Cal City Desert Challenge Puts Racers On The Move Again!
Story By: Mike Ingalsbee
Photos By: Art Eugenio
Desert racers are known for overcoming obstacles, and improvising to get the job done. When the season ending race of the Best in the Desert series hit a huge hurdle, their management team used their desert racer resourcefulness to find a solution. Only a month before the race was to take place in Parker, Arizona, word came down from the Indian tribes whose land would be used for the event that due to a covid outbreak the race was a no go. There was not enough time to get a permit approved to use BLM land on such short notice, so something different than their typical venues was needed.
They had to have open space with existing trails, and a land owner that would welcome them; not an easy thing to find. In stepped Lou Peralta, and his Cal City ranch. Lou had property to use, and an existing relationship with the city and county to get a race approved on such short notice. Residents were hesitant at first, but Cal City proved to be the only solution.
Cal City is a unique place with a storied past. Real estate developer Nathan Mendelsohn purchased 82,000 acres in 1958 to build his metropolis in the desert. It is in fact the third largest city by land mass in the state of California. It was supposed to rival Los Angeles in size and scope but it never realized that dream. Miles of roads were drawn out in the sands, there is a central park, an airport, and golf course, but only has a population around 14,000. The plan was there, but the people just didn’t come.
Much of the property sold was sight-unseen, and many were unaware that it was located in such a remote area. California City was incorporated on December 10, 1965. This shifted the responsibility away from Mendelsohn, and placed it on the city. Because the dream was so big, it spread out over 158 square miles, and had 5900 landowners, but only 817 residents, and 232 homes. While it might not be the utopia originally envisioned, it is a perfect location for a desert race.
They were able to lay out a 30 mile loop that was fast, but had plenty of gotcha’s to keep everyone honest. Long, fast straight sections were dotted with cross ruts, g-outs, and a few whoops here and there. The turns were mostly flat, and filled with deep sand. There weren’t a lot of berms to bounce off of in the corners. With so many tracks intersecting the course, it would be easy to get lost. Technically, you could ask for directions as many of the dirt trails actually had street names; they were part of the original planned community. When the course got to the rock outcroppings, the course changed to loose boulders on hardpack. Then there was a twisty section that tested everyone’s concentration. A few sloppy corners could easily change the outcome of your race.
There would be youth racing on Friday, and 3 lap heats on Saturday, and Sunday for the adults. On Saturday competitors learned the course, but as each lap was run, it changed. The sand got deeper, the rocks got pulled up, and the ruts multiplied. Each competitor would have to bring all their skills to the table. The fastest racers all year would have one more chance to see who would come out on top. Do you go all out for the win, or play it smart, and go for the championship? The competitiveness that exists today leaves no options. You have to go all out, and hope the points add up in your favor.
In the turbo UTV class, Ryan Piplic, and Dustin Jones were separated by only 1 point, with Mitch Guthrie sitting only 6 points out of first place. Then there was Vito Ranuio, followed by Randy Romo, and Matt Burroughs who were tied for 5th place. Burroughs was not racing which left the other 5 to duke it out. On day one Mitch Guthrie took the top spot and the much needed points. His main rival Piplic would finish 4th. Vito Ranuio was charging, he finished 2nd. Jones was third. Piplic would have to step it up if he was going to take the win, and the points championship. Dustin Jones seems to always be right in the mix, and was in the mix yet again.
On day 2 it looked like a freight train. Each contender was charging, and they were all just seconds apart. Vito had the most points to make up, and his pace showed it. He would come out with the win, and the overall victory for the weekend. Jones blazed across the line second, followed by Piplic, and then Guthrie. Guthrie would take 2nd overall on the weekend, with Piplic in third. Jones was 4th overall. Ranuio won the battle, but Piplic won the war. He would be the 2021 champion.
The Turbo class racers were not the only ones who were lighting the place up. The UTV rally class competitors were on fire, taking the overall heat wins on both Saturday, and Sunday ahead of the Pro NA competitors. On Saturday it was Jack Olliges out front, and on Sunday Tanner Currier led the way.
The rally class has become very popular and looks to be grooming several promising racers for the professional ranks. Olliges did not answer the bell on Sunday so Tanner Currier’s first place finish when combined with a 5th place on Saturday gave him the overall. These 2 day events can be a real rollercoaster. A win on day one does not guarantee anything other than a good starting position on day two.
The Pro NA class was a battle between Austin Bolton, Zachary Kisman, and Dallas Gonzalez. Kisman was the lone Kawasaki racing against an entire field of Polaris UTV’s. Both Bolton, and Gonzalez had a 1st, and a 3rd place finish. Kisman finished consistently in 2nd place both days. In the end, the overall times put Bolton 1st, Kisman 2nd, and Gonzalez 3rd overall.
Bolton’s strong weekend only gave him enough in the season for 4th place however. Josh Row, who actually only completed 3 of the 6 laps during the weekend, drove away with a 7th place finish and enough to secure the season championship. Gonzalez’ sealed a silver spot for the season, and Angie Mitchell’s 5th spot for the weekend secured a tie with Bolton for that final spot on the box for 2021.
In the Unlimited class, Michael Isom finished 4th on Saturday giving him a 6th place overall, and enough points to take the season long points championship; his third in a row. This allowed other competitors a chance at a weekend win. Jim Beaver picked up the overall. Trey Gibbs finished 2nd, and 3rd to take 2nd overall, and a 5th place, and 2nd place combined to give Chris Blais 3rd overall on the weekend.
The last minute changes might have thrown some for a loop, but Best in the Desert, and their racers proved they can persevere, and overcome any challenges. The course was challenging, and gave racers a great venue to show their stuff. We congratulate the winners, and champions who were crowned in Cal City. But they have very little time to celebrate, it’s already time to get ready for next season. The schedule was recently announced with some rule modifications to the Pro classes. It will be interesting to see how racers perform with these changes. Get ready for 2022, it will be here before we know it.