Images via Harlen Foley
The crown jewel event of the annual Best in the Desert calendar, and one of the most significant desert races in North America, returns this week with Friday’s Method Race Wheels Casey Folks Vegas to Reno. The only race on the schedule that bears the name of BITD’s founder, the annual trek north will number 495 miles this year, with the top UTV racers on the planet—from those who have made their career in the United States and Mexico to some of the top names from the SSV and Light Prototype classes of the Dakar Rally—all descending upon Bonnie Claire, Nevada to make the challenging trek up to Dayton. Monsoons in recent days forced a shift to the route, abandoning the usual start in Beatty and adding a transit between Tonopah and Millers to dodge deep waters.
Over the past few years, many of UTV racing’s headline names have made the shift into what BITD now calls the UTV Trophy Unlimited class as they look to take advantage of greater horsepower and more freedom. Names like Wayne and Kristen Matlock, Mitch Guthrie Jr., and Ryan Piplic bring the best that Polaris RZR has to offer to the 28-team entry list, but the Dakar-ready Red Bull duo of Cristina Gutierrez and Guillaume de Mevius and 2021 championship contenders like Chris Blais, Michael McFayden, and Jim Beaver will all be in the mix as well.
Despite the shift to Trophy Unlimited by many top names, UTV Turbo Pro remains the largest class on the Vegas to Reno entry list at 38 entries, and it’s still got plenty of star power among them. Whether it’s Phil Blurton, Dustin Jones, Branden Sims, the return of AJ Jones (who will have fellow Dakar front-runner Chaleco Lopez sharing a ride with him), or defending event winner Austin Weiland, don’t be surprised if it’s one of the biggest names in the sport atop the podium when the race wraps up.
The UTV NA Pro entry list boasts 21 entries of its own, ranging from the dominant Kaden Wells and regular front-runners like Austin and Joe Bolton to 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Davy Jones and the father-son duo of Robby and Max Gordon with their Speed UTV. UTV Super Stock adds 10 more entries and UTV Sportsman Rally brings four more to total just over 100 UTV entries for Friday’s event.
Coming into Vegas to Reno, Vito Ranuio leads the Turbo Pro class standings by four points over Joe Terrana, but Jones, Jason Murray, and Matt Burroughs are all still within striking distance in the top five. Dan Fisher takes a six-point Trophy Unlimited class lead over recently retired UFC legend Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone into the event, while Josh Row has the same advantage over Max Eddy in NA Pro.
While raceday is Friday, the action starts a day earlier for the UTV Turbo Pro and Trophy Unlimited classes when they take part in Method Race Wheels Head to Head Time Trials on Thursday. The UTV classes will hit the time trial course in Primm at 11AM local time on Thursday to set their starting spots for Friday’s race. After Vegas to Reno, Best in the Desert action resumes on September 22-25 in Ely, Nevada with the Battle Born 200.