2016 BITD Vegas To Reno “The Long Way”
The 2016 Best In The Desert (BITD) Vegas To Reno (V2R) was dubbed “The Long Way”, it could have easily been dubbed “The Hard Way” as it put every team to the test. More than 70 UTVs showed up to the 20th running of this epic race, the only point to point race on the premier BITD schedule. The UTV field proved once again that UTV desert racing is still on a crazy trajectory showing growth in all classes.
There were many story lines surrounded this epic race, I will try to focus on most of them but it would be impossible for me to elaborate on everything we knew of, heard of, or witnessed but I’ll do my best. This race brings out the best in teams and gives every racer a chance to fully see where they stack up in the talented field of competitors. In short, the who’s who of UTV desert racing is in attendance and everyone brings their A-Game.
BITD laid out a two day long, 644 mile race course that would take racers through some of the fastest, dusty and harsh trails in the Nevada desert. With a plan in place to have teams start in Alamo, NV (just outside Las Vegas) and race to Tonopah, NV on day one and then restart in Tonopah to battle to Dayton, NV (just outside of Reno) on day two. Teams prepared and worked hard to make their detailed chase plans and pit strategy, but as is the case often in desert racing rarely does a race go off without some sort of challenge. In this case the challenge presented itself in the form of a military helicopter crash near a section of the race course that was earlier deemed a speed zone by BITD since it took racers through a national monument. An early race day decision was made by BITD for racers to avoid this section all together forcing racers to start the race as planned but then 49 miles in at Pit 1 they would be told to load their race vehicles back up on their trailers and transfer via highway almost 30 miles to Pit 2 where the race would then be resumed. This change was met with much confusion and frustration from racers in all classes. Many racers who finished first to Pit 1 lost positions before reaching Pit 2 due to other teams loading up and transferring quicker. BITD’s plan was to restart racers in a first-come first-serve situation which in itself seemed crazy but we are sure there was method to the madness at BITD, atheist we hope so. Many racers are looking back at this decision as one that might have either helped or burt their race.
Easily the biggest story leading into this years V2R was the release of the new 2017 Can-Am Maverick X3. The machine was launched to the industry three days before the race and with buzz for Can-Am at an all-time high fans, competitors, and the entire sport were anxious to see if any of the factory Can-Am teams would show up to Las Vegas with a new X3. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to see that the timing of the release would almost all but guarantee an X3 or two would arrive to shake up the UTV field. Speculation came true when both of Can-Am’s premier factory teams S3 Powersports and Murray Racing arrived at tech and contingency with two fully built Maverick X3’s. All eyes were on them as they moved their vehicles through tech, they certainly stole the show and saying they were the talk of tech would be an understatement. The machines were by all accounts head turners and you could see the Can-Am faithful finally walk around with a swagger never before seen. They knew they had a machine that could give the RZR a run in a much stronger way then their previous Maverick.
Both the Murray’s and S3 Powersports entered their new X3’s into the Pro Unlimited UTV class. Much discussion was held around why they would choose to do that. Both teams confirmed that the reason they did was to skirt any negative response from fellow competitors about racing a machine that technically is not available to the general public. It was an honorable decision by the teams. The Murray’s also brought their current #917 Pro Turbo Maverick Turbo X ds to compete and maintain their battle for a season championship in that class while the S3 Powersports team threw caution to the wind and placed all their eggs in the X3 basket. A decision that will be pondered for some time if that was in fact the best decision to make or not. Dustin Jones and his Pro Turbo class Maverick Turbo X ds was well within championship reach in that class, they decided they would rather focus on one machine. Their confidence was sky high, they felt they could come from the back of the pack and not only win the Unlimited UTV class but also overall the UTV race! Unfortunately for them their roll of the dice didn’t pay off.
Overshadowed by the excitement surrounding the new Can-Am X3, Jagged X Racing also brought a new gun to the fight in the form of a brand new Polaris RZR XP4 Turbo. If this was any other race people would have been clamoring to see what the 6-Time BITD Pro UTV champs had constructed. But on this day the attention was on the X3 and Schueler and his Jagged X Polaris RZR team seemed just fine with that. Schueler is a 5-Time Pro UTV V2R race winner, something no one else in the class can claim. For once Schueler was able to enjoy the targets being placed on others backs instead of his, but the Can-Am’s weren’t the only vehicles that everyone was gunning to beat.
Justin Lambert was arriving to Las Vegas on a massive 4 win race streak with 3 of those wins being UTV class overall wins. In addition, Lambert is also the reigning V2R champ so while many were already preparing to put Jones and Murray on the top of the box, Lambert was busy preparing just as he has all season long. Both Lambert and Schueler told me they were not in the least bit worried about the new X3’s. They have been around long enough to know that new machines are not always what they are cracked up to be once dressed in race trim. Lambert explained that for him the goal was to keep his streak alive and to represent for Polaris who has had a less than stellar summer publicly but still sits atop the mountain when comparing race results world wide.
The tone was the same throughout the Team RZR camp. Many explained that this was the time to shine and remind everyone in the industry just why the majority of the class is filled with RZRs. You could cut the tension between Can-Am and RZR racers with a knife, this same tension has carried over to the Internet with fans of both sides going back and forth like a Ford vs. Chevy argument. If the battle between OEMs wasn’t evident before, this years V2R brought it to light in more ways then one. Can-Am racers without X3’s were walking proud knowing they finally have a machine that possesses the suspension needed to compete with the RZR which they can now move too, while Polaris racers were banding together to represent for their brand of choice and once again defend their title as king of the desert. For us, we have seen this battle spill over to our own social media where our sponsored RZR coverage has come under much criticism. For us, this only means new people are paying attention and we know this because the long time fans of UTVUnderground.com have watched our RZR sponsored coverage for years. Its all good for us, but we hope these new eye balls stick around long enough to pay attention to everything we do vs. just what they want to see.
While the X3 vs. RZR conversation was certainly number one there was still a race to run and for many the X3 was not even on their minds. Racers and teams were there to run their race, not anyone else’s. So while interviews were being conducted in tech for most of the top teams the others slid under the radar, prepared to take on the race and avoid the drama and bullshitting taking place. Racers like Jacob Carver, Logan Gastel, Bill Zemak, Lacretia Beurrier, and Matt Burroughs were looking to come in and steal the limelight and take advantage of being overlooked by many in the sport. Another story hiding in the hype was Corry Weller had a brand new Yamaha YXZ 1000R built for this race. A handful of others also showed up with new Yamaha’s giving them a substantial presence in the starting order, just as much as Can-Am from what I saw and that was very exciting. The race was shaping up to be just the battle myself and everyone else in the industry has been working towards the past 10 years.
Lines were drawn between the OEM’s via their racers and fans, weapons were locked and loaded, and an all-out war was set to take place in the middle of the Nevada desert, but unlike Area 51 this battlefield technology was going to be on full display for everyone to see!
UTVs were lined up and staged for the first day of racing on Friday morning. UTVs would be sent off the line behind the fastest field off-road racing vehicles in the world. The #905 Polaris RZR XP Turbo of Marc Burnett would lead the pack of UTVs off the starting line. Every 30 seconds another UTV was sent until all were off the line. Our initial plan was to watch about 3/4 of the field head off and then jump into our truck and begin our own race of chasing the field and bring the industries best coverage to everyone following along online. But quickly our plans changed as we saw the X3’s start to creep toward the front of the starting grid. No way in hell was I not going to see the first Maverick X3 entered in a race shoot off the line. As Dustin Jones staged under the starting arch everyone there promptly pulled their phones and cameras out. It was hard not to feel like you were watching a part of UTV history. Jones shot off the line like a bat out of hell, little did we know that it would be the only time we would see that machine for the rest of the weekend.
Only 18 miles into the race Dustin Jones drove his brand new Maverick X3 into one of the nastiest silt beds he had ever seen and with the entire race ahead of him and with the eyes of the industry tracking his every move that week, the realities of racing hit him, his team and fans in the face like a ton of bricks. We have heard conflicting reports of what actually happened to Jones but a photo surfaced from the location at RM18 showing the new S3 Powersports X3 buried into the back of another vehicle. Multiple vehicles had gotten stuck in the silt causing a multi-car pileup the likes of which you are used to seeing on the freeways here in Southern California. Dustin himself posted that the car was a total loss, the front end looked to be shoved back towards the front firewall and to add injury to insult another vehicle plowed right into the back of him thus inflicting serious damage to the rear of the new machine. Everyone was quickly reminded that racing is impossible to predict. Following the race Jones and I swapped texts. I expressed my feelings and told him how sorry I was to hear and see what happened. I mean, everyone was ok, no one hurt and everyone will live to fight another day. But it was impossible not to feel for the S3 team. They had been walking on cloud 9 all week, all eyes on them, the highest of highs and not even 20 miles into a 644 mile race their day and all their hard work was out the window. Quickly they were brought to the lowest of lows.
The attention for the Can-Am faithful and the industry turned to the Murray’s, the team that put the Maverick on the desert racing map and arguably the most consistent team in all of UTV racing. With S3 on an early trip back to Louisiana, the Murray’s put the brand on their back and forged on.
The race began to shape up early. The brutal and unforgiving dust would carry on for hundreds and hundreds of miles allowing those who excel in dust to make their way towards the front. All the usual suspects began to show that hype can be as blinding as the silt they were racing in, and while everyone was looking over here they were busy checking out over there. Lambert, Zemak, Guthrie, Burroughs, Beurrier and Burnett stood out on Day 1 but it was Jake Carver in the #936 Polaris RZR XP Turbo who put an almost 10 minute gap on the rest of the field. Carver is known to most of the class as a fast rising competitor but to the bulk of the sport is still a relative unknown. All that would change on Day 1. By the time racers reached Tonopah, their wasn’t a UTV racer or fan following the race that didn’t know the name Carver.
Now before some of you racers get upset that I didn’t mention you, let me say I am sorry now. I don’t know everyone’s story and like I mentioned early on, there is no way for me to tell every story, mention every racer and give credit to everyone. I know there were many more who ran hard on day 1 and trust me when I say you are well respected! Some say I am a journalist, I would caution everyone to first read my stories before you ever consider such a thing. I’d be shocked to find out you even made it this far in the story…
Day 2 seemed to come extremely fast for many who stayed up all night prepping and rebuilding their machines. We had the chance to get together with the Jagged X team the evening of day 1. They worked hard to pull the car down as much as possible and re prep. Schueler was still in his fire suit, pulling the clutch off and cleaning it thoroughly. He told us it was sticking due to all the dirt. We ended up hearing this same thing from many racers. As we headed to the start line we saw the Yamaha YXZ 1000R of STV Motorsports fully pulled a part in a parking lot. But sure enough, as we made our way away from the start line that had that YXZ singing like a song and ready to run on day 2. I know the same could be said for many teams including that of the Murray’s X3 which had some of its own issues starting with a bad intake design (AFTERMARKET) which restricted airflow limiting the X3 to less than 60mph on day 1. With that fixed up they looked to make up some serious time and bring their X3 into the battle.
We made it to the start line in time to see Jake Carver lead the UTVs off the line in his RZR XP Turbo. What made day 2’s start interesting is that all racers were sent off based on their overall finish time. This meant UTVs would be sprinkled between Trophy Trucks, Class 1 cars, Class 10, TT Spec and many other bigger and faster classes. This added a lot of danger to an already dusty and dangerous race course. Only those who have been in the scenario fully understand what its like to be in a UTV and have a Trophy Truck trying to make up time come run up through your dust at full song. Its a horrifying and energizing feeling, one you never forget and one you hope never happens again.
Day two began to shape up much quicker. Carver’s lead was chopped down quickly by Bill Zemak in his #935 Can-Am Maverick X ds Turbo. Zemak who travels all the way out from North Carolina to compete in the BITD series is another of these racers who those inside the series know but outside is virtually unheard of. We had a chance to catch up with Zemak and it was awesome to learn more about this soft spoken individual. He had Madeline Cox navigating for him, Maddie as she is known, is a talented UTV racer in her own right. Both often make the pilgrimage to the west coast to compete in their UTVs and on this day at V2R Zemak, like Carver, became a name many now know. Zemak would make his way around Carver and for a while enjoy the lead. We aren’t exactly sure where Zemak’s lead would be turned over but at some point Lambert would find his way around the Maverick. Zemak would later lose a rear hub and suffer substantial downtime eliminating his chance at a podium. I have a feeling we will hear a lot more about this guy and his team in the future.
Once Justin Lambert would take over his first physical lead of the race he never looked back. To say that Lambert is the top UTV desert racer in the world right now would be an understatement. I know many would want to argue with me on this, and I know many could make cases for a lot of others, but today, no one can take that title away from Lambert. His #1918 Polaris RZR XP 1000 is on rails, his prep is amazing, his driving is ferocious and smart, his team is well oiled, he has the total package and by the time he hit RM455 outside Pit 10 he had opened up a healthy lead over the next closest racer which happened to be Matt Burroughs in the #1948 Polaris RZR XP 1000. While we reflected on the fact that two naturally aspirated RZRs were leading the race full of high powered turbos we saw racers like Carver and Guthrie Jr. in their Pro Turbo RZRs, Jason Murray in the Pro Turbo Maverick, and Rhys Millen in his RZR XP 1000 begin their run for a podium finish. As we left our last race course location and headed to the finish the podium slowly began to take shape.
While racers were scattered all over the race course and battled their way to Reno, we began our own chase to beat them to the finish line. UTVUnderground.com was on scene to do our standard UTV race coverage but we were also being paid by Polaris to provide coverage for the RZR brand. This is a huge honor for us to have such a strong relationship with the sports most popular company. Our relationship goes back to 2012 and has increased every year with Polaris providing us resources to do content all over the world. We have been providing UTV race coverage for Polaris since 2013 and our Polaris Racing video series is the most viewed UTV racing content on the web. It has always left fans and racers of the other brands wanting to see us include their favorite vehicles but what we often have to explain is that this video coverage comes at a very high cost, and for us unfortunately we are not big enough to fund such projects on our own. Polaris has stepped up time and time again for their racers and for us allowing us to be able to provide coverage and while it is specific to their racers it does help expose the sport to the world which helps everyone around.
Beating the racers to the finish line is always very important for us. We want to capture that moment the winner crosses the line but today was going to be much more special. Earlier in the day Polaris CMO, Craig Scanlon and Marketing Director, Jason Difuccia contacted me to ask me to do something special for their podium finishers. The decision had already been made to give their racers a surprise cash bonus at the finish line, but they sweetened the deal up by asking me me to double the cash should Polaris racers sweep a podium. On top of that, they took notice of Jake Carver’s performance on Day 1 and asked if I would present him with a Factory Polaris RZR contract at the finish line. So now I am sitting at the finish line waiting for racers to cross the line and knowing that its looking like these guys are all going to finish well my excitement is through the roof to surprise them.
After 11 hours 21 minutes and 56 seconds the #1918 Polaris RZR XP 1000 of Justin Lambert came flying across the finish line. Behind him with a time of 11 hours 38 minutes and 28 seconds was the #1948 Polaris RZR XP 1000 of Matt Burroughs. Next across the line was Jason Murray in his #917 Maverick X ds Turbo with a time of 11 hours 45 minutes and 23 seconds. He was followed by Mitch Guthrie Jr. in his #951 Polaris RZR XP Turbo then Jake Carver in his #936 Polaris RZR XP Turbo. Rhys Millen in his #1987 Polaris RZR XP 1000 would round out the top 6 and fill out the Pro UTV Podium. With time corrected Carver would be moved into second place in the Pro Turbo class, Murray the winner and Guthrie in third.
Justin Lambert maintained his race streak extending it to 5 wins in a row and made this his 4th overall UTV win this season. This also was his 2nd win at V2R in a row. It goes without saying that Lambert is the man to beat and to do all of this in a 2 year old non-turbo powered race car goes to show that proven, prepped and tested equipment paired with a hot shoe driver is still and always will be the secret to desert racing success. Winning this race is big enough but then I got to tell Justin that he was also taking home $10K curtesy of Polaris and $5K of that $10K was due to both Burroughs and Millen also hitting the podium giving Polaris RZR the sweep in the Pro UTV class. Lambert was ecstatic.
Matt Burroughs captured his second 2nd place finish in a row at this season at this years V2R. Burroughs has been quickly improving both himself as a driver and his equipment. The #1948 Polaris RZR XP 1000 is dialed and we expect to see plenty more from the Monster Energy backed driver. Burroughs would take home $5K curtesy of Polaris RZR.
Rhys Millen is a name that most motorsports junkies have heard. This was the RedBull athletes first ever podium finish in his Polaris RZR XP 1000. It was also only his third time racing a UTV which would make his result surprising except for the fact that he holds multiple world drift championships, 12 Pikes Peak class championships and multiple Pikes Peaks world records as well as a Baja 1000 podium finish in which case him finishing on the podium should come as no surprise. Like Burroughs, we expect to see a lot more from Millen. He would take home $3K curtesy of Polaris RZR
Jason Murray has had a lot of success at V2R so to see him capture the win in the Pro Turbo UTV class this year comes as no surprise other than the fact that he started the day down a ton of time to Jake Carver. Murray did what he always does and thats drive hard and fast while keeping his machine together. While the X3 was all the rage, Murray quickly proved that the Maverick X ds Turbo has no problem holding its own. The #917 would finish first in class and 3rd overall and would move the Murray’s to the top of the championship points run in the Pro Turbo UTV class.
Jake Carver was scratching at both an overall and class win at many points throughout this years race. Some late race mishaps would take him out of the overall run and unfortunately for him cause him to come up short of a win in the Pro Turbo UTV class. But Carver and his #936 Polaris RZR XP Turbo team might have come away with the biggest prize of all the winners and finishers. The privateer was not only presented with a cash contingency bonus of $2500 for his second place finish I was also able to present him with a factory Polaris RZR racing contract. Carver was clearly blown away, he had been racing with friends and family and self funding his program the past two seasons. Polaris took notice of this and like a dream come true rewarded the hard racing pro with a legit contract that will ensure he will be back in 2017 to compete again for a win at V2R!
Mitch Guthrie Jr. would round out the Pro Turbo UTV podium. Mitchie as he is known to family and friends did what he has done all year and thats contend for the race win. Guthrie Jr. is a true racer, anything less than a win is hard for him to celebrate, here he had just battled and landed a podium spot yet it wasn’t until I told him was getting a cash bonus of $1500 that I got him to crack a solid smile. But that smile soon turned to tears of joy as Craig Scanlon himself of Polaris called Mitchie to inform him that Polaris would be increasing their support for the young rising star. It was a special moment I will never forget and I was honored to be able to be a part of it.
While the top finishers celebrated there were still many on course racing for both points and glory. But there was also still a win and podium up for grabs in the Pro Unlimited UTV class. We unfortunately never had the chance to see the new #2927 Can-Am Maverick X3 of Derek Murray running on course because we had to remain up with the top pack to ensure getting to the finish on time. But fighting through the dust and carnage was the #2927 and they were determined to deliver Can-Am a win in the class. So much was riding on this race for both Can-Am and the new model. Fortunately for them the Murray’s are always up for a challenge, on top of that they are one of the most consistent teams in all of off-road racing. In a time of 13 hours 19 minutes and 14 seconds Derek Murray would cross the line first in class and deliver Can-Am and their entire team a win in the brand new platform.
While the team certainly wanted to get the X3 into the overall race battle, the class win was still everything anyone could ever want in a brand new machine at one of the most brutal races in the United States. The Murray bothers proved once again that they are one of the elite programs in UTV desert racing. Our hats are off to them and their entire team. Capturing two class wins in this race is nothing short of amazing and they deserve every ounce of credit they are receiving.
I want to toss out a few honorable mentions. Michael Cafro in his #1975 Polaris RZR XP 1000 finished just off the podium and threw his name on the people to keep your eyes on list. Lacretia Beurrier ran in the lead pack all day long. She has long been overlooked and she came out at V2R and proved that she is not one to be taken lightly and she can in fact run with the big boys in her #1924 Polaris RZR XP1000. Both Marc Burnett and Brandon Schueler would finish in the top 10 overall in their Polaris RZR XP Turbos. Corry Weller showed up in a brand new Yamaha YXZ 1000R and finished 7th in class proving that the Yamaha is here and is for real. She completed the race with only one truck and limited crew. She had no mechanical issues at all and managed to wheel her new race machine to a fantastic finish. Dale Sims filled in for his son Branden Sims in the #913 Polaris RZR XP Turbo and did a fantastic job. It was so cool watching Dale live a dream and check desert racing off the bucket list! Logan Gastel in his Can-Am Maverick once again showed he is a contender. Some bad luck knocked him down in the results but the guy is as solid as they come, plus he spotted and helped change a flat on our chase truck after the race! Good looking out bro!
The 2016 BITD Vegas To Reno will forever be remembered. It was full of excitement, drama, competition, and controversy. It was everything anyone could ever want in a long off-road race plus more. I am sure some would have been fine with a little less but at the end of the day this race further proved that UTVs are here and are still coming. What we are seeing between Polaris, Can-Am and now Yamaha shows no sign of slowing down. It is a very exciting time to be involved in the sport.
I want to end this novel with a big thank you to my team. Rusty Baptist took some killer photos and is always a solid co-dog. Caleb Norman and Derek Eldridge killed it with the video content. Our guys worked day and night to deliver the highest quality race footage at almost up the minute speed. Few will ever know just how hard it is for our team to do what we did at this race in terms of updates and content with such limited data coverage and information. But we banged it out and it was a solid team effort so thank you them.
Thank you to each and every racer, team and fan who represents for UTVUnderground.com on and off the track. It has been a crazy couple of days for us. We have been met with much criticism over our sponsored RZR coverage being mistaken for blatant non-coverage of anyone not in a RZR. Nothing could be further from the truth as most anyone will tell you that we do and always have supported racers and teams of all brands. We don’t expect everyone to be happy, but hopefully all these new eyes coming to our site due to our dominating online launch of the new X3 last week will stick around long enough to actually dig into our site and see all the content we have produced over the years featuring other brands. If not, oh well, we aren’t going anywhere. We plan to see you all on course again and again whether the haters who have never spent a second of their own time or a dime of their own money to help grow this sport like we have. I take what we do here personally, always have and I will continue to push the envelope when it comes to quality and coverage of our sport. Thank you to all of you who continue to support and respect UTVUnderground.com despite your brand or team allegiance. For those who don’t appreciate it, well, don’t let the door hit you in the ass. I am sure you can find another UTV news outlet out there with quality video coverage, full and consistent race reports, and industry best images….
Until next time….
FULL RACE RESULTS CLICK HERE (still unofficial as of 8.22.16)
Photos by: Rusty Baptist // UTVUnderground.com