Saturday, August 27, 2011

Vegas to Reno

Continuing along the vein of Grant's recovery, I had the opportunity last week to go along on quite the adventure, all within the Nevada state lines.

There's an offroad racing series called Best in the Desert, and they produce races in both Nevada and Arizona. The competitors range from trophy trucks and highly prepped dirt bikes to more attainable jeeps and dune buggies. Their showcase race is Vegas to Reno (Beatty to Dayton this year, specifically), a 550-mile tear through the desert, and the race goes off without the racers being able to see the terrain ahead of time.

I went along as an embedded journalist of sorts. Grant had an opportunity to serve as navigator for the series-leading team, Bad Apple Racing. They were exceptionally gracious to have Grant along, and I must extend my personal gratitude for the hospitality, camaraderie, and insight they provided to both me and the filmmaker, Ryan Croke. The team is run by two brothers, Steve and Chris Appleton, and they have put together quite the operation. Thanks, guys.

Just so it's not too long until you can see what we're talking about, here's what we're talking about:

I survey my kingdom

"Navigator" is kind of a loose term, as they've got the course pre-programmed into a GPS unit, but knowing that the desert is about to turn left is only a small victory in a battle that's repeated countless times throughout the 550 miles. The GPS says nothing of the terrain, the "road" condition, or the amount of dust obscuring the driver's vision. What's it really like?

Imagine having 800HP channeled through two rear wheels on a surface that, if you called it "loose," would make a nation of sluts seem virtuous by comparison, or if you called it "rough," would make the Before models in those shaving gel commercials seem like pampered pansies, and being kinda able to see where you're supposed to point this truck, but really just hoping the entire time that you're not about to drive into a boulder or a 10-foot deep wash or a tree or something, and if you catch someone, you bump them from behind to let them know you're there, cause they can't see anything, and if they don't let you by, you point the truck into the desert at 110MPH and get by them as quickly as you can, because lots of weird shit can appear in front of you when you're not on a road and covering a football field every two seconds, and if you're successful in doing this for 10 hours without killing yourself or having any day-ending mechanical problems, you're a winner. It's nuts.

Anyhow, I wrecked myself to finish my week's work before flying to Vegas Tuesday night to be there for practice and qualifying and whatnot before the race on Friday. I also came down with a beast of a head cold, only exacerbated by long hours, no sleep, and probably some stress, so I was a hot mess when I stepped off the plane into the welcoming 10-pm 95-degree cool part of the day. Shawna had been kind enough to grab the metric shit-ton of my camera gear before she and Grant drove down, so I was thankfully able to travel light otherwise.

Wednesday started with an early departure from the hotel to meet the team out in the desert. Bad Apple fielded two trucks in this race. Truck #1 was the title contender, and Truck #2 was their pre-runner, entered into this race to provide any necessary support to Truck #1. Grant's seat was in Truck #2, not quite as badass as Truck #1, but still fairly fire-breathing.

Bad Apple 2 on a practice run

After the team made sure both trucks were running to their satisfaction, we headed back into town for the registration for qualifying, and then promptly headed back into the heat. 106-degree heat. At about noon. All the makings of a fabulous day!

Grant is mildly excited as they head off to qualify

Qualifying was a bit tedious from a waiting around standpoint but also quite fun as we got to see these bombproof horsepower delivery machines wailing through a closed course and laying it all on the line for their starting position in the race. Start early and have good visibility and clean air...start late and spend all day making sketchy passes. Let's qualify well, yeah?

Trophy truck blasts through

Bad Apple 1 on the boil


Unfortunately, both Bad Apple trucks qualified poorly, #1 due to a flat tire, and #2 due to a limp-mode fault in the engine management, so they'd both have a lot of work to do on race day. Qualifying in the books, we cooled off by buying a 7-11's entire stock of cold drinks, drinking them, and then sleeping in their walk-in coolers. Maybe not that last part. Wanted to, though.

Thursday was race registration day and tech day, so Ryan and I kept busy interviewing the team members in a hotel room. It was a much quieter and cooler day, and that was a welcome respite from qualifying day. It's also the team's opportunity to shine up the trucks one last time, top up race fuel, etc. There's no doubt all the hard work had already been done in the formal race prep, but they're not willing to hang their drivers out to dry during the race, so everything gets checked one last time.

Skorg poses it out

Making it shiny inside

Topping up Bad Apple 1 with 113 octane

Where's the A/C?

Race day, Friday, brought an even earlier departure from the hotel, as we trekked north to Beatty well in advance of the 9:30AM truck start (the dirtbikes went off before dawn in the interest of safety).

Making the start line a little more spectator-friendly

Grant was fairly well-trained by now in his navigatorial duties (yes, I just made that up), so really all that was left was traversing 550 miles of inhospitable desert in a purpose-built dirt cannon, and to stay alert, fed, and hydrated along the way. That's all. And off they go!

Bad Apple 2 off to a roaring start

A buggy streaks through the desert

We're part of the traveling circus that moves from pit to pit along Hwy 95, easily keeping pace with the race since we drive 20 miles on the highway while they're driving 40 miles through the desert. Each pit stop is just for food and water when everything's going well. The trucks don't have the range to go the entire race without refueling, so there are a couple of those along the way. There are bound to be a couple tire changes, as those marvels of vulcanization transmit ridiculous power levels to the dirt, claw the truck through turns and over rock piles, and do the hard work when the anchors get thrown out. Hopefully, nothing else is required.

Race cars crest a horizon against the stark landscape

Chris keeps the focus up during a pit stop

As we work our way through the desert, the boys become evidently fatigued as mile upon mile of jostling, pounding, and smashing take their toll. The integrity of Grant's spine has been in the back of everyone's mind, but an essential part of recovery is testing the limits and taking hits that provide reassurance in repair and health. Fortunately, he's in good shape mechanically, and is doing an awesome job of providing Chris with all the information he needs and nothing more in order to safely and quickly pilot Bad Apple 2 through the mountain ranges and valleys. In short, they're tearing it up.

A buggy regains composure after nearly wadding it up on the berm

At some point, they've gone a while without radio contact, and Chris light-heartedly informs the team that they've taken a detour to inspect a tree. Grip is a mighty subjective thing on dirt, and they lost it from the front in a corner and more or less climbed a tree until they were high centered in it. This is about when I wish I had a helicopter (a proper chase vehicle) instead of being tethered to an SUV. 'Cause a truck in a tree would make for one hell of a photo. Aside from this excursion, they run strong all day and into the night; the team has done an excellent job of preparing these race cars.

Ron lets the rear off the jack after a tire change

Art fuels Bad Apple 2

Ron and Art scramble to replace a broken radio antenna

Shawna scorches up the desert

Desert sunset

As day turns to night, we take care of one last pit for them before we have to leapfrog ahead to the finish. The pits we skip are extraordinarily remote, and we would've fallen behind if we'd had any intention of going to them. Fortunately, the team is able to keep radio contact with them and they run well all the way to the finish.

A racer enters a pit just after dark

Bad Apple 2 heads into the night

Steve, Grant, and Chris trade war stories at the finish

Bad Apple 1 finished second in class and fourth overall. Bad Apple 2 fulfilled their mission 100%, and while they ran slower, they expected to due to the performance of the pre-runner compared to BA1. Grant, as expected, was exhausted but exhilarated from 14 hours of continuous and necessary focus on navigating. Everyone was in good spirits, and the team rather swiftly loaded the race car and we all made tracks for Reno. Utterly wrecked, we put the wraps on the weekend and went to sleep.

Huge thanks again to the Bad Apple guys, mostly for trusting Grant to be their navigator, but also for having Ryan and me along.

Ryan's quick cut on his view of the weekend can be found here: linky.

For more info on Best in the Desert: linky.

For more info on Bad Apple Racing: linky.

And for more on Korg 3.0: linky.

Finally, if you've arrived at this post because you're looking for photos of a particular race car...please leave a comment with some contact info and I'll see what I can do. The 2300 photos I left with just may have what you're looking for.

Onwards and upwards!


1 comment:

jackbauer said...

Eliot, my name is Jay Yarbrough. I am a dentist from Tennessee and I was on the Bad Apple support team for the Vegas to Reno race. I would love to see some photos from the race. I would like to see if I am in any of them as I would like to show my son who is 13 now. Matt Ladoice knows who I am.

Past Detritus