BITD Vegas to Reno

August 16th, 2013

Vegas to Reno has truly become a classic event on the off-road schedule, and one of my personal favorites, as there is a very wide variety of terrain; winding mountain roads, sweeping sand washes, and of course, wide open straightaways make up this five hundred forty mile race, touted as the longest point to point off-road race in the United States. 

David and I have enjoyed a good run of form in the Best In The Desert series thus far, taking the overall win in the first three rounds, but after drawing a fourth place start pick there was no denying we were going to have our work cut out. The dust, especially in the still-morning air, forms a massive haze that can hang for minutes, forcing the party in the rear to back down their pace in the interest of self preservation. It may cause a bit of a challenge, but it’s one we felt we could overcome.

The Beta team of Nick Burson and Justin Morrow would be first off the line (lucky boys), Robert Underwood and Adam Thissen would take off second, and the team of Ty Renshaw and Ricky Brabec would start ahead of us in third. With one-minute intervals separating each team, it meant we’d have to finish within three minutes of the Beta to win the overall, but our main objectives would be to stay safe in the early morning wall of dust and hopefully make our way to the front in a timely manner.

David started the race and as the bikes arrived at pit two, there wasn’t much surprise in the fact that the running order was unchanged, but to my chagrin the Beta was pulling away. It was too early to pay much attention to the time gaps; still about five hundred miles to go.

My first stint was pretty uneventful. I was able to make time on the two bikes ahead of me, basically running right up to the edge of their dust, but I lost a few more seconds to the Beta. It was still early days though, no worries yet.

Dave rode from pit four to six and in that run both he and Ricky were able to pass the Underwood/Thissen team and reel in the Beta slightly. Things were looking up. I mounted the bike and took off after Ty. Again my pace was dictated slightly by the dust; I would get just close enough to catch a glimpse of Ty, then the course would turn, the dust would hang, and I’d have to back it down. The team made a great decision in the following pit to do our major maintenance early in the hopes of giving me some clean air to run back up to Ty and pass him in the pits. The maintenance went very smoothly and I was able to make some time back up on Ty, but the Beta team was riding really well and I could only pull a few seconds on them. There was still just under half the race to go, but the Beta was over five minutes ahead on adjusted time. We needed to get into second place.

After switching with David at pit eight, I awaited his arrival at pit ten. Ty and Ricky still hadn’t stopped to perform any maintenance, but with the Beta stopping for theirs, the race had closed to within three minutes adjusted (six minutes physically) and I knew Ty was going to push it as far as he could. With David coming in just under thirty seconds behind Ricky (and Ty jumping on) I knew I would have to make the pass quickly if I hoped to put necessary time on the leaders.

The course headed up a windy sand wash and I closed up to within five seconds of Ty, I could see him, but I just couldn’t get close enough to push past his dust. I was getting frustrated, yelling at the wind to give me a break and blow just a little bit harder. In an ironic twist, right about that time the course changed direction while simultaneously hopping onto a freshly drug, silty road and the dust got that much thicker. My frustration was palpable.

Luckily I was able to stay fairly close and the course changed direction again, this time to my benefit as the dust was carrying off to the side, and I closed the gap yet again. We hopped into a fast sand wash and I was right behind Ty, right in the thick of his dust. I couldn’t see the ground I was hitting, I was simply focused on the back of Ty’s jersey, riding directly in his track and hoping he wouldn’t hit something that I couldn’t see. For about a quarter of a mile I sat just behind him, unable to make much time as we were both flat out, but as the wash started to wind a bit I had the opportunity to gage Ty’s speed and close up even more. As we exited a right-handed bend I maintained a little more speed and as we accelerated up the next straightaway, I was sitting all over the rear fender, willing the bike faster as I pulled up along side. I wasted no time in making an authoritative pass, cutting across the front of Ty in an effort to force him to back down and I completed the pass. I finally had a clear path to reel in the lead bike.

For the next thirty miles I felt great, but one of the consequences of riding in the dust is the inclination to drag the rear brake (due to the stabilizing effect dragging the brake has on the handling of the bike in terrain when you’re unsure of what you’re hitting), which I know I was doing, and that can lead to the brake overheating and losing feel; unfortunately for me the rear brake started fading… a lot. Within a few miles the brake pedal was pushing the limit of its range, though it was still just functioning. I can’t say it slowed me down too much because the section didn’t call for much cornering, but in certain instances I did notice I was adjusting my braking points, and as most can attest, when you’re riding on unfamiliar equipment, it can take a percent or two away from your pace. All that aside, based on Nick’s track, he was hanging it out, riding really well, and I can’t say that had I possessed a perfectly functioning rear brake I would have made much more time on him.

With just around seventy miles to go the lead was just under four and a half minutes (1:24 on adjusted) so as I gave the bike to David, it was all on his shoulders to make ninety seconds on the Beta and get us the victory.

Over the radio we heard the gap was down to three minutes at the final pit, give or take. That meant with forty-five miles to go, and Justin hopping on the Beta, it was literally a dead heat. The emotion in the chase van was that of confidence: I knew David has unrivalled speed, especially in Nevada, but also that of slight reservation: Justin had been riding extremely well all day and was no doubt going to be riding out of his skin to get the win. As we approached the finish area, the anticipation was through the roof.

We hopped out of the van to head over to the line and heard the announcer come over the loud speaker, “N2 takes the win by just six seconds.” Justin held on to it by undoubtedly the narrowest of margins.

After working as hard as David and I had all day, to come so close and just miss out on taking top honors was a bitter pill to swallow, but in the same breathe, I’m very happy for Justin and Nick. They rode like maniacs all day, had a smooth run and earned every bit of their glory. It’s also cool to see the Beta brand showing their equipment is competitive and congratulations to the team for earning their first win in the series. Of course mine and David’s main focus is to end the day victorious, to represent our sponsors and supporters to the best of our ability; though we weren’t able to achieve the victory, I’m very proud of the effort we both put in all day and would definitely like to thank the team: Western Design, THR Motorsports, Precision Concepts for the support they gave us as well. Thank you to my personal sponsors: Fox Racing, USWE Hydration Systems, PODmx knee braces, Northland Motorsports, THR Motorsports, Ryan Abbatoye Designs, and ATP Mechanix supplements for their continued support and effort.

On a personal note, I’m closing in on one of the most important days of my life to date: marrying my fiancé Katie. I’m excited to share the day with friends and family and finally tie that knot!

Robby Bell

Thank you to all the Precision Concepts, Alamo Alarm Kawasaki team sponsors: FMF Exhaust, GPR Stabilizers, IMS Racing, BRP Triple Clamps, AME Grips, Kalgard Oils/Lubricants, Ryan Abbatoye Designs, AP Brakes, LAPC Pistons, Renthal Handlebars/Sprockets, Dunlop Tires, VP Racing Fuels, DT1 Air Filters, K&N Oil Filters, Hinson, Matrix Concepts, RK/Excel, Acerbis, Works Connection, Zip-Ty Racing, SealSavers, Baja Designs

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