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Reno race team Speed Technologies preps for TSCO Vegas to Reno competition.
Photo: Charlie Johnston (all)
Speed isn’t just their middle name—it’s their first.
I’m reminded of this as I’m barreling down a dirt road north of Reno in Speed Technologies’ Avenger Class 1 off-road race car. The driver, Mark Levrett, is telling me to watch the odometer to see if we reach 90 mph. We hit 87. It’s not like I haven’t flirted with 90 before, but this isn’t the comfortable freeway driving we’re all used to. There are bumps (and jumps) in the road—sudden turns, jolts, and catapults. I’ve got a front seat on a desert roller coaster…
Speed Technologies, an off-road racing team based in Reno, treated local media to a few hours of dirty fun off Pyramid Highway (State Route 445) on August 12. Owned by John Harrah, the team competes in the Best in the Desert Racing Association and SCORE International Off-Road Racing series. This day was a prep session and tune-up for the August 22 TSCO Vegas to Reno off-road race. Speed Technologies will have three cars in the competition that covers more than 450 miles of Nevada terrain (technically the event starts in Beatty and ends in Dayton).
Compared to those sparkly clean NASCAR drivers, these guys race for pennies. Literally, they race for hundreds. “In last year’s Vegas to Reno, we got a check for a hundred-something for finishing third,” says Jeff Rocke, one of the original team members. “We didn’t even cash the check—it is framed and displayed in John’s house, also a driver, and he was largely responsible for the awesome finish. There’s money in the sport, but it’s not purse money. It’s all in sponsorships.”
So what’s it all for? “Bragging rights,” Levrett says. The team also throws out the words “fun,” “pride,” and “the challenge” as reasons to compete. Maybe crew chief Phil Johnson says it best as he maneuvers the desert back roads on this Tuesday afternoon, “Just a bunch of boys playing in the dirt.”
True, the team has a ton of fun, but a lot of work goes into making the toys run and compete at the highest levels of off-road racing in the West. To run a demanding race such as the Vegas to Reno, preparation is essential. Teams are allowed one pre-run, which Speed Technologies performed in early August. The main purpose of the pre-run is to mark hazards and cautions (think big rock, hairpin turn, blind curve or hill, etc.) on a GPS system, which will be used by the co-driver to navigate during the actual race. Once on the course, the driver and co-driver are pretty much on their own.
“In this type of racing, we don’t want to have to work on the cars during the race—this could cost us valuable time,” says Speed Technologies mechanic Jeremy Huntsman. “It’s pretty much up to the driver and co-driver, if they are not near our mobile pits, to get themselves to the finish line.” But there’s plenty of work for Huntsman to do after the race. “The cars have to be completely torn apart and rebuilt after every race. They require a lot of maintenance.”
The team will switch drivers in all three cars halfway through the Vegas to Reno race, which Huntsman estimates will take about 10 hours to complete—and that’s with no mechanical issues. The 12th annual event has seen more than 300 entrants in five classes: cars, trucks, UTVs, quads, and motorcycles. An after-race party is scheduled for August 23, a Saturday evening, at Terrible’s Sands Regency Casino Hotel in Reno.
John Harrah will drive his new car, the V-10 Dominator, in the Vegas to Reno, and his daughter, 14-year-old Kody, will be the co-driver. John’s son, Johnny Jr., 16, will also compete in his own Class 10 car.
WORTH A CLICK
Best in the Desert Racing Association
SCORE International Off-Road Racing
“Harrah’s team previews grueling ‘Vegas to Reno’ off-road race,”