Just when I start to think, “Maybe I don’t really want to be going 100+ mph across the desert anymore…” I hop on one of my team’s purpose built KX450s, head out to Nevada and fall in love with the speed all over again. It’s hard to explain to someone who hasn’t felt the adrenaline rush of being so vulnerable to the elements, traveling at such speeds, pushing the limits of your own comfort and then absolutely flying through a section of desert. It’s like a drug, and those who have felt its effects are hooked for life.
That feeling is why the Best In The Desert Vegas to Reno has become one of my favorite events to attend each year. It’s a combination of high-speed flats, winding mountain roads, rocky trails and flowing sand washes; it’s everything the adrenaline junkie needs.
The one aspect of high-speed desert racing that is least liked I’m sure, is the dust, and Nevada is no exception. It’s common knowledge that you can spend hundreds of miles just trying to pass one rider/driver because the dust can be so thick, so when Ricky Brabec and I drew second starting position (which may sound really good), we knew it had the potential to be a long day.
Starting ahead of us was the Husqvarna team of Ty Davis and Justin Morgan. It was great to see Ty back out at a BITD race; I remember watching him race in Nevada on a YZ450 in the early 2000s when I was just starting to learn about desert racing, back when it was Yamaha versus Kawasaki versus Honda. Justin Morgan is also proving himself a very versatile and talented rider, with a bright future ahead of him, so getting by them was going to be a tall order.
There was also the threat of the Purvines Beta team of Justin Morrow and Axel Pearson starting right behind us, but they unfortunately had mechanical troubles early and were never able to show their speed.
The start intervals would be one minute and at 5:45am the green flag flew, releasing the riders onto the Nevada desert. Ricky would ride the first one hundred miles for our team, and after losing a little time in the early morning dust he was able to reverse the deficit, reel Justin back in, and bring the bike to me at pit three within thirty seconds of the Husqvarna, right in the thick of the dust. Ty mounted the Husqvarna and I took off after him, hoping there would be just enough wind to blow some of the dust off trail.
In some sections I would catch up to Ty slightly, only to have the course change directions leaving the dust hanging right in the middle of the road like a blanket of fog for me to ride through. Ty was riding really well, which wasn’t a surprise, but I felt if I had clear air I would be able to put a little time on him, and through the following eighty miles or so I would catch right up to within five or eight seconds of him, only to have the dust change directions once more and leave me chopping the throttle.
Then I saw my opportunity to strike. We came into pit five less than ten seconds apart and I had visions of my crew getting me out of the pits first. I saw Ty pull in and give the bike to Justin (our pit was a little past theirs) and I quickly pulled in to my pit for gas and goggles. As I started to accelerate out of the pit, Justin was just passing back by me. There’s a 25mph speed limit in the pits for safety and I quickly took off out of the pit, getting right up to the speed limit, and falling in just behind Justin. This is when the adrenaline of the opportunity took over; I knew this was my best shot to pass for the lead and I began flirting with the legal limits of the speed, just inching closer to Justin before we hit the end of pit row and could resume race speed. As we hit the end of the pits I pulled a slingshot acceleration by Justin, catching him off guard and taking over the lead. His heart rate must have gone from 0-200 and through a ditch just up the road he He-manned it, held it on longer and passed me back. I was right on his rear wheel for the next half a mile as we jockeyed for the lead and as the course entered a hard left handed corner, I out broke Justin up the inside, threw the bike sideways, hammered the throttle and took the lead once more.
For the next few miles I was riding on pure adrenaline. I knew he could stay pretty close through this section of course and key off me, so I pushed hard to keep him from being able to retaliate. Finally the terrain shifted from a rolling power line road with minimal dust to a faster road where he would have to drop back 10 or 15 seconds and I could breathe again. From that moment I was able to maintain a gap of around twenty seconds as I brought the bike in to change with Ricky at pit six.
Ricky absolutely dropped the hammer from there and pulled over two minutes of a lead between pit six and pit nine, where we would do our major maintenance. Our crew did a stellar job changing the front and rear wheels, air filter and filling the oil quickly, then taking a good look over the bike and getting us going once more. The Husqvarna team did some maintenance of their own and we maintained the gap of around two and a half minutes as Ricky headed for pit ten, where I would remount the bike.
I took over at pit ten and pushed hard through some incredibly fun terrain that wound through the hills and as I pulled into pit eleven I was greeted with news from my team that the Husky had an issue, dropped some time and was now around sixteen minutes back. It was welcome news, as the following section was comprised of some of the nastiest rocks I’ve ever traversed and hanging it out through there would have been quite scary, and felt a little like Russian roulette.
I was able to ride a safe pace and enjoy the final miles of my section before handing the bike back to Ricky for the final seventy miles of the race. He, then had an enjoyable ride of his own, the only drama coming in the form of a slice in the rear tire that, had it gone unnoticed much longer, may have become a problem for us. Luckily our pit crew caught it, was quick to change the wheel, and Ricky brought the bike home for his first ever Vegas to Reno win.
It was an incredibly fun day in the Nevada desert for Ricky and myself. We definitely want to thank the team: THR Motorsports, Precision Concepts, Hoosier racing and Kawasaki for the opportunity. I’d like to thank my personal sponsors: MSR mx, Shoei helmets, Sidi boots, Spy optics, Alamo Alarm, Focus apparel, EVS sports, USWE sports, THR motorsports, Ryan Abbatoye Designs, Northland motorsports, ATP Mechanix, FMF racing, BRP, and Jan’s Towing. Also a thank you to our crew of supporters: Factory Phil, Bobcat, Kyle, Ty, Tyler, Pat Martin and the Locos Mocos guys for all of their hard work. I also want to thank Ricky for being such a fantastic teammate and congratulate him on his first Vegas to Reno win.
I want to congratulate Best In The Desert, Casey Folk and his entire staff as well, for not only putting on a successful event, but also improving it year after year. The markings were incredible and it was great to hear of just one minor injury over the entire day and a half of racing (with over 550 miles of terrain and 300+ teams, that’s pretty impressive). I’m really enjoying the series this year and can’t wait for the finale in Henderson in early December; with average speeds of close to 70mph, it will definitely satisfy the craving for speed.