Thursday, August 25, 2016

Vegas To Reno… The Looong Way






Apparently the folks from Best In The Desert decided to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the longest off-road race in America by making it the toughest race in America, too! The General Tire Vegas To Reno "The Long Way," Presented by Fox also featured a unique split into two days and nearly 350 entries, including 60 UTVs. As the defending winner of this race, DragonFire decided to stack the deck with a full house of racers, including last year's BITD Pro Unlimited UTV class winner Lacrecia Beurrier, short course sensation Corry Weller, Lucas Oil Regional champ Bobby VanBeekum and UTV Rally Raid winners Jimmy Keys and Russell Griffin.

"DragonFire really upped the ante for the 20th Anniversary of V2R," says DragonFire Racing's Operations Manager Brice Ginn. "With a pair of queens in Lacrecia and Corry and a couple of kings with Bobby and Russell, not to mention a Joker with Jimmy, we thought we had a winning hand to beat Vegas To Reno... we really did." Pre-race odds placed VanBeekum at 4:1, Buerrier at 6:1, while short course sensation Weller went off in a nearly stock Yamaha at 7:1 and the KeysCrete team wasn't even on the board.

Unfortunately a raw deal saw Bobby VanBeekum having to fold on Day 1. "Very sorry to say we did not finish the first day... We lost the water pump line which ended up taking out a head gasket," explained the odds-on favorite to win the DragonFire Cup awarded to the top finishing DragonFire team. "I do want to thank all the great sponsors that stand behind us and let everyone know we will be back out front next time."


"We were ready to repeat with a V2R win, but silt happens," quips last year's winner Lacrecia. "We were lucky enough to begin this race in the top 10 after a 3rd place finish at the Laughlin Desert Classic and hoping to run clean to the finish on the first day." Day #1 was a 296 mile dash to the finish in Tonopah... or was supposed to. A military helicopter crashed on the course just hours before the start on Friday morning. The crash area was declared off limits by the military, which left Best In The Desert scrambling. Casey Folks and the BITD crew came up with Plan B: When the racers reached Pit #1, they clocked in and then had to load up the race vehicles and take them down the highway to Pit #2. This resulted in the race being able to continue around the off-limits area.


Plan B worked, but it couldn't prevent the carnage that ensued. Race Mile 6 marked the start of a very deep silt bed... something short course racer Weller hadn't seen before. "When we hit it, we were in a complete white-out. While you can't just stop in the silt, it's extremely dangerous to just plow through at full speed, so I did my best to maintain a decent speed, but not go so fast that I couldn't make a sudden stop if I needed to" says Corry.

"That is when we started to see the ghost images of upside down trophy trucks, just the rear wheels sticking out of the ground, and outlines of drivers and co-drivers waving frantically at us to avoid the carnage all around," she explains. "One of the shadowy figures waved us to a space just big enough for us to squeeze through without stopping. We managed to make it through that mess without stuffing our own YXZ1000R into a ravine or hit anything."

The efforts of good Samaritans somehow saw all three remaining DragonFire teams make it through to the restart at Pit #2. "My team unloaded, fueled and sent us back out still in the top 5," says Lacrecia. As the teams plowed through another 200 miles of pure silt, belt temps began reaching 240-degrees, overheating the CVs and melting the occupants inside the race cars. "Luckily a couple of water crossings gave us a bit of a cool down. We crossed the finish line on Day 1 6th overall UTV and 3rd Pro Production UTV."


The wildcard entry of Jimmy Keys and Russell Griffin did even better on Day #1. This couple of jokers came all the way across the country to compete (normally they race the UTV Rally Raid Series in the Southeast) and they made the most of their spot at the table, finishing just in front of Lacrecia 5th overall and 2nd in the Pro Production class. "We love Lacrecia and Corry, but we didn't come all the way across country to finish second," says Keys.

Desert racing newcomer Corry Weller started 27th position in class, out of 30+ entries, and after all of the Production Turbo UTVs. "We also started after the bikes, quads and trophy trucks," she notes. "This meant a very torn up course for us and very deep truck ruts... but that was to be expected." Nothing like eating the dust of 300+ entries and running a basically stock UTV in the longest desert race in the U.S. for a real trial by fire. "We wanted a light and simple race car for our first outing, so we went with stock suspension and only added the basic Best In The Desert safety requirements because we know what a great machine the Yamaha YXZ1000R is for this type of racing!"

A twist for Day 2 was that all vehicles started in order of finish... that meant Trophy Trucks, buggies and UTVs were all mixed up. "This time, not only were we in the top 10 of the UTVs, we were running in the top 65 of all the cars and trucks," says Lacrecia. "Our DragonFire teammate Russell Griffin just beat us on time Day 1, so we started right behind Jimmy who was in the saddle for Day 2. Although we always wish our teammates well, we didn't want to be eating Jimmy's dust all day."



There was no wind at the start and the dust was thick as the #1970 RZR of Keys took off. One minute later the #1924 Rockstar RZR headed out after the KeysCrete car. "We passed them quickly and tried to get some time between us. Just before we hit the pit, at Race Mile 100 a belt let go. As we struggled with a hot clutch and a bent clutch tool, we lost a couple of spots, including Jimmy in the #1970!" explained Lacrecia.



Meanwhile, Corry Weller was on a mission, charging up through the pack on Day #2. "We finished 90th overall on Day 1, which meant we started ahead of a LOT of trucks and fast buggies that had broken the day before. Having smaller, slower UTVs starting in front of large, fast vehicles makes for some really sketchy situations - I was glad we had made a sturdy rear bumper on our YXZ! Tapping a bumper in desert racing is par for the course, but the UTVs and smaller vehicles are equipped with a blue strobe so that the larger vehicles know not to touch us. I think they all ignore that rule, and my neck is still feeling it..."

Running with the big dogs did help Corry catch up to the front of the UTV field. In fact coming into the final 50 miles, the three DragonFire cars were in order on the track and made a charge for the podium. Dreams of an all-DragonFire podium will have to wait for another day, but at the end of the longest race in America, #1970 Griffin, #1924 Beurrier and #1870 Weller finished 5, 6 and 7! "Just to finish this race is a huge achievement, but to finish where we did is awesome, especially in a stock machine," adds Weller.

When the silt settled, the DragonFire teams were topped by KeysCrete's 5th out of 34 in the Pro Production class UTVs; 10th overall out of 70 total UTVs (including the Turbos and three new Maverick X3s) and 62nd overall out of all the truck/car/UTV class entries. "Guess it really is true that three of a kind beats the two pair we had at the start of Vegas To Reno," says DragonFire's Brice Ginn.


"We think this is a pretty good accomplishment, given that we run a bone stock motor," says Russell. "I just want to say, that without my team, and sponsors, this would not be possible. Just keep a watch out, we are going to give the ole girl a bath, and get her ready to give them hell at the Blue Water Challenge. See you there!"
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