The race course at the Best in the Desert series Silver State 300 is like a theme park to a driver. There are miles of wide open dirt roads in the valleys, twisty sections that wind through the trees in the mountains, and even some splashing water as it crosses several streams. Some silt beds lie on the course, but there’s not a whoop to be found anywhere.
The result is a high-speed run from start to finish. The downside is no room for error. One slight miscalculation or lack of communication with your navigator can have dire results. Several drivers found out how perilous the course can be when they went wide and wound up in the trees.
The first vehicles to hit the dirt during race week were the Trick Trucks, 6100 trucks, and 1500 class buggies during time trials on Thursday. They were held on the man-made track behind Buffalo Bill’s hotel at Primm, Nevada. The tight, twisty qualifying course was a perfect warm-up for the mountain sections the drivers would see on race day.
The unlimited buggies and trick trucks would battle for the first starting spots overall while the 6100 trucks would be fighting for starting position in their class. The top five unlimited qualifiers were an interesting mix of trick trucks and open-wheeled cars. First qualifier was Brett Sourapas, who started the season off with a win in Parker.
Next fastest was young James Dean, who is following nicely in his father Pat’s footsteps. The third and fourth spots were the always fast Justin Lofton and Jason Voss. Rounding out the top five was another super-fast open-wheel driver, Ray Griffith, who edged out CJ Hutchins by less than a second.
In the 6100 trucks, Brock Heger continued his off-road racing onslaught, taking the pole. Just behind him was another fast, young driver, Kyle Jergensen. Third fastest was Travis Chase, who is new to 6100, but has years of competition experience. Ryan Hancock was fourth, and David Kleiman edged out Brad Lovell for fifth place by only one one-hundredth of a second.
You would think that with Sourapas and Heger starting out front that it would be game over for the rest of the field, but there’s a reason it’s called a “race” – it’s still anyone’s game. You have to be fast and smart, but you also have to be lucky. Good luck is usually in short supply, but there is plenty of bad luck to go around on race day.
By the halfway point of the race, Justin Lofton was running up front, Jason Voss was on his tail, and CJ Hutchins was third on the road. We are used to seeing Lofton out front, but he was not in his usual Fox, #AHBEEF, STEEL-IT livery. In fact, he wasn’t even driving his own truck. He was behind the wheel of Jeff Terzo’s YouTheory truck.
While many drivers might feel out of place, Lofton was feeling nostalgic. When he raced in NASCAR, he would take every opportunity that came along. He made a name for himself being able to jump into anything and be fast. He raced for five different teams in one year.
“When it comes to seat time, any amount is good,” says Lofton. “The speed sensation, reaction time; it’s important to stay sharp. The secret to being fast is to be comfortable and controlled. It also helps to be with a good team. All we did for the Silver State race was to put my seats in the truck. I run a full containment seat built to fit my body. John Vance and the YouTheory team gave me a lot of confidence right away.”
“The Silver State course is one of my favorites; it’s very challenging, ” continued Lofton. “It’s a lot of high-speed roads but with ditches, rocks, and trees everywhere. It’s a high-risk race. Just look at the attrition rate. Your navigator is very busy, and that’s one of the issues you face. In the mountains, it gets so up and down, and twisty that the co-drivers get motion sickness. My co-driver Derek Balcunas is the best, but he got motion sickness and was throwing up. For a while, he was out of commission.”
That might explain why so many drivers had problems in the mountain section. YouTheory driver Anthony Terzo was seen limping through the road crossing in Panaca with extensive damage to the truck, number 55. Brad Lovell also wound up in the trees, as did Jeepspeed driver Eric Sigwing.
Those that survived the mountains still had miles of flat-out running to stay in the hunt. Jason Voss plays it close to the chest, and would only say that “mechanical gremlins” cost him time. He finished the race, but back in the 12th spot after battling with Lofton for the win.
Those who had clean runs were rewarded with top finishes. The podiums in each class were achieved by a mixture of the fastest and the most polished drivers.
When The Dust Settled
At the very top was Justin Lofton, who took the overall win over fellow hard-chargers CJ Hutchins and Harley Letner. Hutchins was smoking fast, finishing second overall in his unlimited open-wheeled class 1500 buggy.
The top 10 overall and the winners in each class earned their spots at the Silver State 300. We learned that co-drivers don’t always get the credit they deserve; especially when you consider the torture they endure in the mountains. It’s also clear that speed is absolutely necessary, but it’s not the only determining factor. You have to have it all – a solid car, a great team, and the one thing you can’t control, good fortune.
We asked Justin Lofton if he had a lucky pair of socks or some other ritual he observes. He said, “No, because if you have that, you are already partially defeated in your head.” That’s one more thing for the list; a strong mental game.