The General Tire Jeepspeed series presented by KMC Wheels is attracting a bevy of new racers to their series. Their class structure allows a wide range of race vehicles to compete, and the competition is fierce. At the Best In The Desert series Silver State 300 race outside Alamo, Nevada, both new and old Jeepspeed racers had their resolve tested. The course contained everything nature can dish out. There was deep silt, rocks, and ruts over much of the 300 miles. Racers had to traverse wide open valleys, tight, twisty mountain trails, and deep water stream crossings. Just surviving the course was difficult, the competition made it even tougher. Those who came out on top gave credit to a sound strategy, and a little luck.
In the in 1700 Jeepspeed Challenge class, Rob Seubert was racing with new co-driver Mike Petralli. Long time co-driver, and previous competitor Dustin Hoffman was off to Alaska for a job offer. To add even more stress to the team, one of their steady pit crew members was also unable to make it. Dale VanKirk, a family friend, was pressed into service. Mike had never been in a race car, and Dale had never been to a race. Despite the rookies on the team, they were able to rise to the occasion and take the win. Rob and Mike set a steady pace and soon started moving up through traffic. In the tight twisty section of the course before pit 3, they got around Billy Bunch and pulled up on leader Tim Martin’s tail. Tim showed his good sportsmanship and gave them some room to make the pass if they could. They got around him and were first into pit 3. They hoped they had put a gap on Martin but while they stopped for fuel, Martin pulled in right in front of them in the next pit. Rob urged his guys to get out before Martin’s crew could finish. “We held the lead until we got to the silt section at mile 138,” said Seubert, “I took a conservative line at the edge of the course to avoid the deep silt. That’s when Martin came through the main line at Mach one; I was impressed! He made it clean and we came out of the silt section just like we started the race, Tim in front with us in a dust cloud behind. We lost sight of him until we came up on him before pit 6. I got on the radio to tell my crew to prepare for a fast pit stop in hopes of beating him out. Suddenly, we started to close the gap. He was having some sort of engine trouble, and we had at least a 10-15 mph run on him so we made the pass.”
Seubert was in the lead and coming down to the home stretch when disaster struck. They got stuck in the silt, and had to dig out. “Only fifteen miles from the finish, we came around a right hand corner and absolutely buried ourselves in the silt,” Seubert continues, “All four wheels were spinning. We dug it out in about 15-20 minutes, but only backed up about 15 feet and then sunk again. It took another 10-15 minutes before we got it completely out. Multiple cars went around us, every time I was looking to see if it was another jeep. We finally got moving again, with Mike holding on to the sand boards and shovel. I didn't want to take time to re-mount all that gear! About 5 miles from the finish, we went by a wrangler on the side of the course. I wasn't sure if that was one of the trucks that got by us while we were stuck or if they were just in front of us all along. It turns out that was the Jeep that went by us in the silt. We rolled into the finish line, and learned that we were the first 1700 truck. Stoked to get the win, it’s my favorite course, but it hasn't been kind to us in the past. With Garett winning the first two races, we needed a win to stay in the season points hunt. Thanks to Mike and Dale for doing such a great job their first time out.”
Also competing for the first time was the #1706 team of Jeff Garzik from Atlanta, Georgia. “It was a good trial by fire,” says Garzik, It was my first race, as the new owner of "Little Red" the Jeepspeed rental truck. We were crew-light, leaning heavily on Baja Pits. We had our experienced driver and mechanic Skyler Gambrell, and one chaser. Skyler drove off the starting line, and the Jeep seemed to be under-powered. Skyler diagnosed it as a possible fuel pump issue. We stopped for repairs several times on the course, but never hit full power. Our plan was to swap drivers at Pit 3. Due to the power issue, I hopped into the seat at Pit 2, with Skyler in 2nd seat calling turns, and giving this rookie a lesson. We continued to stop to bleed air from the lines, tried swapping a few things, and regained a bit of power. My inexperience in the silt, and an under-powered truck, finally saw us stuck just shy of Pit 4. We were within sight of a road crossing, and a BITD truck wheeled up to us within minutes to yank us out. We called it a day at the road crossing, being too far behind and limping along under-powered. We are on to Vegas-to-Reno next. Our big task will be finding co-drivers and a crew for this Atlanta native!” It’s obvious that Jeff has the spirit it takes to do well in offroad racing and look forward to seeing him at V2R. Finishing in second place in Jeepspeed Challenge was #1797 Jeff Sherrill, and Tim Martin, #1772, was third.
The race for 4th place came down to Mark Kammerlohr, and Jimmy Perry; both of whom were wounded. Kammerlohr had some suspension damage and was limping into the finish. Perry trailed, but was coming on fast. He had been warned about the silt beds at race mile 283, so he was running at the edge of the course to stay out of the deep stuff, and get more traction. “We hit a dead tree stump that punctured the tire,” said Perry, “We knew it would take us a couple minutes to stop and change it, and we were close to Kammerlohr on time so we decided to gamble. We ran 60 miles per hour on our flat General Tire and it held together for 13 miles. It finally started to come apart but we still didn’t want to stop. With the tire gone, we then put our trust in our KMC wheel. We did the last three miles of the course on a bare KMC rim. We have the wheel in the shop and it looks good enough to mount another tire on it. I loved the climb up the mountain and back down through the trees. We were sliding the Jeep through the corners; it was a lot of fun. We spent around an hour and a half stuck in silt, but that last charge to the finish line with a flat tire earned us 4th place.”
In class 2700 Jeepspeed Cup, Mike Shetler had a clean run for the win but it wasn’t without some interesting moments along the way. “We had a good run going when we got to the real twisty stuff through the pinion trees,” said Shetler, “We came around a corner and saw Will Heaton on the outside of a turn, high-centered on the berm. We stopped and hooked a strap to him to pull him off. We were ready to unhook the strap when another Jeepspeed (Dzierzanowski) came around the turn and tried to shoot the gap between us. He hit my truck and the strap got wound around his rear axle. It pulled us together with all three trucks tied together. The strap was so tight, we couldn’t get the knots out. Everyone got around us as we tried to get free. I remembered that 6 months ago when we were out testing, I found a knife in the dirt and tossed in the truck. I found it and was able to cut the strap. We lost more than 10 minutes to the field. We settled into a steady pace and got by a couple cars. We got word over the radio that Tim Martin was stuck in some silt at race mile 202. We were battling with Wayne Guidinger but saw him having a tough time climbing a steep silt hill a few miles back. We got up it the first try, and hoped we had built up enough of a gap to stop and help Tim. We got him hooked up and towed him to pit 6. We took off towards the finish, and hopefully the win. We were running in 2 wheel drive when a Jeepspeed 3700 class went past us and blinded us with dust. We hit a deep silt hole and got stuck. Just as we were getting out, Tim Martin came up on us and stopped to pull us out!” The Jeepspeed series is known for the camaraderie that exists between the racers in all three classes. Mike Shetler’s good will towards other racers paid off in the end. He finished 1st place, beating Wayne Guidinger in 2nd by nearly an hour.
In the 3700 Jeepspeed Outlaws, the veteran Billy Bunch had the winning strategy. “It was tight, twisty, and very slick in the mountains,” said Bunch, “I got past Heaton but it was very dusty. I was running in 2wd and slid wide in a turn so I slowed down a little. That’s when I got another Jeep on my tail. I pulled over and let them go. Another Jeep passed me but I wasn’t worried. I knew the LS motor in my Jeep would track them down again. I passed everyone back except Sigwing, and after Jesse got in the truck, we passed them all.” Will Heaton had even more trouble after getting untangled from Shetler, and Dzierzanowski. “We got stuck in the silt, and broke the steering shaft on one side,” says Heaton, “We could have run for a while with only one tie rod, but when we tried to get going, the transmission was toast. Even though we didn’t finish, I had a blast.” Rookie Scott Dzierzanowski, who podiumed in his LS powered Wrangler at his first 2 races, went on to finish on the podium again in 2nd, and Eric Sigwing finished 3rd.
So far, 35 different teams have taken the green flag, and we hope to break 40 teams in 2018. One of the reasons why Jeepspeed series is so popular is the strong sponsor support. Jasper Racing Engines and Southwest Boulder & Stone give $500 bonuses to winners at every race. Tuff Stuff 4X4 gives offroad accessory products to the winners of each class at each race. NEO Synthetic Oil supplies a case of oil for a win with their decal in place, and Action Sports Canopies will be giving away a canopy for the overall Jeepspeed champions at the end of the season. The support for the Jeepspeed series by sponsors General Tire, KMC Wheels, Currie Enterprises, Action Sports Canopies, Southwest Boulder & Stone, GG Lighting, Jasper Racing Engines, NEO Synthetic Oil, Rugged Radios, Tuff Stuff 4X4, Rock Krawler Suspension, King Shocks, and T&J Performance is responsible for many of the team’s strong performances. Jeepspeed racers will have another huge test ahead of them at the longest offroad race in the United States, the General Tire “VEGAS to RENO” race on August 15-18, in Las Vegas, Nevada. New trucks are slated to make their debut there so it will be interesting to see who comes out on top. Photography By: Bink Designs