PAHRUMP, Nev. (December 9) The final race of the millennium has come and gone for Robby Gordon.
He and his Team Gordon-prepared trophy truck finished second in class at last Saturday's Terrible's Town Best of the Desert 250 that began in this desert town just outside Las Vegas.
After 250 grueling miles, Gordon was third overall and was beaten across the finish line in the Trophy Truck class only by the Ford of Herbst Racing's Ed Herbst.
"We had so much fun out there," Gordon exclaimed. "The course was fairly rough, but it was also fast. Not more than 25 miles into the race, we had a gremlin in the transmission that we fixed on the spot, so from that point on I stuck it (the gas pedal) to the floor."
The problem Gordon was referring to was a tailshaft seal on the transmission that popped out, draining the transmission of fluid. It was a random problem, one Gordon claims he's never encountered in his career.
"In the desert you can never count on something not happening," he said, "but this was the transmission that we had run for 500 miles in Baja, 125 in the Barstow race, and then another 200 or so in Glamis over the Thanksgiving holiday. Bottom line, though, is we're trying to race the truck as much as we can to see what is going to be durable enough to run for 2000 miles in next year's Baja 2000. We now know that that seal needs to be fixed, and actually we're working on putting a bearing in there anyway."
The seal problem cost Gordon almost half an hour and was solved by simply banging it back in with two screwdrivers. Co-rider Johnny Kaiser found the problem after pulling up the panel inside the truck's cockpit and seeing the loose seal.
"What could you do? I just grabbed a couple of screwdrivers and pounded the thing back in," Kaiser said. "Why it picked that particular moment to dislodge after all those miles, I don't know. But once we had it in, we still couldn't run until we got our hands on some fluid. After 10 minutes or so we flagged another racer down and he gave us some transmission fluid. At times, I was having to pour the fluid down the dipstick tube as we were running."
The remainder of the race saw Gordon and Kaiser run relatively problem-free. At the midway point, one of the front brake fittings was cracked by a rock, causing Gordon's truck to have little or no front braking ability. But Gordon compensated with coaching from Kaiser, who concentrated on the road far ahead.
"It was a little nutty without brakes, especially coming down from the fast sections," Kaiser said. "We just had a good level of communication going the entire race. I'd be looking far down the road while he was concentrating more on the immediate road.
"I have to give him credit, he did an awesome job of saving the tires. We didn't have a flat all day. And really, the back section of the track was where we made up a ton of time. He was flying the last 100 or so miles. To go from over 30 minutes down to finishing just four minutes behind isn't bad."
For Gordon, the race left him looking ahead to the new millennium. It was his last in the desert with the Toyota powerplant. The truck is currently being fitted for a Ford engine as he moves back into an association with the manufacturer he began his road racing career with in the early 1990s.
"I'm excited about the year 2000," Gordon said with a grin. "We've run the last few races in the desert more as tests than anything else, to see where we need to improve on the truck for the Baja 2000. Right now, it's pretty solid. We've already got the transmission issue solved. And putting the Ford back into it is going to make for a much meaner machine next year."
Gordon now heads to Charlotte, N.C., full-time to begin preparation for the 2000 Winston Cup season, which begins with February's Daytona 500. Equipment and shop personnel are already in the process of relocating to the Irvan-Simo Racing facility Team Gordon has leased for the year.