It was no surprise that the championship winners in the General Tire Jeepspeed Series, presented by KMC Wheels, would be decided at the final race of the season. Jeepspeed’s class structure and few simple rules allow competitors to build and race a wide range of vehicles. The series provides a challenging format, and stiff competition. It also breeds a special comradery amongst competitors. At the Best In The Desert Pahrump 250 race, that comradery was on full display.
The terrain around Pahrump includes some brutally rocky sections that have to be negotiated right off the start, and for the last miles of the race as the course returns to town. After pounding through the desert all day, the racers still have to survive the worst before they can finish. Despite championships on the line, competitors leaped in and helped each other along the way to keep everyone on course.
Jeepspeed Class 1700 winner in Pahrump, Jimmy Perry, has impressive credentials. He’s worked for a long list of race teams. In offroad racing, he worked for Larry Ragland, Jimmy Johnson, and Walker Evans. His chassis skills took him east to NASCAR, and Indycar; racing with names like Ganassi racing, Ryan Hunter-Reay, and Jimmy Vasser. He eventually wound up in 24 hour endurance racing. At every stop along the way, when they found out he had roots in offroad racing, they knew he could make a car perform. After building his own race truck in his garage, Jimmy joined the Jeepspeed series. He farmed out the engine building as that was not his forte. Unfortunately, he suffered from a series of motor problems, and had several DNF’s (did not finish). He took some classes, learned how to build engines and program fuel injection. Pahrump was going to be his race.
Competitors staged in the parking lot of the Pahrump Golden Nugget the morning of the race. They lined up and drove to the start outside of town. During the drive, Jimmy’s engine started to backfire and then lost oil pressure. Sharing the same radio frequency with friend and fellow competitor Rob Suebert, Suebert heard he was having an issue. The problem was diagnosed as a broken distributor drive gear. Suebert’s team had a spare distributor that they loaned to Perry. Perry and his team went from the depths of despair to relief in a matter of minutes.
“We always knew we had a great truck, we just couldn’t get it to the finish,” says Perry. “We left 6 minutes late from the line and figured we had nothing to lose. We didn’t even look in the mirror for the first 30 miles because we knew nobody was back there. By race mile 160, we weren’t sure, but thought we were leading. We then passed Billy Bunch on the course and took the overall lead. We pulled into pit 4 and had a soft tire so the crew changed it. Later on in the race we smacked into a bedrock shelf that was sticking out of the ground and cut a right rear but had no other problems. It’s great to go into next season with momentum. It’s been tough not finishing races. At the finish line, everyone that helps us out was nearly in tears. Nobody thought we would win this one. To win the race and lock up the championship for Rob; it was a great run!”
That’s right, Rob Suebert loaned the part that Jimmy Perry needed for the race and his selfless act actually resulted in Rob winning the Championship by only 2 points. Jeepspeed runs their races at the 6 race BITD series. Your best 4 results count towards points so budget racers that are unable to do the entire schedule still have a chance for a championship. “Our race did not go as planned,” said Suebert. “We figured we would win the championship as long as Mark Kammerlohr didn’t win the race. Our plan was to take control of the championship by winning the race. We had an engine problem but as long as I feathered the gas pedal it would run. I put a new front diff cover on before the race but used the factory bolts. There were so many rocks that the cover got bashed and the heads broke off the bolts. I pulled into the pits and had to pull all the broken bolts out before I could fix the diff cover. The pit captain came over and told me the pit would be closing so I had to keep going with the engine problem. We fueled again at pit 4; the fuel mileage was terrible. When we fueled again at pit 6, we were 2 minutes down to Kammerlohr. At race mile 160 we could see him ahead. All of a sudden, the rear end felt loose and we drifted off line into some rocks. We had 2 flats and the tie rod was out of the socket. We were out working on the truck when Skyler came by. During the day we lost track of where everyone was running, and we thought Skyler was leading. With all the dust, we never saw when we got past him. We knew that Mark was ahead of us, and thought he was going to win. We had no idea that Jimmy had won the race. We had a tough year but we worked through them at every race. We always managed to finish and ended up with the championship.”
Second place in class 1700, and second in the points championship was Mark Kammerlohr. Marks first race in the Jeepspeed series was one year ago in Pahrump. He was now racing for the championship. “We knew we had a chance to take the championship, but we had to win,” said Kammerlohr. “I was going to drive with my Son to pit 4 where Mike Barnett and my Daughter Maleah would take over. It was her first time racing so we didn’t know if she would like it. Once she got in the truck, she loved it. They chased down Skyler, and passed Suebert in the pits. My son and I got in at pit 7 and tried to chase down Perry but he ran a pace that we just couldn’t match. It was really rough on the last section of the course. It felt like we were driving a snowplow we were hitting so many rocks on the diff and the undercarriage. We are so happy with our rookie season. Our win at Vegas to Reno put us in the hunt for the championship. We are just a father and son team. We have to thank Mike and Tom Barnett for all their help building the Jeep and giving us advice from their 30 years of experience. We have been teasing my Son Clayton that his sister is taking his navigator’s seat in the race truck, but actually I would like to see him do some more driving next year.”
The class 2700 win, and the class championship went to Wayne Guidinger. “It was cold in the morning but once the sun came up it was beautiful,” said Guidinger. “If there was a little breeze it would have been perfect racing weather; it was really dusty. All we had to do was finish and we would get the championship so we were at about 70% race pace. At contingency on Friday, we were at the Jeepspeed booth and Mike came out to look at our truck and noticed a crack in the coil bucket. We could not find a welder so we decided to just keep an eye on it. At pit 1, we pulled into the Baja Pits and the crack was getting bigger so they welded it. We also bypassed a cooler that had a slight leak. We were coming in towards the finish and we came up on a UTV that was stuck in the middle of the course. Best In The Desert was there but his bumper was too high to push the UTV. They asked us to help so we pushed them out and then cruised to the finish. We wanted the championship; getting the win was icing on the cake.” Wayne does all the work on his truck in his Brother’s back yard. He has had to delay doing some prep work because of the rain. His crew changes for nearly every race. Made up of friends and family, they make it possible by helping in the pits, navigating, and sometimes driving. Wayne pays it forward by helping others. During the race in Pahrump, he turned his car over to Mike Blackburn for a stint behind the wheel. Just then Mike Shetler, his competitor, came into the pit with a driveshaft problem. Wayne dove under the truck and helped Mike get going again.
Mike Shetler finished second place behind Wayne. He had been in the lead but began to overheat. He was helped out by Tom Thorvick at pit 2. Thorvick has raced in the Jeepspeed series on and off since 2010. When he’s not racing, he comes out to some of the races, just to help. He diagnosed the overheating problem as a bad ground wire on the cooling fan. He then developed a vibration in the driveline and eventually the u-joint went out. He pulled the rear shaft and ran on front drive only. He got stuck, but made it to pit 3. That’s where Wayne Guidinger helped him fix it. He chased Wayne’s truck all the way to pit 6. He was in some deep silt and hit an unseen boulder. He had two flat tires on the right side. He put a big load on the engine limping to the next pit on the flat tires. As he was getting to the pit, a valve cover leak caused the engine to catch on fire. He pulled into the pit and another team came over to help put him out. He was ready to call it quits until Thorvick showed up. He told him “You’ve only got an oil leak and some flat tires, you can fix this.” Mike was racing in what he calls DL; dead last, but he made it to the finish for a second place.
For many Jeepspeed racers, it’s a family affair. Dan Nidzieko races with his Brother Andy in class 3700. They built their truck in the garage, and share the driving duties. Dan drove to pit 4 with Andy navigating. Then they switched places. They made it through the mountains when they got tagged in the dust by another car. The other car went off the course and rolled. Dan and Andy pulled over to see if they were OK. They talked to the other racers and waited until race officials showed up. The contact took out Dan and Andy’s spare tire and broke their jack. They had 30 miles to go with no jack, and no spare, so they just cruised to the finish. They still managed a second place podium finish. “We are just a couple of brothers following their dreams,” says Dan, “We built the whole truck ourselves. It runs a junkyard motor and stock ford Bronco front suspension. We were going to race in 1700 but once we put the TTB on, we fit into the 3700 class. We go to the races and our parents stay home and watch our crewmembers kids. We are super happy with our second place finish. We had a flat tire and the only other damage was broken window. We are very proud to go 250 miles in the desert in a truck we built ourselves.”
The biggest winner in Pahrump was Billy Bunch. He finished first place in the 3700 class. He won the Jeepspeed 3700 class championship. He won the KMC Wheels Wrangler Cup title, and he won the Best In The Desert series Jeepspeed overall points title. Bunch has been racing for 35 years, and this season must stand out from the rest. “It was a rough course,” said Bunch, “It was beat up but my Jeep Wrangler is built for it. I have to say that the new General Grabber X3 tires we are running are incredible. We raced all season and had one flat tire. My other driver Jesse Archer is amazing. As good as he is at driving, he is even better at doing the prep work. I can’t imagine what we could have done if I had him 5 years ago.”
Whether you like a short wheelbase Jeep, a Cherokee, or a Dodge pick-up, Jeepspeed has a class for you. One of the reasons why Jeepspeed racing is so rewarding is that competitors can purchase a vehicle or build their own. The rules are simple and the costs are a fraction of any other spec racing class. Many of the parts needed to build your Jeepspeed racer are supported by the series sponsors; General Tire, KMC Wheels, Currie Enterprises, King Shocks, Rugged Radios, Rubicon Express, G2 Axle & Gear, Smittybilt, Howe Performance, NEO Synthetic Oil, Jasper Racing Engines, Southwest Boulder & Stone, and GG Lighting. In addition to strong aftermarket sponsor support, generous bonuses of cash and parts can be earned at every race.
Established in 2001, Jeepspeed is the longest running Spec Class in desert racing. Its affordability, sensible rules, and strong backing from supporting sponsors make it very popular with budget minded racers who crave competition. The enthusiasm has spread to tube framed Jeep racers as well. In 2018, the 4700 class will be launched for open framed/chassis vehicles with any make production or crate motor and up to 37” tires. This class will draw Ultra4 type cars amongst others and several new builds are already in process.
Jeepspeed has big rewards for racers in all 3 divisions of the Jeepspeed Challenge. In 2017, over $50,000 in cash and Jeepspeed product awards have been up for grabs. Each new winner this season received tires and wheels in addition to a cash bonus, race winnings and contingency bonuses.
Think you would like to give Jeepspeed racing a try? 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