2017 BITD Vegas To Reno STORY | PHOTOS | RESULTS
Phil Blurton & Kristen Matlock, Big Winners at Vegas To Reno
Another Best In The Desert (BITD) Vegas To Reno (V2R) race has come gone, but like the many before it, the race has left us with memories we won’t soon forget. 90 UTVs in three different classes came to take on the 540 mile race that leads racers from Beatty, NV to Dayton, NV with a course that is considered to be the fastest point-to-point off-road race in the world.
Festivities kick off on Wednesday with unlimited truck and buggy drivers racing one at a time for qualifying positions. Thursday hosts technical inspection & contingency with over 350 off-road teams pushing their prepped and ready race vehicles through the Texas Station Hotel & Casino. It would be the first V2R since BITD founder Casey Folks’ passing, we are sure he was looking down with a smile on his face as his team pressed on to put on the best V2R they could.
UTVs began running V2R back in 2007 with the very first Factory Polaris RZR race team of Jagged X taking the win. Brandon Schueler has won this race 5 times (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011), the most of any driver in UTV history. Factor in the UTV Sportsman win that his father Bill Schueler & then team driver Craig Scanlon had in 2012 and thats 6 wins since UTVs have been included.
Scott Kiger & Mark Holz, then teammates on the Coastal Racing Polaris RZR team have won V2R 2 times (2012, 2014). Jason & Derek Murray of Murray Motorsports / Can-Am have won V2R two times as well, in 2012 in the Pro UTV class and then last year in (2016) the still emerging Pro Turbo class. Cognito Motorsports entered the 2017 race as back-to-back (Pro UTV) V2R race winners (2015, 2016) and were anxious to make it three in a row in 2017 with a win in the Pro Turbo class.
As we hit the start line Friday morning in Beatty, NV I was overwhelmed at the level of UTVs that were staged for their 11am start time. As I walked through the field of UTVs I couldn’t help but reflect on just how far we have come since the first time UTVs ran the V2R back in 2007. Over the years you would see a handful of high-quality race UTV builds, then the rest of the field would be filled in with less than stellar entries. But as the years have gone on, the experience of these teams have increased and so have the level at which they are building their race vehicles. This year saw 90 UTVs that all not only were capable of winning, but most all were worthy of center fold type photo shoots. This class has come a long way, but Friday reminded me just how far we have come as a class and as a community and never before have I felt that the competition has hit an all-time high.
All eyes in the sport were focused on Fridays race. Not only to see who of the racers would win, but to see if the brand they favored would also dominate. The battle between Polaris RZR & Can-Am has been a big topic amongst the community for a long time, but lets face it, even though Can-Am has had their fair share of victories over the years, their success in racing has in large part been accomplished due to their teams with great drivers turning an outgunned platform into a capable and competitive machine. Not until this year has Can-Am provided a gun for the gun fight and now we are able to witness a true and fair manufacturers battle, one that will surely increase as the season wages on towards the 2017 season championship.
Polaris RZR on the other hand has enjoyed many years of dominance in off-road racing. While Can-Am has earned wins and championships over the years, they have been sporadic in comparison to Polaris. Polaris has enjoyed a stacked deck of entries with over 90% of the field being RZR in years past, thus increasing their chances of wins, but in addition RZR has always fielded teams that not only know how to race, but know how to win. This year however, we are seeing more new Maverick X3’s appear, working to even the starting field. But while Can-Am fights to turn the tide, RZR continues to do what they have always done and thats line the field with the best racers in the sport. So while we all were hyped to see just which UTV team would win, we also were interested in which OEM would be able to claim success come Saturday morning.
It would only be fair to mention that Yamaha was also being represented in Fridays battle. Multiple racers in both the Pro UTV & Pro Unlimited classes would line up in YXZ1000R machines, the most eye grabbing of the Yamaha bunch being Jeremiah Staggs Pro UTV vehicle and a newly built Penhall Fabrication built Pro Unlimited class machine. While Yamaha has yet to find notable success in the desert with their new YXZ platform, its great to see racers pushing the envelope to build these machines into worthy desert racers.
With the stage set and racers ready to run, BITD lined them up for the start. At 11am on the dot, UTV World Championship winner Phil Blurton in his No Limit SXS / Can-Am Maverick X3 shot off the line and led the field of 50 Pro Turbo UTVs into the unknown. Every :30 another UTV shot off the line until all were into the dust and chasing down the finish line that wait for them in Dayton, NV just outside of Reno.
One racers day would end at race mile (RM) 2.4. John Melvin of Mad Melvin Motorsports / Polaris RZR arrived in Las Vegas Thursday with one of the many freshly minted race machines that racers brought to battle at V2R. Melvin has spent the bulk of 2017 building a brand new 2017 Polaris RZR XP4 Turbo into his version of the ultimate race RZR. While the overall design was a head turner, its Melvin’s skills as a painter that draws you to his new machine. Melvin’s work is also displayed on the Scanlon Motorsports & Carver Racing RZR’s and he is quickly becoming the go-to guy for all racers to take their machine too when wanting to give it that custom show-car look. Unfortunately for John, he would be the first of the 90 UTVs to DNF as an aftermarket suspension component on the front end of his RZR would fail forcing Melvin off course and strait onto his trailer.
As is the case many times in these types of point-to-point races, my team and I were set on running near the front of the pack, leap frogging racers along the course to keep up with the lead pack storyline and to ensure we arrive at the finish line in time. We packed it in from the start line just as the last Turbo was leaving and began our own race up the course. We caught the lead pack at pit 3 as they arrived into the pit. For many this would be their first stop for fuel, some with larger cells and having no issues were able to press on, many others would never see pit 3. Racing can be brutal. Pit 3 saw the 5-time V2R race winner, Brandon Schueler now leading the pack. Behind him was Bill Zemak who competes as a Factory RZR driver and travels all the way from the east coast to compete in the BITD series. Zemak was fist pumping as he left the start line, and his enthusiasm didn’t change one bit as he rolled into pit 3 in second position. He blasted his siren and waived as he came by me. This would be the last time we would see Zemak. Between pit 3 & 4 Zemak would suffer the loss of his Turbo forcing him to track down his team and work for over an hour to put a new one on. Once he repaired it and got back on course he would go a short distance before the same issue would reappear thus ending his day. Wayne Matlock would be the third UTV to roll through pit 3, setting a pace for himself that would keep up for much of the race.
As we traveled on up the course news of racers succumbing to mechanicals would begin to trickle in. Rhys Millen had arrived with what is in my opinion one of the top three most advanced UTVs ever built for desert racing competition. His Polaris RZR XP4 Turbo has garnered so much attention that Rhys has been kept very busy building replicas for other racers in the series. Rhys is a very accomplished driver but he didn’t want to run solely by himself, but if Rhys is going to share driving duties, you know he is going to do it with a driver who has equal talent. So he called upon fellow Factory RZR athlete and equally accredited driver and friend Tanner Foust to help him take on the 2017 V2R. Unfortunately for both, Rhys would never get the RZR to Foust. Millen’s RZR would blow a head gasket ending his day. His wasn’t the only RMR built RZR to fail, Factory RZR athlete Jacob Carver would also suffer the same mechanical leaving many to wonder if it is something with the design of the machine or just a freak coincidence. We expect both to come back as strong as ever.
As we pressed on, the field and running order continued to shake up. Brandon Schueler had set a blazing pace in his Jagged X RZR and Wayne Matlock would continue to push Schueler through RM 164. Behind the lead RZRs was a small pack of X3’s all looking to overtake. Blurton who started the race in the first position was now back up to the third position with Dustin Jones of S3 Powersports & Dan Fisher in his Lonestar Racing X3 closely behind. Jones was looking to redeem himself after 2016’s extremely disappointing race. It was a season ago at V2R when Can-Am had blown the top off the sport and had unveiled the X3 at this very race. Jones had came into the 2016 race with his confidence and exposure at an all-time high. A fleet of Can-Am employees were dead set on watching Jones not only race but expecting the racer from Shreveport, LA to win the overall. Jones was so confident in his abilities and new X3 race machine that they tossed away their championship run in his then current class to race in another. The decision backfired, as Jones would crash his X3 less than 20 miles from the start in blinding dust, deflating the hopes of an overall for Can-Am and leaving himself to forever wonder what could have been. But there is no use crying over spilled milk, Jones and his S3 / Can-Am team were back and had hopes of redemption.
As we hung around RM164 we began to see those who started late in the race begin to shake up the overall corrected time charts. First was Sven Ellstrom’s OBERTO Polaris RZR with Mark Holz behind the wheel. Mark Holz who not only is a very fast and capable driver and a guy who has won the race twice as part of his former team, is also an accomplished builder. Holz is credited with building numerous race and championship winning RZRs and he was driving the Ellstrom machine like an animal, making up time and positions in the process. Not far behind him was Mitch Guthrie Jr. Guthrie started the year off with back-to-back wins at Parker and The Mint 400. He DNF’d in the desert race at the UTV World Championship but was able to take a big win in the production race later that day keeping him on a win streak as a racer. Guthrie would draw the 35th start position at V2R this year, but by this point had already moved himself into the top 10 overall and was challenging for the lead on corrected time alongside Mark Holz.
Another driver had also charged from the back and was in an impressive position at this point. Logan Gastel, a long overlooked driver from Southern California had got his start as a member of the Murray Motorsports team before purchasing his own Can-Am a few years ago and forming his own program. Gastel was finally awarded a factory sponsorship by Can-Am for 2017 and was looking to prove his worth as an underdog racer. Gastel possesses what it takes as a driver to win, but until you get that big win, its hard to garner the credit one feels they deserve. Gastel was pushing his new X3 hard and like Guthrie and Holz were challenging for the lead from the back.
We loaded back up and kept on up course, passing through the historic and at times odd towns of Nevada’s desert landscape. As we crossed the midway point of the race the running order was still very similar except now the lead pack was beginning to separate from the rest. Another Factory RZR team was beginning to make their own mark on the race. The Factory Polaris RZR Black Hills UTV team of Mike Cafro and Jamie Fitzpatrick was making a drive and also challenging for the lead on corrected time. The long time desert ATV racers made their move to RZRs a few seasons ago and in the process earned their factory ride after a phenomenal effort at V2R a year prior. Like many of the new teams and new vehicles this season they have had their share of bad luck. The two have had many years of success with their biggest achievements being held south of the border in Baja. Their experience in Baja lends itself to finding success in a race like V2R, the only real point-to-point race in the series. The two were on a mission and their RZR looked dialed.
While we kept focused on the lead pack in the Pro Turbo class, there were still 31 Pro N/A UTVs waging war not far behind. Kristen Matlock, wife of Wayne and an accomplished racer herself, had maneuvered her factory backed Polaris RZR into the lead. In the process she was busy overtaking much of the Pro Turbo field putting on a display of talent that reminded us alot of Justin Lambert’s 2016 run. Lambert had dominated the 2016 BITD series behind the wheel of his Pro N/A UTV, winning every single BITD race he entered in 2016 and claiming numerous overall victories in the process. While Matlock races a limited BITD schedule with efforts placed on the Baja 500 & 1000, she continues to grab attention at the major events she competes in. She had yet to capture a win however, finishing on the podium numerous times and garnering attention for her solo driving efforts at the Baja 1000 in 2016 and the Baja 500 this year. She was looking to make the 2017 V2R he first UTV race win, and things were looking good this far into the battle.
As we waited for more racers around RM300, another driver making way from the back was the off-road racing legend Larry Roeseler. LR as he is referred too, was driving one of those prior mentioned new machines worthy of display at any car show. LR was piloting the virgin Safecraft / Polaris RZR XP4 Turbo built by Holz Racing Products. Its a replica to the now infamous Scanlon Motorsports Group (SMG) Polaris RZR & the Ellstrom RZR that Holz himself was driving. These Holz built RZRs are not only innovative, they are fast & light and push the limits of UTV development. Much of the new machines you are seeing arrive on the start-lines have “borrowed” design ideas from these RZRs and while the Ellstrom RZR has showed some strong results, Scanlon has struggled with new-car gremlins leaving many to wonder just when he will get his bugs worked out. Having spent a lot of time around the SMG program, it is only a matter of time before they reach the top of the box.
Another racer striving to fight through the pack was Matt Burroughs in his factory Can-Am X3. Burroughs a season ago at V2R had made a strong showing in his then Polaris RZR. Burroughs desperate for a win and factory recognition, put on an amazing run. A year later, Burroughs has been rewarded as a now factory driver for Can-Am but has yet to crack the top spot of the podium in his X3 as he too has suffered challenges with his new race vehicle. He has though shown signs of improvement this year and as he pressed on through the V2R course, we began to wonder if this could be his race to break out as a winner for Can-Am.
As we moved on up course, Mitch Guthrie Jr. also moved on up the corrected time charts. Lead racers were approaching pit 10 and Guthrie was leading the race having overtaken most of the 34 racers who started in front of him. His pace at the time was only matched by Holz who had now turned the machine over to the teams lead driver Sven Ellstrom. Schueler, Blurton and W. Matlock still made up the top 3 physically.
As the teams made their way through pit 10 attrition was continuing to set in on the field. We began to hear chatter that the #917 Pro Turbo UTV of Murray Motorsports may be down with engine trouble. Not long after the worst was confirmed and the Murray’s would suffer their first DNF in some 50 races. A rumored blown engine in their brand new Can-Am Maverick X3 Max the culprit. Not only are the Murray’s the team that put Can-Am on the map in off-road racing, they are a group made up of some of the finest individuals in the class. Always professional, the Murray’s may not receive the hype and exposure they always deserve, but the respect they garner amongst the field and class is something many teams aspire to receive.
It was around this same time as the leaders were pressing on towards pit 11 that we started to see the lead change hands once more. Guthrie Jr. who entered pit 10 as the leader on corrected time was now sitting parked as his team ripped apart the front end of his Factory RZR. They worked feverishly for what seemed like an hour but was actually less than 20 minutes to change a front diff amongst a few other front end components. Schueler, who entered the pit the physical leader was also parked as his team worked on his RZR. This gave Blurton’s X3 the fresh air he would need to run out front, but close behind him and now the corrected time leader was Wayne Matlock who was beginning to turn it on in his RZR. Ellestrom however was also still pushing but their RZR had drifted behind the leaders a bit as they too were suffering mechanicals that had slowed them through the midway point of the race. Gastel, Burroughs, and Cafro continued to push.
As we met the leaders at pit 11 the blazing hot Nevada sun settled behind the mountain ridge giving racers a chance to finally use the lights they seem to only get to run when in Baja. Blurton blasted through the pit and soon behind him Matlock came in for what looked like was going to be a quick and routine stop. But like Guthrie Jr. and Schueler in pit 10, Matlock now too was parked as his team dove in to replace a broken lower a-arm component. 20 minutes and 4 positions later he was back on his way. Downtime at any point of the race hurts, but late race mechanicals are painful due to the lack of time you have to overcome the stoppage. This would all but seal his fate on not being able to win the 2017 V2R.
With Schueler, Guthrie Jr. and W. Matlock all now up and running, Ellstrom forged on as Polaris RZRs only hope for the Pro Turbo race win. Blurton, Gastel, and Burroughs were now charging hard and working to sweep the podium. It was dark, and we were now on our way to the finish line. I struggled to get accurate race intel while on the highway so I relied heavily on BITD’s tracking system for updates. With less than 50 miles to go tracking showed Blurton with a now heavy lead over Burroughs and Gastel. Gastel however based on math was still challenging for the corrected time win. No where on tracking was Ellstrom which then removed him from everyone’s mind as still being in the race. Matlock and Guthrie were on a mission making up minutes with every single mile and driving a fierce pace. We were then wondering if Guthrie could actually still make up enough time to get on the box.
Just as we were pulling into Dayton an image came over text to me from our Mad Media team who was there waiting for the finishers. Phil Blurton would finish the race first. While Blurton and his factory Can-Am team celebrated on the podium Sven Ellstrom in his RZR blazed through the finish line. Minutes behind him, but not far off was Gastel’s X3. Blurton rolled through post tech and we rushed to the podium to gather intel on timing. It was a tense few minutes for the three teams who had finished and we knew it would be close.
After some confusing radio chatter, BITD announcer and Dirt Live host George Antill pulled me aside so I could hear the call over his radio from the timing booth. It was then that they explained that Phil Blurton lost to Ellstrom, she then said “wait, wait, wait I made a mistake….” and we continued to hold the radio up with anticipation. She then came back and said Blurton over Ellstrom by 13 seconds! Gastel third behind Ellstrom by 12 seconds! 25 seconds split the top three. Corrected time would eventually show those times WAY off as Phil Blurton would win by just over a Minute and a half and Gastel would finish about five minutes behind Ellstrom. Nevertheless, the podium was set!
PRO TURBO CLASS
Phil Blurton who shocked everyone as a privateer winning the 2017 Polaris RZR UTV World Championship behind the wheel of his new X3 and now becomes the first Can-Am X3 racer to win back-to-back BITD races. His win at Vegas To Reno is nothing short of amazing. The driver started the race first, something everyone wants to do, but the pressure often seems to crush racers not knowing what pace to set. While Blurton did not lead the race from start to finish, and he certainly had his share of ups & downs which even included a roll over during the race that luckily was remedied quickly by a truck racer who happened to be right there when it happened, he showed signs of becoming yet another driver in the stacked field of UTVs that can win on any given day. Blurton was rewarded a factory sponsorship following his UTVWC win, he took that reward and repaid it to Can-Am by giving them a win in return and delivering upon expectations. We congratulate him and his efforts as a driver, we also tip our hats to his team. As anyone in off-road will tell you, racing in this sport is very much a team effort.
Sven Ellstrom, competing in his rookie season has began to show signs of greatness in the UTV class. His performance at the Mint 400 this year, finishing on the podium, did not earn him the respect he rightfully deserves. With hundreds of UTV drivers in the sport, its not easy to break into the realm of credit and notoriety, especially as a RZR driver. Ellstrom with a new and big non-endemic sponsor, and arguably one of the most talented builders in the sport heading up his build, prep and co-driving duties, took all of the tools at his disposal and produced a huge finish at V2R. Ellstrom showed that he too can drive and that he too should be thought of as a racer and team that can win in any race he/they enter. History shows that privateer racers who do well at this race often enter into contract with the factory, we would hope that RZR strongly considers bolstering their roster with yet another young and up & coming driver. Congrats to Sven for being the only privateer driver to grace the Pro Turbo podium in his OBERTO / Holz Racing Products Polaris RZR XP4 Turbo.
Logan Gastel has been fighting for a win for a long time as a Pro UTV racer. Despite his podium finish at V2R you could sense a bit of disappointment from Gastel who desperately wanted to put his Factory X3 on top. Sensing that disappointment also leaves me with a sense of appreciation for Logan. All the great ones, in any sport, never celebrate defeat. And while he should celebrate his third place finish in a race of this magnitude and challenge, I left knowing that Gastel’s story is not done. He fought to earn his spot on the Can-Am team having been overlooked for many seasons despite all of his efforts. Having earned his spot on the team, he now fights for success as a winner, and while he didn’t achieve the win at V2R he certainly took a giant step towards his own future success. Gastel and I spoke at the start line, he would be leaving Beatty deep in the pack. I explained that the good thing about starting that deep is that he is off the radar, no one will be paying attention thus allowing him to press hard and sneak his way to the front without being noticed. In some ways this is Gastel’s career right now. A guy who is off many of the guys radar in the series, but because of that he is able to only experience the pressure that he puts on himself. Before you know it, a guy like Logan sneaks up and earns a win because the others didn’t take notice or respect the effort his is busy putting in while flying under the radar. While Gastel won’t be overlooked by as many teams now, he like the rest of the field should not take his thrid place podium lightly. This is a race where just finishing should be celebrated, landing on the podium is worthy of respect from everyone. We salute Gastel on his efforts, his podium finish and we expect to see much more from him in the future.
Matt Burroughs and Mitch Guthrie Jr. would round out the 4th and 5th place positions in the Pro Turbo class. Both drivers displayed consistent speed all race long, overcame adversity and made a push for the podium. While Burroughs has yet to experience the success that the 20 year old Guthrie has reaped this year, we know his day is coming. Guthrie Jr. on the other hand has done more at 20 years of age then most in the class will accomplish in their careers. We have watched his career blossom over the past few years and while 5th place isn’t what Guthrie or his team wanted, they all know that there will be many more chances in the future to capture a V2R win. It was this race a year ago that both Burroughs, then racing a RZR, and Guthrie Jr. turned the heads of many in the sport. Guthrie Jr. was rewarded a factory sponsorship because of his efforts in 2016 at V2R, Burroughs would later be offered a Can-Am deal. While Guthrie you could argue has delivered on his end giving RZR back multiple wins this season already and now a 5th at V2R, Burroughs too has showed he is worthy of Can-Am’s affection. Both will be challenging as the rest of the season goes on.
PRO UTV (N/A) CLASS
Arguably the most impressive result and effort at this years race was that of Kristen Matlock‘s. The “IronWoman” just added the longest off-road race in the United States to her stacked resume of accomplishments. But while her efforts as a solo driver in the Baja 500 & 1000 may have put her atop of the industries people to watch, the 2017 Vegas To Reno will forever be remembered by her and the rest of the sport as the first time she would take home a first place UTV trophy as driver of her Factory Polaris RZR XP1000. Kristen DOMINATED her class finishing almost a full hour in front of the next Pro N/A class racer. In addition, she finished 6th overall amongst UTVs and was only 30 minutes off of Blurton’s finish time. While she naturally is labeled as a female driver, her results here should now give her the respect as just “DRIVER”. She proved that her being a female means nothing at the end of the day and while a few before her have experienced success as drivers in both the UTV class and off-road in general, it is clear that she may be the best we have ever seen. Matlock is the story of the race for me, she started not only behind all of the Pro Turbo racers but also behind another class of trucks as BITD split the class starts by average finish times from previous events. To add, she wasn’t even the first Pro UTV in her class but instead started behind 12 of them as well. She put on one of the greatest displays of speed and racing we have ever seen to date in UTV off-road racing history and while Blurton will receive much of the sports exposure and certainly deserves it, Matlock’s performance should not be overlooked and instead should be celebrated. So with that we offer our congratulations and respect up to Kristen, her team and her performance and we thank her for proving that even a pretty woman with pigtails can knuckle up when called upon to go out and throw it down with the fastest racers in our sport.
Russell Griffin, a privateer racing a Polaris RZR XP1000 would earn the second position in the Pro UTV class. While the Pro UTV class has not garnered the attention it once received, no one should overlook the fact that there is still very stiff competition. Griffin piloted his Dragon Fire sponsored RZR through the brutal 540 mile course and celebrated his podium finish in style. Like I have already said, just finishing this race is an accomplishment, but taking home a podium finish at a race like V2R is as good as a win when compared to other races in the BITD schedule. We look forward to seeing more from this team and will be watching closely to see if they can back it up with yet another amazing performance like the one they put down at V2R. Congrats to Russell and teammates Everrete, Jimmy, and youngster Justin who all helped get the #1970 RZR on the podium!
Rounding out the podium in the Pro UTV class was Gunner Savage in his Yamaha YXZ1000R. Not only does Gunner have one of the best racing names on the entry list at V2R, he also has the speed needed to earn a podium spot in the longest off-road race in America. While the Yamaha YXZ may not be the vehicle of choice just yet for desert racers, Savage proved that it is highly capable of performing at a high level. Gunner is another of the young talents in the class and at 23 years old is showing signs of much future success. While he is far from a rookie, having raced in the UTV ranks for a few seasons, we expect Savage’s career to continue to grow and we can’t wait to see what he does next!
PRO UNLIMITED CLASS
The Pro Unlimited class is showing signs of growth and we are looking at the class as becoming quite possibly where the fastest UTVs in the desert compete. The gloves are off as it pertains to rules and we are starting to see the limits of UTV racing being pushed even further. While only 10 Pro Unlimited class teams would enter, it does not overshadow the fact that there is talent and machinery worthy of respect being displayed.
The Sparta racing team of Tony Riggs & Kyle Melville showed up in Las Vegas with a head turning Polaris RZR and a team that was ready to compete. While starting even deeper in the entry list than the Pro UTV class would make it a challenge for an overall UTV victory, the #2912 put on a clinic in the class and earned the top spot claiming a huge win at V2R. We congratulate the entire Sparta racing team, Riggs and Melville on a job well done and we look forward to watching them continue to push the limits of the Unlimited UTV class.
Renee Hudson is not new to the UTV class and is one of the first female competitors ever in the UTV ranks. A UTV racing veteran, Hudson piloted a Kawasaki Teryx for many years, fighting for finishes and always seeming to have a great time doing it. Renee was smiling ear-to-ear as she drove her Polaris RZR on top of the BITD mesa / podium where she was told she would in fact earn a 2nd place finish in class at V2R. I was unsure if she would ever leave the podium, you could just feel her excitement as she thanked her family and friends that make up this privateer team from Parker, AZ. For many years Renee has raced under the radar, gaining attention for her cause, always racing with a pink ribbon to support women’s breast cancer awareness on the side of her RZR. We were so happy to see such a great person and driver reach the podium in such a challenging race. She deserves to not only celebrate this accomplishment, but she too should be celebrated for her performance and efforts not only as female but also as a veteran off-road racer. Well done to the entire team, Renee, and her husband and lead mechanic Richie!
Rounding out the the podium was quite possibly the most passionate racer in the UTV ranks, Michael Isom. Isom started his rookie season back in 2015 and launched the Mobbin’ Racing program to give him and his son an opportunity to further bond. The two competed in their then LSR built Polaris RZR, learning the ropes and sharing in the challenges and fun that surround competition. Isom at the conclusion of their rookie season in 2015 then decided that they weren’t going to race in 2016, sold their RZR and seemed to fall off the preverbal off-road racing map. Then Isom reemerged and seemingly came back out of nowhere with a new factory backed Can-Am racing program. The black and white Mobbin’ Racing team was back with a new team but possessing the same level of passion. While Isom isn’t sharing in driver / co-driver duties with his son any longer, he has now shifted the bonding opportunities to clients of his financial planning and consulting business. Bringing along clients, giving them the experiences and letting them learn to take a different level of chance as they risk their lives in the forever risky business of off-road racing. Isom, one of only a handful of Factory racers in the Unlimited class, would finish on the podium again, something he did at the UTV World Championship, and reward Can-Am and his team with yet another set of memories. If coming back to racing was in fact a business decision, I’d say it was a smart move. I mean, how could you not continue to work with the man if he brings you along as a client and sends you home with a trophy that only a select few will ever possess? Then again, one would believe, that the business decision is solely a cover to hiding his addiction for racing. Its good to see Isom back in the saddle this year!
Off-road racing is an interesting sport. Its dangerous, exciting, full of drama, pain and love of sport. Chasing the V2R over the years has given me so much both as one who has covered the race and as one who has competed in it. The memories of V2R have stuck with me for many years, and 2017 has yet again filled me with even more. While my long winded story gives you a glimpse into a few of the story lines that took place, words can never fully explain what a monster of a race like this gives you as a person who lived through it. I would remain awake for 36 hours with only about an hour nap in the truck in between as I chased the race alongside my best friend and UTVUG contributor Rusty Baptist, and made our drive strait home from the finish line. The only way a guy like me can even stay awake that long is because of the adrenaline that a race like V2R fuels your body with. Even though we weren’t competing for a race win, we still were very much in the race. Because of that, I want to thank each and every team who has dedicated to competing in off-road UTV racing. Because of you I am able to play my own role, race my own race, and share in all of your successes and failures not just as a member of the community but also as a fan.
Until Next Time……
P.S. I want to extend a huge thank you to our UTVUnderground.com team for working their tails off to help me bring this coverage to all of you. Our photographers, Rusty Baptist, Daniel Schenkelberg, and Harlen Foley produced a solid batch of images which is not easy to do at a race like this where running and gunning is the name of the game. For those of you we didn’t get an image of here, we are sorry. We try hard to get good variety but have to keep running with the pack. Also, big thank you to Mad Media for all of their efforts in helping us provide insane live coverage. They help with updates, images, video and much more. We couldn’t do it without them. BIG thank you to Polaris RZR for once again backing our coverage of the race. Look for some awesome UTVUnderground / Mad Media produced video content, some of which you have already seen on social media. Lastly, thank you to all of the racers and teams who support and represent UTVUnderground.com. We do what we do because of you and we really appreciate all the return support!
DRIVER FOOT NOTES / HONORABLE MENTIONS
Justin Lambert entered the race as back-to-back V2R race winner. While Lambert would finish behind the wheel of his factory Polaris RZR, he would do so in less than stellar fashion. The reigning 2016 Pro UTV champion was faced with numerous challenges throughout the race, but he showed grit and determination and would leave Reno finishing in the 20th position.
Dustin Jones and his S3 Powersports team made the drive from Shreveport, LA with their Pro Turbo factory Can-Am x3 and a brand new Maverick X3 Max for S3 team owner “Mr. Mal” Malcom Sneed to compete in the Pro Unlimited class with. Both would finish, Jones 13th in class and Sneed 5th in class. The now premier team for Can-Am has struggled to fully regain the greatness they have showed in previous years, but nevertheless proved that they are still a top team in the sport.
Craig Scanlon blasted onto the scene late in 2016 to prepare for a run at the crown in 2017. With a new team and a new factory backed Polaris RZR, the team has experienced new challenges in every outing. There is no lack of effort, driving talent, or resources being put forth to bring the #931 to the top, the only thing they lack is a little bit of luck. Scanlon kicked the race off with a 7th starting position, the best start he has had all season long. Between pit 1 & 2 the #931 would drop a belt and in the process of changing notice something in the clutch that forced him to ask the team to put a fresh clutch on. A problem later in the race with the rear radius rods pulling out, and yet another pit repair would push the team even further back, but like all great racing programs they never gave up. Scanlon and teammate RJ Anderson would drive the SMG RZR XP Turbo to the finish line and complete the race in the 16th position in class.
Branden Sims is certainly ranked in the top 10 pound-for-pound UTV drivers in the sport. The reigning 2017 Pro Turbo champion has competed on his original factory Polaris RZR XP Turbo that he built prior to last season. It is without question that his machine has possibly seen its best days despite the constant prep and precise driving Sims employs. He came into V2R primed to compete for a win like he does at every race he enters. But with a single truck, two man pit crew headed up by his father Dale Sims, Branden just couldn’t muster up enough luck to get through the race mechanical free. Sims would still complete the race in the 7th position in class, a respectable finish for a respectable driver & team.
Wayne Matlock is a favorite to win in any point-to-point race he enters. He showed the speed necessary to win but a late race mechanical would steal away his hopes of a podium finish. The legendary ATV racer is on his way to going down as one of the best to ever race a UTV and we expect the Factory Polaris RZR driver to compete yet again for a win in this November’s 50th running of the Baja 1000. Matlock would celebrate his wives huge win while taking home a 6th place finish in the Pro Turbo class at V2R.
Brandon Schueler led majority of the 2017 V2R race displaying the speed and driving talent that has helped earn him 5 prior V2R victories. Like many others, mechanical issues would keep Jagged X off the box but going home with a top 10 finish (8th in class) is nothing to be disappointed about. Schueler entered the race with the Pro Turbo points lead. We will wait to see where he will sit in the points race after V2R. Schueler is chasing his 7th Pro UTV racing championship!
Dan Fisher hasn’t held onto a UTV long enough to give himself a chance to compete at the level he once used to run at. The owner of LoneStar Racing has put most of his recent efforts into building customers race machines. When he does complete a build for himself, it isn’t around very long before someone else buys it from him, forcing him to build another machine. The factory Can-Am racer showed he still has what it takes to run the lead pace, pushing in the lead pack for much of this years V2R. He would eventually be slowed with mechanicals and would leave Reno with a respectable 10th place finish in the Pro Turbo class.
Madeline Wedeking is a 15 year old female racer who could possibly be a name we hear much more of in the future. Daughter of Aaron Wedeking, Owner of PRP Seats, Madeline has the resources and knowledge around her to make her dangerous to threaten for podiums in the Pro UTV class. Maddie as she is referred to by friends and family, went home with a 5th in class finish in Pro UTV.
BITD Announcement: There were two incidents during the Vegas to Reno race. One involved a quad and a truck. We have checked on the quad rider, and he is recovering in a Reno hospital. There was a second incident and we are devastated to report there was a fatality involving a single motorcycle rider.
Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and we know the entire off-road race community sends their support. More details will be released as they become available.
*Note: Results still listed as UNOFFICIAL as of 8/20/17 9:00pm PST
Photos by: RUSTY BAPTIST // UTVUnderground.com
Photos By: DANIEL SCHENKELBERG // UTVUnderground.com
Photos by: HARLEN FOLEY // UTVUnderground.com