Desert Turtle Racing KOH 2018 Race Recap

Desert Turtle Racing KOH 2018 Race Recap

KOH 2018 Race Week:
First and foremost, we were stoked to be setting up our pits in the Lasernut Laser Town hanger. We arrived at Laser Town and got the Turtle set up in the hanger and set up all our camp stuff. We did a little last minute shock tuning on the Rock Krawler shocks to get them dialed in for race day, then headed over to get registered for the race. Monday was our qualifying day and in practice we discovered that the motor was running not so peppy. We learned that we had to shift to 4-Lo just to get up the hill climb and then shift back into 4-Hi to finish the lap. It hurt our qualifying times a bit but we were still able to get an 11th in class start for Thursday’s race. We also discovered that we had a melted coil pack and spark plug that were causing the engine to run poorly. We were able to get in a run around Lap 1 of the KOH course and mark down some trouble spots on GPS as well as set up our lines to get through the new “Notches” area that Ultra4 added to the course this year. We were feeling pretty good about the course of Lap 1 and the car was running well. We headed out for a pre-run of Lap 2 and got through a couple trails but unfortunately cracked the oil pan on a couple big hits and that caused us to call the pre-running extremely short. A big part of our pit support this year was provided by Dust Junkies Racing and they just so happened to be near where we broke down and gave us a helping hand to get back to Laser Town. We spent the rest of our pre-running time hunting down an oil pan and making repairs to the rig and studying the course map.

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KOH 2018 EMC Race Day:
Let’s just start with, the green flag dropped and we were off and running! Darin was behind the wheel and ready to attack the desert lap. The first few miles had us on edge, knowing that race nerves can cause you to overdrive the rig and/or potentially suffer flats. As we clicked off the early miles we passed many rigs that had suffered exactly that, and a couple others with some quick driving decisions. We were able to maintain a good pace and cruise through unscathed. As we passed by RM12 we felt the rig was doing well. We radioed to Dust Junkies at Remote Pit 1 that we didn’t need a tire change and opted pass through without a stop. They responded with “Well done. We’ll catch you on the flip side at RM48”. We waved on the way by the pits and were feeling great about the rig. We kept clicking off the miles, passing other racers along the way. As we arrived at “The Notches” a little ways past RM24 we followed a couple other rigs into the banner area. Again, we passed a few others that were floundering in the rocks not knowing where to go. We stuck to our pre-planned route and managed to maneuver around a couple more. As we exited, we were on the tail of a 4800 rig and we decided to go for the pass in a whooped-out section to the drivers left. We made the pass, but we also went for a good ride when the front end got bucked pretty high, and we were reminded that we needed to tone it back.

 

We got back on our pace as we rounded the half-way point at RM32, and we continued carrying a good pace, picking our way through the tight desert section before reaching RM47, where we again needed to radio to the Dust Junkies at Remote Pit 1 what our plans were. We chatted for a bit about how the rig was doing, we were not hearing any strange sounds, and we again didn’t need to stop for a tire change. We hit the pit zone and again gave the big thumbs up as we passed by. Heading out crossing the base line we knew the speeds were going to pick up as we rounded the big bend at RM52. Around RM54 we had a close encounter with a bird — this bird was about 20 feet off the deck and clocking us for speed about 50 feet off the front passenger corner of the rig. At least it seemed that close. So we mashed the gas to pick up the pace and see what they would do. We gave them the applause and enjoyed the camera man hanging off the side of the helicopter. Let’s hope it makes the cut into some footage somewhere.

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We reached the intersection at the baseline exit and headed out across the dry, dusty Melville lakebed. At times we couldn’t see much more than a few feet in front of us. Picking our way up into the top of Resolution, preparing for our drop down it and Backdoor, we knew we had just a couple more miles before we were back to Main. We had a bit of a close call at Backdoor — we got in a little bit of a hurry to prevent another rig from passing us and did a great nose pose with the rear tires straight up in the air. We hit the gas to prevent the roll-over and hit the rear bumper hard on the rock wall behind us… BUT we were down and all four wheels and the rig was still moving. We called in to pits that we were down but took a hard hit and would need to look the rig over really well. We made the last of the little climbs before hitting the short course and the Main Pits. At this point we were pretty stoked Darin just had a VERY clean run on Lap 1 and suffered ZERO flats with our Falken tires. We had a feeling that we were sitting in a pretty good position and it was time to change drivers.

And so the race continues… Lap 2 — Randall is now in the driver’s seat and ready to take on the rock sections. Before we got there, we had to run through the first 8 miles of the Lap 1 again, and then around the desert for another 9 miles before reaching Remote Pit 2A. Again, we kept a descent pace intent on not overdriving the rig. As we reached Remote Pit 2A the rig was feeling pretty good and we called in to let them know that we would just be passing by. We headed into the first rock trail, Boulder Dash, and made pretty quick work of it. We headed down Upper Big Johnson and continued across the valley and around to the bottom of Wrecking Ball. While we were in Wrecking Ball we had a few difficulties leading up to the waterfall but cruised right up the bypass line and continued on. At RM85 we headed over to Fissure Mountain to run across the top of the range and down to Sledgehammer. Another new thing for the Ultra4 race this year was the addition of two trails at RM90, Idle Issues and Her Problem, two trails that I did not get to pre-run nor even see. As we approached the trail we saw the trail markers but the terrain looked untraveled and there were no obvious lines. There was no stopping us on this trail we picked it apart, as if we were cutting a new trail. We had a little trouble getting through Chocolate Thunder but were able to keep our cool and get back on track.

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Once we got over into Jack North we felt something strange in the steering and decided we should stop and take a look. What we discovered was the mount on the axle for the Hydro Assist Ram has been torn off and the Ram was just hanging there cycling left and right. We also discovered that all of the drive flange bolts on the rear axle (BOTH SIDES!) had backed out and we were leaking a ton of gear oil. We tightened up the flange bolts, removed the hydro-ram and capped the hydro lines so we could continue the race. We wheeled up to the crux of Jack North and, like a replay of last year, Darin got out and spotted the rigs through and then got us through and we headed for Jack Hammer. The problem with not having Hydro Assist is that every rock the tires come in contact with will jolt the tires one way or another and that makes it very difficult to steer and stay on the line that you need to get over the rocks. Coming down Jack Hammer we made sure to plan way ahead and keep the car on the right line. Heading up the sand hills at RM93 was pretty fun with the new motor screaming as we made our way. We got around to Hells Gate and continued to struggle with the ability to steer and stay on the right line. Thankfully we had a new ZEON 10 winch from Warn on the rig to get us quickly un-stuck when necessary.

We cruised down Devils Slide and headed over into Sunbonnet Pass. We came upon a few other rigs in the trail and made passes when we could but also got stuck a few times, and again had to use the winch to get unstuck. Somewhere in Sunbonnet we got lodged between two big rocks and had to use our jack to get out, which cost us a significant amount of time. At that point we also discovered that we had cracked the oil pan again and it is was dripping. We took some time to look at the leak and see if we could spot the crack. We debated continuing the race with the leak but the concern was, if we cracked the oil pan even worse, we could damage the motor and possibly be stuck in a trail until the race is over. We agreed that we would make our way out of Sunbonnet and then reassess the condition of the rig. It’s always a hard decision to make but we had to make it. We decided to make our way to the stock bypass split at RM100 and call the race. We didn’t want to risk severe damage to the motor and didn’t want a late-night team recovery after the race. We got in touch with our pit crew at Remote Pit 2B and had them relay to Race Ops that we were out of the race at RM100.

Conclusion:
We finished our race as the 1st place DNF, putting us officially in 4th place by progression. Yes, you read that right — There were only three 4500 class rigs that finished the race, and only another nine rigs in the 4800 class. This race was a difficult one — Not because of the number of rock trails or a difficult desert lap, but because Mother Nature has not rained on the Hammer trails in some time, and that caused the dirt to be very dusty and the rocks to be covered in dust, and some holes to be extra deep.

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We would like to give a special thanks to several sponsors – To Off Road Development for providing the shop space for us to get ready for KOH. To Sucuri Security for stepping on board to support the team this year. To Warn for going above and beyond standard customer service to solve our winching issues. To Dust Junkies Racing for providing pit space and pit support at the race. To Lasernut for providing us space in the Laser Town Hanger at KOH. To Rock Krawler for their continued support in our race program. To Falken for providing ZERO flats this year on the Wildpeak M/T tires. And to our DTR team… Without them we would not be able to do what we do. We are a team that is more like a family and we are all in it together. Even though we did not finish, we did not lose. We come away smarter and stronger. We are still a young team and we continue to learn at every race.

Thanks to all of our sponsors for your continued support: Rock Krawler Suspension | Falken Tire | Sucuri Security | Axial Racing | Poison Spyder Customs | Raceline Wheels | DJ Safety | Fuel Safe | Rugged Radios | J. E. Reel | Rugged Routes | Lasernut | Currie Enterprises | Magnaflow | CTM Racing | sPOD | Artec Industries | PRP Seats | Luxwurx | Warn | Sharq Skinz | DGP Motion Media | Factor55 | 212 Performance Gloves | Off Road Development | Pacific Advisors | SoCal Services | Beachview Insurance | Villa Landscape Products | SoCal Land Maintenance | EctoVentures

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Desert Turtle Racing Ultra4 Glen Helen 2016 Race Recap

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Since KOH we have been enjoying our rig, the Turtle, by going out wheeling a few times and also determining what we needed to do to get ready for our next race. As we worked on the Turtle we realized that we needed to spend some time better tuning our Rock Krawler shocks, in order to improve the overall ride and handling of the vehicle. We took the Turtle out for a few test runs and got the shocks dialed in pretty well. Being a couple of rookies, we know we are not going to get it perfect but we sure feel like we got it close, and none the less we are learning a lot about tuning. Race weekend came and we were as dialed as we were going to be, so we loaded up the Turtle and all our gear and headed for the Ultra4 4 Wheel Parts Grand Prix at Glen Helen Raceway. Friday morning consisted of several things — registration, drivers meeting, practice (2 sessions), qualifying, and then another drivers meeting. Saturday was filled with prelims, the main event, and then an after party.

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GH2016-20160610_142117Friday morning, we got all checked in at registration, grabbed a bite to eat and then headed over to the drivers meeting. At the meeting they covered the course layout for the weekend, some things to watch out for on course, and the break down of practice groups. After the meeting Darin and I agreed that we would share the driving this weekend and alternate each session. He would drive Practice 1 and Qualifying, and I would drive Practice 2 and Prelims. We suited up and headed out for Practice 1. Basically this was to get a hang of the track and feel out how the car was going to handle. We picked up our speed a bit and were getting down in the 5:15’s by the end of practice. We headed back to the pits after the session and made a couple small changes and then got back in the Turtle for Practice 2. This was my turn to drive and the objective was the same — Get the hang of the track and feel the car work. We were both able to get our lap times down in the 5:15’s but we noticed that our temps were getting a little too high. We took the Turtle back to the pits to discuss a game plan to try to get the temps down. We gave the car a once over and swapped out the coolant for 100% water to help keep the temps down, and adjusted our sway bar setting to try and get the car tighter in the turns. Again we suited up, and headed out to run our qualifying laps. The Turtle ran great during the session, the temps were a bit cooler, but not the best. We were able to pull off a time to get us a 9th position start in the Prelims out of 17 other rigs. For only being our second race, and first Grand Prix, we felt great with our results.

GH2016-20160610_210126 GH2016-20160610_193508 GH2016-IMG_9888 GH2016-IMG_9904 GH2016-IMG_9916 GH2016-IMG_9913 Saturday, RACE DAY was upon us, and we had to get lined up early to run our Prelims at 8:45 AM. No time to change anything on our car but we were able to finalize our plan to try and get the temps down. We got lined up in our starting order, 9th back from the leader. We went into the race with the game plan of keeping the car safe and not over-pushing anything. We were OK starting 9th in the main and just wanted to get through the race. The green flag dropped and we were on the move. We were able to pass a couple of rigs and things were going great. We came over a hill leading into a flat section with a couple chicanes. We set the Turtle into a nice left handed drift to hug the inside course marker (giant Caterpillar tire) and then out of nowhere we hit a rut and hooked up. The Turtle was sent head-on for the tire. I tried to counter steer to the right to avoid the tire but it was to late. BOOM — We hit the tire like it was a wall, it sent us up in the air on the two right side wheels. So in a corrective attempt I cranked the wheels to the right and gassed it, hoping that we would be able to drive out of it, but to no avail. Over we went, rolling on the passenger side and coming to a haul back on the drive side. We had successfully rolled the Turtle for the first time. Darin and I checked in with each other to make sure we were good. The track officials rushed over to make sure we were OK and let us know they were going to flip us up-right. They got to work and we were back on our wheels quickly. We fired up the car and began to drive slowly to see if we could feel anything wrong. While I was sitting there on our side all I could think is “There goes our starting position”. I was feeling a little bummed but knew I had to get back in the groove of the race and finish it. We had time for a couple more laps in the Prelims so I started to pick up pace again. We brought the Turtle to the finish safely and then had to wait for the race results to be posted. To our surprise we stayed in 9th place, meaning we didn’t gain or lose any spots. It would have been nice to improve our starting position but we were happy to take the 9th spot.

GH2016-IMG_9932 GH2016-IMG_9927 GH2016-IMG_9925 GH2016-IMG_9912 GH2016-IMG_0114 GH2016-IMG_0094 GH2016-IMG_9969 GH2016-IMG_9979 Now that the Prelims were out of the way it was time to do some work on the rig to try and get the temps under control. Aaron from Fleet Works Services came up with a couple good ideas, top secret stuff. He went to work getting the car prepped for our main event. He was a great addition to the team as he has quite a bit of knowledge prepping race cars and working with teams at the races.

It was getting close to time to get ready for the main and Darin overheard on the PA that our class was getting lined up for the main. We were shocked as that was 30 minutes earlier than the original start time. We went into a mad scramble to get suited up and in the car. We sent one of our team members over to the track official to let them know we were on our way and his response was “We are all lined up, you can start from the back of the field.”  Oh boy — That meant we had to start 19th instead of 9th. We made it over just in time as they started rolling the field out… and yes, we were in last place with a lot of cars in front of us. Instead of getting discouraged with the officials or about being in last place,  we decided to take this opportunity to work on our passing skills and make the best of the situation. There were 6 rigs in front of us in the stock class and we knew we had to get past them ASAP to be able to run down the other rigs in our class. Our first pass came exiting turn one just after the green flag, and then our second and third shortly after that. We continued to work the field, making a couple more passes on lap one. By the time we finished our first lap we had gained 6 positions. Now we knew that if we were going to catch anymore we were going to have to push the Turtle as best we could. We were hoping that Aaron’s magical prep was going to keep the temps down and let us do the work we needed to. On the second lap we made another pass and then on the third we caught up to the lead pack of 4600 class rigs battling for position. Unfortunately for them, on the third lap one stalled on a hill and then two more got in a wreck just in front of us. That moved us into 10th during the third lap. On the 4th lap we caught up to another rig and were able race him down the front stretch of the short course and stuff inside to make the pass at the end of the section. By that point the leaders had us in their sights and were reeling us in. We knew that their cars were much better than ours and we were planning to just let them by. After the start line on lap 5 the leader was on our tail and he was letting us know with a few solid bumps on the triple up-hill singles, and then we let them pass to avoid getting taken out. Towards the exit of the short course section there was a rig rolled over, meaning for us another pass. Somewhere along the line we gained a few more positions simply by other rigs being in the hot pits or breaking out. Our temps were looking good and we just kept driving our race as though we were not in contention with anyone. We wanted to make it to the finish line and that is exactly what we did. We were able to bring the Turtle home to a finish on lap 10 in a VERY respectable 6th place… after starting 19th.

GH2016-JHooperHand-off 2 GH2016-IMG_9996 2 GH2016-IMG_9983 GH2016-IMG_9982 GH2016-IMG_9981 GH2016-IMG_9987 GH2016-IMG_9953 GH2016-IMG_9943 GH2016-IMG_9899 GH2016-IMG_0130 GH2016-IMG_0105 GH2016-IMG_0102 GH2016-IMG_0077 GH2016-checkerflag GH2016-20160610_182013 Oh yeah… a little exciting moment was that our in-car fire extinguisher got knocked loose and was bouncing around between the seats. We opted to swing by the hot pits and hand it off to one of our crew. No one needs projectiles in the race car. We would like to thank all of our sponsors for helping us get the Turtle to where it is today. ‪ProComp Tires, Rock Krawler Suspension, Axial Racing, Poison Spyder Customs, ‬ ‪Raceline Wheels‬, DJ Safety, Fuel Safe, Rugged Radios,‬ Magnaflow Exhaust, J. E. Reel Drivelines, CTM Racing, Rugged Routes,‬ Lasernut,‬ Currie Enterprises, sPOD, Artec Industries, PRP Seats, Luxwurx, A1 Higher Graphics

Desert Turtle Racing KOH EMC 2016 Race Recap

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Sure this is going to be a long read, but there is now way to put this into just a few words. I could go on and on about each and every event that took place that day. The bottom line is we are one of the few first timers that actually finished the race on their first attempt.
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I encourage you to stick with it and read it all the way through. We are the Every Man, we have day jobs, and we converted a TJ into an EMC race contender.

Thursday morning came quick and I did not get very much sleep the night before. My brain was still processing preparation lists, my nerves were creeping up and I did not want to over sleep for fear of missing our line-up spot. But none the less 5:30 a.m. came and I had to get up and get the day started. I brewed some java and started sorting out my race suit stuff. Darin was up as well, getting all his stuff together, and we heard a knock at the door of the RV. To my surprise it was my best friend, Johnny, standing at the door. He took some time out of his very busy morning getting Savvy Offroad ready to stop by and give us some much-needed words of encouragement. I was shocked by his visit and it really set our day off on the right foot. We finished getting suited up and loaded up the last of our stuff in the Turtle, then headed for our line-up spot, Number 32, which was in front of 212 Performance Gloves.
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In the line-up we had several people swing by to give us some encouraging words. It was a bit surprising to see so many people wishing us luck the morning of the race.

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The time came for the line to start moving and I knew things were about to get REAL. Everything we planned for was going to be tested in the next few minutes. And the Axial SCX10 was strapped on the back for the ride of its life. We got to the start line and it was us against Lindsay Gilstrap from Texas. I knew she had a car with more power so I suggested we just let her go when the flag drops. Aaron from the Poison Spyder Pit Crew gave us a great countdown  through our Rugged Radio intercom system, and on his mark with the green flag waving at 8:07 a.m., we punched it… and then quickly let off the gas for turn 1, the sharp left-hander that can quickly roll your rig and take you out of the race.
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I figured Lindsay would have left us in the dust, but she was still right there so we got back on the gas and the drag race ensued until the jump at the end of the short course section. We both hit the brakes and rolled through the jump and then she started to check out.
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At that point we were eating her dust and decided to back off a bit so we could get some clean air and see where we needed to go. The first hill climb (part of Short Bus) had become a dust covered canyon from all the previous racers, making it very difficult to see where we needed to be to avoid the rocks. We picked our way through and were headed down the backside in no time.  Finally passing RM01 we were picking up our speed to hit the first small sand hill of the day. As we approached the base of the sand hill doing about 50 — BAHBOOM!!! We hit this pot-hole in the dirt that came out of nowhere. We hit it so hard, it felt like we just drove up a curb in a SmartCar. We continued to drive up the hill without issue and got to the top. I decided to check with Darin and see if he felt a flat. At first he said “It feels good”, but as we approached the southern end of Melville Dry Lake, RM02, he said “It’s flat man, it’s flat.” I said “No big deal, let’s pull off the course and get it changed.” Truth be known, we only tested our scissor jack on the rear of the vehicle and it worked great. As we lifted the front of the car it would only go so far before the impact ran out of torque and would not lift anymore (maybe it’s the jack and not the impact). Anyways we busted out the ratchet and continued cracking. Of course we discovered that we did not have the ½-inch drive ratchet with us and had to use a 3/8-inch drive with an adapter (CREW CHIEF!!!!). But we were able to get it done and get back in the car and get going again. It was frustrating for both of us to get a flat so early but it was actually a good thing — it brought us down a notch and allowed us to get back in our britches, get our wits back and thinking straight. We were on our way and headed for RM03 and by this point the race had been going for about 20 minutes and we were only at RM03. I got on the radio to let Main Pits (Poison Spyder Pits) know that we had a flat and will need to replace the spare when we get back. At the north end of Melville Dry Lake we reached RM04. Just after that is the military base gate — on the base the course runs for about 6 or 7 miles before exiting again. Just after RM14 we reached Remote Pit 1. Knowing that we did not send a spare tire with the crew to Remote Pit 1 and our car seemed to be doing well, I radioed in to let them know we would see them on the flip side. We continued on, picking off mile after mile. Along the way a Legends car or two would pass us but we also saw more and more busted cars off to the side of the course.

Clip1To us it was a little sign of encouragement to keep going and be thankful we were still in the race. The course along the way would vary, from some whoop sections to some goat trails, to some sand washes, and then to some high-speed smooth routes. The mix of terrain was relentless and would change at a moment’s notice. Darin was on his game reading the terrain and checking-up when needed to avoid damage and/or additional flats. Reaching RM31 we checked in on the radio to let the crew know we were at the half way mark and headed for Remote Pit 1 for the second pass. There were some tricky turns on the way and attention had to be paid to the GPS so we wouldn’t miss the marks and stay on track. I think it was at RM32 where we finally got our first Check Point sticker. For us, that was a major mile marker and reassurance that we were still in it. We made our way through the rest of the RM’s periodically calling in to Remote Pit 1 that we were getting close. We finally heard from them about RM46 and we let them know that we were hearing some clanking noises that we wanted them to check on. When we pulled into the pits, a little after RM47, Craig W. stepped up to the window and said he had our spare tires there for us and asked if we wanted it. I was shocked! I am not sure how they pulled it off but I was sure glad to have him and the Poison Spyder Pit Crew supporting us. I was not expecting to have a spare tire there. But my response was quick, “Heck yes I want the spare one! You guys rock!” They continued to check the rest of the rig and give us a splash of gas.

Clip5They found some shock bolts loose and cranked them down tight then sent us on our way. Clicking off the next several miles, it was smooth sailing. The noise that we heard was gone and the car was feeling strong.
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As we approached the next checkpoint I knew we were going to have to make a game-changing decision soon. There is a split in the race course and you have to make a choice to take Alternate 1 or stay on the course, which leads to a rock section covered in sand, making it a very difficult route. Beyond that is Alternate 2 which is even more challenging as it is a steep sand hill with rocks strewn about. Darin and I talked for a bit about our options but without haste and with pure confidence he chose the sand hill (Alternate 2).

Clip6We had avoided this route during our pre-run because we did not have anyone with us to help out if we got stuck. I’m sure Larry McRae’s pep talk in the Poison Spyder trailer the night before helped make this decision, and we were counting on him being there to help us navigate the line. I called out on the radio to see if Larry was at the sand hill and he replied “It’s all clear, come on up.” Passing RM57 and then passing the race course, I knew there was no turning back and we were going to tackle this hill head on. Larry chimed in on the radio giving us the approach line and the “go for launch”. Darin hit the hill like he had done it before and I could hear Larry on the radio calling the driving line for us “Driver, Driver, easy throttle, passenger, driver, driver, passenger, passenger… You made it!!! Nice work boys.” … or at least it sounded something like that. We were caught up in the moment and we just crushed that hill, hitting it blind and in race mode. It was a bit sketchy but really not all that bad, if you avoid the big rocks. Moving on, the next task at hand was navigating some more tight twisty turns in the sand and rocks, and heading towards Main Pits, a little after RM60. There’s not a whole lot of room for speed between the sand hill and main pits but we punched it when we could, trying to make up some of the time we lost with the flat and extended stop at Remote Pit 1.

We reached Main Pits. Darin had finished the first lap and kept the car together. It wasn’t an easy task but he kept his cool and composure and got us through the first lap. Main Pits is where Poison Spyder stepped up the most for us.
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20160204_110237They went to work looking over the car and making sure it was ready for the second lap — the rock sections. Darin and I climbed out of the car to trade seats, as this was the plan after we looked at the course map. We had learned each other’s strong points and both agreed he would do best in the desert and I would do best in the rocks. We took a moment while we were out of the car to take a breath, grab a drink and a snack before getting back in the car.

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There had to be at least 8 guys combined from the Poison Spyder crew and the Desert Turtle Racing crew working on the rig, making adjustments and some slight changes to the car for us to hit the rocks. We climbed back in the car and got strapped in with our DJ Safety Harnesses.
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I was a bit nervous at this point, thinking to myself “I’ve got a lot of work in front of me”, but I was focused and knew that we on a pace to cover some ground and get through the rocks with our Raceline wheels and ProComp Extreme MT2 tires. So with all pit hands cleared we took off for lap 2 heading across the Start/Finish line and making our way to the hill at the end of Short Bus.
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Climbing over the hill we were cruising along. Click! There went mile one, and here comes the pot hole that Darin clipped on Lap 1. So I let off the gas in an attempt to save the tire, which I did, but that lead to not enough momentum to get up this lame worn out sand hill. The Turtle gave it all it could in 4-Hi and petered out just shy of the crest of the hill. It was a no go and we had to roll backwards down the hill. We gave it another attempt with no luck and then decided to give it a go in 4-Lo. Success!! We made the hill but I was pretty well frustrated at this point. I had done this hill in my JK a number of times and never had a problem. Knowing it was just circumstance and with a few calm words from Darin I got my composure back and we were headed around the desert to Remote Pit 2A, located just after RM70. The car was doing well and we opted to pass right by. Heading up the hill after Remote Pit 2A the rig bounced on the trail a little from left to right and back left again and of course it hit another rock. It didn’t feel like we were losing air but it was in the back of my mind that the front left might be going down. We drove into the canyon and into our first rock trail, Boulder Dash. It’s not a really hard trail but it does have a couple small challenges. I felt this was a perfect trail for me to get in a rhythm of reading the terrain and navigating the rocks. We made quick work of the trail and passed a couple rigs on our way over to run down Upper Big Johnson. This trail has a couple of nasty spots if you’re not careful, but it also has a couple of bypass lines if you can spot them. We were careful coming down the trail as to not beat up the front end too much. We were also able to take a bypass line and make up another position. At the bottom of the trail we hit RM72 and headed for the next trail, Claw Hammer. On the way into Claw I hit a few more rocks a little harder than I liked and was again concerned about the front left losing air. We made it to the water fall and climbed right up. Then at the V-notch there was a rig stuck in the line and we had to negotiate an awkward line up the side of the canyon wall to make a hard passenger pivot turn. It took a couple of tries to get up the V-notch, even with the help of the guys that were part of the stuck car. During the process one of the guys shouted to me “You’ve got a left front flat.” Great!!!! Just what we didn’t need — another flat. I opted to pull to the side of the canyon out of the course line and change the flat to avoid any further damage. With our first flat experience we knew exactly what we needed to do and so we got to work. We made quick work of this change and were back on our way climbing out of Claw Hammer. At RM73 Darin radioed in that we had experienced another flat but were still moving and were headed into Wrecking Ball.
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Picking our lines in Wrecking Ball we knew we had to negotiate the waterfall or the bypass line. We had ran the bypass line during our pre-run and were confident we could pull it off again. As we approached we noticed a rig stuck in the waterfall line and that meant we were forced to take the bypass. We got into the bypass line and had to make a quick stop because I overshot the downhill turn. The sketchy part of the bypass is when you stop, at that point the rig slides sideways about three feet which puts you very close to the cliff. We were able to get a good backup and point the Turtle down the hill for a successful pass at the bypass line. Shortly after making it down the bypass we passed another rig that was broken, and then down the trail just a bit further we passed another rig, and another.
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I was feeling relieved that we were making good time down this trail and others appeared to be having difficulties. We approached the bottom of the trail and realized that we had, yet again, another flat on the front right. We finished running the trail and pulled over right near the cross-over at RM74. We were bummed, we had already used our spare in Claw Hammer and now we had another flat. We talked about driving on the flat but I pointed out that we had 5 more really tough rock trails to go through before we would get to Remote Pit 2B, not counting the mileage that was ahead of us between the rock trails. We continued to weigh our options and I suggested to Darin that we could possibly plug the tire with the tire kit we were carrying. Darin looked out the window and said “Hahahaha — No we’re not, there is a 4-inch gash in the sidewall.” So we checked the tire on the carrier and it had a smaller 1-inch hole. I grabbed the plug kit to start plugging the tire, and Darin grabbed the tools to start lifting the car to change the tire. Thankfully, we outfitted our ARB Compressor with an NPT fitting and packed our air hose. We were able to plug the tire with seven plugs and get 20lbs of air in the tire and the tire held the air. We pulled it off the rig and swapped out our third flat. This seemed to take forever but we were back in the game. Darin said “We are in this race until we aren’t!” That was probably the best thing he could have said at that time. I noticed a few of the rigs that we passed in Wrecking Ball had caught up to pass us, so I knew we were losing ground again.
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We got back in the car and Darin called it in, “We plugged the flat and are on the move towards Chocolate Thunder. We are going to need a spare at Remote Pit 2B.” At this point I knew I really had to change my wheeling game and preserve the last chance tire we had left — We could not afford to get another flat. We got over to Chocolate Thunder and started picking our way through. There was a 4600 car in front of us, up at the cross section, having trouble. We watched and waited for him to get through and then made our way up the stair steps.
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We cruised up the steps and while doing so I noticed the 4600 car take a different line that looked way easier than the line I am used to taking. So I half opted for that line and wound up getting the Turtle turtled on some rocks. It was time for Darin to get out and pull some winch line so we could get moving again. This is like the worst place to get stuck because there are a ton of spectators there to give you a hard time about your poor line choice. Darin made quick work of the winch line setup and we were un-stuck and on our way again, climbing the rest of the way out of Chocolate Thunder. Moving on to the next trail, passing RM76, we hit Jack North. At the entrance of the rock canyon for Jack North we caught up to the 4600 that was having problems on Chocolate Thunder. He was struggling pretty badly in a spot and ended up having to winch his way out of it. By this point there were a few rigs piled up behind us so the 4600 car let everyone pass him by. We made our way up to the top of the trail and there was a rig stuck in the main race line, so everyone else had to go around on a bypass line. I looked at the line and told Darin, “That’s not an easy bypass.”  There was a line of about 4-5 rigs ahead of us and we watched a couple make it through the bypass line. Then one guy just about flopped his rig over. Now the main line was blocked and the bypass line was blocked and there was still a car ahead of us that had to get through. Not knowing what they were going to do about the rig that was almost flopped, Darin jumped out of the Turtle and started talking with another co-driver about alternate lines. Darin pointed out a line through the middle of the rocks that he thought might work as an alternate. I don’t think any of us had much faith in the line but Darin called up the next rig and spotted them through. They got through it with a little bit of work and some really good spotting from Darin. Next he called me up. I was wide eyed as I could not believe that the rig before me made it. These rocks seemed as big as the rig and once on top you could not see anything around you because it was all underneath the car. Darin again did a great job spotting and got me through the spot. As I exited this alternate line I could feel the Turtle was getting light and tipsy, but we were able to make an adjustment and pull on through. Thankfully another trail down and no tire issue. We took off and headed over to run down Jack Hammer.
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20160204_145229We made great time coming down Jack Hammer until we got to the second waterfall section and I again got Turtled up due to a lack of forward momentum. Darin quickly jumped out and pulled the winch line. We were unstuck and on our way again in no time.
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After Jack Hammer there was a check point at about RM78 and then right after that was a big sand hill. We attempted to power up this sand hill and almost got it, but the Turtle petered out just before the crest. We had to back down the hill, but this time I knew there was an alternate, so instead of trying the hill again, we opted to go around and keep on the move. We made our way around the mountain and were headed for Sunbonnet Pass. Still, I was keeping in mind that we needed to preserve the tire and could not afford another flat. We spotted a few key lines on Sunbonnet and were able to capitalize on a couple of passes in the rock trails. Quickly another trail was completed, now the only thing left in our way of reaching Remote Pit 2B was Hwy 19/20. This trail just after RM85 has a few tricky spots that can really cause some problems. We remembered some of the bypass lines here and took advantage of them. We even passed another rig that was struggling right were the bypass came back into the trail. We nailed this trail and even took a line that Johnny Rocha told us about, saving us more time. We were on our way out of Hwy 19/20 and were excited to crest the hill and see Remote Pit 2B. It was like a breath of fresh air for me. I was feeling stressed but the sight of the pits gave me focus and reenergized me for more racing. We got to the pits and the guys went to work on the car again.
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Poison Spyder Pit Crew and Desert Turtle Racing Pit Crew were working together to give the car a good look over and make sure we were going to make the rest of the race. I grabbed a couple more snack bites from Kimmie and we were on our way. I asked Justin Z. how much time we had left and he said we still had about an hour and a half. Knowing that we had Aftershock Trail ahead of us, we would have to nail the bypass on that trail to keep in good time and be able to finish the race. I felt like we really still had a chance to finish. We just needed to keep the car together. We peeled out from the pits and were off and running.
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We headed down into Aftershock just after RM88. We picked our way through the rocks and caught up to a rig that was struggling in the rock garden, and that was when we noticed the bypass line. We broke right and skated on by, passing another rig. We got to the bottom of the trail and came across another rig that was broken and passed by him as well. We were on the move and clicking off the miles between Aftershock and Emerson Dry Lake. As we came down the hill approaching Emerson Dry Lake, around RM92, we prepared for our final high-speed run across the lakebed. We were all alone out there and completely dust free. The conditions were perfect so I smashed the skinny pedal and let the motor sing. We were up to 80mph and still climbing. We knew our motor did not have much more and we were running out of space on the lakebed. But knowing there was a bit of a run-out at the end, I stayed in it getting up to a final top speed of 88mph and then let off. We cruised through the next several miles of the flowy desert trail leading up to RM99. Safely making our way there, it was time to cross a totally whooped out section on the course. At around RM100 to RM103, this is where I could lose my lunch and the Turtle if I wasn’t careful. The sun was staring to come down and as we made a slight left around RM105 it put the sun right in our eyes. Through the next couple of miles of whoops, I had to drive with one hand on the wheel and one blocking the sun. It was unsafe to get any sort of speed built up with only one hand on the wheel, so we just cruised keeping the Turtle safe and intact. We made the left a little after RM106 and were headed back on to a portion of course that we ran in Lap 1. It was nice to be back on some familiar trails. At RM55, we reached the final checkpoint and they informed us that we had only 45 minutes to get back to the finish line. Darin said, “There is no way we are timing out after coming this far. Hammer down buddy – Let’s do this.” I was unsure of the distance that we had left and how long it would actually take. But I recalled that the final section had a lot of sand and rocks strewn about, and we would have to tackle the nasty sand hill after RM57 from Lap 1. Picking our way through the sand and rocks, we kept moving along — Sometimes, at what seemed to be a very slow pace, but we were still moving. We came to the sand hill that Larry coached us up before and Darin called out to see if Larry was still there. Nothing but radio silence, so it was up to us to conquer the hill. We hit it hard and screamed up the hill, but at the top the Turtle started to peter-out and was barely creeping along. I worked the rig with a little sand crawl, turning the tires left and right, and we were able to make it up and continue on. Picking through the rest of the rocks and sand we made it out and were headed across the last desert section towards the finish line. I can remember driving along and thinking to myself, just keep it together we are going to make it. We made it to a point where we could see Hammertown and the Start/Finish line – We were just moments away from completing our goal. We were at the bottom of the last hill climb and on the other side was the Finish line. Up and over we go, zooming down the hill to take the checker flag at the Finish line at RM114.
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I was beyond excited and was feeling mentally drained at the moment from driving the rock trails. I was stunned and could not believe that we had just finished the 114 mile course of the 2016 Smittybilt Every Man Challenge on our first attempt! Darin and I were absolutely amazed at the accomplishment. I couldn’t wait to get out of the car and find out if the Axial SCX10 had made it through the journey with us. Yup, it was there! — All covered in dust, but it made it with us. The first ever Axial SCX10 to run the hammers and cross the finish line.
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