With 24 different vehicle classes at The Mint 400, there is a class for everyone. Jeeps were some of the first off-road vehicles raced in the late 60’s and early 70’s. The Jeepspeed Class is the evolution of those early off-road machines.
Jeepspeed is considered a true drivers class with restricted rules that keep the class affordable, and the playing field level for everyone. Each race vehicle begins its life as a stock daily driver, and with a little effort they are converted into off-road war machines. There are three different JeepSpeed classes, making the group an affordable entry point into off-road racing.
2015 Mint 400 Jeepspeed Television Excerpt
Racing a Jeepspeed by Matt Martelli
I’m on a mission to race every type of off-road vehicle. I want to walk it like I talk it and experience every different class to share the pros and cons of each vehicle, as well as share how easy/difficult it is to build, buy or rent these vehicles and go have loads of fun with your friends and family. The vehicle type really doesn’t matter, as long as you are having fun off-road racing.
Let’s face it. Without Jeeps there would probably be no off-road racing at all. It was the first manufactured vehicle that connected the dots between off-road racing and daily drivers, albeit backwards since Jeeps were production vehicles before somebody got the bright idea to go fast off-road in them.
We can trace back Jeep’s immediate off-road racing history to the first Baja 1000 and Mint 400 in 1967. With over 1,000,000 (yes, a million) Jeeps sold last year, this class could prove to be a sleeping giant for off-road racing globally. There are literally tens of thousands of the jeeps still in use as well as tens of thousands sitting in junkyards all across America ready for you and your friends to turn them into off-road race vehicles.
RACING A JEEPSPEED
Jeeps are about as basic as it comes as an off-road race vehicle. Straight axles in the front and back, drive shaft, 10 inches of travel, and a stock engine. It’s basically a stock Jeep with a roll cage, suspension, and a mandatory fuel cell for safety. Lots of competitors run stock engines but the Jeep we rented had a crate motor available from T&J Performance with a ported head, oversized valves and crane cam, putting out about 250 horsepower.
DO IT YOURSELF
For about 10k, plus the cost of your vehicle which you can find for between 5-10k, you a can build a Jeep and go racing for under 20k all i. You will not go as fast a Trophy Truck but that’s a good thing if you’re just starting out. I reached out to my friend Clive Skilton at Jeepspeed to rent one of his race ready vehicles.
RENT A PROVEN JEEPSPEED
For about 5k you can rent a Jeepspeed and tackle any race in the Best in The Desert Series. The fee includes a test in Barstow, CA, where Jeepspeed crew chief Skyler Gambrell will get you up to speed. Skyler first will have you ride along and then coach you driving to get acclimated with your rented ride. The rental also includes prep, pitting, vehicle transport, etc. Basically you show up and drive and let Jeepspeed work out the rest.
BEST IN THE DESERT’S 2015 SUPERCROSS.COM HENDERSON 250
I chose Best in the Desert’s Supercross.com Henderson 250 because it’s a good race to start with. Equal parts rough and fast, the course has a little bit of everything and it takes place just outside of Las Vegas so hotels and food are within reach. The Henderson 250 consists of two 80 mile laps for the Jeepspeed class perfect for beginners or racers who don’t have massive teams.
After completing the shakedown in Barstow, CA, my team and I headed out to Las Vegas to Contingency and Technical Inspection. You basically parade your vehicle down a street in front of various off-road companies that support off-road racing until you get to the end where race officials review your car, helmet, and suit to make sure they are compliant with all safety rules. It’s pretty cool to hang out check out all the other race vehicles and talk to other competitors.
We went and signed all the necessary paperwork at drivers registration then hung out for a brief but critical drivers meeting where league director Casey Folks went over the dos and don’ts and welcomed the field of over 200 racers to the race.
We arrived at staging at 7:30am on race day. The quads and bikes started earlier so they could be close to completions by the time we took the track. Hurry up and wait seemed to be the theme of the morning but by the time we were suited up and ready the race was about to start.
On the way to the start line, I stopped to ask off-road legend Rob MacCachren if he had any advice. He replied “Don’t be a hero! Get to the finish!” My co-dawg was longtime friend Carter Gibbs. This was his first desert race so he was pretty pumped but focused on navigating. The plan was to drive the first lap and then hand the vehicle over to Kilian Hamlin and Derek Eldredge for the second lap. This was everybody’s first desert race except mine, so needless to say everybody was pretty pumped.
This race features a side by start so you want to be first out of the chute and chicane otherwise you are eating dust and will be forced to drive slower. Ironically, we drew first starting position. We lined up at the start and when the green light flashed, I hammered the gas and went for it, getting out in front and setting a fast but conservative pace. I could tell by the massive cloud of dust behind me that I was going to be able to gap the guy who started next to me.
After getting through the quarry we hit a short pavement section and then back into a sandy stretch. Carter my co-driver gave me a heads up that they two cars who started behind us were catching up so we pulled over and let them by as they were battling it out for a Championship and we did not want to interfere. We pulled back onto the course and kept going. Around race mile 20, we got caught by a prerunner racing the Sportsman Class. A lot of Unlimited teams do this as their “pre-run” to get a look at the course. We pulled off into a large sand bank and the truck died. After a few attempts, we got out and tried to troubleshoot the problem. Travis Chase who was pre-running in the sportsman class stopped to helps us. Off-roading is brotherhood, people always stop and help you if you are having problems. After pulling a few fuses and banging on the fuel pump and starter, we got it started again (Which is good because I had no idea what to do?)
We got back on course and started making good time due to clean air. We were now 25 minutes behind everybody, which was fine because we were just there to have fun and get to the finish. Ok, I am lying. You are always racing! I knew that if we could get to the finish we would likely be Top 5. Off-road racing is about managing your equipment. You need to go just fast enough to win. 1% too fast and you’ll get a flat or break your vehicle and your day is done, especially in Best in the Desert where they don’t allow outside pit crew support. You gotta fix everything yourself.
The Henderson 250 course is super fun, not too rough or technical and it has a bit of everything. Rough whoop sections, sandy washes, rock gardens, high-speed graded roads, silt beds, and dry lakes. If you look to your right when you are heading to Las Vegas just after you pass state line, that’s basically the area we were racing. It’s crazy to know there is the stunningly beautiful desert a stone’s throw off the 15 freeway that millions of people drive by annually and never stop to observe. The back section of the course climbs in elevation and takes you into a stunning Joshua Tree forest. I am not sure when the perception off-road racers being detrimental to the environment started, but I can tell you off-roaders race in the desert for a reason – it’s beautiful. Nobody wants to see the environment trashed or torn up.
Jeepspeed is a great class for veterans and beginners alike. You can push the vehicles pretty hard but you’re never going to go as fast as an Unlimited vehicle. Their top speed is around 90 mph, which we only hit on short pavement section and the dry lake bed.
We arrived at the Start/Finish and I immediately felt bummed I had to stop. I wanted to go another lap but I pulled into the pit and hopped out. Kilan and Derek hopped in, we strapped them in, helped them with their radio and parker pumper lines and sent them off. I yelled into the cab, “Just go have a good time and pull to the right when the Trophy trucks catch you!”
Kilian looked at me with a mixture of fear and excitement and off they went. I wasn’t too worried other than I wanted them to get through Beer Bottle Pass (A super narrow one lane trail that goes through the one of the smaller of the McCullough Mountains) Having a pissed off Trophy Truck behind you with no place to pull over is not my idea of a good time.
Kilian set off on the final lap and had a clean run until he was caught by lead Trophy Truck Josh Daniel about 10 miles from the finish. The helicopter leading the first trophy truck gave him ample warning to pull over and let the top ten or so lead vehicles pass him. He got back on course and brought her into the finish unscathed.
We have a pretty clean day one minor fuel pump issue and no flats. We ended up third in our class (out of four!). Not a bad effort from a bunch of rookie drivers just trying to have fun.
Get your friends together and go race a Jeepspeed.
Build one. Rent one. It doesn’t matter. I guarantee it’s the most fun you will have sober!