Story By: Mike Ingalsbee
Photos By: Brandon Bunch
The heat was on at the Best in the Desert All Terrain Concepts UTV Legends Championship held in Laughlin, Nevada. Temperatures soared to well over 100 degrees, as racers tried to keep their cool on a unique 17 mile course that is either a long short course, or a short long course.
For this race, drivers need a set up that can corner well, like a short course car, but still have enough gearing to open it up on the long straight-a-ways. The racing that takes place in Laughlin is always fast paced, and wide open. With the exception of the Fox Proving Grounds, most of the terrain is flat, and fast, with tight turns on the infield, and long, straight sections in the desert. It leaves few choices other than to run flat out from the drop of the flag. When you throw in a land rush start, it becomes even more intense.
The race brings together a diverse group of competitors including youth classes, bikes, ATV’s, purpose built short course UTV racers, and the UTV desert racing crowd. For those who love all forms of racing, it’s an action packed event filled with great competition. After time trials were run for UTV Pro Turbo & Pro Open UTV qualifying on Thursday, where Mitch Guthrie took the pole, the youth classes were the first to hit the track on Friday. They ran the infield section of course so nobody would get lost in the desert. These kids have so much desire for going fast, if they made a wrong turn out on the desert course they would likely end up in Vegas. The kids had a long list of classes they could compete in including Youth 170 Stock 5-8 & 170 Stock 9-13, 170 Mod, 250 Mod, 570 Stock, 570 Mod & 800 Mod. If that’s not enough, they could also compete in the Youth 1000/RS1 UTV class. The youth races are developing the next generation of racing legends, and are quite entertaining to watch. These “Little Rippers” run just as hard as their older counterparts.
Race One on Friday, which included all 170 and 250 class competitors, saw Chase Mankin cross the line first in his 250 Mod UTV, and Jacob Williamson in his 170 Mod UTV finishing second overall, and first in class. They both ran 14 laps to take their wins. All other competitors ran 13 laps or less. The 170 Stock 9-13 Yr/Old class was won by Cameron Leaming, and the young Australian Dexter Warren took first in the 170 Stock 5-8 Yr/Old class. Race Two was for the 570 UTV’s. The top 4 all ran 15 laps of the course with Travis Sallee taking the win. At only 14 years old, Sallee is already what many would deem a veteran racer. He was followed by Ryder Chapman in second, and Jaxon Leaming in third place. It turns out Travis Sallee also took the win in the Youth 1000/RS1 class from Race Three after a results change. The initial results showed Kendall Hawks taking the win, with Paxton Schendel in second and Sallee in third, however a timing error with the start of the second row resulted in time being added to Hawks and Schendel. This bumped Jacob Peter and Kaden Danbury to second and third place respectively, with Hawks landing in 4th, Braden Krah in 5th, and Schendel in 6th. It was a very competitive race with the top 9 all finishing on the lead lap.
While the kids were racing, the rest of the competitors were going through tech inspection and contingency in the Mojave parking lot at the Tropicana Hotel and Casino. Registration took place in the Coronado Room at the hotel which gave racers a bit of a break from the hot sun outside. The hot weather is nothing new to desert racing, and it’s typical for Laughlin in the summer months. In the winter it can be cold, very windy, and/or raining, so take your choice; most prefer the sunshine. The nicely prepared UTV’s were competing with the sun as far as gleaming was concerned, and many fans turned out to get a closer look at them, and to meet their favorite drivers, and crews. For the teams it would be one of their last chances to relax with friends before the battle would ensue in the morning. The Race One on Saturday would be for the bikes and quads. They were followed by the UTV Rally, Full Stock Turbo/NA, and Sportsman classes who ran 6 laps starting at 10:15 am. UTV Pro NA, Unlimited, and RS1 took off for 8 laps at 12:30 PM, and UTV Pro Turbo, Open ran 8 laps at 3:45 PM. UTV Short Course 700, 800, 900, 1000 & Turbo would race on Sunday.
Race Two on Saturday (the first for UTVs) showed competition in the Rally class really heating up. Unofficial results show Mikey Kelly with the win, Jack Olliges second, and Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone in third. We can’t wait to see who comes out on top at the Blue Water race; it’s going to come down to the wire.
Race Three for classes UTV Pro NA, RS1, and Unlimited saw the RS1 of Brayden Baker finish first overall (he also won the short course race overall on Sunday), followed by UTV Pro NA class winner Carson Wernimont who proved he can win at the longest venues like Vegas to Reno, and on a short course style event. His victory in Laughlin was the second in a row after taking the top spot at Vegas to Reno last month. The next three overall finishers were all racing in the Unlimited class; Michael Isom, the class winner, followed by Michael Mcfayden, and Chris Blais. They were followed by 2nd and 3rd place in UTV Pro NA, Jimmy D. Rodriguez’s RZR XP 1000 driven by Matt Lasher, and then the RZR XP 1000 of Richard Sain. Jonathan McVay took 2nd place in UTV RS1, and 12th overall. This group was super competitive with the top 11 UTV’s all finishing on the lead lap. At the beginning of Race Three, there was a scary incident between two Unlimited UTVs before they even reached the first corner from the land rush start. They tangled, turned over, and fuel from their full tanks leaked out, and caught fire. Everyone got out OK, but it was a reminder that racing can be dangerous, and we should never forget to follow all the safety rules and procedures laid out by the sanctioning bodies.
Not everyone is a fan of the land rush starts. One who voiced their concerns about them was Christian Sourapas. Whether you share his views or not, he did speak up, and in an ironic twist he also got tangled up and rolled during the start of Race Four in the UTV Turbo class. Luckily he landed on his tires, and continued. “You always need to adapt, and overcome; it never goes 100% to plan,” said Christian. “We kept our heads down and made the most of it. The roll cost us our chance at the win; we were buried in the pack, and had a lot of dust to overcome. We had to take some pretty big chances, and push hard when we could see. On lap 7 we were in third, but didn’t have a chance at closing the gap to the leaders in one lap. This team is a work in progress; we are happy to cross getting a podium off our list, but we have not lined up at any race without feeling like we had a chance to win. We worked hard with our crew chief Keith Mila to get the car ready after Vegas to Reno only to wreck in the first turn, but there was no time to sit and pout about it. We will be after a win at the Blue Water race with a vengeance. Championships are nice, but we race to win.”
Second place in UTV Turbo class was S3’s Dustin Jones. “It was a great race; really exciting, really fast,” said Dustin. “It’s crazy how fast the pace is now with all the pro UTV’s, and how closely we all run. I was honestly surprised we were able to keep that pace for that long, and have the cars stay together. It tells you how far the UTV’s have progressed. It was a really big race for us being that we were running second for the championship going into the race. It looks like it’s gonna be down to the wire, and we’re really going to lay everything out there at Blue Water.”
Despite starting on the pole, Mitch Guthrie Jr suffered a mechanical issue that sidelined his car for repairs. He narrowly missed the holeshot, but quickly took 1st from Dustin Jones and lead to the halfway point, only to pull into the pits with a part failure. Even with the incredible pace during the race, his team got him back on course to finish 10th place on the lead lap. Mitch was the points leader going into the race, but with it being a double points race, the top three are all too close to call now.
The UTV Turbo class, and overall winner was Ryan Piplic who has been chipping away at a win all season. “We actually sat back and ran our own pace for 6 laps,” said Ryan. “Nobody was pressuring us so we just tried to avoid the dust. We switched back to a 2 seat configuration this season and it paid off in Laughlin. We dropped the car’s ride height down just a little and were able to really throw the car around in the turns. We rubbed the skid plate a little when the ruts got deep, but it was worth it. Last time here we ran the course backwards and it was really rough. This race it seemed like the freeway compared to that. My Polaris ran perfect, Long Travel Industries builds a great car, and I had so much faith in my CST tires that we left the spare tire off. The heat made it pretty miserable, but we are from Vegas. We are in contention for championships in both BITD, and Legacy which makes it hard for us since both series are racing the same weekend. We will have to see how things work out; we might be able to do both.”
If Ryan can pull off both races in one weekend, it will be amazing. If he also gets a pair of championships it will be epic. Either way things are bound to be exciting when the season comes to an end during the last weekend of October. No doubt all the heavy hitters will be there to finish the season off with a win or a championship.