100 1178 Bryan Folks 8:35:18 8000 8021 Wayne Miller 8:46:12 7200 7281 Randy Merritt 9:00:37 2000 2019 Ryan Mattox 9:16:58 6000 6098 Edmund Chantler 9:18:33 3000 3019 Dan Pfister 9:45:59 8100 8108 Tim Casey 10:28:28 5000 5001 Steve Alexander 11:42:39 3700 3704 Bob Mamer 6:44:45 (two laps) 1800 1844 Kevin Brown 6:51:49 (two laps) 1700 1708 Eric Helgeson 7:26:14 (two laps) 7100 7124 Rich Severson 7:46:45 (two laps)

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