The #1717 Jeepspeed team headed to Las Vegas for the “Vegas To Reno” hosted by the Best In The Desert race series. The tag line “Longest off road race In America” is misleading (550 miles). It only tells part of the adventure your (all volunteer) team will experience. Long, yes, but what the title doesn’t mention is the triple digit temperatures, the amount of fluids required to maintain consciousness, the miles travelled to, from, and during, the logistic planning to ensure everyone is at the right place at the right time. Maybe the title should include adjectives such as “Most Hottest” or “Most Thirstiest” or “Most likely to push your team and crew chief to the edge”. Speaking of words that describe, radical, epic, nasty, dusty, rocky and silty all come to mind when thinking of this race.

The team was up at 5:00 am Friday to start out our trek to the start line located about a hundred mile away from Vegas, near the small town of Beatty. Josh Reiter and Mark “Sparky” Linder were tapped to start and run the first three hundred miles. They drew the fifth starting spot in a field of eleven fellow Jeepspeeders. As mentioned above, this race is a marathon, keeping a steady, spirited pace without mistakes or mechanical failures is the key. The team with the least amount of “down time” will probably win. As the miles clicked away Josh and Mark worked their way up to second place. Then the “down time” gods struck. A large half- buried boulder was hit by the front housing and dislodged. The rock then found its way to the transmission crossmember/4WD linkage and bent it,. This caused the trans to raise and front of the engine to lower in the frame, causing the fan belt to rub on a support tube. This in turn causes the fan belt to come off. (sequence of events). They straightened the crossmember as best they could, using a ratchet strap, and then replaced the fan belt while the competition raced on. Further repairs, welding, and “down time” would be required at the next pit stop. Josh and Mark had dropped back to fourth place while making the (in the field) repairs. As luck would have it, the Jeep in third place was already in the pit area performing similar repairs and welding. The car came in, was serviced, welded and repaired. Josh and Mark left about twenty seconds behind the third place Jeep. The race was on! We were back in it. They moved back up to third place and handed the Jeep over to me and rookie (first time ever in a race car) Aaron Wenner. Boy oh boy was he in for an adventure.

We were ready to attack and that’s what we did. We pushed it hard and made up time on the second place Jeep. Then the “down time” racing gods once again said “not so fast there Mr. Heiden”. As we approached the next pit stop at speeds above 70 MPH I heard a loud BANG and suddenly we were completely sideways with no brakes. The right rear wheel, tire, rotor and brake caliper had left the car and decided to play “hide and seek” in middle of the desert in the middle of night. My rookie companion Aaron was getting a righteous break-in to sport of off road racing. I sent him off into the darkness (with a flashlight) to retrieve the fugitives no questions asked. The Jeep in forth just passed us. Damn. I determined the wheel studs had all sheared off and started looking for spares. Well, we had three spares but they were front studs. They were “press in” studs not “screw in” studs. Aaron finally returned with the wheel and tire, both destroyed but no rotor or caliper. We got the remnants of the old studs out, removed the axle from the housing and threaded in the three press in studs put our spare on and capped off the rear brakes. We were ready to go. Now the jack won’t release, it’s stuck. I try to drive off of it but both rear tires are now in the air, I put it in 4wd and the shifter falls off in my hand. Remember the bent cross member from earlier? Now we get back out and get a hammer and crawl under the Jeep and beat the transfer case into 4wd. It works. Poor Aaron, he was really getting a work out through all of this. He never complained or asked to be dropped off at the next available cantina. If this had been my first ever race I would have walked away while waving a single digit to any racer that looked my way. We finally make it to the pit where my brother Mark double checks our make shift “Mcguiver” repairs, adds more wheel studs, while the rest of the team fixes the 4wd linkage and fuels us up. After all this, we were pretty sure the “down time “ racing gods were satisfied. It took us a while to get back up speed. We had no rear brakes and to be honest I was a little hesitant. I kept having that “what’s going to break next?” thought in my pee sized naugon. Eventually that thought faded away and we were back up to full speed.

Knowing that we can’t make up over three hours of that nasty “down time” we thought a solid finish would have to suffice. We had a great time racing through the night and into the morning with the Rigid lights blazing our path and our Bilstein shocks that were just perfect from the start to the finish. In fact all of our sponsored products performed flawlessly. Then we had one more little glitch. About 25 miles from the finish there was silt bed area. We blasted through it like we always do. This time was different. It was down in a slight valley with no wind or breeze. The course, my lights, my dash board, my co-driver, even my bright red driving gloves vanished from my sight. Completely and totally blind, nothing but brown. I had to stop. Stopping in silt is not what anyone will ever willing do. You will almost always get stuck and you will almost always get hit from behind. I was already in 4wd, so I thought I would back up and see if I could see the course better. HONK! HONK ! someone is coming up behind us. A few taps of the brake pedal to let the approaching car we are here and suddenly another Jeepspeed comes around our front going like hell. I know he couldn’t see either , but now we could follow his path. The good part was that he showed us the way out, the bad part was that we just let someone get by us and we dropped another spot, down to fifth. After the silt bed debacle the last twenty miles couldn’t go by fast enough. We were all tired. As we crossed the finish line I could see the entire team waiting for us. I must have gotten some of that dust in my eyes at that very moment.

As a team we would like to thank all of our friends and family that make all of this possible.
4 Wheel Parts
Rubicon Express
G2 Axle And Gear
Bilstein Shocks
Rigid Lighting
L&J Landscaping
General Tire
ATX Wheels
Trek Armor