RANDY MERRITT AND MONGO RACING WIN LONGEST OFF-ROAD RACE IN THE U.S., THE 2006 BITD VEGAS TO RENO
13 hours, 2 minutes, 13 seconds.
118 gallons of fuel.
Seven pit stops.
Zero flat tires.
One, 2006 Best in the Desert Vegas to Reno off-road racing victory.
"This is a huge accomplishment," exclaimed a victorious Parker, Ariz., driver Randy Merritt from victory lane after taking the Mongo Racing KC HiLites Ford F-150 across the finish line first in the stock production truck division.
"All I did was drive hard and fast. The truck was good all day except for an overheating problem. And that basically fixed itself when the outside temperature began to drop. Then the engine temperature was not an issue.
"After that, I just drove the truck as fast as the desert would let me." And for good reason. After Merritt had built a 25-minute lead over the field, the overheating problem, which necessitated extra, unscheduled pit stops, coupled with getting stuck in a nasty silt bed, enabled his nearest challenger to chip away at Merritt's cushion. At the finish line Merritt's margin of victory was a scant 40 seconds.
"I really didn't feel any pressure," said Merritt in reference to his nearest challenger closing in on him near the end of the race. "All I could think about was winning the Vegas to Reno.
"So, I got up on the wheel, cinched the belts down and gave it everything I had. I mean, if there's a race to win, it's the Vegas to Reno, the longest off-road race in the United States."
The nearly 587-mile trek began outside the small Nevada town of Alamo, where Merritt and navigator/technician Chris Golding, also from Parker, started seventh in class.
By the time the Mongo Racing KC HiLites Ford F-150 made it through Pit 1, Merritt had climbed to second place on the clock, and a short distance down the course had moved into first place on time, although he was still second on the course.
At Pit 3 Merritt stopped for fuel, and thanks to another superb performance by is crew, beat the only truck ahead of him out of the pit. That meant Merritt was not only in first place on time, but first place on the racecourse, as well.
But it the race was far from over. Four minutes after leaving Pit 3 Golding radioed that the truck was overheating, and they had stopped on the course, surrendering the lead he had fought so hard to get.
Back on the course, Merritt was now 30 seconds out of first place on corrected time. And he was determined to get everything he could out of his Mongo Racing KC HiLites Ford F-150. And Golding said the truck was up to the task.
"Although the overheating problem persisted," said Golding, "the engine management strategy has a fail safe mode which allows it to fire on only our cylinders. That might sound like much, but it allowed Randy to keep going at a top speed of about 70 mph." And that suited Merritt just fine. At Pit 5 Merritt stopped again to remove one driving light, which allowed more air to flow through the radiator and over the motor.
At Pit 6, he stopped again for a splash of water in the radiator overflow and when he got back on course was only seconds behind the leader on corrected time. Shortly thereafter, between Pit 6 and Pit 7, he took over the lead for good; stopped again for water at Pit 7; and another splash at Pit 8, where his lead had grown to 20 minutes.
He then outran his crew to Pit 9, pulled into Pit 10 for a fuel stop with a 25-minute advantage; was nothing but a blur as he passed through Pit 11 and Pit 12; and entered Pit 13 for the final scheduled stop for fuel.
When he left, he still enjoyed a 25-minute margin. But a silt bed would swallow almost all of that cushion and Merritt's truck up before arriving at Pit 14. In the darkness, Merritt and Golding worked feverishly to get the truck out of the quagmire, which had also swallowed up an assortment of other race contenders. After approximately 20 minutes, Merritt and Golding were out and underway, but they knew they were in trouble.
And the were. When they made it through the final pit, the 25-minute cushion had been slashed to eight minutes, with 46 miles to go. That's when Merritt proved he had saved his best for last, as he drove masterfully the rest of the way to hold off the challenge and take home his second career Best in the Desert win. The margin of victory was a 10-second physical lead, 40 seconds on corrected time.
Merritt's first career Best in the Desert win came in the 2003 Baja Mexico 300.
"This was the first time in long time that a half-ton truck won the Full-Stock 8100 class at Vegas to Reno," said Merritt. Second place went to Phoenix driver Greg Foutz in an F-250.
"This says a lot about this Mongo Racing KC HiLites Ford F-150," continued Merritt. "It also says a lot about all of the work and preparation we did over the summer. It says a lot about the support we received today from Goodyear and Locos Mocos with some awesome pit stops. It says a lot about our Goodyear Wrangler GSAs. And it obviously says a lot about this Mongo Racing team, to go out and win Vegas to Reno. I couldn't be more proud and thrilled."
The win puts Merritt solidly in second place in the Full-Stock Class 8100 point standings, vaulting him to within 10 points of the class leader, Foutz.
-credit: mongo racing