The great reboot of 2019 and the Mint400

We were holding a steady first place in class physically (and on corrected time too) in the hardest offroad race in the USA, we had a lead of over 14 minutes on course - then it happened - total disaster. All this work, all this time invested and … wait, there is hope … holy shit we are going to finish, and finish second! It was an insane emtional roller coaster, but we finished, and we finished second in class. How did this happen?

team

Ok before I get into the crazyness, let me first acknowledge some folks right away. This finish took everyone performing at 100% - and as I will explain, this is a totally new crew. Dan and I were blown away by the professionalism, passion, and damn amazing skill this crew of a just a few exhibited. We could not be more excited for things to come.

The reboot

Coming off the 2018 Mint400 we had a broken car, and we had no events on the schedule for the rest of the year. Things looked quite dismal for our future. We needed some changes, and some energy to get things moving again. Desert racing is hard, and failing is miserable, and depressing, especially if you have a background of not totally sucking in some other similar discipline like road racing. Your expectation is you will be great at this new form of motorsports. Just to be clear, desert racing had spanked us, humbled us and sent us home with our tail between our legs.

But, we don’t give up, and I wasn’t ready to stop trying. It took us a bit to get our legs back under us, get a plan, and move forward. We dub this the reboot.

We got a plan together - to race the 2019 UTV worlds. We would get all new crew, we would move back to the sportsman UTV class, and we would move the car to Texas (at my house). The idea being, let’s step back and get a finish under our belt. We assembled a hand-picked crew of friends, and Mike was staying on to crew chief. John was moving from crew to co-driver. Energy was building.

But before we even got that plan fully fleshed out, John had a birthday, and his loving wife wanted to take him to the mint. We said screw that, he’s gunna co-drive the mint! All the sudden, we were racing the Mint. The goal became - do 3 races in 2019 and finish 2. A tall order considering our past performances.

totexas

RZR love

After our problems at the 2018 Mint400, the car needed some love. She got an all new steering rack from Shock Therapy, new steering arms from Kryptonite, new FK rod ends and we switched to BFG KR2 tires on KMC Grenade 15” wheels. We got new Hostyle nets, a new Atlas46 tool roll and we did a lot of general maintenance. BTW, if you are using LSR long travel kit with the Shock Therapy rack, the Kryptonite steering arms are the only good option for you - trust me. A few weeks before the 2019 mint we got a test day in and got things tuned right up. She was ready - or so we thought.

Let’s put it this way - we realized we had a configuration as well as the age of some parts that led us to want to replace the clutch components on the car. Testing had shown we had a weakness and we needed to get it fixed. The good folks at 3P racing got us sorted out with a new STM primary and Polaris secondary. This new config looked promising but we didn’t have any time on this new setup. More on this in a bit.

gorman

Time to race!

One downside of having the car in Texas is the drive to Nevada is massive. The good news is, we did get some time testing the car (albiet brief) somewhere in AZ on the way towards Lake Mead. Don’t ask me where! After a couple of tweaks, the clutching was perfecto.

The plan for the race was for me and John to start, then Dan would switch to drive with John, then lastly I would finish with Dan co-driving (should we get a 3rd lap). I am not going to lie, the anticipation at the start line waiting to go was killing me. My strategy was simply to deliver a car in good shape to Dan. We needed to finish, just finish. I started off at 50% effort and slowly raised it up to 70%. The course was brutal and very fun, the car was doing great. It was pretty clear that it would be easy to over drive the car and break it. She wanted to RACE! We hit well into the 80MPH mark during the race. She was FAST. We started 3rd in class, fell back to 4th, then surged forward to first for a brief bit before me turning the car over to Dan in second place in class. The car was in good shape.

pitstop

The guys did an amazing stop. They changed the belt, fueled, inspected, and got the drivers changed like they had done this a million times. It was pro work - especially for first timers. I am not going to lie, I was tired! Mike, Zach, and DanMo you guys rule. We even had help from Julie and JMO!

drivers

Dan set a blistering pace - he came out swinging. John had a lap under his belt now, Dan was driving like a bat out of hell and we started gaining ground on first place. I don’t remember at what point in the stint, but at some point the leader stopped and we passed them into first place. The next car (physical) was behind us by something like 14 minutes and we could tell they wanted it. Dan and John were staying ahead of the second place car and walking away ever so slightly. We had about 20 miles left to go - but at that moment we figured we would go out for a 3rd lap - we were making pretty good time.

Then it happend. Sitting in the pits I could see the icon on the tracker stop moving. We verified via our iridium. Fuck, they were on the side of the course broken. They had struck a rock and the wheel was destroyed. We hoped they would quickly turn it around but it took a bit and the second place car passed us for the lead. When they went to start the car back up, after replacing the tire, it wouldn’t start. We had no idea what had happened and we put on our thinking caps. Dan and I both realized at the same exact time the problem was a lose ground wire. In a flash Dan had it fixed and they were moving! I scrambled to get my gear on before they pitted but then stopped when we realized they got the checkers!

finishers

We rolled over the line second in class. We finished the 2019 Mint400, we were on the box, we were absolutely elated. The reboot worked. I was emotional as shit. My wife was texting me so excited. My kids cheered with glee when they got the news. We had done it - the spell of doom was over. We could finish a desert race - and not a half bad result!

A huge thank you to the entire team - Julie, John, Dan, Dan Mo, JMO, Mike, and Zach for all huge contribution. All of you left Nevada changed. A huge shout out to our families who supported us all the way, and believed in us the entire way. Of course a huge shout out to our sponsors as well.

With that, it’s on to the UTVWC, and back to the 1900 UTV pro class.

margs

Hello 2018 Mint 400

In my last post, I quoted some advice from my daughter about needing more practice. Well, we listened.

We have been spending a ton of time on our driving skills and on the car. We have newly gained experience with suspension setups and handling of RZR’s, we have been racing locally, getting humbled and learning all the time. We hope we have things all set - with the car and in our heads. It’s impossible to know, but you just keep pushing forward the best you can. This is racing, this is how it goes.

mint

To attend the 50th anniversary of the Mint400 is humbling to say the least. If you aren’t familiar the race started in 1968 as a public relations stunt for the Mint hotel. It grew in notoriety with legends attending among them Steve McQueen, James Garner, Al Unser, Ivan Stewart and Mickey Thompson. The mint was depicted in Hunter S Thompson’s novel “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” and made into a movie staring Johnny Depp. Yeah, it’s like that. In more recent times the Martelli Brothers have handled the promotion of the event and damn if these boys aren’t all over it. Holy crap the Mint goes off.

As a racer, man, they treat you like royalty. We have autograph sessions and social media assets to share and such. But we try not to let that distract us from the gravity of this undertaking. 3 laps of the hardest offroad course in the US. Holy crap.

So, let’s get this straight. Race #1 was the longest race in the US, and Race #2 is the hardest? Yes sir.

So what’s in like to drive a UTV in the Mint? Check this shit out:

This time Dan starts as driver. God help me, navigator is 2x harder. There is sure to be zero visibility because of dust. Surely we won’t be as fast as the field. Surely the course will be rough AF. Surely we won’t ever give up. ;-).

We will be absent Alex and Jen on the team this time - so we are already at a huge disadvantage. But, this being a ‘fixed pit’ race we will soldier on. We owe a ton of thanks for folks who have been helping us along the way both with advice (Mitch Armstrong, Matt Hughes, Branden Sims, and Jake Carver as well as with support (AiM Sports, ITP Tires, Lone Star Racing, Fox Shocks, and Valley Motorwerks). But most of all we want to thank the entire team (John, Mike, Jamie, Julie, Eowyn, Jen, Alex, Nick, Johnny, Jackie, Eala and Bradan) We couldn’t even attempt this without your hard work, commitment, support and encouragement.

Shit, my palms are sweaty just thinking about it. Ok, deep breath. Let’s F*&^ing do this.

mint400

2017 Vegas to Reno race notes

30 miles into 540 miles total and the car has flipped, we are scrambling around in the desert, cars are passing us, the racing trax device is screaming, and we smell fuel. The pits are closing soon, and we gotta get this car to pit #1.. and fast.

Let’s rewind a bit… This is the culmination of a series of decisions that are questionable at best. I will write more about how we got to this point later. For now, all you need to know is we decided somehow that the longest offroad race in America should be our first off-road race. We also decided that we would share driving duties, and switch driving and co-driving 1/2 way. We are experienced road racers, we had a pre-owned car with a great pedigree, what could go wrong?

If you have been off-road racing before you are probably chuckling at us right now. I don’t blame ya.

We felt good after two extended multi-day test sessions in the Nevada desert. Some of the testing was on last years race course. We had good pace, even though (we didn’t know it then) we had a horrible exhaust leak, so the car was down on power. We learned a great deal about the car, how to make it fast, how to deal with belts, tire changes, all of it. We felt great.

In prep for V2R we decided the car needed some mods in addition to the new muffler and airbox. Dan, Alex, and additionally, Clint from Valley Motorwerks all took turns prepping the car. We had changes to make to make it legal as well as a list of ‘must haves’ and ‘wants’. We ended up doing them all. We re-wired the car from scratch, all new corners, all new axles, new AiM dash unit, clutch blower, and a host of sophisticated wiring and control bits. Dan especially spent probably 50 hours prepping the car. Alex did all new corners, fluid changes, and more. Clint fabbed up a rear crash bar, new wing windows, steps, and a host of other really clean goodies. Here in Texas I prepped a new dashboard and created the wiring diagram for Dan to install. I shipped it to him and he spent another 25 hours wiring it up. Prep was outstanding, but there were some last little things to-do…

Fast forward, we all wake up in Vegas on Tuesday, a full day before contingency starts. We have Alex, Mike, John and Jen on crew duties as well as our extended families including 5 kids. It’s important to us the kids participate and grow up in this (new to us) culture of off-road racing.

Contingency morning the guys got the car in line early. I think the first UTV in line. All of our prep paid off, we cruised through contingency without problem. Dan and I hit the registration, and we all met up afterwards. All was well. We had to get our bucket of Monster Seal, chat with the AiM folks on a couple last minute settings, and get some advice from Fox. All went as planned, but Fox had some pretty drastic changes for us. We had added some weight to the RZR and we hadn’t changed preload. No biggie, but some work. We didn’t tackle any clutch tuning, the car was fast and we had the redline where we wanted it for reliability anyways.

contingency

Next morning was race day. Jen had been hydrating us, and watching our intake of food and such. Dan and I were ready. The crew was ready. Let’s do this.

We awoke early, got all the fuel filled up, and headed out to the start. Drivers rode in Alex/Jen’s sick Audi a8 chase car(?), the other guys followed in Dans massive chase rig, and then we had two more vehicles with jammed with wife’s and kids. Yeah, we had a big footprint to say the least.

Ok, f*^% desert racing is hot. I mean, dude. We staged in the car for a good 45 minutes or more while classes ahead of us went out. Matt came over and said hi and wished us luck from his duties in the Carver car. Dude is rad. We were ready to go. Let’s GO already! I was to drive first, Dan next. We were 9th out of 30 in starting order. Right as we got up to the start all the kids, wifes, crew, everyone was at the fence waiving us on and cheering. We hit the siren and waived. This is AWESOME.

Remember, this is our first off-road race… ever.

start

Then it started. Green! I floored it. No traction, ease up, ok we are out. #1936 off the line blurts over the radio. Chase has already left, they ack. We are off.

Ok, the dust. The dust. OMFG the dust. Within 2 minutes we can’t see anything. The dust is blowing off course but we had gained on the car in front of us, putting us into a cloud of death. We slowed down, we were disoriented and confused. Our normally awesome communication broke down. We went into survival mode. Then 1986 came up and nerfed us. Ok, this was turning bad. The course was rutted bad, it was hard to drive. Matlock flew by. Then.. we took a deep breath.

We started moving slower believe it or not. Our brains began to be calibrated to this ‘new normal’. Dan and I gelled on our discourse. The car was handling great. The guys had it tuned perfectly. The shocks were working amazing, the sway bar changes excellent. We figured out the belt temp ‘problem’, we got over the fuel level ‘problem’ and we started doing something weird - We were actually racing!

We could see the dust cloud in front and keep pace with it, and no one was coming up behind. We were pacing with the field, and it felt good. No, it felt great. It was hard as hell to drive and harder to navigate, but we were getting it done. We started to think about how to pass. We had the power, we think we had the skills to get into their dust now. We were traveling through a section that was a little faster. We were at 65mph or so.

Then it happened. First a thunk. I knew it was on the passenger side hub. Something wrong. Then quickly another thump, then the most horrible noise. I was on the brakes, but the car wasn’t ‘right’.

The passenger front wheel then passed us. Yep, right in front. We were > 40MPH still. I said “Hold ON!”. We have flipped RZR’s before… but this time we were doing 40MPH and we had just lost a wheel. The control arm dug in and we went flying. We landed on our side and luckily didn’t cartwheel. We slid probably 30’ down the road. We came to rest.

Dan immediately hit the racing trax ‘alert’ button that would buzz people coming up on us. Both of us remember being terrified of oncoming traffic. We were right in the track. It was a fight to get out. Dan was above me, and getting the net open, and starting the process of getting out. I smelled fuel. I stated over the intercom to get out! I disconnected his radio and helmet pumper and grabbed the fire extinguisher and put it in my lap. I pushed his butt and got him out. I disconnected my radio and blower then stood on the ground to push myself out. We were out!

We assessed the damage. The car was on it’s side - the broken hub was facing straight up. All 4 wheel studs sheared off. The brake rotor mangled. The wheel and tire no where to be found. It took us a good 15 minutes to get our heads about us.

Another UTV came by with the same problem, except just two studs, not all 4.

We started to figure out a plan. We tried to hammer out other studs from other wheels, but we needed to get this thing flat so we could rotate wheels to get the studs out. Dan ran over and tried to see if the other damaged car needed anything and if they had studs. They had studs, but no nuts. We tried to trade, but different diameters. Crap. They came and helped us right the RZR, then they took off.. fixed. Thx boys for the help! I think it was a wildcat, but I forgot the car #. Thanks if you are reading this guys.

We drove the car backwards off the course, then got to work. We jacked up the front using the impact on the end of our scissor jack. We hammered out two studs from other wheels. We pounded them into the hub without the brake rotor cause it was ruined. We zip tied up the brake rotor. I think I may have zip tied the pads, I can’t remember. Dan was on sat comms letting the team know what was up. Finally we got radio coms with them. They had parts to fix us! They started getting ready.

We got the spare wheel on the two studs. Dan noticed his watch said his heartrate hit 200. We got back in the car, got all the tools stowed, we got it cleaned up and we were off! We had to go really really really slow because it was obvious only two studs where holding the wheel on. The brake rotor came loose from the zip ties and was making a racket, but it was working. We had 10 miles to go and we were going about 20mph.

The team had radio’d us that the pits where closing. At 20MPH we had about 10minutes for the hub and axle change. We knew the guys could do it! We just had to limp there not too fast and not too slow. It was working we could see the pit!

broke

We just had to cross the road and we were at pit 1. Then disaster. We broke another stud. What happened next is a blur but we tried to fix it again using a stud from a jeep that someone handed us, we tried zip ties, we were hitting a hammer with a hammer, we tried it all. We were about to turn it around and drive backwards dragging the arm but the NDOT dude told us no, we would ruin his road. We tried everything until finally the BITD official came over and told us were were done.

FUCK

Dan and I were devastated. The team came over, they too devastated. They kept saying they felt bad for us. I felt bad for them. The BITD guy felt bad, the NDOT guy felt bad. We all just stared at the car. Our day was done. We had traveled 30 miles to pit 1 and we were out. Dan didn’t even get to drive. He had lost his phone somewhere in the sand. We were exhausted.

sad

The size and caliber of this event sunk in. Holy mother of god this is a huge undertaking. The desert had up and smacked us newbs like I suspect so many others. We got schooled hard. Humbled big time. I felt embarrassed. I felt like I should have driven better. I should have pulled 3 studs out of the other wheels. Why didn’t I do that math correctly? I felt like I should have taken it easier when it opened up. I felt like I let down the team, I felt like I let down my family.

dejected

My 8 year old daughter put it right later. Saying “Daddy, remember we never give up. You just need to practice more”. She was dead on. We don’t give up, and yes, we need more practice. I have never had so much fun in my entire life. Everyone I care about (almost) was there. We all tried and failed together. We lived through it. What felt so good is that we do this precisely because it’s hard. We knew that.

The road doesn’t end here. We will be back. We are humbled, but we are hooked. Now we have some experience, and a lot more to learn. But the first one is behind us.

I want to say a huge thank you to the entire team: Alex, Jen, Mike, John, Julie, Eowyn, Jamie, Johnny, Bradan, Nick, Jackie, Eala. We couldn’t have done any of this without your devotion, drive, love, and patience. Thank you.

I also want to thank my brother, Dan. Thank you for being with me, thank you for making me better, pushing me. Thank you for surviving to be here now. I love you man.

Remember what my daughter said. We don’t give up. See ya out there!