Las Vegas 200 Race Re-Cap
The last race of the 2001 season was upon us, and found us tied for first place in championship points for the season. We entered the race with exactly the same number of points as our archrival Jeremy Spirikoff. Either of us would win the championship and the other would settle for second (first loser). Who ever finished in front of the other would be the new champ and no one else in the class had a mathematical chance to bump either of us from these positions.
The race started early on Saturday December 1st. All vehicles were staging at 6:30 am and the first truck to leave the line about 7:00 am. We could all feel the tension in the air. Race faces were very stern, and championships were being decided for more than 6 of the truck classes. Our class was seventh in the starting order with Chad Hall in the Hummer starting first and Spirikoff starting second behind him. We were lucky enough to draw last, starting ninth of the nine entered trucks at the drawing date. We ended up with 11 trucks at race day after some late entries showed up. At start time Spirikoff was nowhere to be found and missed his start time slot. The third place truck went off the line and everyone else started in front of us and still no Spirikoff. This gave us an immediate 3-minute lead on him when he did start plus whatever time we were making on the racecourse.
We left the line starting our first lap pressing hard and setting the pace early in the day. Before we had cleared 12 miles we were already passing Manny Esquerra who started in front of us on the line. Within another 15 miles or so we had passed three other trucks and were obviously going much faster than most of the other competitors. By the time we had reached the mid way point of the first lap Steve noticed Spirikoff in the rearview mirror gaining on us in the very rough area. The course became very rough about mile 30 and the bumps and whoops were at least four to five feet deep and went for several miles like this. They were strewn with large rocks to make it more interesting. As we bounced and banged through the huge bumps Steve told me that it looked like they were hammering their truck trying to catch us. To no avail we held them off for about three miles before he caught up. Finally he was right behind us and things got exciting. I was weaving the truck back and forth through the bumps from side to side (this makes the truck work easier and you find the smaller parts of the bumps) when Steve saw Spirikoff start to come up on the passenger side of us. At about that time we hit a large whoop and sent the truck in the air and not in a straight line with the track. Spirikoff was out of room and we collided in the air. We banged in to each other for a few moments and I had to back off to avoid rolling the truck. Now he was by us. We headed into the next section of the racecourse, which was a windy and twisty wash. The track was narrow and soft. Our truck is faster in these areas than Spirikoff's truck so we kept right on his bumper for the next several miles. By the time we hit about mile 45 the track turned and started to follow a rough power line road with 2-foot deep rollers for several miles. This just happens to be the area we test in before most races. Now it came down to suspension set up and horsepower. Spirikoff began to pull away from us due to his horsepower advantage. His older truck is equipped with a big block 460, and producing about 550 HP. Our stock V-10 with about 300 HP is no match for that in the fast areas. We kept him in sight and tried to run harder to keep the pace. The Hummer of Chad Hall was still in front of us and running harder than we have ever seen them run. As we came around the main pit to complete lap one our crew told us we were two minutes behind them on time.
Starting on the 2nd lap Steve and I decided to try and pick up the pace a little more and see what happens. I started to push the truck harder into the corners and rev the engine a little longer before shifting to see if we could make any ground. We also started to not slow down for some of the bumps and whoops that we normally would have. This started to pay off and we were making time on them now. Hammering the truck in the whoops was very hard and we started hearing the bodywork rattle on the side we had the collision on. Through the mountain roads at mile 14 or so before we hit pit A something happened and we started to loose the brakes. The pedal would just sink to the floor and I would pump it to get pressure. Steve radioed the crew at Pit A and told them to get ready for a quick pit to see where we were loosing fluid. We also elected to take our 20 gallons of gas now and not pit again later to save time. In our strategy we decided to have fuel at all three pits so if we had to stop anywhere for a small problem or flat we could fuel anywhere and save the extra stop time. When we came in they lifted the hood to find a fitting had been hit by a flying rock near the master cylinder. They repaired it and refilled the reservoir only losing about five minutes. As we headed out I knew we would have to run harder yet to make up this time and pray that the others would find a flat tire or some small issue to help recoup this time loss. As we headed into the roughest area again we ran the truck even harder than we did the first time. The truck was taking a huge amount of abuse. We had never run it this hard by any means. As we pressed on the crew gave us a split of more than seven minutes now and we had to make it up and finish less than 3:30 from Spirikoff to win the championship. We continued to punish the truck and toward the end of the 2nd lap we started to have the ever-popular missing 3rd gear. I shifted for high gear when we dropped on to one of the fast roads and it wouldn't shift up. I rocked the shifter back and forth from 2nd to 3rd several times and it came back. When we reached Pit B they told us we were only three minutes back from Spirikoff now and were making time on them. We pressed on and cleared the main pit with only 3:20 deficit from Spirikoff and only four minutes from the leader Hall.
As we headed out for destiny the truck was starting to feel soft and things were making noises that we had never heard before. Steve joked with me about slowing down to save the truck but we both knew if we slowed down we would throw away our chance to win the championship. In a leap of faith we both decided to just pray the truck would take the abuse and not have a problem before anyone else did. At this point we started thinking that Spirikoff or Hall may have a problem with their trucks from keeping such a pace. All three of us were about 30 seconds apart on the course now and all punishing our trucks to a level we had never seen before. As we rocketed around by Pit A our crew told us we were in time range now and Spirikoff was only two minutes ahead, and Hall was only about three minutes ahead. We had them on time now and had to press on. As we cleared the halfway point we started coming into traffic. We weren't sure who it was at the time but as we got closer we realized that we were catching one of the unlimited buggies (one car) on the run. We caught them in the tight wash, which should not happen from a truck like ours compared to a car like that. We gave them the proverbial "get the hell out of our way" bump in the back bumper and they pulled over quickly. I don't think they saw us coming. Just after we passed them we caught another car this time a 10 car which is an unlimited car on suspension but limited on engine. We did the same courteous bump and run pass with them and hammered on. Now we were to the part of the race that we used as our test track. We had the dust of another truck in front of us and were working through it. As we bumped the truck we realized that we were passing a full Class 8 truck. Now we had clean air again and were running a champions pace to the finish line. The track opened up again and dumped us on the fast access road. I went looking for 3rd gear again and now it was gone all the way. We kept it in 2nd gear and ran the RPM up to nearly 5500 RPM to make as much speed as possible. The GPS said 85 MPH would be the best she would do now. As we came close to Pit B we were flying through a silt bed at full tilt in 2nd gear when the disaster struck. We were in sight of the pit and Spirikoff had just cleared that location which would make us less than one minute apart. As we came just past the mid way down the silt bed the truck took a hard turn to the right. I thought we had broken a tie rod or something in the front end. I tried to scrub off speed as fast as possible without crashing the truck. We ended up a football field to the right of where we started and exactly 90 degrees from the direction we were running. The truck came to a stop in another set of huge ruts. Steve jumped out and looked under the front end. He popped his head back up and made the motion to me to kill the engine. I shut it off and I could hear him yelling that we had broken something in the front suspension and the spring was missing. I jumped out and he went under the truck and came out with a very bad look on his face "we broke the beam hanger" he said. The passenger I-beam has a cast iron mount that bolts into the frame under the engine. The hanger had given up and let the beam come up under the engine a punch a hole in the oil pan, actually two holes they looked like they were precision-machined slots about a half inch wide and two inches long each. Oil was pouring out onto the ground. We found another beam mount in our spare parts box (thank God for spare parts) and began to repair. We dug in the silt and found the missing coil spring and removed all of the damaged parts. We replaced the mount and put all of the parts back together. Steve put duct tape on the oil pan and tried to seal it up to get us into the finish. We were less than 12 miles from the end of the day and had to finish to salvage our 2nd place in the points championship. We lost nearly an hour in repairs and found that we had a broken shock shaft on the Driver's side of the truck again on the front suspension. We didn't see another truck come through in our class for nearly 45 minutes from the time we started repairs. As we finished and got rolling again we found Rob MacCachren's Ranger dead on the end of the silt bed. Rob asked us to push them into the pit for fuel. They had missed the calculations on fuel by about one mile and needed some help. We pulled them in and they went on to finish the day. We stopped in our pit and added oil to the engine and went on to the finish. At the end of the day we finished fifth in our class and we sealed second in the points championship for the year.
At the finish line all of our trucks showed the battle scars of the day. Spirikoff and Hall both commented on how fast we were all pushing the pace that day. None of us had ever run that hard for that long. That just proves how tough these trucks are.
The broken bracket looked as if it had been damaged earlier in the day and held on for as long as it could. The edges of the part where it was broken showed some area of rubbing before it sheared off near the bolted area. I am surprised we didn't break anything else from how hard we were running the trucks. The pace we ran was a shock to many of the other racers too. Passing one car and eight trucks is unheard of from stock trucks like ours.
- Greg Foutz -