1st Dust Motorsports and the Dust Junkies leave the comfort zone and take the American Racing Wheels JeepSpeed Challenge win at the Best in the Desert - Henderson 400.
The sky opened up and dropped buckets of much needed rain across Southern California and Nevada the day before the Henderson 400, turning the rock and silt filled course with nothing but race car grabbing mud. The huge gala planned for down town Henderson fizzled in the downpour, but not the spirits of the Dust Junkies as they accepted the uncomfortable circumstances, and focused on the ever-changing plan of attack. Crew Chief Jeff Ranney lead his orange army to victory despite numerous set backs, and electronic trouble caused by the non stop rain leading up to the event. "…we lost the GPS unit only minutes before the race started, with all our pre-run work wiped out, we knew we had to go old school…" said Ranney
LJ Engineering and the Dust Junkies prepped the car better then ever, and decided to ring it out in Henderson. "We did not know Keith Marion was in the run for Rookie of the Year after racing Barstow and Henderson the prior season, and Jeff Jordan a no show at Henderson, we thought we had it in the bag. With that we decided to go for the make it or break it win at Henderson." Ranney continued. JeepSpeed rules allow a driver to compete at 2 events the previous year and still be eligible for Rookie status.
The Banks Power JeepSpeed left the line in 4th position with Scott Hartman once again taking the lead lap. "Our plan was to keep the car together while maintaining a pace that would be in striking range for the win." Hartman said. Sloshing through what seemed more a mud bog than a desert race; Hartman maintained a solid pace running less then 2 MPH off the leaders, and maintaining 4th position on the course.
Hartman gave most of the credit for maintaining speed to the new Trxus MT tire they have been testing from Interco Tire Company. "I was passing people stuck in the mud everywhere; Jason Lafortune had nothing for me, across the mud filled sections of course." Hartman continued. Scott caught and passed the entire class 3100 field in the mud without a horn as it quit after the first big mud bog. That's where 4wd and the Interco TrXus mud terrains proved worthwhile.
Dan Turner and Scott kept plugging away, getting faster and faster as they went, passing more 7100s, then most of the 8100's. Only Bob and Michelle Green at remote pit 3 heard the excitement in Dan's voice on the radio when he exclaimed, "We just passed Rod Hall in the
Hummer like he was going backwards!!!" The back side of the course is fast rally style hills with tight turns and edgy corners. "We flat out made some time through there running the car on the edge of control..." stated Hartman. The flat out sections were fun and crazy, yet exhilarating. The Dream Wheel speed calculator says around 90MPH, either way, we were hauling the mail! Hartman was flying low, getting every rpm he could from the Harland Sharp appointed valvetrain!
In the last section of rocks, Dan was reeling Scott in. Hartman wanted to get to the driver change faster and Dan kept telling him that they needed to give the car to Jeff and Scott like it was right then without breaking it. It was smooth and perfect. The tires were good, sway bar still intact, no rattling or strange noises. As they pulled into the short course main pit area they saw Ray Griffith leaving. They knew that he was racing for the championship but didn't know where he was on the course. After the pit stop and driver change, DJR was in 4th position on the course and somewhere between 5th and 6th place in corrected time. Scott thought that he let the team down, was too conservative but knew that if it could be done, Jeff could do it. The car was perfect and Jeff is fast in a good car!
Armed with the ability to track time splits and calculate the other drivers speeds, Dave Cole was able to let Knoll know just how fast he would need to run and where he would be able to gain on the leaders. The plan worked. By pit one only 15 miles after the driver change Knoll had moved the car into 3rd place, and was gaining on the leaders when Jeff lost his communication unit in the helmet, and his fresh air intake. "It got real quiet all of a sudden and the face shield fogged over almost instantly." Said Knoll, Scott Parker, Knoll's navigator tried to fix the problem, but was unable. Knoll then shocked his team, and actually started running faster. "…I went into a zone and was 12 years old again on my RM 80; I just remember running hard and reading the terrain like I was on a bike, looking for traction and really trying to get the most out of the car." Knoll said.
At about Mile marker 32, Knoll saw a flash of a blue light in the tall brush in front of him. He knew it was a JeepSpeed. The race was on, and what a race it was. Class points leader Ray Griffith, race leader Eric Helgeson, and the Dust Junkies, came through pit 3 nearly bumper to bumper. The battle would rage for over 10 miles, as the drivers fought the muddy conditions, and massive whoops of the Nevada desert. Being mixed in with Trick Trucks and Class 1500 buggies, the much slower JeepSpeed contingent would have to contend not only with each other, but the 800 Horsepower beast of the desert. For 10 miles and speeds over 70
MPH the cars calculated the next move. Helgeson and Knoll sling shot past Griffith and continued into battle. "I knew I had to get the Championship said Ray Griffith, I had nothing for them and hoped they would take each other out." Helgeson eventually was over taken by the Banks Power JeepSpeed as they swapped paint. The Dust Junkies now lead the class for the first time. "It was a little over whelming for a second" said Knoll. "Leading the class this well matched was huge for our rookie team" Knoll, and Parker where able to get the head set working on Knolls helmet, and for the first time, Scott was able to inform Jeff that he needed to make time on Helgeson. At that point Knoll put the Hammer down. Back in the Main pit the Dust Junkies team looked at the stats in amazement. Knoll was clocking 40-second miles on average, meaning the car had to be running in the 90-MPH range for multiple miles.
Somehow the champion, Ray Griffith, held on and pushed the 1706 car. The race would continue to the finish line with Both Griffith, and Knoll, battling through the infield. Knoll would brake check Griffith into the turns, and speed out onto the straightaway. Obscured by Mud, Griffith could not see the brake lights of the 1706 car and nearly collided with 1706 multiple times. The finish was in sight and both 1706 and 1714 came to stop winners. The Dust Junkies rookie season ended with a class win, and Ray Griffith taking the 2007 JeepSpeed challenge championship.
From start to finish the 2007 Rookie season of the Dust Junkies racing team could not have happened with out the generous support of many volunteers and sponsors.
1st Dust Motorsports would like to thank all of the following:
The Dust Junkies race team; you guys are the best team in JeepSpeed period!
The JeepSpeed Challenge Series
Best in the Desert
Mojave Desert Racing
Premier Racing Products
King Racing Shocks
Loose Nut Enterprises