30 miles into 540 miles total and the car has flipped, we are scrambling around in the desert, cars are passing us, the racing trax device is screaming, and we smell fuel. The pits are closing soon, and we gotta get this car to pit #1.. and fast.
Let’s rewind a bit… This is the culmination of a series of decisions that are questionable at best. I will write more about how we got to this point later. For now, all you need to know is we decided somehow that the longest offroad race in America should be our first off-road race. We also decided that we would share driving duties, and switch driving and co-driving 1/2 way. We are experienced road racers, we had a pre-owned car with a great pedigree, what could go wrong?
If you have been off-road racing before you are probably chuckling at us right now. I don’t blame ya.
We felt good after two extended multi-day test sessions in the Nevada desert. Some of the testing was on last years race course. We had good pace, even though (we didn’t know it then) we had a horrible exhaust leak, so the car was down on power. We learned a great deal about the car, how to make it fast, how to deal with belts, tire changes, all of it. We felt great.
In prep for V2R we decided the car needed some mods in addition to the new muffler and airbox. Dan, Alex, and additionally, Clint from Valley Motorwerks all took turns prepping the car. We had changes to make to make it legal as well as a list of ‘must haves’ and ‘wants’. We ended up doing them all. We re-wired the car from scratch, all new corners, all new axles, new AiM dash unit, clutch blower, and a host of sophisticated wiring and control bits. Dan especially spent probably 50 hours prepping the car. Alex did all new corners, fluid changes, and more. Clint fabbed up a rear crash bar, new wing windows, steps, and a host of other really clean goodies. Here in Texas I prepped a new dashboard and created the wiring diagram for Dan to install. I shipped it to him and he spent another 25 hours wiring it up. Prep was outstanding, but there were some last little things to-do…
Fast forward, we all wake up in Vegas on Tuesday, a full day before contingency starts. We have Alex, Mike, John and Jen on crew duties as well as our extended families including 5 kids. It’s important to us the kids participate and grow up in this (new to us) culture of off-road racing.
Contingency morning the guys got the car in line early. I think the first UTV in line. All of our prep paid off, we cruised through contingency without problem. Dan and I hit the registration, and we all met up afterwards. All was well. We had to get our bucket of Monster Seal, chat with the AiM folks on a couple last minute settings, and get some advice from Fox. All went as planned, but Fox had some pretty drastic changes for us. We had added some weight to the RZR and we hadn’t changed preload. No biggie, but some work. We didn’t tackle any clutch tuning, the car was fast and we had the redline where we wanted it for reliability anyways.
Next morning was race day. Jen had been hydrating us, and watching our intake of food and such. Dan and I were ready. The crew was ready. Let’s do this.
We awoke early, got all the fuel filled up, and headed out to the start. Drivers rode in Alex/Jen’s sick Audi a8 chase car(?), the other guys followed in Dans massive chase rig, and then we had two more vehicles with jammed with wife’s and kids. Yeah, we had a big footprint to say the least.
Ok, f*^% desert racing is hot. I mean, dude. We staged in the car for a good 45 minutes or more while classes ahead of us went out. Matt came over and said hi and wished us luck from his duties in the Carver car. Dude is rad. We were ready to go. Let’s GO already! I was to drive first, Dan next. We were 9th out of 30 in starting order. Right as we got up to the start all the kids, wifes, crew, everyone was at the fence waiving us on and cheering. We hit the siren and waived. This is AWESOME.
Remember, this is our first off-road race… ever.
Then it started. Green! I floored it. No traction, ease up, ok we are out. #1936 off the line blurts over the radio. Chase has already left, they ack. We are off.
Ok, the dust. The dust. OMFG the dust. Within 2 minutes we can’t see anything. The dust is blowing off course but we had gained on the car in front of us, putting us into a cloud of death. We slowed down, we were disoriented and confused. Our normally awesome communication broke down. We went into survival mode. Then 1986 came up and nerfed us. Ok, this was turning bad. The course was rutted bad, it was hard to drive. Matlock flew by. Then.. we took a deep breath.
We started moving slower believe it or not. Our brains began to be calibrated to this ‘new normal’. Dan and I gelled on our discourse. The car was handling great. The guys had it tuned perfectly. The shocks were working amazing, the sway bar changes excellent. We figured out the belt temp ‘problem’, we got over the fuel level ‘problem’ and we started doing something weird - We were actually racing!
We could see the dust cloud in front and keep pace with it, and no one was coming up behind. We were pacing with the field, and it felt good. No, it felt great. It was hard as hell to drive and harder to navigate, but we were getting it done. We started to think about how to pass. We had the power, we think we had the skills to get into their dust now. We were traveling through a section that was a little faster. We were at 65mph or so.
Then it happened. First a thunk. I knew it was on the passenger side hub. Something wrong. Then quickly another thump, then the most horrible noise. I was on the brakes, but the car wasn’t ‘right’.
The passenger front wheel then passed us. Yep, right in front. We were > 40MPH still. I said “Hold ON!”. We have flipped RZR’s before… but this time we were doing 40MPH and we had just lost a wheel. The control arm dug in and we went flying. We landed on our side and luckily didn’t cartwheel. We slid probably 30’ down the road. We came to rest.
Dan immediately hit the racing trax ‘alert’ button that would buzz people coming up on us. Both of us remember being terrified of oncoming traffic. We were right in the track. It was a fight to get out. Dan was above me, and getting the net open, and starting the process of getting out. I smelled fuel. I stated over the intercom to get out! I disconnected his radio and helmet pumper and grabbed the fire extinguisher and put it in my lap. I pushed his butt and got him out. I disconnected my radio and blower then stood on the ground to push myself out. We were out!
We assessed the damage. The car was on it’s side - the broken hub was facing straight up. All 4 wheel studs sheared off. The brake rotor mangled. The wheel and tire no where to be found. It took us a good 15 minutes to get our heads about us.
Another UTV came by with the same problem, except just two studs, not all 4.
We started to figure out a plan. We tried to hammer out other studs from other wheels, but we needed to get this thing flat so we could rotate wheels to get the studs out. Dan ran over and tried to see if the other damaged car needed anything and if they had studs. They had studs, but no nuts. We tried to trade, but different diameters. Crap. They came and helped us right the RZR, then they took off.. fixed. Thx boys for the help! I think it was a wildcat, but I forgot the car #. Thanks if you are reading this guys.
We drove the car backwards off the course, then got to work. We jacked up the front using the impact on the end of our scissor jack. We hammered out two studs from other wheels. We pounded them into the hub without the brake rotor cause it was ruined. We zip tied up the brake rotor. I think I may have zip tied the pads, I can’t remember. Dan was on sat comms letting the team know what was up. Finally we got radio coms with them. They had parts to fix us! They started getting ready.
We got the spare wheel on the two studs. Dan noticed his watch said his heartrate hit 200. We got back in the car, got all the tools stowed, we got it cleaned up and we were off! We had to go really really really slow because it was obvious only two studs where holding the wheel on. The brake rotor came loose from the zip ties and was making a racket, but it was working. We had 10 miles to go and we were going about 20mph.
The team had radio’d us that the pits where closing. At 20MPH we had about 10minutes for the hub and axle change. We knew the guys could do it! We just had to limp there not too fast and not too slow. It was working we could see the pit!
We just had to cross the road and we were at pit 1. Then disaster. We broke another stud. What happened next is a blur but we tried to fix it again using a stud from a jeep that someone handed us, we tried zip ties, we were hitting a hammer with a hammer, we tried it all. We were about to turn it around and drive backwards dragging the arm but the NDOT dude told us no, we would ruin his road. We tried everything until finally the BITD official came over and told us were were done.
Dan and I were devastated. The team came over, they too devastated. They kept saying they felt bad for us. I felt bad for them. The BITD guy felt bad, the NDOT guy felt bad. We all just stared at the car. Our day was done. We had traveled 30 miles to pit 1 and we were out. Dan didn’t even get to drive. He had lost his phone somewhere in the sand. We were exhausted.
The size and caliber of this event sunk in. Holy mother of god this is a huge undertaking. The desert had up and smacked us newbs like I suspect so many others. We got schooled hard. Humbled big time. I felt embarrassed. I felt like I should have driven better. I should have pulled 3 studs out of the other wheels. Why didn’t I do that math correctly? I felt like I should have taken it easier when it opened up. I felt like I let down the team, I felt like I let down my family.
My 8 year old daughter put it right later. Saying “Daddy, remember we never give up. You just need to practice more”. She was dead on. We don’t give up, and yes, we need more practice. I have never had so much fun in my entire life. Everyone I care about (almost) was there. We all tried and failed together. We lived through it. What felt so good is that we do this precisely because it’s hard. We knew that.
The road doesn’t end here. We will be back. We are humbled, but we are hooked. Now we have some experience, and a lot more to learn. But the first one is behind us.
I want to say a huge thank you to the entire team: Alex, Jen, Mike, John, Julie, Eowyn, Jamie, Johnny, Bradan, Nick, Jackie, Eala. We couldn’t have done any of this without your devotion, drive, love, and patience. Thank you.
I also want to thank my brother, Dan. Thank you for being with me, thank you for making me better, pushing me. Thank you for surviving to be here now. I love you man.
Remember what my daughter said. We don’t give up. See ya out there!