Jeepspeed racers put forth dauntless efforts during the staggering 530 mile long Best In The Desert series, Vegas to Reno offroad race. Racing through the intense heat of the midday sun until after darkness, they endured miles of rocks, ruts, and silt, as well as some mud, thanks to violent monsoon downpours. Vapor locked engines, broken parts, even rollovers were overcome by these hard core racers who refused to quit. There were 16 Jeepspeed teams that competed. 8 made it to the finish line in time.
Thanks to the few simple rules that allow you to build your own race vehicle, and a class structure that welcomes all levels of modifications, the Jeepspeed series has exploded in popularity. With so many new vehicles being built, and new teams joining in on the fun, the competition has become fierce, but not enough to diminish the camaraderie and cooperation that exists in the Jeepspeed series. Everyone wants to win, but they also want to share the experience with their fellow competitors. It seems strange to some that anyone would help out another team that was trying to beat them, but that’s common place in Jeepspeed. One day you are helping a friend, the next day that good Karma comes back to you. It’s another reason why the series is so much fun. Those who could not make it to the finish are even more resolute to achieve their goals at the next event. Those who reached the podium got a badge of honor that lasts forever.
Class 1700 Jeepspeed Challenge was won by Tim Martin from Brigham City, UT. His normal co-driver was unable to make the race so he reached out to fellow Jeepspeed racer Ben Thorvick who agreed to join him. “We drew the 7th starting spot,” said Martin, “The plan was for Ben and I to race to pit 3, Joe and Blaire to race from 3 to 9, and Ben and I to race from 9 to the finish. With so many fast Jeepspeed teams, I knew we had to have a clean run in order to finish well. We caught up to Rob Suebert around race mile 70. I couldn’t make the pass in the dust and ended up following them through a 25 mph speed zone. We both came upon a flipped over trophy lite in a narrow turn, and had to stop. Rob got around first and then I got by but decided to give the guy a pull. He borrowed my strap and we pulled him further down the course until his light bar started to grab and tip him all the way over. Hopefully, I pulled far enough to help the situation and not block the course more. We got our strap back and the chase was back on. We could see Suebert’s dust in the distance as we approached pit 3.”
It was the beginning of a chase that would last for miles. Just as Martin would pull into the pits, Suebert was already there and would soon pull out. Somewhere after pit 7, Suebert was stuck in a turn and they passed him for good. Throughout the long day they would get stuck in the silt, and have a scary moment when the Jeep would not start after stopping in the pit. A sharp hit to the starter from underneath got the starter working, and they would not shut the engine off again until they crossed the finish. Their KC light set-up allowed them to switch from the roof lights to the bumper lights in order to get the best light for the conditions. As the miles began to add up, the engine started to make an ominous sound.
“The engine started to make a rattle sound at idle and was down a little on power; everything else was working great,” Martin continued, “Somewhere after Pit 14, we were right behind the first place 3700 Jeep. I had visions of being the first overall Jeepspeed and not just first in class, but that was not to be. Something started to clank right below my feet so we pulled over to check it out. The upper left control arm had broken at the axle. We quickly removed the arm and headed into the mountains; now the goal was to finish. The engine sounded worse and every set of headlights approaching had us worried it was another Jeep. We made it through that last rock pile of a section at a much slower pace and crossed the finish line in first place. What a race! It takes nearly a perfect race to win these days. There are too many teams with their acts together. The plan we put together worked great, and the engine stayed together long enough to get us to the finish line.”
It is so interesting to hear each driver’s trials and tribulations during the race. Tim Martin had a strong run, finishing 2nd overall behind only one 3700 Jeepspeed Outlaw truck, and yet to him, Rob Suebert was a dominating force to be reckoned with. The reality is that Suebert was plagued with problems all day, and did an amazing job just to keep going and secure the second spot.
“Starting first off the line is always a little nerve racking,” said Suebert, “I tried to go conservative knowing this race was not going to be won in the first 300 miles, but sure enough, we had an issue right off the bat. The motor was running abnormally hot, even for the high temperatures. Up the hills, and in soft sand we were at 240 degrees and had to ease up more than I wanted to. I could control the temperature with throttle, so we never had to pull over and let it cool. We were still able to pass some 2700 and 3700 class guys, so we thought we were holding a pretty good pace. Suddenly we caught a glimpse of 1772 Tim Martin closing in on us. I wicked it up a bit, but he hung with us. Just a bit further we got a pass alert and I told Dustin we were going to have to let him go around, I couldn’t push any harder with the temperature so high. I pull over and a UTV went by, it wasn’t Tim! We caught Billy Bunch (3749) stopped in a traffic jam from a rolled over truck. Martin came up behind us as well. It was extremely sketchy getting around the roll over; I even clipped it with the rear. We fueled at pit 5 with another report of Tim being right behind us. In our haste to stay in front of Tim, we forgot to pull the light covers off. We called our crew and were going to make a quick unscheduled stop at pit 7 to do so when disaster struck. I hit a big rock and the front diff cover got knocked off. When the ring and pinion gets a mouthful of rocks and sand it comes to an immediate halt. Luckily, I was able to back up off the course and we started the process of converting to two wheel drive only. Tim went by us within 5 minutes, then 1717, then 1706. After an hour, we were back on the road.” Rob and Co-driver Dustin Hoffman would have to stop several times; first when something caught their muffler and ripped it off the truck, and then to make further repairs to the cooling system, bypassing a cooler, and then to scrounge enough water to top it off. Once they had their water temperature under control, they pushed at 100 percent to the finish line. At one point they were 18 minutes behind 1717 (Bryan Reagan), but caught and passed them for the spot. Bryan Reagan and his crew earned the final podium position in third. They were racing an O.G. Jeep Cherokee that his Uncle Eric Heiden drove to many victories.
Class 2700 Jeepspeed Cup winner Mike Shetler, who is also the class points leader, put something special together for this race. He wanted to get a big group together to share his Jeep Cherokee race truck. It was going to take a lot of seat changes, but their goal was to have fun and get to the finish. They would have 6 different drivers, 2 of whom had never driven before. Of the 8 co-drivers, 2 had never been in a race truck. They had a Father and Son, 2 friends, a Husband and Wife, and a pair of brothers. Along the way, they got Rob White and his team to help out too. Rob’s Jeep Honcho pick-up was out of the race, so they robbed the fan off of it to keep Mike Shetler’s Cherokee going. The Honcho fan was so big that they had to remove the hood in order to clear it, but it did the job. Rob’s team also did some excellent welding to repair a lower control arm on the Cherokee. Husband and Wife Nick and Marcie Hricziscse each took a turn navigating, and driving in their time in the truck.
“Marcie and I have spent 16 years in the desert helping out on teams from Trick Trucks to 1600 cars,” said Nick Hricziscse, “This was the first time either of us drove in a race and thanks to Mike, we were able to do it together. We had no intercom so we had to adapt and use hand signals. We were in the rain and a lot of rocks so it made it interesting. Somehow Marcie came up with hand signals on the fly that worked for us. While we were in the truck, our Daughter Monet was in the pits with the rest of the team. We had the overheating issue and it took us 2 hours to get to the next pit. Monet was in the pits wondering if Mom and Dad were ok. All they knew was that we weren’t moving.” “It was rather strange when my 10 year old Daughter told me to be careful and have fun before we got in the truck,” said Marcie Hricziscse.
Also behind the wheel were Benny Pena, and his brother. “We always camped out as kids in Parker and watched my cousin Manny Esquerra race,” said Benny, “It was always a dream of ours to race one day, and Mike made that happen for us. I was driving the truck when the arm broke. I was so disappointed in myself but the mechanic in me kicked in and I figured out a way to strap it up and keep going. We were heading into a really bad section of the course when my Brother got sick. We got permission from BITD for Branden Strode, who was on Rob White’s team, to get in and be my co-driver. It was his first time too! I can’t say enough about the group of people we had together for the race. He won’t take any credit but Mike’s Brother Dennis really held everything together in the pits. He kept us organized and motivated. Mike has a great team and a great family. I would do anything for Mike and consider him my Brother.”
The winner in Class 3700 Jeepspeed Outlaws was Scott Dzierzanowski in his Jeep Wrangler. “I heard that the guy who started in front of us was new (3791 Brett Maister), and that he was going to take it easy off the start,” said Dzierzanowski, “We got by him and settled into our own pace which I felt was pretty fast. We were going faster in some spots, but 40-70 all day. My Dad was supposed to get in at pit 2, but we beat them there so he took over at pit 3 instead. I was worried that I would not get the Jeep back in one piece. He is a good driver, but he has a real heavy foot. (The co-driver would tell Scott later that in fact they had a couple “moments” along the way). We kept our pace all day and had a really clean race. We hit something that put a hole in our front diff, so we had to run in 2 wheel drive. I was taking it real easy in the last 30 miles where it’s really rocky when Bunch caught up, but I guess he rolled it. It was a long day, my Dad did 160 miles, and I did 300. The Jeep was fantastic and I am very happy about the success we have had in our first season in Jeepspeed. We finished 2nd twice and now we have our first win in the longest race of the season.”
Finishing 2nd was Billy Bunch. He and Craig Johnson started the race and went the first 100 miles. They had a couple issues, once stalling with vapor lock, and then breaking their track bar while climbing a side hill to get around a rolled truck, but they made it to pit 3 where Jesse Archer and Ryan Moore got in. “We were now about an hour and a half down to the class leader, the 3714,” said Archer, “The Jeep felt good and the motor was running strong. We started pushing pretty hard to make up time over the next 230 miles. It’s truly amazing how the silt is nothing to our 525HP motor and 37" General Tires. We can run 75-85 miles per hour down the silty straights; dropping in and out of the main ruts as we choose. The dust was nasty as we passed about 40 cars along our section. We got to do our passing the old way as our tracker was not working so neither was our pass warning. Everyone was really good about getting out of the way. We never had to put a bumper to anyone. On the big lake bed we were able to crack a 100 mph, fun stuff. We took our time making sure the Jeep was ready for the final 200 miles at pit 10. Bob Keeran and Craig got in for the final section. At this point, the 3714 was back up to about an hour and a half lead again. Bob did a great job making up a lot of time. We saw that the 3714 was down just before pit 13, so we were hoping we still had a chance. They were able to get going rather quickly though. Bob keeps gaining, but it looks like we are just running out of miles. We pulled the chase trucks into the finish line area and see the 3714 crossing the line for the win. At that point, Bob was just 3 miles out. We tell him “see you in a few” and we walk up to the podium. Time goes by, more time, what the hell? We got on the radio to find that they had laid the Jeep on her side right after we spoke to them. Retrieval got them back over and they brung her into the finish for second.” Third place in class 3700 went to truck 3703, Joey Verpoorten, who was racing his LS powered Comanche in its very first race. Talk about starting at the top.
After such a grueling race as Vegas to Reno, there will be some nights spent in the garage getting ready for the next race. Fortunately for Jeepspeed racers, there is strong backing from many fine companies who support the series. Each race there is a $3000 dollar bonus, plus the normal prize money, plus contingency. A $500 bonus for the winner of each class at Vegas to Reno was put up by Rock Krawler Suspension. Southwest Boulder & Stone gives $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.
The point standings after Vegas to Reno are as follows:
Class 1700. Jeepspeed Challenge.
1. Rob Seubert 311, 2. Mark Kammerlohr 287, 3. Tim Martin 263.
Class 2700. Jeepspeed Cup.
1. Mike Shetler 335, 2. Wayne Guidinger 164, 3. Mike Hames 123.
Class 3700. Jeepspeed Outlaws.
1. Billy Bunch 266, 2. Scott Dzierzanowski 258, 3. Eric Sigwing 168.
It was great to see so many people getting their first taste of racing at Vegas to Reno. The next race will be in Laughlin, Nevada on Oct 12th, 13th, and 14th.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