Another Season… Another Championship Podium!

We ended the 2021 season with First place in the championship points and a Rookie of the Year recognition from the Utah Racing Development. But I will be the first to admit that in the 2021 season, the competition was weak. Despite our great success during most of the races, we still managed to break down or crash out of enough races that the championship hunt was tight. I am proud of everyone we raced with in 2022 because they all stepped up their game immensely. Some solid talent is committed to running the whole season with the Bonnievelle Off-road Racing organization, and I firmly believe that if you want to be the best, you should chase the best.

2021 ended, and we immediately began our preparations for the 2022 season. We didn’t have the luxury of taking even a weekend off because our first race of the season was in February. A bucket list race for me, the 2022 King of the Hammers week has been something I have competed in as pit crew and co-driver several times, but this year would mark my first attempt in the driver seat. Of the many races during that dust festival, we chose the Toyo Desert Challenge and entered the stock class. If you want the entire rundown of that EPIC event, I suggest a journey to our website to read the tale. The gist of that nine straight days of racing is we came home with a 2nd place trophy and the motivation to be even better than we had been in the previous year.

Let’s jump into the Bonneville Off-road Racing (BOR) series. This year the BOR series was going to be four races. Starting with the Dino Dash threw an area that’s famous for, you guessed it, dinosaurs. This course is what we refer to as technical. Short overall laps jam-packed with tons of turns. We had snow flurries and excessive winds on Thursday night before the race, only to get to race morning with calm skies. Calm isn’t necessarily ideal for a desert racer. Dust is one of man’s worst enemies trying to find the limits of speed on a surface covered in boulders and crisscrossed by ditches big enough to swallow the whole car. One theme you’ll notice this year with BOR is consistently bad starting positions have plagued us. Unlike some organizations, your start position is not based on a qualifying position or your position in the points chase; instead, they use a random draw order. The lucky draw sent us off the line 7th.

The typical format is called corrected time for awareness of those reading who may be unfamiliar with off-road endurance racing. Usually, a car or two goes off the line every 30 seconds, and the finishing position is based on your total elapsed time, and not necessarily on the order you finish in. For example, at this race in 2021, our team came across the line 1st, but cars that had started behind us for several minutes had caught up to us on the clock but not physically, bumping us down to 3rd. We wouldn’t have that problem this year with the bad luck on the draw. Another exciting development was instead of my usual co-driver in the seat next to me, and I had a new face. My regular co-driver had a tooth problem before the race, and it hadn’t healed enough to allow him to wear a helmet. We decided to put the man, who is usually my Crew Chief, in the seat for his first race. And the race began. The rookie in the side seat adapted quickly and did a fantastic job. Gladly have him in that seat any day, although later, he did confide in us he much prefers being in charge of the pits. We ran an aggressive pace and managed to make up several positions before our fuel stop. Due to a mixup and my go-to pit guy in the car, that fuel stop took twice the time it should have, but we were back on track and chasing down more race cars looking for that podium. With roughly 20miles left, I found out I was 6 minutes out of first place. I put my foot down and tried to find some of that time.

I also broke the car. With roughly 2 miles left, the driver’s rear hub broke as I was sliding a corner faster than it wanted to go. Despite the break, we kept moving. The rear wheel was held only by the axle nut and the brake rotor. Two miles is an eternity when you are limping. But we had put the work in early and created enough of a lead over 3rd place that we still crossed the finish line under our power with time to spare. 2nd place in the race and now 2nd place in points. It’s an excellent way to start the season. We also took away several lessons learned. We dramatically improved our fueling speed to reduce pit stop times, and that broken part has been replaced with unbreakable parts.

Race number two is the Jackpot Freedom 250. Two Hundred and Fifty miles of fast sweeping corners and long rocky sections get a car into the triple-digit range, then quickly slow them into the single digits. Another bad draw had us staring behind ten other vehicles, and it was dust for days. Passing several broken down and crashed cars in the first few miles had my co-driver and I dialing it back a hair until the dust cleared. The old saying goes, ” to finish first, you must first finish.” And we took that seriously after seeing our teammate on his side in a sharp corner. We tried to stop and get him back on his tires, but like the true sportsman, he wouldn’t let us slow our race. Charging on, we found some clean air eventually and were able to put the miles in. Unfortunately, right at the halfway mark, we lost a belt. These cars have a similar drive train to snowmobile, and the belt connects the motor output and the transmission input. I have never seen a belt disintegrate so entirely in my years of being around these. It took us at least 30 minutes to clean the pieces and strands.

Imagine, if you will, a kitten with a ball of yarn, but the kitten got into some acid. That is what our clutches looked like. We cleaned it out as best we could on the course, put a new belt in, and got back in the fight. Unfortunately, we didn’t get all the pieces out of the clutch, so we didn’t have full power. We ran the rest of the race with 70% throttle, still managing to put it in 4th place. This is unfortunate cause we were easily on the podium again if that belt hadn’t gone so completely. A simple belt brake is a 2 min fix with the setup we run, but shredding it costs us just enough time to keep us off the box. BUT still in the points. Only one guy ahead of us had placed well at the previous race, so we held 2nd place in points for another race.

The third race of the BOR series is at the Knolls OHV area in Utah. The Knolls race was 204 miles at the hottest time of year. Before this race, I had twisted my knee, and as a team, we decided I shouldn’t try to run the whole race and risk injuring it worse. Early on, I learned you could never be one person deep at any position; a driver is no exception. My backup driver is an incredibly versatile asset to the team. He is one of those guys who can do anything and do it well, and he drove very well. I gave him one task when he got into the car for the first time during a race. Bring me a good car at halfway, and I’ll push for the finish. He did precisely that. We had issues with belt slip as we lost a clutch just before the race and ran on backup parts. That, coupled with the slightly damp salt flats, made for a lot of mud build-up that kept the car from running at 100%. We would have to settle for 5th place at this race, but again the inconsistency of the field worked to our advantage, and we held on to 2nd in season points again.

Our final race of the 2022 season was in Wendover, NV. The Pony Express 300 is a grueling course with a fast 40 miles and then a slow 30 miles to get to your first fuel stop. A fantastic setting for a race, it has everything from open desert to tight trees and the occasional wild horse running next to the course. Perfect weather for a race, and again, low in the start order, we headed off into the early morning glow of what turned out to be a fantastic day. The dust was kept down initially by a light breeze, and we had 2-minute intervals instead of the typical 30 sec. This meant visibility was high for most of the race except when straight into the sun, which only lasted for the first few miles till it was at our backs and eventually straight overhead. We bent a rim somewhere on lap one. I didn’t notice it until the pit crew found it at our first fuel stop. In and out in less than a minute, the crew’s pit stops practice shows as we are there and gone in a flash. We ran a clean race after that. No issues passed lots of down-and-out cars until we pitted before our final lap.

I was informed we were 2nd physical on course and that I just needed to finish to secure a podium for the day and the season. We thought about taking it easy initially. But that proved to be not in the cards. 2nd physical meant 2nd place, and we were hunting for a #1. My co-driver and I pushed hard until we caught a glimpse of dust in the distance. I marked the spot and had my co-driver time it until we were there. 2 minutes. We weren’t sure if that was the 1st physical or lap traffic so far behind us, we thought they were first, but we had to find out. Turning it up to 11 and run them down was the game, and we did just that. It turned out to be a different class car that had broken early on and got back into the race, proud of them. The result for us, you ask? After seven hours and fifty-one minutes behind the wheel, we came away with a podium finish for the day and the season. Our 2022 run at the Bonneville Off-road Racing series ended with a 3rd place trophy for the Pony Express 300 and 2nd place in the points championship hunt.

Now you may look back at the start of this and wonder why I would be so excited to take 2nd place, the year before our team took 1st. Well, it’s simple. Looking back at all five races of a brutal schedule, did we miss any miles? Did we ever DNF (Did Not Finish)? Did we ever finish a race outside of the top 5? The answer to all of these questions is a resounding NO. This year there was also money on the line; BOR put up a total purse of 8 thousand dollars for the season. That attracted natural talent and motivated several of our competitors from the previous year to step up their game, and they did noticeably. The team’s goal was Every Mile of Every Race, and we achieved just that and more. We finished all five races in the top five or better and came away with four podiums, including the season points podium. As a team, we are incredibly proud to be back on the podium for the 2nd year in a row. As a team owner, I am both humbled and taken aback by the selflessness, sacrifice, and dedication this talented group of individuals has made to achieve such a feat.

Here are the final numbers.

  • Five races
  • 1,229 miles every mile of every race
  • 0 DNFs (Did Not Finish)
  • 28 hours 15 minutes in the seat
  • Top 5 at every race
  • Three race podiums
  • One season points championship podium

Congratulations to the entire Off Map Racing crew. This team is unique; I am humbled and proud to be a member of it.

So what does next year have in store? Great question. Two very cliché words. Bigger and Badder. We have decided to expand our horizons and chase even more competition. Our first race will be the world-famous Mint 400 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The team has helped others pursue glory in the Mohave desert for the last couple of years, and it is our turn to take on 400 miles of brutality and mayhem. Last year there were 382 entrants in the Mint, and 2023 looks just as strong. The storied history of the Mint is steeped in celebrity, drama, and excitement as the city of Las Vegas itself. The Mint 400 has held the title of the toughest, most spectacular off-road race in North America since 1968, when it was first run. The race was a public relations event promoting the Mint Hotel’s annual deer hunt. But what started as hotel promotion soon became a legitimate desert race.

After the Mint, we plan on chasing some races that have intrigued us since we started. Legacy has recently begun the BAJA Nevada two-day race running from one end of Nevada to the other over 600 miles and the longest point-to-point race I’m aware of in the United States. Also, on the Legacy calendar, we would love to see the Dirt Rebelution Race in Cedar City, Utah. We wanted to run this race this year, but the schedule conflicted with our season points chase. Also on our list is the Gold Rush, another point-to-point race of around 350 miles. And not to be left out is the Dog Fight 250 in Fallon. We are looking at roughly 1770 miles of racing in the 2023 season. I hope you all follow along as we chase this very bold and ambitious goal we have set for ourselves.

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