2016 BITD Vegas To Reno Race Report
By: Jacob Carver // Driver #936 Polaris RZR XP Turbo
Photos by: Rusty Baptist // UTVUnderground.com
Coming off of a second place finish at the Laughlin Desert Classic and falling just short of a podium with a 5th place overall finish at the Baja 500, we knew that our car required some upgrades if we wanted to win the longest race in the US. The first step was to upgrade our cooling system as we were plagued with overheating problems in the Baja 500. V2R has always been the hottest race of the year in the BITD series and the last thing we wanted was to sit on the side of the course and watch our shot at the podium slip away while we let the car cool down. The day we got back to Phoenix from the Baja 500 we started tearing the car down to prep for V2R. We pulled the entire cooling system to start. I soon noticed a transmission leak, so we pulled the tranny and broke it down for a complete rebuild. I started to worry about our overheating issues at Baja and what they could have done to the engine, so I ran a compression test on the car. Everything checked out, but I wanted the peace of mind of a fresh engine for V2R. We pulled the engine and quickly contacted Polaris to procure a fresh one.
As I got deeper into prep, I started to notice the hurt that Baja had put on the car. After a week or two worth of midnight to 1 O’clock AM nights, I had a chassis and wiring harness sitting on 4 jack stands. I said to myself, “I am already this far, might as well strip it the rest of the way down and replace the fresh Mexico rust with some fresh paint.” I pulled the harness out of the car and sent it off to get sand blasted. Once I received the chassis back, I had about 4 weeks to put the entire car together and test my new set of shocks, my newly rebuilt trans, my new engine, my new clutch cover setup, and my new tires. The whole time all I could think was “what if all these changes make a previously reliable car, into a car suffering the new car blues?” For the next 3 weeks I would stay up every night prepping the car, just to wake up at 4 or 5 AM to go to work. Anyone who knows me knows that I have an hour drive each way to work, and I don’t exactly work banker hours. Regardless of my work schedule, racing is my passion and I will always make time to have a prepared car for each and every race.
Did I mention at this time my house was also going through a remodel? To say I was a busy human would be an understatement. My roommate Jesse Fletcher, who works at Lonestar Racing, was the only person who was able to take time out of his busy schedule to help me prep. My amazing girlfriend Brittany ran all over town getting my chassis sand blasted, picking up parts, and bringing me food while I was prepping. Justin Quinn also did me a solid and used his aluminum welding skills to weld some bungs on my radiator. Without these three, I would have never finished the prep. After I made the chassis modifications for the new cooling system, I painted up the chassis and started re assembly. The car was started back up for the first time on Sunday August 14th. I immediately headed out to the “Geiser loop” just to find what I had previously worried about. The new shocks that I thought would be an upgrade, were nowhere near tuned for my car. Luckily, everything else on the car seemed solid, so all I had to do in three days was completely tune my suspension and tune my clutches for the tire size change, easy right? I went back to the “Geiser loop” on Monday, August 15th to find that my valving adjustments in the shocks that I did the night before were only a baby step in the right direction. I got on the phone with Bobby from Fox and he recommended some heavier springs. I called Lonestar, Kartek, and Foddrill, everyone I could think of. They all wanted to help but unfortunately didn’t have the springs that I needed, like yesterday. Dan Fisher from LSR recommended that I call Shock Therapy to try to get the springs, and with some luck, they had them. I took the springs home on Tuesday August 16th to find that the spring diameter was set up for the stock Fox IBP sliders, not the race shock sliders. I stopped working on the car and started loading the truck up for the race.
On Wednesday, August 17th, I woke up at 4 O’clock am after 3 hours of sleep, went to work until 1 O’clock PM and then headed to Geiser brothers where my buddy Nick turned a few thousandths off of my sliders so that the springs I got from Shock Therapy would fit. I put the shocks on, and Jesse and my co driver Jack, who had driven down to Phoenix from Prescott spent the rest of the night on August 17th installing window nets, extinguishers, etc. I worked on loading the truck and making sure our pit plans, spare parts, and tools were in order. Thursday August 18th, we woke up at 6 O’clock AM and set sail to Sin City. We went straight past tech and contingency to Jean, NV. We pulled the car out and hit the biggest section of whoops, which are part of the Mint 400 course, and realized all of the work to put the new springs on, etc., was a fail. About that second, our clutch tuner, Adam Harvey pulled up with his rig from Mississippi to tune the clutches. Before we knew it, it was 4PM and BITD was calling me wondering if I was going to make the 2016 Vegas to Reno race. We threw the car on the trailer and hammered down to the Aliante hotel. We arrived at 5 O’clock PM, I went straight to the drivers meeting with my co driver Jack, and we finished our registration and enjoyed our one free hour of the weekend listening to Casey with the rest of the racers. In the meantime, my buddy Taylor was getting our tracker installed. When the meeting was done I went out to meet Taylor and tech the car. We left tech and headed out to Apex, just north of Vegas, to meet Adam Harvey to pick up my spare clutches that he had prepped while I was in the drivers meeting. We didn’t get out of Apex until 10PM and arrived at the start line at 12:30AM on the morning of August 19th, race day. We put a new belt on the car and went to bed. We woke up at 6 AM, installed my spare shocks (the shocks I ran at the Baja 500), added some preload, and headed to the start line.
Now for the fun part, race day. If you are still listening, you’re probably wondering if my crew and I are worn out yet. That is the point of the story, the preparation for the race is what makes the difference. It may have taken a month of late nights, hard work, and last minute scrambling, but we were now sitting at the start line in the 2nd physical UTV position with a capable car that was ready to win. The flag dropped, my Prostar turbo spooled, and we went ripping into the desert. Everything was going smooth until RM6. We pulled up on a track official waving us to the left of a pile up of trophy trucks and buggies in a ravine. We drove along side of the ravine for about 200 yards, following other buggies, just to find that the only way across was through the pile up. We turned back and crossed through the pile up, navigating though stuck vehicles and silt. We pushed forward for the next 3 miles only to find a continuation of the same scenario, silt, pile ups, and rollovers. At approximately RM 25 we could see the 905 car of Marc Burnett ahead of us. He was sucking in some fresh black smoke from the diesel truck that was in front of him. We followed Marc’s dust all the way to pit 1 where we pulled in only 5 seconds behind him and put the car on the trailer. We loaded up and headed to pit 2.
At pit 2, we hustled to unload the car and put our helmets back on. We pulled up to the restart line where they stopped us and let Marc Burnett go around us and start the race back up. Burnett started and then pulled over only 100 yards up the road to take fuel from his pit crew. With a smile on my face I passed by and took over the first physical UTV position. We knew that there were probably a load of cars that started in the back that were pushing to take the lead on corrected time. At this point I knew that at the end of the day, we could fix anything torn up on the car, and this would be my chance to break away. I hammered down, and navigated through the course with ease. Finally we were on a high speed course and my clutching was right. 85MPH plus was a great feeling. We slowed way down for rock sections, knowing that a flat or a broken axle would ruin our day. Our crew fueled us at our one pit stop of the day and we pushed forward. They were working so hard and fast to keep up with the car, that they couldn’t stick around to see the times of the cars behind us. We had no idea how the field was doing behind us, so we ran our own pace, not taking too many chances, and enjoying the clean air. JUST KIDDING, being up front is not as glorious as it may seem, we passed every single trophy lite in the class and had to battle through dust of the “faster cars”. When we finally made it to the finish with a flawless day, Joey D. of UTVUnderground.com was standing there to tell us we had a 12-15 mile lead on the next car in line. To say we were pumped would be an understatement.
We sat at the finish line for a while to make sure no one crept up from the back and beat us on time. After a while we felt safe and headed out to the local Tonopah car wash. We cleaned up the car and began prep for day #2. We began to see all of the social networking going off about our lead on day one. It felt pretty awesome to finally get the finish we were working for all season, but we made sure not to get side tracked. We knew that in all reality, we were not even half way done, we still had 2/3 of the longest race in the US to conquer. Before we knew it, it was 9 O’clock PM. I met up with Adam Harvey to pick up some fresh clutches as the silt on day one had done a number on ours. He congratulated us on our run and we headed to the baseball fields to hear the starting order for Saturday. BITD had told everyone to be there at 10 O’clock PM and we were. By 11:30, there were still no signs of the starting list, so we left and went back to our camp to get some rest.
We woke up on day 2, took a quick look over the car and finished any prep that we did not get to the night before. We headed to the start line only to find out that we were starting in front of several trophy trucks, class ones, 6100 trucks and many other vehicle weighing over double of what we weighed. I stopped and talked to Joey D. from UTV Underground and he proceeded to tell me that “today is a big day for you, don’t let it slip away”. Thanks for putting the pressure on Joey!! At this time I had no idea what Craig and Jason from Polaris were conjuring up for the finish line. I just thought that Joey meant I had a chance to win this race and get some real credit in the UTV community. I replied with “yeah of course I know it’s a big day, I’m hoping for another flawless run so I can take home the W”. Boy was I in for a surprise.
We pulled up to the start line after the class one bugging in front of us ripped off the line. I looked in my mirror to see the mean looking front end of a 6100 truck ready to eat me as soon as it hit the course. I always have a good adrenaline high going at the start of the race, but I am not going to lie, the thought of trophy trucks and 6100s trying to make up their lost time from day 1 behind me was a little nerve racking. We sped off the line and began our journey to Dayton, NV. I told my co dog Jack, “Don’t even look at that GPS for the first 5 miles, watch the mirrors and don’t let us get killed by a TT”. I am pretty sure Jack got the hint that I was a little nervous when he started calling corners around mile 5 and I said “why are you not watching the mirror?” He replied with, “I still don’t see anyone, I guess we are just that bad ass and the TTs can’t catch us”. I laughed knowing it was only a matter of minutes before they were breathing down our necks. Sure enough, around 15 miles in, I saw a truck quickly approaching us on a long dirt road. I pulled way over to the side and watched the Nexgen Fuel TT, Lofton, and some other big players blow past us as they battled to make up time. We let the dust settle and pulled back out on the course. I now had a huge weight off my shoulders and could now really start the race. We began to run a steady pace.
Approximately 5 miles later I started to feel the car acting odd. I told Jack to try to stick his head out the window and see if we blew a tire on his side. We were on a long straight dirt road so I didn’t want to stop if we didn’t have a problem. He un-plugged his helmet and popped his head out. While he was looking out of the side of the car I thought I heard something, so I looked in the mirror. Right at that same second Jack had plugged his helmet back in and he yelled, PULL OVER!!! Justin Lambert was on our tail. We pulled over to move out of the way and fix our flat tire. As Jack was fixing the tire, Burroughs also passed by. Right as Jack was jumping in, Zemak passed by and we pulled out in his dust. We radioed to the crew that instead of pitting at our scheduled pit 10, we wanted to pit at 9 so that they could throw a new spare tire on the car. As we pulled in to pit 9, Zemak pulled over to take fuel. I told the crew, hurry up we need to get out before that canned ham!!! Unfortunately, right when the guys said “we are almost ready”, Zemak passed by. We pulled out in his dust once again. I stayed on him for a few miles until Jack said to lay back so we don’t break the car in the dust. We pulled into pit 10 to see Zemak in his pit, I thought sweet!! Nope, he pulled out right in front of us, only to dust us out at the “resume race speed” sign. At this time I was pretty sick of the dust. I started to push hard to stay on him. Jack told me to back down. I said “nope, Im sick of this dust holding us up, I am going to pass him!” We tailed him through the wash we were in and finally I could see his flashing lights. I slammed the gas to go in for the kill. When I got about 5’ off of his bumper I could see Bill and his co-dog frantically waving their hands. I backed off and let them pull over. Thank you Bill for being a good sport and pulling over when you were caught!!
Back in the lead of the turbo class we settled in. We had a scheduled pit stop at the next pit which was pit 11. I had planned for this to be nothing more than a quick fuel so that we could get back out before Zemak and put some time on the field. We pulled in, stopped the car and the crew ran up with redbull, water, and fuel jugs. Fergie and Drew started fueling. A second later I heard a WOOOSHHH. We were on fire. The fumes coming out of the fuel breather on my side of the car had lit up from static electricity. The hose was nowhere near the motor and there was a fire wall between the hose and the rear of the car where all the heat was. I was shocked. I quickly started to un buckle as Drew and Fergie tried to pull the fuel can out of the car. The can lit up and as they splashed it down, it threw fire all over the car. I looked over and Jack’s back was up in flames. At that moment I looked to my left and saw Mitch Guthrie Sr with our 20lb extinguisher. He meant business. He buried the car, Jack, and I in white dust. The halon took the oxygen out of me and I struggled to breathe. I finally got out of the car only to see what I thought was a DNF at the 2016 Vegas to Reno. It all happened so fast and I wasn’t even sure what to do at this point. Luckily, everyone was ok so we started to look at the car. I was obviously worked up so I started barking orders at my Dad, Fergie, Drew, and Jack. Sorry guys, my adrenaline was pumping and I was a bit frustrated!! The reality was, that our day was not over and this was a freak accident that was no one’s fault. Before anyone tries to blame the machine, this had nothing to do with any of the stock equipment on my Polaris RZR. We taped up the fuel pump wires, replaced the melted clutch cover and started the car. Reluctant to get in the car, I yelled at Jack, LETS GO!!!!
We pulled out of pit 11 still a bit shaky and paranoid of what may have happened to the car. As we were in the pits for what felt like an hour, Murray Racing and Black Hills UTV passed by. The reality was, we were very lucky with the little damage that occurred and we were probably only in the pit for somewhere around 10 minutes. What I knew for sure was that our nine and a half minute lead that we had on the Murray’s from day one was long gone. We pushed hard and took chances. All I could think about was my conversation with Joey D. and letting this victory slip away. I thought to myself, not on my watch!!! We soon made a pass on Black hills UTV while they were pulled over making repairs. We were now on the home stretch with less than 100 miles left of the longest desert race in the US.
As we grew closer to the finish I began to wonder if the Murrays had checked out and if we should check up and conservatively finish the race. Then I thought, this is our race and no one is taking it from us. I hammered down and began the hunt for the Murray Racing canned ham. 30 miles from the finish line the Murrays were pulled over with a flat tire. I gave Jack the knucks and passed them thinking “we just won the 2016 Vegas to Reno”. We had a 9 and a half minute lead on the Murrays from day 1 and they started 3 minutes behind us on day 2. As long as we finished in front of them, we would win the race. I thought what could happen in 30 miles? We will take it easy and keep the Murrays in our dust. I should have known that desert racing works in mysterious ways, and it’s not over until you cross the finish line.
Less than a mile after we passed the Murrays I heard a sound coming from the right rear that was similar to the sound that we heard only 20 miles into the race. I knew that we had a flat and all I could hope for was that Jack could change it faster than the Murrays could get back in front of us. I told Jack, change the tire and throw everything back in here, don’t worry about putting anything back on the car. Jack hammered on the king jack and the car rolled forward falling back onto the flat tire. I got out and tried to help and then realized that was a stupid move because I needed to be holding the brake. I jumped back in and held the brake. I put my harnesses on. Murray still had not passed us. The excitement started to grow. I heard the impact tightening the last lug nut and then I looked back only to see the Murrays car fly by and cover us in dust. S**t!!!!! I screamed knowing that it was only minutes before we would lose our victory. Jack jumped in and we hit the gas to pull out behind the Murrays. I thought to myself, “If I can stay in their dust and finish right on them, we can still win this”. I put the hammer down and the car nearly died. I looked over at Jack with a terrified look behind my helmet lens. I said something is wrong! The car wouldn’t go over 20MPH. We talked back and forth pondering on what is was. I said “if we don’t pull over and fix it we could lose several positions in the remainder of the race!” Frustrated, I pulled back off the race course.
We pulled the UMP filter canister off of the car. Unfortunately where I have it mounted is not exactly a good place for quick filter changes. We pulled the filter out and whacked it on the back tire. As we were doing this Mitch Guthrie Jr. blew past us. We frantically beat 10 lbs. of silt out of the filter and put it all back together. We got back in the car and harnessed in. I put the hammer down and the car ripped up the dirt beneath us. She was back! I finally had the turbo power at the touch of a pedal like I was used to. We put the hammer down and I told Jack “we can either choose a moderate pace and have the possibility of breaking down in 3rd place, or we can push to catch first place and have the same possibility to break down.” He said, “we came to win didn’t we? Floor it!” We took some of the biggest chances I have ever taken in desert racing in the next 20-25 miles. The course was made up of brutal rock gardens, switchback corners, dust and silt. When we came down the hill to the finish line, I saw Guthrie just opening his window net. It knew we had him on time. I then saw the Murrays already out of their car.
The calculations started going in my head. I was wondering how far ahead they had finished, and if it was going to come down to the second. I stopped at the Fox arch and everyone thought I had them. Unfortunately we didn’t quite make it. We ended up 2nd unofficially on time by 3 minutes in a 645 mile race. This was a hard fought battle and a tough pill to swallow. We had missed our goal by only 3 minutes. The months of prep, the long nights, the relentless testing, it had all ALMOST accomplished our goal. We set out to win the 2016 Vegas to Reno, not to finish. Even with the thought of failure on my mind I still couldn’t help but smile that we had still made it on the podium of the longest desert race in the US. Joey D. walked up to me and said, “When you get through the line, come see me I have something special for you”. I am thinking sweet, UTVUG is going to present us a special trophy and a bottle of champagne.
After I thanked my sponsors, family, crew, girlfriend, friends, etc., I made my way over to Joey D. I heard him present Mitch Guthrie Jr with a $1500 cash prize from Polaris. I instantly grew a smile. How much was I going to get? Was I going to get anything because I am not a Polaris sponsored racer? Joey concluded his interview with Mitch and told me it was my turn. I stood in front of my car nervous and excited to see what would happen next. Joey told me that Polaris was presenting me with a $2500 cash prize for taking 2nd place! The first thought in my head was, maybe 2nd place isn’t so bad! He then said, “That’s not all!” At that moment I was at a complete loss. Was another company presenting me with a contingency? Was I getting that special trophy I had previously thought of? I literally had no idea what was about to happen. Joey handed me his phone and said “I want you to read the first few words”. Holding the phone with my nervous and shaky hand, the first word that popped out at me was half way down the page. I didn’t listen to Joey, I didn’t read the first few words. I read a couple bullet points of some things that I had only previously dreamed of getting. I then went to the top of the page and read “sponsorship agreement.” It then hit me that I was holding a factory sponsorship agreement from Polaris RZR. I looked up at Joey with a smile as he asked “do you know what that is?” I was at a loss of words and all I said was, “yeah that’s what we have been working for the past 2 years”. Little did I know, I was on video not only by UTVUG but by all of my friends and family who had already heard the news before I finished. I almost felt like Ashton Kutcher was going to pop out of the crowd and tell me I just got punked.
To say that the 2016 Vegas to Reno race was a milestone in my racing career would be yet another understatement that occurred at this race. The 2016 Vegas to Reno race was a milestone in my life. Since I was a young kid I have been racing in one form or another. I raced BMX dreaming of becoming a factory rider at 9 years old, I raced quads, dirt bikes, Rhinos, and etc. all with the dream of becoming a factory sponsored rider/driver. It all came together for me at this race. Thank you to everyone who has helped my team and I along the way and a special thanks to Craig Scanlon, Jason Difuccia, and the rest of Polaris RZR for not only presenting me with a cash prize and a sponsorship agreement, but for doing it with a bang! I cannot think of a better person than Joey D. to light up the atmosphere and present such an award!
Read the full UTVUnderground.com race report here: http://www.utvunderground.com/2016-bitd-vegas-to-reno-photos-story-results-41221.html