457-mile off-road "Vegas to Reno" race Friday | TahoeDailyTribune.com

457-mile off-road "Vegas to Reno" race Friday

RENO (AP) – If law enforcement cooperates and bathroom breaks are kept to a minimum, Nevadans with a lead foot know it’s possible to make the 450-mile trip from Las Vegas to Reno in less than seven hours.

This “Vegas to Reno” trip, however, isn’t a typical cruise down U.S. Highway 95.

It’s an off-road race that travels through canyons, sagebrush, boulder-lined paths and dry lake beds – from the 2,500-foot elevation desert floor to 9,000-foot mountains.

Mark Levrett and scores of others competing in the race on Friday expect it will take about 10 hours to complete the route.

“Sometimes you’re going 15-20 miles an hour through washes loaded with rocks,” Levrett said.

“The average speed is about 45-60 miles per hour, but in certain sections, you’re going 15 and some 130,” he told the Reno Gazette-Journal.

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Levrett will be driving the Jimco Class 1 HMS Avenger, one of three that John Harrah’s racing team, Speed Technologies, will run in race. The Speed Technologies team, with Levrett as the driver of record, is third in Class 1 of the SCORE Desert Race Series.

This year’s race doesn’t actually go through Reno or Las Vegas. It starts near Beatty about 100 miles northwest of Vegas and finishes at Dayton about 25 miles southeast of Reno.

While the three cars, including one driven by John Harrah with his 14-year-old daughter Kody as co-driver, compete in the race, team manager Phil Johnson and the rest of the crew will split up into three trucks to be able to set up in each of the 11 pit stops along the course.

ohnson will remain in contact with the cars by radio and the other trucks by satellite phone, and he’ll monitor the progress of the racers with an “Ion Earth” device, a PDA screen that shows the course and race car numbers.

“I can see where they’re at, how fast they’re driving and what race mile they’re at,” Johnson said. “The difficult thing is when you see them not moving for 20 minutes, and you don’t know if he’s got a flat or the car is upside down.”

On a Point A to Point B race, such as “Vegas to Reno,” the team must pack up one pit and move to the next quickly rather than set up and stay in one spot as they would on an enclosed course. Johnson said having three trucks allows them to stay ahead of the race cars rather than having to beat the cars to the pit and set up again.

While there is prize money awarded to the winners, Huntsman said the competitors are racing for bragging rights, and that most of the money available in off-road racing is from sponsorships, not prize winnings.

Because the teams are racing mostly for bragging rights, Johnson said the Speed Technologies crew is willing to help competitors and teams in other classes.

“One thing we pride ourselves on, it doesn’t matter if this car pulls in or a motorcycle pulls in, if they need anything we will give them a hand,” he said. “We’re a bunch of good old boys out there playing in the dirt.”

Last week, the Speed Technologies crew took its race car and two “course-runners” to a specially designed off-road course north of Reno near Pyramid Lake to test the car. It was Levrett’s first time in the driver’s seat since the Baja 500 on May 30 and June 1.

“We have to completely strip the whole thing apart after every race,” said Jeremy Huntsman, a member of the car prep crew.

Levrett was on a course last week that hadn’t been closed, like it will be for the Vegas to Reno race, so he slowed when he approached a hill to make sure there was nobody on the other side before accelerating downhill.

On one run, he encountered a convoy of military vehicles, as well as a family that appeared to be collecting rocks.

“I’ll run the whole course as much as four times in the week or two weeks before the race,” Huntsman said. “We’ll mark the danger points and the directions on GPS, just big stuff that can hurt the car or make you crash, or a fork in the road.”

The GPS device sits mounted on the dashboard on the passenger’s side, and during a race, the co-driver will watch both the terrain in front of them and the screen to warn the driver ahead of time of obstacles on the course or upcoming turns or hills.

“Right here, the co-driver would tell me, ‘Hard right up ahead,”‘ Levrett said as he approached a hairpin turn.

While other crew members check out the course as well, Levrett said it’s important for the driver and co-driver to do it themselves, too.

“We try to become a team and get to where I know what he’s thinking and he knows what I’m thinking,” Levrett said.

Levrett said he and Johnson have raced together five or six times, and they are starting to get that teamwork down.

“So far, we’re doing good,” Levrett said. “We had a little problem in Mexico in the Baja 500 and we’ve since talked and we’re going to be good.”

There, Levrett said he encountered a turn that was sharper than the GPS indicated and he and Johnson (and 10 other cars) went off an embankment.

“We were 150 feet down in a canyon,” he said, laughing.

On his first test run Tuesday, Levrett reached speeds of up to 82 miles per hour.

“In a long race, you probably wouldn’t go a lot faster than that,” he said. “You don’t want to destroy the car in the first 10 minutes. In some sections that you know better, you will (go fast), because if you’re not, the next guy is.”

Information from: Reno Gazette-Journal, http://www.rgj.com