I have budgeted 45 minutes to write about our racing excursion. Kyle has most of the event details and ensuing fun covered, so I thought I'd write about my first introduction to the world of off road racing trucks. Now, for those of you that think 4-lo and bouncing over the trail at 2 MPH is off roading, look away... nothing to see here except a bottomless pit that'll suck your money away.
Briefly, for those that don't know, I've have a 1600cc single seat vintage 1600 car ("champ car") and have been successfully racing it since 2011 or so. Sure I've had mid travel Jeeps, One-ton lifted trucks, ATV's, 250 dirt bikes, and I daily drive a baja bug. I do, however, have exactly ZERO experience in a racing truck, until last weekend that is, when I drove a Pete Sohren-Built BajaLite truck.
Let's compare the facts... Race buggy weights in at 1600lbs empty. Truck weighs in at 3200lbs or so. Buggy is 65 horse, Truck just shy of 200. 8" front travel in buggy, 22" in truck. Rear travel, 12" vs. 26". Buggy has single stage shocks, truck has triple bypass each corner with hydraulic bump stops. Truck is front engine - solid axle. Buggy is rear engine IRS.
To say the least they are pretty different beasts. So can I take my buggy experience and apply it to trucks in a race environment? Surprisingly, yes... The buggy racing experience helped in a number of ways from race-lines, to power management.
My first experience in the truck came after transporting them outside of Primm, NV. It was a section of desert I was very familiar with from the Mint 400 races, however, it was very different in that there wasn't a race, so it was just a desert. Just a wide open array of sagebrush sprinkled with dry washes. We stop, get out, and someone hands me the keys, figuratively speaking.
Buckled into the truck, I immediately notice that I'm not bumping elbows with my co-driver. There is about a foot of space between us filled with all kinds of nice switches and gauges. Each gauge has marks of normal range delicately placed there by a permanent marker. Who's need gauges? I got a steering wheel in my lap and pedals under my feet. Cockpit seems ergonomic, except the steering wheel is in my lap, that is until I try to reach for the brake. My knee contacts the steering wheel as I make the long journey from the gas peddle. That's take some getting used to!
I start her up, wait for the tourist filled train of RZR 500's, then mash the peddle. I knew this would be an engine limited class, similar to my buggy. Foot to the floor always. My "stock" (wink wink) buggy motor is used to seeing high rpm's at full throttle for extended stretches, but (!), it doesn't have a rev limiter so my mind always has to be mindful not to overreach. Pop-Pop goes the rev limiter, then it's on to second gear on the soft desert.
As I come to the first turn, I reach again in an awkward clunk onto the brake pedal. This isn't going to work... It is about now I discover an extra appendage along for the ride and decide to put it to good use. My left leg has braking duty now.
As we pick up speed the truck just feels sloppy and loose. It's as though you were riding on ice. Steering is so light that I flip it wildly back and forth seemingly just because I can (no power steering in my buggy). And then I ask - "How fast we goin'?". "Seventy Five". -Cough---What? It was then I realized it felt loose because we were skipping over the tops of the bumps. Truthfully, it didn't feel bumpy at all, so I thought we were going slow.
The desert started to creep into the cockpit, scenes of sagebrush encompassed all peripheral views. I caught myself looking at the scenery, and not at the next bump - stop it!! Got to concentrate - Tomorrow I will be driving on a track with 50 other cars. I find a wash on the left and am hard on the brakes. Shifting down to 1st takes some getting used to in this manual-valve-bodied automatic. I use the bank to help us around the turn.
We are now pointed down a dry wash about twice as wide as the truck. It winds back an forth as I try to stay within it's 3 foot high walls. 1st, 2nd, 3rd as I approach a two foot high ledge. "It's a rental! It's a rental!" I keep telling myself as I expect to slam the other side. But, to my surprise, there is no slam, there is not even an inkling of a feeling that the ledge even existed.
What is going on here? The desert is down there, I am here - I think I am here - Am I here? I start to get disoriented. I'm just soaking this all in - The desert scenes... the bumps that don't bump... this steering wheel in front of me that sends mere suggestions to a truck... I must be flying - litterally. And, oh yes, My normally busy right foot is resting cleanly on the floor on top of the gas pedal as my left leg prepares to battle the next obstacle. Wierd.
I soon get into the groove of using my left foot to slow down while keeping my right foot feathered on the throttle as I shift to keep the engine in it's power band. We soon make it back to our trucks, but I don't want to stop - So I don't, we go around the same loop 6 times - probably amounting to 12 miles or so in total. Each corner gets faster. Each bump gets smoother. Adjustment of the truck's attitude becomes more intuitive.
My next experience driving the truck is in race mode. We drive across the parking lot yelping at every turn because the rear tires are held together with a spool instead of a standard differential. We take our place in line behind three other trucks, next to two more, and in front of 40 other trucks and buggies waiting to go fast. Here, again, I enjoy the spacious cockpit and find time to liesurly snap a selfie of my self and my aptly named co-driver, the Stig.
GoPro is on and the green flag drops. I hesitant in the first big whoops because I've been bounced around in my buggy on the same. Following a few turns is a one-mile long straight shot out of town. We top out about 80mph then see the foot-deep scattered cross-ruts. As before, I let the truck decide what it wants to do, and it doesn't slow down. So I don't either. Hard on the brakes for a wide sweeping right hander. I take my typical buggy line, exiting the corner at moderate speed but on the hard inner ground where I won't lose power to the loose scat on the outside.
We are getting it done, for sure! As we come across a few small jumps, I just keep it stable and on the gas. Like a cushion of air we land upon the harsh desert bumps. The jumps keep getting bigger and the turns tighter. It's all on the gas, or hard of the brake - there is no such thing as coasting. Most of the time, in fact, I am hard on the brakes and also hard on the gas trying to get the truck turned around and pointed in a new direction. Pop-Pop is my reminder to shift as the rev limited softly reminds me.
I start to gain confidence hitting everything I find at full power. Down a longer straight we were 60-70mph going through uneven holes at least 20" deep and the truck didn't even blink other than wagging it's tail like an excited puppy. After a few more technical spots where I manage to stay in the race line, We are on a long straight for the "Dike Jump". Yes, we are jumping over an earthen water management hump that rises 25 feet off the desert floor... at 75MPH. It earily silent to fly through the air, feel the suspension bottom, and just wait to see where it is you land. For us, it was about 115 feet, as my video shows the 120 foot mark barely visible to the right. And it's off to the next turn. There are times when I go to use my brakes that they are still wet from a few miles before. Brakes are handy, once in a while, but are a stab-and-go type of affair.
By the last lap, we are hitting everything at full throttle except the corners... My steering inputs have softened from a solid, half-turn jab to a mere finger's-width adjustment, my entry and exits are planned and executed... As it turns out, a person can think much more clearly and see much more cleanly whilst NOT bouncing around inside a tube frame buggy. I was pushing the corners trying to brake as late as possible, but missed twice... Once I has to continue straight and turn around, the other time we were in a rut and felt the inner wheels lift. I was finding that edge... That fine line between fast and fail... That line that I will dance with for 1000 miles down the Baja Peninsula.
We were fast. It was smooth. I took third place out of our nine trucks, beating every other truck in the class but beaten by two buggies. Although we were passed by some in the first few laps, We hunted them down and picked them off at a rate of one per lap until the checkered flag.
Special thanks to my title sponsor: Golden Leaf Holdings, Inc.
To my Navigator and Co-Driver - Chris
To my teammates - Andy and Kyle
To our excellent crew - Pete and Jameson
To all those that came down to support the effort - Nate, Ryan, Richard, Richard
To the event organizers including Tom and Bill along with all of SNORE leadership
To the track volunteers. I've spent many days in a volunteer capacity and know the investment you all make to the sport.
To my fellow competitors that I've met - Cameron, Patrick, Joe, Arrone.
We don't get to race every weekend, but when we do race - We have a blast doing it!
Start is at 6:04...