Reality Exceeding Expectations

 

I vividly remember the first time I saw a Trophy Truck in person. November 14, 2007. 40th running of the Baja 1000 and my first. I was camped on course somewhere in the hills between San Francisquito and El Arco, a section I’ve now raced a couple of times myself. Not long after sunset I started to see my first moto racers, followed by a lull. A thick blanket of stars covered the desert. I waited. Then I saw the lights, flashing over the horizon. Shortly thereafter I heard the motor. That glorious 700hp rumble cutting through the still air. Anticipation built, the truck crested the ridge and still a half dozen miles away, yet the speed of the Trophy Truck was incredible. It closed in on my camp, the lights, the power, that speed. I was camped on top of a small ridge, as the truck entered the chicane to climb up the ridge I caught a glimpse of a glowing rotor. They were flat out, hundreds of miles into the race, enveloped in the pitch black of the central peninsula it was just me and this incredible machine. The smell, the noise, the lights, the speed were all overwhelming. My off-roading background was in rock crawling and overlanding. I had no clue such things were possible in the desert. The 8 year old kid in me started to giggle. The teenager that fanaticized about being Ivan Stewart pounded on his chest. THIS is what real men do. And just like that it was over. Gone in a flash. Taillights fading through a haze of disrupted silt, the sound trailed off and I was left alone, in the dust and in the silence. My brain straining to understand what I had just witnessed. Hours later the sun came up. I hadn’t left my spot on the side of the course and the trucks continued to blow my mind throughout the night and I was left with one gnawing thought. One that has stuck with me for almost a decade. What does it feel like to race a Trophy Truck?

‘Hey – quick question, are you 21 or older? If so, mind sending us a DM please? Thanks!!!’ With that one comment on my Instagram account from MotorTrend I knew I’d won the BFGoodrich #DriverEnoughOffroad contest. My reward? A ride along with Bryce Menzies during a Vegas to Reno testing session! I could barely contain my excitement. After a hasty DM reply, I text all the guys on my race team to let them know that I would finally be able to answer my lingering question about how it feels inside a TT.

A few years after my first Baja 1000 as a spectator I found my way, along with a few friends, into desert racing.  We started with a Class 5, then moved to slower but more reliable and considerably cheaper Stock Full/8100 truck.  During my time behind the wheel at races like the Baja 1000, Mint400 and Vegas to Reno my appreciation for Trophy Trucks grew immensely. The speeds at which they cover the terrain was beyond my comprehension. BFGoodrich and Motortrend were wise to choose a racer for their contest winner. I am positive that a novice would not understand, and thus fully appreciate, what was happening around them as Bryce pushed TT #7 through the whoops at 110 mph. I imagine most readers of DirtSports, have either witnessed a flat out TT in person or online. Slow-motion runs through San Felipe are a video producers dream.  I’ve always contended that regardless of class, any race vehicle is driven to the point that it is a rough ride. It’s the only way to be competitive. On a blazing Monday morning outside of Vegas I’d find out if that were true.

After a tour of the Menzies Motorsports shop on Sunday afternoon, Darren (my co-driver) and I had the chance to swap stories with Bryce and his crew chief/co-driver Pete Mortensen at dinner. I barely slept that night. Sunrise meant I’d finally get a chance to ride in a Trophy Truck. It wasn’t going to be some casual trail ride either. I would be riding along with one of the best shoes in all of off-road racing (validated by his recent sweep at Crandon) during a shock testing session for V2R.  I have the privilege of being behind the wheel during our tuning sessions for the Canguro Racing truck. Multiple flat-out passes through known terrain always makes for a great day and I knew Bryce would not be taking it easy with me in the truck.

Shortly after arriving at the testing location, a section of desert I’ve raced during the Mint400, the time came for me to climb into the passenger seat. My nerves were buzzing, the anticipation had me sweating, film crew in place, I ratcheted down my harness, fired up my GoPro and tried to calm my breathing.  Bryce took a relaxed drive down a short paved section. Talking casually as this was no big deal for him. I’m sure I mumbled some sort of reply. Then, as he asked ‘are you ready for this?’ he grabbed the cutting break at 60 mph, spun the truck 165 degrees to the driver’s side and like that we were in the whoops. The speed built, 50, 60, 70, 90 mph. My legs were bouncing around, I searched for a place to wedge them. I realized I wasn’t breathing. I glanced down at the GPS, 102mph. ‘Hey this looks familiar’ I said to myself, ‘or does it? Everything is moving so quickly.’ ‘Oh yeah I’ve raced this in the opposite direction’ continued my internal dialog. ‘Hey there is a blind crest coming up, Bryce’s isn’t slowing down’ I thought as I tensed up, still trying to find a place for my flopping feet, and then we were airborne, I braced myself for an impact that never came, back on terra firma he pushed down through the ravine, the whoop size increased but he never lifted. Another crest, more air, I braced again unnecessarily.

Three mins into the ride and the adrenaline was still pumping the sweat through my suit, my helmet liner soaked, and then came the slightest respite. A hard left hand 90 onto an access road. While still fast it was less chaotic and I could gather my senses. Then a 90 right and back into whoops, another blind crest and into the testing section. By now I’ve adjusted to speed. I’d watched Bryce hit this section 3 or 4 times already from the pit. Speed hit tripled digits. I concentrated on what was happening around me. Subtle throttle manipulation kept the chassis neutral as the TT fought to get sideways over the bumps. I now realized why there is a hook over his toe to keep his foot on the gas pedal. I’d purposely left my earplugs back in the rental car so I could fully experience the aural overload from the 880hp beast dumping its exhaust gases right behind me. The 40in BFGoodrich KR3s cycling through 3feet of suspension was imperceptible underneath the truck. 105 mph felt smooth, not hurried, composed. I knew what was going on around me, having witnessed it many times over the years. Shock oil temps pushing 400 degrees, heim joints struggling to keep up through the cycles, tires gripping whatever part of the desert they could to translate the power into forward momentum, but all I could feel was speed.

This sense of calm was interrupted by locked up brakes, judicious use of the throttle, and Bryce’s short course talent on full display as he drifted the 7k lb truck into another left hand 90. Down a fence line with irregular whoops we raced, a deep wash approached, again I braced needlessly. A quick stab on the brakes set the suspension then a full throttle leap across the wash.  The Fox shocks absorbing most of the energy as we rolled over the far lip. I laughed into my helmet at the insanity I was witnessing. It was a harsh hit but the wash would have destroyed all other race vehicles. As we approached 110mph I tried gauge how fast my truck would handle this section. 45mph tops. Maybe. I laughed again. For the next 30 mins I was continually amazed at what was capable in the desert. 135mph flat out, 20 feet of air, 90 mph drifts across the lakebed. On and on it went until we pulled back into the pit. The film crew interviewed me and I attempted to put my emotions and adrenaline into words.

The time came to capture some footage out in the desert. This is when what I think most current and aspiring racers will appreciate, occurred.  As the crew was staging shots I had plenty of time to chat with Bryce. Racer to racer. While we are both fully aware that he usually starts up front and my class is almost always near the back of the pack, there was a commonality, a shared sense of passion in our conversation. At one point I asked him directly, ‘Do you ever view this as a job?’ His reply is what I hope all drivers in his position would say. ‘I’m excited every single time I get to drive this thing. It is incredible what it can do and I can’t believe I get to race it.’ Those might not be his exact words but they’re pretty close. It wasn’t the only time he mentioned it either. He kept talking about how amazing the truck is and the incredible things it can do.

Like many of you I’ve spent countless hours watching TT videos online. Every time I race I make sure I find a way to watch them live on course before I get behind the wheel of my own truck.  There is a perception that driving a Trophy Truck is a point and shoot exercise and it only takes money to race one. Despite Bryce’s deference to the truck’s ability, I can attest it takes immense talent to drive one competitively. The suspension, the braking, and above all, the speed is everything you imagine it to be.  Controlling all of that is not easy. I no longer have to wonder what it feels like. When I’m old and gray I will vividly remember the first time I rode in a wide open Trophy Truck. It was a hot Monday morning in the beautifully harsh desert just south of Las Vegas. It was loud. It was fast. I was sweating and laughing.  The little kid in me couldn’t stop smiling. In the purest sense of the word, it was awesome.