Vegas to Reno Is the Big One!
Those who think all the wide open spaces are gone have never been to Nevada. Every year the Best in the Desert series holds their Vegas to Reno race (V2R), in some of the most desolate terrains in the West. Only a few small towns can be found on the highway that parallels the course to some extent. At times, the course runs miles from the nearest paved road, totally inaccessible to support from their chase crews. Far from the crowds in Las Vegas, competitors battle for 530 miles over fast graded roads, dry lake beds, mountain trails, and deep silt beds. The only spectators are a bunch of donkeys.
This year, the lake beds were not so dry as monsoon conditions caused flooding and deep mud in some areas. V2R is the longest offroad race in the United States. Usually, an offroad race of this distance would demand some strategy, but due to so many long open stretches, the race has evolved into a flat-out sprint to the finish. Racers have the throttle pinned for miles at a time. If the frantic pace and extensive mileage were not enough, the high temperatures in August added to the toll on anyone who ventured into the desert.
One particularly nasty surprise for racers lies in the final 20 miles of the course. Just as thoughts of getting to the finish start to invade the psyche, the terrain turns savage. The course changes to sharp rocks protruding from the ground. It’s like a huge cheese grater ready to shred the cars into pieces. Many racers have made it to this point thinking they had a V2R win in the bag; only to be crushed after the rocks caused damage to their vehicle. There is nothing more devastating than to complete 520 miles of a 530-mile race.
Most of the teams come into the race well rested and well prepared. The series takes a brief break prior to V2R due to the repressive heat during the summer months. The race starts on Friday, so qualifying was on Wednesday, and Thursday was spent in the parking lot of the Texas Station hotel and casino for technical inspection.
All types of vendors set up booths to support the racers and market their wares to the fans that come out to see the vehicles up close. It’s the best time to meet the teams and get your favorite driver’s autograph. These are the final hours before the race starts in the morning. The fun, carnival type atmosphere masks the underlying tension. Most of the drivers are calm and collected, but it’s the crew members who have their minds racing; constantly making sure that the vehicle is prepared and the logistics are finalized for Vegas to Reno.
Despite the good intentions, August is still no picnic in the desert Southwest as temperatures during the V2R race hovered around the century mark. The violent rain squalls were a brief reprise, but then the humidity turned conditions into a steam bath. The incessant dust that blankets everything was briefly turned to mud. It covered the cars and the competitors’ visors like a coat of paint. When racers compete off-road in muddy conditions, they have clear plastic sheets mounted over their face shields. As the mud blocks their vision, they reach up and tear one away revealing a clean one underneath. The “tearaways” as they are called, are not usually employed during a desert race, so many were hampered with impaired vision.
What they do have are systems designed to pump filtered air into their helmets. They accomplish two things: First, they supply filtered air so they don’t have pounds of dust in their lungs and eyes. The second is the relief given by the air blowing on their heads. It helps to cool their body temperature just a bit. There are no windshields in the cars so the occupants are battered by rocks, dust, and dirt. Their helmets and fire suits are the only things protecting them from the onslaught of earth, wind, and fire.
The race takes a toll on every participant, even the winners. Those who won are elated. Those who came up short, but still finished, have just as much pride in accomplishment. Those who failed to get to the line in time are more resolved than ever to get redemption next year. Some are sitting in the darkness with a broken car, wondering what just made that noise.