Merely finishing the Best In The Desert series’ Vegas to Reno race (V2R) is tough enough, but Jeepspeed racers were battling tooth and nail for every inch of the 644 miles. The General Tire Jeepspeed series presented by KMC Wheels and Premiere Automotive is known for stiff competition and affordable racing. At V2R, caution was thrown to the wind, competitive drive took over. The entire course was either covered in choking silt or littered with sharp rocks and boulders. This year’s event would take place over two days, with an over-night stop in Tonopah, Nevada. The break in action gave crews a chance to make repairs and drivers to catch their breaths. It also allowed a reversal of fortunes for some. Jeepspeed had a good turn out with Cherokee, Wrangler, TJ, Comanche, Ram, Grand Cherokee, and 4 door Wrangler JK’s in the lineup.
In the General Tire Jeepspeed Challenge class, the top two points leaders Skyler Gambrell and Tim Martin were showing the speed they have used to gain all those points. Gambrell drove the Coan Brothers red Wrangler to the class lead after day one. He caught and passed Rick Randall after Randall got stuck in deep silt. “We set off into the dust knowing there were bottlenecks in the silt beds ahead,” said Gambrell, “Race mile 6-12 had some of the gnarliest silt I have ever fought through. With a lot of luck I was still within the collision light of Randall as we headed up in the hills out of the silt. I managed to squeeze past him when he got stuck in a super silty 90 degree left hander and was first on the road at about race mile 20. I had no other excitement through the rest of the day but there were lots and lots and lots of silt beds and the blinding dust that comes with it. I made it to Tonopah 1st in class with about 30 minutes lead on a hard charging Randall.”
On day two, Perry Coan took the wheel with Gambrell riding in the right hand seat. Day two became a three-way battle for the lead between Coan, Randall, and Martin. “Somewhere past pit 9 we had a fuel pump issue,” Gambrell continued, “I decided to put a new pump on. While swapping pumps, Randall made his way past. We set off again with fuel pressure and time to make up! Unfortunately, our fuel issue was not resolved; it turned out to be a heat and altitude issue. We ended up dousing the pumps in cold water and it would spring back to life. I was out of the car a total of four times on day 2 monkeying with the pumps.”
“After a fuel stop at pit10, we pulled out of the pits about 4 seconds in front of Martin. We both left the pits neck and neck and shockingly saw Randall pulled over a couple miles out with the hood off. We were back into the physical lead with Martin right behind us. We had about an hour time cushion from day 1 so we kept our head down and clicked off mile after mile of clean running. We made it across the finish line at dusk with a class win in Jeepspeed! We are so stoked to keep a solid season going. We had no flats, and no issues other than the fuel pump. Thanks to Jeepspeed, Clive, Mike, and everybody else! Our General Tires and KMC Wheels were as tough as can be; we finished on the same four that we started with.” Gambrell finished an amazing 85th place overall.
In contention for the win, Rick Randall was actually driving wounded. He was trying a different air filter on day one and it collapsed in the housing. It choked off the engine causing his truck to die in a corner; the same one that allowed Gambrell to make his pass. The silt that flowed over his hood also got sucked through the intake and into the engine. After hundreds of miles, the grit inside the engine wore out the piston rings causing a lack of compression and stopping him dead in his tracks.
With Randall out, it became a race between Coan and Martin on day two. “We had as close to a perfect race as you could get,” said Martin, “The truck was getting hot in all that deep silt on day one. We had to pull over a couple times to let it cool, but never got out of the truck. We figured that since we lost time on day one we would not be able to chase the leaders down on day two so we ran our own pace. We were surprised when we caught Randall and Coan at pit ten. A mile later Rick was pulled over and they had their helmets off. (Usually a sign that they will be there awhile). It was now a two truck race. We knew Pee Wee (Coan) was driving but both he and Skyler are very fast. It was very dusty until we got close to the finish; then it was rocks, rocks, and more rocks. We wanted to chase them down but decided it was better to finish on the podium than to break in the final miles.”
Finishing third was first time racer John Grewell. He used to pit for a Trophy Truck team and always wanted to get behind the wheel. He met Jeepspeed’s Mike Barnett who helped him locate a race Jeep and make the purchase. With strong support from Jeepspeed sponsors General Tire, KMC Wheels, Premier Chrysler Jeep of Placentia, T&J Performance, Rock Krawler, Synergy, Currie Enterprises, G2 Axle & Gear, Howe Performance, KC Hilites, King Shocks, Rubicon Express, SmittyBilt, and Rugged Radios, it makes it easy to get started.
“I had very little seat time before the race but I had 644 miles to figure it out,” said Grewell, “The first ten miles of the course were just crazy. It looked like a war zone with trucks buried and rolled over everywhere and a thick layer of dust hanging over everything; the silt was unbelievable. We got through that but hit a corner a little too fast and rolled onto our top. We had to wait for a Best in the Desert official to turn us back over; that ended our day. We got it all fixed in Tonopah and were ready to go on day two. We had no radio communications so we couldn’t talk to the crew. We got to the last miles of the course and knew we were running third so we just wanted to make sure we made it to the finish. We had no flats the entire race except to one of our chase trucks. Going into one of the pits, the chase truck got two three flats from the rocks. We were out until 3:00 am trying to find them. We are anxious to go to Parker even though we’ve never been there and have no idea what it’s like.”
In the General Tire Jeepspeed Outlaws class, Mike Bragg and Billy Bunch were mixing it up for the win.
“We finished with all of our body panels on the first day when others were getting stuck in the silt,” said Mike Bragg, “We came up on that big mess and went way around it. We ran good all day at a steady pace. We were 15 minutes from the finish when we had to stop and swap the fuel pump. Day two the course was completely different. It was faster and a lot more fun.
At mile 490 there was a UTV blocking the course. We stopped and got stuck ourselves. We got out and parked on the side so we could get all our gear together. It was like quicksand; just the vibration of the engine running would make us sink. We sunk to the axles and it took three hours of digging to get out. We went so deep we could smell Chinese food. We had to stop at the next pit to get tires because we aired down to get unstuck. It was getting dark so we fired up our new KC Hilites LED light bar on the bumper. At dusk when the dust is hanging, it’s really hard to see. The KC’s really lit things up. Bunch got past us when we were stuck so we tried to run him down. We caught him and had a time advantage from the day before but we wanted to be first to the line so we passed him.” Not only did KC Hilites help Mike Bragg see where he was going, but they put up a nice 500 dollar bonus for all Jeepspeed class winners.
“That was some of the most intense racing I’ve seen in 35 years of racing,” said second place in Jeepspeed Outlaws Billy Bunch, “It was the roughest Vegas to Reno in years. I was amazed anyone who didn’t have four wheel drive could get through there. In the first miles of the course I must have seen 20 some cars upside down, stuck or buried. The silt would stick to your visor. Once it was on there, you couldn’t get it off. It was like someone was standing on the hood with a snow shovel scooping silt through the windshield. Our radiator got packed full of silt and the motor started to shut down. Day two was rocky. We knew Bragg was coming but he already had time on us from day one. We knew he would stay on top in the Outlaws point standings but we are leading the Wrangler Cup points so we had to finish; we let him go and wondered if he would break. I think we have the most superior car out there but the driver is getting old. I just turned 73 and it takes a little longer to recover after a race. It’s going to take me a week after this race.”
With the brutal Vegas to Reno race in the rear view mirror, the Jeepspeed series heads to Parker, Arizona for a two day sprint race October 6-9. For information about the Jeepspeed racing series go to www.jeepspeed.com.
There you will find additional info, deals on some attractively priced race Jeeps, Jeepspeed news, rules, forums, race results, videos and much more. Go to the Jeepspeed forum and you can read in-depth race reports from many of the Jeepspeed teams.
Photography By: Bink Designs