If you set out to create the most incredible off road racing course on the planet, it would look like the Best In The Desert’s Silver State 300. Aside from the enormous sand dunes found in Africa, and South America, the Silver State course has just about everything that would challenge a racer. It has wide open valleys that can be very silty, tight twisty trails that thread their way through dense trees, sandy river beds, rocks, ruts, and fast graded roads. There are water crossings, wide swings in temperature, and elevation changes that test both the vehicles, and their occupants. Don’t forget the ornery, and curious free range cattle, or the wild horses. It’s as challenging as it is beautiful, and no surprise that some competitors failed to finish
Most notable was the absence at the finish line of the class 4700 Dodge truck of Rob Seubert. Seubert has won countless races, and several championships. His talent as a driver is unquestioned, but the desert has a way of establishing dominance over everyone. He crashed the truck, but thanks to safety measures, he and his co-driver Nick Neal were both uninjured. It shows how unpredictable desert racing can be, and what an accomplishment it is just to finish the course. Flat tires from the rocks, getting stuck in the deep silt, or going just a bit wide, and ending up in a tree are all common at the Silver State. Even those who managed to win were subjected to all of that, and more. It took talent, perseverance, ingenuity, and resourcefulness just to make it to the checkered flag. Jeepspeed Trophy Class 4700 Open winner Jeff Harmonson had his share of troubles on the way to the victory, but he and his crew persevered. They started the season with a third place podium in Parker, and now have a win. “It was a rough course,” said Harmonson. “There were a lot of turtles sitting everywhere (overturned vehicles, not tortoises). With no prerunning, it makes it challenging. We use an easy, hard system for calling out the turns. It gets tight in the trees, and in many spots it’s steep, and bad on both sides; you don’t want to go off. I got a little overzealous and we ended up downhill into a tree. It was very steep, and the dirt is loose, so we couldn’t back up. We used our boards, and jack, and shoveled until we got free from the tree, but still headed downhill. We made it back to the course, but had to hike back up to get all our gear. We were cooking after that and I wondered why I wasn’t sitting next to a pool somewhere instead of doing this. We learned that the truck needs some grip tape on the floor if we are going through water crossings. Once we hit pit 6 we realized we just had to get to the finish for a win, but still had to save the truck. Our goal is always to make it to the finish. I owe it to all our friends who have sweat equity in the truck. Unlike most of our competition we run a V6 engine. Our truck used to race in the 7200 class, and actually won this race in 2013. We bought the truck, and did some maintenance on it, but I believe if it’s not broken, I’m not fixing it. That makes it affordable. We still have the same spark plugs in the motor that came with the truck. I’d like to thank everyone who helps out on the truck; Tyler Herzog, and Darrell Herzog from Herzog roofing, Grant Melton, George Melton, Brad Vandy, and my wife Heidi.”
Second place went to Andrew Hulse, Ben Hulse, Wayne Guidinger, and Michael Kraft. They too wound up in a tree. It took them 2 hours to get out with the help of another competitor who pulled them out with a strap. We had a fantastic weekend racing the Silver State 300 with Team Wolfpack,” said Guidinger. “We were off to a bit of a rough start with Mike Kraft, and I going off course for a little while to do a little tree watching, and to enjoy the fresh mountain air for a couple hours. We managed to get back on course. Andrew, and Ben as well as Wayne Guidinger, and Carl Thompson got their times behind the wheel to bring home a second place finish for this race. We are now first in points for The Best in The Desert 4700 class this year.”
Jeepspeed Outlaws Class 3700 Modified went to Jerry Simonson, his second straight win. “We started out good, catching people right off the start,” said Simonson. “At mile 32 we lost the front end. We had to stop and pull the driveshaft. We were just cruising after that but at mile 53 I got crossed up in some ruts and tipped the truck over. I was sideways and saw a tree coming so I couldn’t straighten it out. It was tip over, or hit a tree; it cost us an hour. I had my wife Kathy in the truck with me. At pit 2 we did a driver’s change. We had a great pace going the rest of the day until 30 miles from the finish when we got stuck in the silt because we only had 2 wheel drive. We saw lots of people stuck in the trees. I missed the tree but rolled over so…”
The Jeepspeed Challenge Class 1700 is the most popular and affordable class, often referred to as the Stock Class. Vehicles in this class must be Jeeps, and use components readily available to the general public. They are allowed limited options for modification. Winner Tim Martin ran a pace that nobody else could match. He finished 2 and a half hours ahead of second place. “I really look forward to this race each year,” says Martin. “I like that it is point to point, and it’s more of a rally style course. I discovered a loose Johnnie Joint the day before we left for the race. I thought I would be able to find a rebuild kit at the race, but no such luck. We ended up taking it apart, and adding a couple of aluminum washers cut out of a can behind the steel washer to increase the pre-load. It tightened the joint right up.”
“Saturday morning, we started in front. I still haven’t decided if I like first or last, but somehow we keep getting first. From the start it was really dusty. We almost ran into one of the fences early on, but the dust parted, and I had enough time to slam on the brakes. Our Jeep was running good, and we got around 2799, and picked off one of the Gladiators after Pit 1. We were doing about 85 mph after crossing the dry lake bed around race mile 23. Then sometime before Pit 2, we started to lose fuel pressure. It would hold for a little bit, and then drop to zero. The air fuel ratio would lean way out. We pulled in to Pit 2 first on the road, and decided to stop to replace the fuel pressure regulator. As we sat there, 1706 pulled in, and as my crew was putting on the hood, 1785 pulled in, and kept on going. The race was on; I was now back to 3rd place. We left pit 2 in hot pursuit of 1785. They were on the gas, and determined to stay out in front. The fuel pressure issue was gone, and the jeep was running great. When my son Tony said, “Hey, where did my side view mirror go?” I decided to back off the pace a little bit and let them go. It was early in the race, so there were plenty of miles to catch them later. Later came sooner than I expected when we caught back up to them, and passed them on a smooth section of road. Everything was going great until we hit the water crossing at race mile 97.5 after Pit 3. I hit it a little fast. It didn’t feel too bad, but the fuel pressure problem came back again shortly after. We fought that problem the rest of the day. It got so bad that it started to die on uphill sections of the course. I only had one spare fuel pressure regulator, and the one part store in the area didn’t have one in stock. My crew did check to see if maybe we had nicked an O-ring during the replacement. No such luck. At Pit 5, Tony got out, and Cameron got in. We made the decision to try to keep the tank topped off because it seemed to run better when there was more gas in the tank. The crew did a great job figuring out how to get gas to us at Pit 6 and Pit7. The fuel pressure issue got so bad that I wasn’t sure we could finish the race. We got passed by 4505, the vintage suburban, on an uphill when we could only go 1 or 2 mph. Uphill sections were stressing me out. Thank goodness for gravity, because the downhill sections were still fun. I was very worried that the engine wasn’t going to last and our race would be over. We’ve done this race 5 times and haven’t had much luck. We crossed the finish line with a little bit of daylight still left and before my crew could get there. We were first overall. I feel lucky. Fortunately, our problems slowed us down less than everyone else’s problems. Every team that starts has a plan to get to the finish line first. How many teams have actually had a race go perfectly as planned? I never have. I’m still chasing that unicorn. One day it may happen. For this race, I’m grateful we got first place. I have a list of things to fix before Vegas to Reno and I can’t wait to see you all there to try it again. Thanks to my team: Tony (co-driver), Cameron (co-driver), Sara, Troy, Blaire, Jeremy, Joe, Kevin, Lance, Tacoma, and Squish. They were great all day long and made first place possible. Thanks to JAZ Products, Jeepspeed, KMC Wheels, and Yokohama tires. No flats again at this race; the tires still look good.”
Second place belonged to Mark Kammerlohr. “The Silver State 300 is one of my favorite races of the year traveling through the desert and mountains with some great scenery,” said Kammerlohr. “This year the weather was mild, and we were optimistic for a great race. The 1785 lined up in the fourth position out of five in the class and geared up for a good day. Off the line we set a good pace and caught up to the 1733 after a few miles. The course was dusty and I didn’t want to risk mistakes by pushing too hard, too early. Coming into pit 1, we maintained the same position but we cut into the thirty second lead of the 1733. Out of pit 1 is one of my favorite high speed sections so we put the hammer down and tried to catch the 1733. I didn’t catch him before the turn off of the lake bed, but the long uphill road we managed to beat them to the cattle guard. Now with clean air, I was able to easily navigate the turn that sent us onto a tree the previous year. The jeep was running great, and the suspension was dialed in, allowing us to cruise at 75 mph through the rollers. In third place physically on the course we didn’t have visual on the 1772 that started in first or the 1706 that started in second but we knew it was a long day. Speaking of long days, the race course was starting to look like a junkyard with vehicles scattered along the side. Some were broken down making repairs, and others inverted or on their side. As we neared pit 2, I got radio chatter that the 1706 was pulling in, and I knew they had a fuel stop so we could overtake them. We rolled through pit two, and came out just in front of Tim Martin in the 1772. Now in first place physically we tried to hold off Martin. We were doing a good job in the rough two track trying to kick up some dust, but I heated up the motor, and the transmission so we had to back her down. Tim was strong and I had to get out of his way. I tried to keep up but the temps didn’t come down quick enough so we just plodded through the hills, and onward to pit 3. Temps came back down in the downhill sections, and we were racy again. Pit three was a fuel stop, and look over. The crew gassed us up, and we were on our way about four minutes behind the leader. This was the first time the Bird got to race this section so he was excited to see it. Later on that excitement was not shared by either of us. About mile 127 we came to an uphill right hand turn with a couple of trucks on the inside of the turn. As I went wide to avoid I saw a massive silt bed and next thing I knew we were in it. I grabbed for 4wheel drive but we were dead stuck before I could react. The two trucks were on the inside because one had just pulled the other out of the same spot. One truck took off and the remaining truck was a TrophyLite trying to get going again. The Bird jumped out and was instantly up to his knees in silt. We tried to get the TrophyLite to pull us out but the driver disrespectfully declined! They did however let us borrow their sand ramps, not that they helped. At this point my son, and I began to bond over digging powder while being blasted by wind and the various vehicles that roosted us going by. Congrats to the 4733, you won the rooster tail competition. We did manage to go about ten feet, and then got stuck again. Best in the Desert was quite busy with rollovers, and recoveries so it took a couple hours before we got going again. At this point we were still in second place somehow and knew we could do no better so we pressed on at a moderate pace. Climbing the mountain roads by pit five the jeep started heating back up so I slowed our pace. Coming around a corner the jeep slid, feeling like a flat tire. We stopped and changed a destroyed tire; still not sure what happened. Bird is getting super quick at changing the tires after his new job, and we were back running. The stop was good to let the jeep cool down but it wasn’t back to normal so we were just cruising and out of nowhere came the 1733. What! No way did I want to finish third after the ordeals of the day so we picked up the pace in the tight mountain sections. There was really no place to pull off and I was kicking up some good dust so I thought we could hold him off. Driving like a crazy we pulled away only for him to catch back up; this went on for several miles. After a relentless pursuit he caught us, and passed us with about two miles to pit six. I am still marveling at his driving given I couldn’t see anything in the dust once he got by. Coming in to pit 6, we both had to stop. The 1733 beat us out of the pits by what seemed like an eternity but was probably only thirty seconds. The crew reminded me that on corrected time we were likely even, and I just had to finish on his bumper. After a couple of miles I caught him. Now back in front I knew I couldn’t slow up. I drove a hard but conservative pace as the sun set, and shadows made every rock look like a boulder. At mile 274, a pack of deer are on the side of the course. Given the way the day had gone I was expecting them to jump in front of us and end our day. Fortunately they ran the other way and we avoided another obstacle in reaching the finish line. Desert racing makes little sense other than perseverance. Our team and BITD along with a lot of luck and some skill got us across the finish. Thank you to all that made it possible; Mike Barnett for coordinating pit strategies, and putting together the people. My unofficial official team Ken, and Adam Tichy, and John Whitlow, Ian Massey, Chris Nissley, the 1741 team of Kyle Gieselmann and Mike Ishmael. Looking forward to the next one!”
Rounding out the podium in 1700 was Mike Bosley, Eric Stallknecht, Devin Battenberg, and Jordan Bosley who travel all the way from Westminster, Maryland to race. “We drive 2400 miles just to get to Vegas,” said Mike Bosley. “Eric started the race and at mile 30 he hit a rock that caused a flat tire. At pit 2 they shut the truck off, and it wouldn’t re-fire. We found a blown fuse so we changed it. We spent all day replacing fuses until we found the burned wire that was giving us so much trouble. We went through 20 fuses. When the truck was running it was fast, and smooth. We lost the exhaust at mile 180; it got a lot louder, but didn’t hurt performance. We battled back and forth with 1785 (Kammerlohr) all day. It was getting dark when we finally found the burned wire. Unfortunately we flooded the engine and washed out one of the cylinders. We were running on only 5 now, and had to make it through the silt beds. We got stuck, but BITD recovery saw us from a long ways away and came to help. We got through pit 7 with 45 minutes to spare. It was a shame we had the ignition problem because the truck was running strong all day; even on 5 cylinders. Getting a 3rd place podium after all that work was pretty good. The Silver State course is my favorite by far; it’s challenging, and the scenery is spectacular. It’s nothing like Maryland.”
Jeepspeed racers are hardcore individuals, and thanks to strong sponsor support from Yokohama Tire, KMC Wheels, Jasper Racing Engines, GG Lighting, Rugged Radios, EVO Mfg., King Shocks, Tuff Stuff 4X4, T&J Performance, Currie Enterprises and Action Sports Canopies, they are able to compete at a fraction of the cost other classes spend. The Jeepspeed series is the longest running spec class in off road racing. It allows competitors to build their own trucks if they wish, as long as they follow simple rules to keep the playing field level. When you want to go faster, all they have to do is go to the next class that allows more modifications. The teams share a comradery that is unique in competition. They welcome the challenge, and rise to the occasion. They will get their next chance at the Best in the Desert, Vegas to Reno race on August 11th to the 15th.
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, race results, videos, and much more. On the Jeepspeed forum, you can read more in-depth race reports from many of the Jeepspeed teams. Go check it out.
Photography By: Bink Designs