Words and Photos by: Joey DiGiovanni // UTVUnderground.com
UTV’s have come a long way since their introduction to desert racing over 7 years ago. Once a novice class where underpowered, single cylinder machines were the norm, the new breed of racers and their UTV’s have reached a professional level pushing man and machine to a place few could have predicted. The 2012 Best In The Desert (BITD) Vegas To Reno (V2R) race held this past weekend established yet another milestone for UTV desert racing. This years V2R race produced the classes fastest times ever seen at a Vegas To Reno and for the first time ever we saw a UTV physically finish ahead of the unlimited 4 wheel vehicles. This race would go down in our eyes as the best UTV desert race ever!
Just over 20 UTV’s would line up to take on this years 534 mile course that runs from Beatty, NV to Dayton, NV. The course is virtually the same course that has been ran the past couple of years giving experienced teams an advantage both racing wise as well as in the logistics side for pit strategy. Without a doubt the favored UTV of this race is the #1919 of Brandon Schueler. He and his Jagged-X teammates are the 5 time winners of this race and in most years have won in a very convincing fashion. This year however, the #1919 has a pretty formidable teammate and challenger in the #1932 of Matt Parks. After winning the 2011 BITD Pro UTV championship and finishing runner up in the 2011 V2R race, Parks joined forces with the Polaris factory backed team of Jagged-X making them the most winning team in UTV desert racing history. Before the pair could even start the 2012 season a 3rd Jagged-X UTV would be added into the fold due to additional support from their factory sponsor Polaris. This UTV, the #1991 is piloted by Brandon’s father Bill Schuler and co-driven by Polaris Off-Road Vehicles manager, Craig Scanlon. While the 1932 & 1919 are full tilt custom race machines, this 3rd Jagged-X UTV (#1991) is more of a factory based platform that was built by Jagged-X and Polaris to prove that you can affordably build a competitive desert race UTV. So far this season they have done a fantastic job proving this point and this race would further that concept even more.
Not to be overlooked in any race is the team of Murray Racing in the #1917 Can-Am X-Team Commander. Brothers Derek and Jason Murray, winners of the 2012 Mint 400, are dead set on dethroning the Jagged-X team and Brandon Schueler. In 2010 Murray Racing would podium the Vegas To Reno race and in 2011 would follow it up with a 5th place. At the time of the 2010 race they were racing an outgunned Yamaha Rhino. Last year Murray Racing stepped up to the Can-Am Commander platform and gave Matt Parks a run for his money in the season championship point’s race. Their success last year drew the attention of Can-Am and earned them a factory sponsorship for this 2012 season. Combine that with their fantastic team chemistry and experience and you have one of the most threatening teams in UTV racing. Once overlooked as just a couple of brothers out to have a good time, now when the Murray’s pull up the surrounding heads turn knowing these 2 brothers from Southern California mean business!
Coming off a huge win at this years BITD Bilek Silver State 300 race, the Coastal Racing team in the #1934 Polaris RZR XP would also be a team that would be heavily considered a race contender leading up to the green flag at V2R. Coastal Racing team owner Scott Kiger has made some very wise decisions in building his team and has partnered with some very good sponsors. The most notable was bringing in car builder and co-driver Mark Holz of Holz Racing Products. Holz is credited for building some of the most successful race UTV’s the sport has ever seen, both in desert racing and in other forms of UTV racing. The Coastal team along with the Jagged-X team turned to shock experts Walker Evans Racing this year and the support they would receive this season and at this race alone has proven that the decision was the right one. The 2 teams also share the same engine builder in Kroyer Racing Engines. Without a doubt Kevin Kroyer is the premier engine builder not just in the UTV class but also in Trophy Truck, Class 1, and a host of other racing divisions. On paper the Jagged-X and Coastal teams may sound similar in terms of manufacturer and sponsorships, but where they separate is right at the chassis. Coastal has opted to remain racing the 2 seat version of the Polaris XP900 lineup while Jagged-X has converted to the longer 4 seat platform in hopes of gaining an advantage this year in the wheel base department.
Other notables lining up for this years race would be 2010 V2R runner up Rocker Head in the #1935 Kawasaki Teryx and Jason Fraser in the #1926 Polaris RZR. This year Jason Fraser would get the luck of the draw pulling the #1 start position. This year Sean Cook and Dennis Jean who competed together last year would be both competing in their own machines, both of which would be new for them this year. Cook was able to shake his new Polaris RZR4 built by Cognito Motorsports down at the Silver State race. He would suffer engine failure in that race but his confidence was high heading into this-years V2R. Jean would also be sporting a new look and a new ride for this years V2R race and like Cook and many others in this years season he would opt for building a 4 seat RZR XP900. Justin Lambert of Cognito Motorsports switched from the Kawasaki Teryx they raced all last year and up until the Mint 400 this year to a brand new Polaris RZR4 XP. Their first race in this new machine as also at the Silver State race. They too suffered an issue ending that race early but with the bugs worked out of their machine they were looking forward to a strong showing at V2R.
The green flag would drop on raceday around 7:00am and send the 20+ racers into the desert and dust of Nevada. As the UTV’s left one by one every 30 seconds, chase teams would begin funneling out of the dirt lot surrounding the start-line heading off on their own race of sorts as they head for their respective pit locations. BITD does a fantastic job of mapping out pit locations along the course. 15 pits in total, all named for surrounding towns and locations would allow for teams to perform tire changes, fuel stops, maintenance and repair all along the way. Here is where races are won and lost as teams strategically select pits for driver changes and fuel/tire stops. Bigger teams will have upwards of 10 vehicles chasing and pitting while some teams will pull off a full race with only one truck and trailer. These teams have little room for error and must be very precise in how and when they pit. It is not uncommon for a chase team to be stuck in traffic and miss their race car at a pit forcing the race car to either pull over and wait costing them precious time or push on till the next stop and risk running out of fuel and being stranded on course. For many in the sport being a part of the chase team is just as exciting as being in the race-car. As the unsung hero’s of off-road racing, the chase teams are just as important as the race vehicle itself. Without the volunteers most teams would not be able to compete. For us as media the chase teams have vital information for us on race day, so we like to remain close to many teams so that we can always remain on top of the day’s action.
By Pit 1 the racers were already setting a blistering pace and by Pit 3 it was clear that this was going to be the fastest V2R the UTV class had ever seen. Joseph Vinagro in the #1936 Polaris RZR4 XP would lead the pack of UTV’s into Pit 3 promptly at 9:00am with the Kingpin RZR4 XP and the Can-Am Commander of Murray Racing hot on their tails just 3 minutes behind Vinagro. Already having passed 10 UTV’s since the start and pulling into Pit 3 in 4th position, the #1932 of Matt Parks was off to one heck of a start. The reigning 2012 BITD Pro UTV Champion was on a mission and came through our section clearly on pace to catch the leaders. Sean Cook in his RZR4 would be behind Parks about 5 minutes coming into Pit 3 and just behind him would be the Coastal Racing machine with William Yokely behind the wheel. We would remain at our location outside of Pit 3 to see the next 5 UTV’s roll in before we would pack up and head on up the road to try and beat the leaders to Pit 4. As we left the RZR4 XP900 of Cognito Motorsports was undergoing inspection by pit crews. It would be on our way to Pit 4 that we would begin to hear radio chatter that Dennis Jean in his brand new XMF built RZR4 XP had collided with a young quad racer. The collision would occur in an extremely dusty area with limited to no visibility. The quad racer would end up being ok in the long run and Dennis Jean would be able to continue on. It was also about this time that we heard that Corry Sappington in the Desert Toyz Can-Am Commander would wreck hard and be done for the day despite remaining on a search for replacement parts hours into the race.
As we arrived to pit 4 chase teams from all of the larger 4 wheel vehicles were also getting into place. 4 wheel vehicles hit the start line at 9:30am. This dynamic changes the entire race. For the guys running up front in the UTV class the race becomes as much about staying in front of the bigger trucks and cars as it does staying in front and passing your fellow class competitors. There is nothing more intense for a UTV racer than having a Trophy Truck and / or Class 1 running up behind you. This dynamic is also a fear for many including the Trophy Truck and Class 1 racers. This mutual fear raises the stakes for everyone on the course. UTV’s make a lot of dust thus confusing the bigger classes as to whether it is a fellow unlimited racer or not. The last thing a UTV needs is a 7,000lb truck running up on their back end at 130mph thinking its’ another 7,000lb vehicle only to find out it’s a 2000lb UTV. So as we set up for our photo and video work in pit 4 we hear the rumblings about 4 wheel vehicles being off the line, everyone’s senses strengthen and now it feels as if the race is really on!
The first UTV to make it to Pit 4 would once again be the #1936 RZR4 XP of Joseph Vinagro. They would have a 4 minute lead over the now 2nd place #1917 Can-Am of Murray Racing however running in their dust would be the #1932 of Matt Parks. At this point we all looked at each other knowing the race was heating up! Both cars had worked their way through the pack and were now set on chasing down Vinagro and taking over the lead and collecting the dust free air that lay in front. It would be another 4 minutes before we would see another UTV and when we did by no surprise it was the orange and white RZR of Coastal Racing. William Yokely was still behind the wheel but soon would be getting out to make way for car owner and driver Scott Kiger who would drive the middle 100 mile+ section of the race. 10 minutes behind Yokely and a full 20 minutes behind the race leader was Sean Cook who was by no surprise holding onto a good position and plugging away on course. The pace was not as brisk as the top 3 cars but in the longer races of desert racing the race is won in the final stages of the course. You need to keep your equipment together and it looked as if that strategy was working perfectly for the Cook Racing Team. We decided to wait for another couple of racers before heading back out of the pit and on up the course. This decision was a good one as it made our next stretch pretty exciting. In the distance we saw what looked like another Jagged-X car, and it was, so we assumed it would be the dominating 1919 RZR of Brandon Schueler. Instead as it neared we soon realized it was the 1991 of Bill Schueler. It made us excited because this machine was the very last UTV to leave the start line. The 1991 was now in the top 6 physically and were running in the top 4 on corrected time before the halfway point. I found myself rooting for these guys, excited to see just how far up the field they could go running in their sportsman UTV. This excitement was soon met with curiosity as it left us to wonder what had happened to the 1919 that earlier at Pit 3 was running ahead of the 1991. As we turned to head back to our chase vehicle we reached out to the Jagged-X chase truck of Chad Riccio who informed us that Brandon had lost an aftermarket piece on his engine. This piece controlled oil delivery / pressure and it breaking off caused all the oil in the motor to be pumped out. Despite all their efforts to remedy the situation, the team would eventually succumb to the strap and put the 1919 on the trailer ending their day and their hopes of becoming the 6 time Vegas To Reno race winners.
We would pass pit 5 in fear of missing the leaders through so we would push on up to Pit 6 where we would find a cool turn that led up a long pole line road back into the looming mountain range. Less that 100 miles from the last time we saw them we expected to see a similar line of vehicles. However as we saw our first UTV roll into sight we quickly realized it was sporting the familiar red plastics of Murray Racing. The Can-Am had made its move and the #1917 now commanded (no pun intended) the fresh air. Only dirt bikes and quads stood between them and the finish line. It was now 11:55am, which meant the UTV teams had already been in their cars for almost 5 hours. Hear is where attrition sets in. By now many teams were broken, limping or simply done. Still running strong but now 12 minutes behind in second place was Vinagro in his RZR4 XP. Only 3 minutes behind him was Parks in the #1932 and only 7 minutes behind him was the 1991 of Bill Schueler. Schueler who is 49 years old was making quick work of the competition moving their stock powered XP900 up through the field and now was in 4th physical. The #1926 Polaris RZR XP900 of Jason Fraser would round out the top 5 at Pit 6.
With Fraser through and moving off into the distance we decided we should keep moving along. Keeping pace with the leaders becomes a challenge for us, but it becomes a necessity. For us as journalists and media types being able to tell the story of the winners is important so at this point we have to make the tough decisions as to how long we want or need to stay at a particular location. For me personally I want to get photos of as many of the competitors on course as I can but I also want to give the leaders their due respect as well as the winner by being at the finish line to greet them and capture those moments of triumph. So we left Pit 6 in route for Pit 8 which would be located right at the junction of Hwy95 and Hwy6. Here is where we would find a sweet spot for filming and photographing. Just outside of Pit 8 the course takes a turn and parallels Hwy6. About a mile up along the Hwy was a sneaky washout that later in the day would produce some of the races gnarliest wrecks and near wrecks in the trophy truck division. By accident it would end up that the spot would almost bring the Commander of Murray Racing to a stop as my excitement for them leading the race would be viewed as encouragement for them to speed up. As they throttled their machine forward they would quickly realize that I was taking a photo of a large washout and not an exciting high-speed jump. Their throttling quickly turned to braking as they jumped on the binders trying to avoid a hard hit. The car would easily soak up the hit but that moment would be remembered at the finish line where the Murray’s would lightly make fun of me for almost causing them to wreck. Other competitors would also comment on the frequency at which they saw us along the course and how every time they would pass I would franticly be fist pumping and cheering them on. I do this for everyone, partially cause I want them to know we are there so we can get a cool pic, but also because I am a fan of all of them. I want to see everyone in the UTV class do well and therefore my fist pumping and cheering is meant to be motivation for them, not encouragement for them to smash into a wall… Sorry boys..
Murray would be the first UTV through this obstacle but less than a minute behind them and now in 2nd position was the #1934 of Coastal Racing. Now with Scott Kiger in the RZR, the Coastal team was making a move for the lead. Murray Racing and Coastal were now in a heated battle and checking out from 3rd place. It would be almost 14 minutes before the 3rd place UTV of Matt Parks would reach us at our location. 14 minutes to some may sound like a lot of time, for desert racers in the middle of a 534 mile race, 14 minutes can be made up or lost in a blink of an eye. Parks was still very much in this race despite now having had to stop for 2 flats, a preventative fix to prevent the same issue his teammate Brandon had experienced, and now a driver change. In addition he would also be running through co-drivers as his co-driver would succumb to motion sickness and another battled the stomach flu. If there is one thing you need to be able to do as a good desert racer it is overcome adversity, and that was exactly what this team was trying to do as the car rolled into Pit 8. After shuffling around drivers and co-drivers from the other Jagged-X race-car’s the team had found the pair that would take the 1932 on into the finish.
The Murray’s would once again be the first UTV we would see on course as they rolled into Pit 10 where the waiting chase crew made a slow “roll by” visual check. Murray would continue to press on while the 2nd place machine of Coastal Racing would be hot on their tails only a minute or so begind. The 1935 of Coastal had to make a stop at Pit 9 where hey lost 3-4 minutes. It was there that they had to make a stop to change drivers for the final time, this time car builder Mark Holz would take the reigns. While Mark Holz put the car into gear and back into battle team owner Scott Kiger and first leg team driver William Yokely would now have another race to get too. Kiger and Yokely would rush back to the waiting company plane of Coastal Racing so that they could fly back to Indiana and participate in the Heartland Challenge UTV race. We would learn later that they would end up losing that race but nonetheless a serious effort was put in to race the longest desert race in the US in the morning and one of the largest attended UTV races in the US later that day held in 2 different parts of the country. Dedication to the sport is an understatement for these 2.
It was now 2:30pm as we headed on out of Pit 10. As we pulled back onto Hwy 95 we heard over the radio that the #1935 Tech3 Kawasaki Teryx of Rocker Head was broken down at RM 296. Moments later they announced he was back up and running. That would be the last we would hear of the Tech3 car before we would get word of them finishing the race. It was now becoming a tight race for both those running in the top 5 of the race and for us chasing the race to the finish. We come to a point where we have to decided to either cover the race trackside and take a chance on not beating the leader to the finish or b-lining for Dayton to make it there safely ahead. We opted to take a chance and try to catch them one more time. This time we would head up the 95 and find an access road right around Walker Lake in Hawthorn, CA. It was about RM375 where we would take a small dirt road that led up to the power line road the racecourse ran on. Here is where we would be met by the new race leader, Mark Holz in the 1934 Coastal Racing Polaris RZR XP. Holz would book it by us as clouds moved in over the horizon knocking down the sunlight. The Murray’s were now stuck in Pit 12 trying to fix an issue and had to give up yet another position allowing the 1932 of Matt Parks by and now into 2nd place. The 1932 was running approximately 7 minutes behind of Coastal at this point and they were closing in fast. The 1917 of Murray Racing would quickly be back up and running and would come by us about 4 minutes behind the 1932. It would be almost 20 minutes later before we would see our next UTV and to our excitement it was the 1991 of Bill Schueler once again. The RZR4 XP was still pushing hard and making its way to the finish line in record time. The next UTV through was the #1918 of Justin Lambert / Cognito Motorsports. This would be the first time we would see te 1918 since early in the race at Pit 3. Back then it sounded like there was a funny noise coming through the car leaving us to assume they would be far behind at this point. So to see them charging hard added another level of excitement to what was quickly becoming the most competitive Vegas To Reno UTV race ever! RM 375 turned out to be an exciting location for us as we would also see our first 4 wheel unlimited vehicle come by. The #19 Trophy Truck of Terrible Herbst would thunder by us as the first unlimited on course. They would be barreling down the road and quickly running down first the UTV of Justin Lambert before then passing the 1991 of Bill Schueler. Quickly running behind Herbst was the 1500 (class1) car of Chuck Hovey. At this point we know the other UTV’s are in the middle of the chaos of faster and bigger vehicles passing them on this high speed and very dusty race course.
RM 375 would be the last time we would see the UTV’s on course. It was now going to come down to a little bit of luck for us to beat the leaders to the finish. We loaded up and headed on down the line, pressing towards Dayton all while remaining glued to the race radios and phones waiting for any tiny bit of race information to come into our chase vehicle.
The sun would begin to set as we rolled into Dayton, NV where America’s largest off-road race would conclude. Fortunately for us we would make it in time to greet the winner. At this point we had no idea if the Coastal Racing UTV was still in the lead or not. At one point we heard they had a flat tire that they were driving on since the final pit. Talk around the finish line would be centered on if a UTV would finish in front of the larger, faster unlimited machines. Never in the history of UTV racing at the Vegas To Reno has a UTV ever remained in front of a Trophy Truck’s or Class 1’s all the way to the finish. Grant it, UTV’s get a 3-hour lead on the trucks and cars but UTV’s are running the course with a fraction of the power, speed, and budgets these larger teams possess. So while the unlimited racers may consider this a small feat, for us into the UTV sport, this was a huge deal.
Just after 6pm and at just under 12 hours total the buzz of a Polaris RZR was heard and through the finish line came the #1934 RZR of Coastal Racing. The team of Kiger, Holz and Yokely had done it. They overcame many challenges during the race including a couple of flat tires, a broken exhaust system that was repaired by RJ Anderson of Walker Evans Racing in an earlier pit stop, and multiple driver changes. As the Coastal team pulled into the finish line what was thought to be a flat rear tire was soon confirmed to be a severely bent wheel. How they were able to maintain such a commanding pace and keep that wheel together was a miracle. The team set multiple milestones. They were the first UTV to ever finish the Vegas To Reno race before a truck or car. They were also the first to finish in less than 12 hours! To put it into perspective as to just how fast they were this year over last year, this year the Coastal team finished in 11:41:04.524. Last year in 2011 Brandon Schueler who won the race finished in 13:27:42.616. To further the point as to just how far UTV’s have come over the past couple of years, it took Brandon Schueler 14:09:18.731 to win the race in 2010! This is also marked the 1st time in 5 years that Brandon Schueler and Jagged-X would not win the Vegas To Reno race. The win for Coastal Racing was well deserved and will without a doubt be remembered for a long time as the greatest win in UTV desert racing up to this point.
It would be almost 30 minutes before the next UTV would come over the rise and into the finish line. The 1932 of Matt Parks and Jagged-X would be that team and would rightfully take their place on the podium. It was a true team effort in getting the 1932 to the finish line. Racers from the 1991 would have to suit up to fill seats left open by ill co-drivers and one co-driver would have to become driver to bring the car across the finish line. Parks finished 2nd in 2011 at this race and did so in 16:33:01.676 . This year he finished in 12:09:54.83. That’s 4 hours faster and his time also makes this the fastest second place finish for a UTV in Vegas To Reno history. This finish would have beaten the previous years winner by over an hour! Parks was coming off of a 22 hour travel day from South America the day before the race along with Craig Scanlon who was riding in the #1991. The fact that he was able to arrive and drive and do so well is a testament to his will and fortitude as well as the commitment he has from the Jagged-X team in ensuring the 1932 is prepped and ready to go.
Rounding out the podium was the #1917 Can-Am of Murray Racing. They would bring their Can-Am X-Team Commander across the line in 12:37:16.487. They too could have won the previous year with this time furthering the talk of this being the greatest UTV desert race in BITD history. Never has a top 3 finished the Vegas To Reno this close and this quickly. Putting their Can-Am on the podium helps keep them in the hunt for the season championship that for many is the main goal they are after.
The 4th UTV to finish would be the #1991 RZR of Bill Schueler and Jagged-X. Bill would not only finish just after sunset, in 4th position after starting last, but he would do so in ironman fashion. Bill would be congratulated on the podium for driving the entire 534-mile race on his own. Craig Scanlon would ride next to him for as many miles also, both out to have a good time and just finish a race. Their leisurely approach would yield them a class win and a 4th place overall finish. During their interview Bill would inquire about the quad racer we mentioned earlier whom did the UTV of Dennis Jean strike. Upon being told he was hurt but ok Bill surrendered his winnings and donated them to the injured rider. His $500 donation would be meet with cheers from the crowd and when Craig Scanlon sitting in the passenger seat had his time to speak he would graciously double the donation bringing the total to $1500.00. Here are a couple of guys who just completed a 534-mile race and the first thing they do to celebrate is donating $1500.00 to a fellow off road racer. If that doesn’t say what kind of people these are then I don’t know what does.
It wouldn’t be until the next morning that we would find out the rest of the finishing order that we have listed below. Teams would battle well into the night to make it to the finish line. It would also be the following morning that we would hear about Dennis Jean once again, this time in another wreck that would end up being much more serious for them then the quad wreck they were involved in earlier in the race. The story goes that Jean who was racing into the night would hit a road washout while traveling in excess of 70mph. This run in would cause them to lose control and subsequently be knocked unconscious. Details were mixed but we heard that when they were found they were knocked out and bruised up. Thankfully both Jean and his co-driver Rick Leard would walk away, bruised and concussed but alive and well. The same could not be said for Jeans brand new XMF built RZR4 XP900. Photos on the web show a mangled race-car with extensive damage to the chassis, suspension, and other components. This wreck would bring reality to the sport we are involved in. While we are fortunate that no sever injuries occurred during this race, Jean’s wreck reminded us that danger is always lurking in desert racing. One false move, or in this case, one false terrain shift can cause severe and sometimes life ending accidents. This danger is just one reason racers are attracted to the sport, its also one reason racers leave the sport. We wish Dennis and Ricky the best as they recover from their wreck. Dennis says he plans to take some time off but we hope he can rebuild and return. If his addiction is anything like ours, he will be back in no time.
As I winde up this race report I want to leave it with a big thank you to each and every racer, team, and sponsor who supports UTVUnderground.com in return. You guys are the reason we cover these races. We hope you enjoy the photos, videos, and stories as much as we enjoy creating them. There is nothing more gratifying then seeing your machines laced up with UTVUnderground.com decals, wearing our hats, and sporting our shirts. Seeing you guys on the course, honking your horns and hanging it out for our cameras is a feeling like no other. This race hands down was the most exciting UTV race we have ever covered. The fast paced and highly competitive battle for the lead and finish was like no other. Congrats to every single car and team who finished this year’s Vegas To Reno. Everyone is a winner when you finish a race of this magnitude, some just get to take home a few more trophies and a lot more bragging rights.
Until we meet again in Parker my friends….
Official Results can be found here: OFFICIAL BITD VEGAS TO RENO UTV RACE RESULTS