When dust settles, Graham owns another series title | TahoeDailyTribune.com

When dust settles, Graham owns another series title

Imagine flying through the desert at speeds in excess of 70 mph. Or launching your vehicle over jumps so big that you can’t see over the top of them. Sometimes flying 50 feet through the air, hoping for a good landing spot. And driving through canyons and riverbeds, or across the open desert in dust so thick that you can’t see more than 20 feet ahead. That is what off-road racing is like.

This is what Ed Graham of South Lake Tahoe calls fun. Of course, winning the unlimited sportsman veteran class in the Valley Off Road Racing Association 1998 desert racing series makes the sport enjoyable, too.

“It’s a total commitment,” said Graham, “to try for the overall win. You have to finish every race with a top-three finish. One breakdown can cost you the championship.”

Graham, who won the series by a mere 22 points, owes his success to meticulous preparation of the race car and a really good pit and chase crew.

“It’s really a team sport,” said Graham, who is helped out by brother George, wife Judy, Ed Shalkey, Patrick Taylor, Matt Alberghini and Norm Noble.

The pit crew is in charge of fueling the car and checking it over for broken or failed parts during pit stops. They also keep track of the progress of the race car throughout the race in case of a rollover or part failure.

Going into the race season, Graham knew he would have a tough time winning this class, competing against guys like Everett Paul, Tyler Mort, Kenny Ott and John English, just to name a few.

“These guys are seasoned veterans with years of racing experience under their belts … a very tough bunch to beat,” Graham said. “Some of the races were so close, just minutes separating the top-three finishers, that no one knew who the winner was until they all had crossed the finish line.

“VORRA desert races are all-day affairs, ranging from 225 to 300 miles. The courses are set up through rocks, silt beds, old river canyons and dirt roads. Some of the higher horse-powered vehicles can reach speeds in excess of 130 mph on dry lakes and the smoother dirt roads. Most of the courses though, are pretty rough and you average between 30 to 60 mph.

“You have to give it 100 percent when you’re going that fast through desert obstacles. Those big rocks can sneak up on you pretty fast,” said Graham, “and hitting one of them will put you out of a race, right now!”

This is Graham’s third year racing on his own, having learned the ropes in 1994 and ’95 on Patrick Taylor’s Team Tahoe racing team. In 1996, Graham won the Sport Novice class championship in the VORRA desert racing series and in 1997 earned a class win in the prestigious Score International Baja 500.

“VORRA is a great race series to run. They’re just really organized and family-oriented,” Graham said.

Graham hopes to start work on a new two-seat unlimited car specifically built to conquer the grueling Baja 1000 desert race. Graham is helped out by sponsors that include: Graham Plumbing Service, Fibercraft Racing Products, Graphic Express and P.C.I. Race Radios.

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