Chasing the MORE ORAF 500 Off Road Race - Web Exclusive
The MORE ORAF 500 was only the second trip I had taken to the Lucerne area. The 1st being the 2006 BEARD 250 Shootout, a much shorter race and a different course. I decided to educate myself as much as I could about the course and surrounding area. After downloading a the course map from the MORE website I realized I needed to study the terrain features. Google Earth provided a decent image but lacked local roads and access points. Surprisingly Google Maps had the most detailed satellite images.
The Class 1 division was expecting 20 + cars, including several notable "Wheel Men" & "Hired Guns". Barry Karakas in his unique BK Fabworks 1 car, and Harley Letner in a lightning fast Alpha car. Even though the race was MORE's version of the annual MDR night race, our day started early departing from San Diego at 7:30 am and arriving at the start / finish area by 11:00. Brian had a quick stop to deliver some fresh graphics for the Kupiec class 10 car.
We felt that the early afternoon conditions, the piercing rays of sun and raging spring weather created a dramatic scene against the Johnson Valley Desert in the background. The Porter Class 1 was screaming "let me at it" like a bull ready to break out of it's pen. MORE had scheduled the green flag to drop at 2:00 pm. I had coordinated a rough game plan of where we planned to be and on what lap to capture as many photo ops as possible. We set up on the far outside corner near RM 1.1. It appeared to be a high-speed section, so we gave plenty of room for the cars to use multiple lines. As experienced desert racers we always sport brightly colored safety vests when working a race.
Listening in on the GHA Race radio traffic we confirmed Mario Gonzalez had powered off the start line in 2nd position by the time we were planted in and ready to capture the first wave of cars. A fury of dust led by a pack of wild class 1 cars swarmed through the whooped out corner led by number 1563, Motion Tire Motorsports. Several of the cars had closed the 30 second gap including Harvey Letner who took the clear outside line nearly overtaking the 133 Jimco car of Billy Wingerning. Soon followed by Larry Jacinto who made a spectacular pass on the 109 car.
Logistically it made since that we could beat the lead cars to RM 35 still on Lap 1. Moments later the lead cars were within sight and barreling down the straightaway. An apparent fierce battle was still brewing between 1563 leading and Letner choking on his dust right behind. We watched all the faster classes pass through with no significant action other then the Nitro Circus Trophy Truck who was running well into the 100 mph mark. Our Photo Op was a 2 ft. hole that was easily driven over with fast speeds and large tires.
Race Mile 34 was a tight technical corner that had filled with a small crowd of pit crews and spectators. I noticed a sharp bank was developing in the tightest corner of the main track and the VW based classes like 5, 9, 11s and even the light trucks and 1450 trucks where getting hammered and catching some air.
The Clouds had moved in and the wind was blowing. A Potential downpour was eminent. By The time the lead cars were coming through RM 34 on lap two, it was 3:30. I felt like we might be behind schedule, fearing we could loose daylight before Brian and I could complete our mission. Monitoring the GHA Radio traffic closely I heard the car screaming around the corner and down the hill. Mario Gonzalez was running up front in the top 5 easily keeping pace with the leaders, two wheels never the less.
The second the GHA car passed through I was in the FX4 Ranger and ready to jump to our next spot. A short cruise down a side road split off of Bessemer Mine Road we ran into GHA Chase 1 near RM 23. Brian came up on a cool VW Bug while catching all the cars flying through a quick S turn. I found an elevated hill on the edge of a small wash. The higher vantage point was perfect to take in the scenery and track each car through the open dessert. Back near Pit 2 there were many desert enthusiasts enjoying the atmosphere, riding Dirt Bikes, Jeeps finding 4X4 obstacles, kids racing Pit Bikes in circles, and everyone just having a good ole' time at the MORE Race.
The travel time to our next photo op was nice & quick. We were able to arrive at the contact point right before Letner hit a rough straight away wide open. The wind picked up clearing the thick dust trail as 2nd & 3rd place crested a far corner. The section was down hill and choppy through the sand. The cars had to maneuver through a small twist, holes, big rocks and several small dunes. Every Car flew through it all without lifting. Straight up and flat out each driver was pushing to make up time.
It was about 5:40, the leaders were well into their 5th lap and we were making out way back to the Main Pit area. The plan was to catch the GHA Car during the last scheduled pit stop at the start of the 7th lap. I knew we could not make it to main before Alex came through on the 6th lap so we had time to kill. Race mile 4 was there nearest area of the marked course and we ended up finding a decent spot. But when the cars came through for the 6th time the surrounding area filled up with dust and silt. Choking and exhausted we cut out to take a break at the GHA Racing Trailer.
The sun had set and the pits were alive with action. Each team was lost in their own race effort. Generators were blaring, impact guns firing away, welders humming all while a steady flow of race cars notched away their last laps. Attrition had taken its toll and thinned the field. As the race ended our long day in the dirt was coming to an end.
1 - Car 1596 Alex Gonzales
2 - Car 151 Rock Brabec
3 - Car 1546 Steve Raskett
4 - Car 132 Jennifer Clemison
5 - Car 188 Guy Petersen
6 - Car 25 Joe Willardsen
7 - Car 107 Barry Karakas
8 - Car 85 John Vaughan
9 - Car 76 Jason Ruane
10 - Car 133 Danny Wingerning