All Bets Were Off For The 25th Anniversary
Story By: Mike Ingalsbee
Photos By: Brandon Bunch, Tyler Tate, and Jason Zindroski
The 25th Anniversary Maxxis Tires “Casey Folks” Vegas to Reno Presented by Fox Shocks yielded a record turnout. Over 130 UTVs showed up to see who was fastest through the silt, sand, rocks, and whoops found along the 490 mile course. Every class was loaded with fast, experienced, and well prepared teams who all wanted that iconic win. It created a heated atmosphere that was only eclipsed by the actual temperatures that soared well over 100 degrees.
Starting positions for the Pro Turbo, and Pro Open classes were determined during qualifying in Jean, Nevada on Wednesday August 11th. Contingency, and technical inspection took place the following day at the Boulder Station Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. Racing commenced on Friday morning from remote Bonnie Clair, Nevada. The torrential rains that have created such a mess in years past came weeks before this time with only sporadic cloudbursts while the race was underway. It was enough to bring short moments of temporary relief from the heat, but not enough to impact the dust which was brutal, and blinding.
The fastest drivers were able to complete the course in around nine hours; they were the lucky ones. Many of the successful drivers in the sport were unable to finish including number one qualifier Phil Blurton who had vapor lock issues in his fuel delivery system. Those who had problems along the way took much longer. When you compare times, there seems to be a pattern. The final few to make it to the finish did it in around 13 hours. After that time, the DNFs (Did Not Finish) began to emerge.
One determined competitor bucked that trend. Jared Cozzocrea was racing his newly built Risq Racing RS1 single seater the entire way, without relief (a real Ironman). He completed the course in 17:09:28.860 to finish on the podium of the RS1 Class in 3rd place but it wasn’t without some drama along the way. “I was definitely pushing the car more than I should’ve given the little time I had in it,” said Jared. “About 5 miles after passing Jimmy (Rodriguez), I was pushing hard trying to get into clean air when I ended up flopping on the side. Jimmy came up, and made sure I was ok when I was getting out of the car. Luckily I didn’t cause much damage, and I was fine. I got my tow strap out and an N/A car came up, I believe #1980, and pulled me over. I hopped in the car and kept going. I had a few mechanical issues and was having to stop at every pit for minor repairs. I knew it was a long race and I was pushing hard to get back into contention. I stopped for fuel at Pit 6 and about 2 miles later I hit a huge creek bed and went for another tumble. I landed on all 4, went to mash on it, and realized I broke a tie rod. I got a tie rod brought out to me and I kept going. I finally started to relax and figured I’d just finish at this point. At RM 259 I was drifting around a corner and something caught and I flipped again. Fortunately I got rolled over fairly quickly by another UTV. I then realized I had a fuel problem. Travis Wells (car builder) called me, and I <threw> something together and kept going. The car ran pretty decent for the rest of the race, but had some intermittent power issues due to no fuel regulator. When the sun came up, I was definitely ready for the race to be over. The last 20 miles of pure rocks was brutal. Overall it was a great experience for my first BITD race. I’m looking forward to ironmaning the Baja 1000 in less than 100 days!” The RS1 class was won by Jonathan McVay, Jimmy Rodriguez was second.
Even the racers who finished up front had trials and tribulations along the way. Unofficial overall UTV winner Austin Weiland qualified 6th fastest on Wednesday. He literally dropped off the radar on race day as his tracker stopped working after he hit a huge g-out. He suffered from a slipping clutch that made itself known right off the start. “I had the crew get a new clutch ready at every pit stop just in case we had to change it,” said Weiland. “We were fighting high temperatures all day; belt temps, oil temps, everything was hot. We had to back off on the long straights so we wouldn’t overheat, but we pushed hard when we got in the twisty washes. We had no flats to our BFGoodrich tires, and had great pit stops every time; beating several cars out of the pits. After Pit 12, we had only 3 seconds on Dustin Jones. We went all out for the win in the rough, rocky section before the finish. We were able to put 3 minutes on him for the win.”
That last section after Pit 12 is the final test after many hours of abuse on the course. Dustin Jones knows this well after leading the race several years ago only to knock his oil drain plug off on a rock and seize his engine. He was able to hold onto his second place position at the finish; a great result, but his goal to win this race still remains in play.
Brandon Sims was elated at the finish because it’s the first time he’s made it to Dayton in the last 3 years or so. Just finishing this race is huge. “It’s nice to be here,” said Sims. “This has been one of my biggest nemesis races. I’ve never hit the podium here unlike many of the other races. We’ve been on the podium for the last three races; Silver State, Baja, and now this. It’s been a great last few runs for us; I can’t complain one bit. I haven’t seen this end of the course for a while but it’s kind of different. It’s a lot of sand washes, and a lot of silt with rocks in it. You have to watch your tires in that. Once you get to the second half there is a lot of fast, fun stuff. We were racing off of our belt temps, all of us were. It was over 100 degrees out so it was all about watching that gauge and finding that fine line between too much, and not enough.” Brett Sourapas and Mitch Guthrie rounded out the top 5 overall. Nearly half of the 44 turbo cars entered did not make it to the finish.
The Pro N/A class had some familiar faces on the podium as well. Carson Wernimont is the unofficial winner in his mean, newly green Kawasaki machine, following his debut win in Parker then a DNF at Silver State. Newcomer JD Marsh kept his momentum from his win at Silver State, and came in second. Dodge Poelman who is practically a veteran at only 21 years old was third. Elias Hanna, and Dallas Gonzalez round out the top 5. It was a strong run for Gonzalez who is only 15 but has years of experience in the youth classes. The Wells brothers, Corbin and Kaden, were both racing in the Pro N/A class, and experienced insurmountable problems. They were seen limping out to the nearest pit with Corbin towing Kaden on the strap. Corbin changed out 6 fuel pumps trying to get going. They both timed out after only making it to Pit 2.
Talking about youthful drivers, 14 year old Jack Olliges came out on top in the UTV Rally class. Jacob Zuccone was 2nd, and MMA fighter Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone finished 3rd. Other unofficial results show Randy Raschein winning in the Unlimited class and defending champ Michael Isom taking third. Dan Fisher won the new Pro Open class, and one entry in the UTV Pure Stock class, Jamie Campbell in a Honda Talon, had a solid winning time of 10:36:41.081. Less than 45 minutes from a would-be-podium-finish in the Pro class. That’s flying in a stock UTV.
Vegas to Reno remains one of the must win races in all of off road. It takes careful preparation, stamina, and luck on your side just to make it to the finish. The course isn’t difficult as far as terrain goes, but the high temps and constant pounding at full speed for hours on end provides a challenge that is daunting beyond understanding. Three-peat winner Phil Blurton started on the pole, which usually means game over for everyone else, but it wasn’t meant to be. Overall winner Austin Weiland started 6th, second finisher Dustin Jones leaving 9th, and third place Branden Sims, way back in 17th, all had their work cut out for them and ended the day victorious. Vegas to Reno will always be a wild card for those who take on the challenge. The 25th running this year definitely held up it’s end of the deal and continues to be the longest one-day off-road race in North America. What a day it was!