Racers Run Wide Open at Laughlin Desert Classic
Nothing compares to offroad racing. Pavement racers only need to battle the competition. Desert racers have plenty of that, but also have to survive the terrain. They have to find the balance between outpacing their competitors and destroying their own vehicles. Beating the competition is not enough. You also need to endure one of the toughest and most unforgiving places on Earth. At the Best in the Desert series Laughlin Desert Classic race, the format compels participants to throw caution to the wind and run wide open.
Held in the desert just outside Laughlin, Nevada, the race deviates from the typical desert racing format by running only a couple laps of the short 16-mile long course. The UTV’s ran eight laps on Thursday in the dark. The rest of the classes raced three or four laps on both Saturday and Sunday. The winners ran the shortest total elapsed time for both days. Strategy is out the window because there simply is no time. No time for flat tires, no time for repairs, and no time for indecision. It guarantees excitement, and for some is a recipe for disaster. Just because you choose to ignore the desert terrain, doesn’t mean the desert terrain will ignore you. There were several spectacular crashes during the race when drivers pushed too hard. Thankfully, their safety gear and roll cages kept them safe. Those who had the speed and the skill to thrive on the ragged edge came out on top.
The crews were particularly stressed as most had no input during the race. They had to watch helplessly as the cards were dealt. The UTV crews had some input as they ran eight laps in one shot, but the other classes only had the overnight hours to make repairs or dabble with adjustments. The teams that were running well were able to take in the amenities that Laughlin has to offer. A resort town that sits on the banks of the Colorado River, Laughlin has countless ways to occupy one’s time. While some gambled on the race course, others tried their luck in the casinos. Laughlin also has shows, movies, bowling, and great restaurants. If you prefer to spend your time outdoors, there are watercraft rentals and several nice beaches on the river.
The heat race format gave competitors the free time to have fun with their families, crew, and even other teams when they weren’t racing. The desert racing community is a tight-knit bunch. There is an unwritten rule that we look out for each other. The battles take place on the course, everywhere else there is a strong sense of mutual respect and camaraderie. It takes a special breed to enjoy being tested in the harshest of environments so you end up meeting the nicest people out in the desert. Prima donnas don’t last long.
Other things that didn’t last long at Laughlin were race fuel and body panels. The grid was arranged in rows of three. At the drop of the green flag, it was a drag race until the three separate lanes blended together. Each row had their own battle for the holeshot to get the blood flowing. It’s a big advantage to be in front. Despite some intermittent rain, it is always only a matter of time until the dust starts flying, adding to the feverish pace. The best way to avoid the dust from the vehicle ahead is to be inches away from the rear bumper. There is a reason why desert racers are built with beefy steel bumpers on both ends; they get used… a lot. It is commonly referred to as the chrome horn. Contact can happen by choice or by accident. Either way, the car in front has two choices, outrun the pursuer or get out of the way.
Every class battles for the top spot, a place on the podium, or in some cases, just to make it to the finish. There is also the coveted overall win. The overall is usually taken by one of the unlimited class vehicles as was the case in Laughlin. The Trick Trucks have an advantage on the long wide open sections, and when it gets very rough. The Open Wheeled class 1500 cars excel in tight technical terrain. Laughlin has a mix of both, and the results showed it. The overall win went to Christian Sourapas, his first, driving his Mason 4WD Trick Truck. His total time for both days was 02:06:36.394. Second fastest overall was the 1500 car of Bill Wingerning who had a time of 02:07:46.106. The tight battles even transcended the separate classes.