The desert can be a brutal place with high temperatures and deadly snakes, but for us, it was the location for chasing trucks racing the Best In The Desert Vegas to Reno. This past weekend, over 400 entries took on the Nevada desert from the lights in sin city to the biggest little city in the world.
Following the number 6184, OTSFF/Motul truck the 500 miles we would get an inside look into what actually happens during the race. Live tracking online is one thing, but to follow the truck live on the racecourse is something else.
Taking The Green Flag
There is a lot that leads up to taking the green flag at the start of the race. We were able to see everything that happens the day before the race, but it still continues on race day. Dropping the truck off at the starting line this year was a little different due to COVID-19, as it was more work and less hanging around and chatting with other teams.
The pandemic also left team owner and driver Andre Laurin and navigator Kerry King in Canada due to the US and Canadian border being closed except for essential travel. This meant that Laurin would be tossing the keys to the team’s crew chief and backup driver Adam Fitza and navigator Danny Novoa to maintain their Top 10 status in the 6100 Spec Trophy Class.
A 6100 Spec Trophy is a spec engine Trick Truck, Unlimited Truck, or SUV class that uses a sealed Ford or GM spec engine. This is a limited and more evenly matched drivers class compared to the fully unlimited Trick Truck class.
Vegas to Reno is a point to point race meaning that it will start and finish in two different areas. In races that have laps, the start and finish are in the same area making following the truck easy as it will come by every so often.
“Vegas to Reno is an all-around great event,” Fitza said. “It covers everything from dry lake beds, high-speed straightaways, silt, rocks, mountains, pine trees, and rivers. I love point to point races, not to mention it’s the longest race in the United States.”
In a point to point race each pit is along the racecourse with the drivers never coming through the same area. This means that the crews of each team are playing leapfrog along the entire course.
As the teams were able to go with the truck to the starting line staging area, hanging out was not permitted. With the final touches and radios checked, it was off to the starting line for the truck, but for us, it was the start of our chase.
We would head to Pit 1 and start chasing the truck through the next 12 pits to the finish line in Dayton, Nevada a little south of Reno. Before long the trucks starting coming to the pit one by one.
The Adventure Continues
Based on each of their qualifying runs during Time Trials a few days before the race, Class 6100 would start the race in the order they finished. For OTSFF/Motul they would be starting 29th off the line in their class.
We arrived at Pit 1 as the last few Trick Trucks were making it into the pits as well as some of the Class 1500 vehicles. Then the 6100 trucks started to come in and you could see who was able to make moves and pass others on the way to the pit only 30 miles from the start.
Once we caught the OTSFF/Motul truck our race started. It began the race to beat the truck to each pit that we were going to be stopping at as well as a couple of other spots on the course.
For chase crews getting from pit to pit on time is key, but there are no dirt roads to go on; except the ones from the high way to the pit location. The pavement is where the chase teams hit their racecourse.
Chase crews may not win or have a class in the point standings, but they are the ones that make their team’s vehicle finish the race to get the points. The chase teams also don’t have the desert terrain to deal with, just plenty of two-lane desert highway and local police.
Going fast enough to get to the next pit in time is the most important job for chase crews on race day, but doing it without getting pulled over is the hardest part. Depending on each team’s pit plan, the distance from each of their assigned pits could cut it close to missing their vehicle.
“Having a solid pit crew is key at this race,” Fitza explained. “Our pit crew chases the entire race instead of being stationary and are on the move 100-percent of the time.”
“They have to be on point and set up so we don’t miss a pit and everything for us in the race truck goes as planned,” Fitza continued. “This year we had some new faces on our crew for Vegas to Reno, but they nailed it. From fuel to tires and everything in between they excelled at getting us to the checkered flag!”
As we snaked our way from pit to pit we were able to see racers at different spots on the course and the dust trails as the course headed away from the highway.
Coming into the pits is an organized chaos routine. Teams are coming in and out, racing to get in before their vehicle arrives and those leaving heading to the next pit.
For those that have not seen a pit stop in an off-road race, it is a little different than a pit at an F1 event and it is more than the extra lug nuts on the wheels. From fueling, tire changes, loading up new spares on the rack replacing blown out or flat tires, and making sure the drivers are staying hydrated it is all happening with a group of guys that for some teams haven’t ever worked together.
Each vehicle is required to pass through the mandatory 25 mph pit, but depending on the team’s game plan, they do not have to stop. Some teams use pits for visual checks, emergency stops, tire changes, fuel, or to fix a problem on the truck, regardless of what they do they have to go through the pit.
We would continue up the racecourse stopping at the designated pits and be listening to the radio as the truck maintained contact with the chase crew. At one point of the race, we did hear that the truck had been nerfed from the back and on course replacing a flat Fitza and Novoa discovered that their jack handle was difficult to get out.
When the truck pulled into the following pit the crew had to figure out a way to attach the handle to the truck to make sure it would be there if needed for another tire change. We were also able to see the damage from the nerf.
Pictures do not do it just as to what was damaged at the rear of the truck. The rear bumper was bent, the spare driveshaft was missing, and the extra fluids had exploded. And they say off-road racing is a non-contact race, HA!
With no major issue on the truck beside the rear end pinion skid plate being ripped off and taking the bolts with it, the team had a relatively smooth day. We did not make it to the last designated spot as we got caught in traffic on the highway and knowing the truck would beat us to the pit, we headed to the finish line.
At The Finish Line
Heading to the finish line is a feat in itself for a race like Vegas to Reno. With a large distance, extreme temperatures, and a host of other problems anyone finishing is a huge accomplishment.
One the way we had already heard that Bryce Menzies had taken the overall win for the race and other Class 6100 trucks were inching closer to the finish line, but the OTSFF team did not give up and still pushed forward.
A desert thunderstorm moved into the area and dumped tons of water on the course making for an interesting close to the event. If the race wasn’t difficult enough already, the drivers got one more element thrown at them.
“Vegas to Reno was an excellent event,” Fitza said. “It started with qualifying on Wednesday night around midnight at APEX. We qualified in the dark, for the first time at a Best In The Desert event that I can remember, it was very dusty and hot.”
“The race went alright,” Fitza continued. “The first 250 miles were super dusty with almost no visibility. We were running strong and suffered a flat around race mile 160, diff issues at race mile 220, and another flat around race mile 310. We hoped to do a bit better, but all in all, we finished strong in a stacked field, and as they say, ‘That’s Racing!'”
The feeling at the finish line is something that can’t be described. Walking around all the vehicles that had just crossed every driver and co-driver had a smile on their face as well as recounting all the epic memories from the day’s race.
“All in all it was an amazing day,” Fitza said. “Thanks to Andre and Monique as well as everyone at OTSFF for trusting me with their truck. I hope I made them proud.”
“It was not the finish we were hoping for but a finish in itself is a success,” Fitza continued. “We have a solid foundation as a team and we strive to work together, get to the finish, and have fun doing it. And we did just that. We are already looking forward to the next one.”
Overall, it was another successful Vegas to Reno even with the COVID-19 pandemic taking over the world. The race is one of our favorites to cover and we are already looking forward to chasing the dust through the Nevada desert next year.