Fort Mill, SC – August 15, 2012. It’s dry, hot, rocky and at times treacherous. It’s the Nevada desert and it will become the playground for over 300 participants in this weekend’s General Tire Vegas to Reno off-road race. The Best In The Desert (BITD) Series returns to competition this Friday with Team GT leading the charge to the top of the podium. And at the front of the Team GT line is Camburg Racing with driver’s Jerry Zaiden and Jerry Whelchel. Zaiden and Whelchel will tag team behind the wheel of their Class 6100 truck for the 535-mile journey that is noted as the longest race in the US. The duo could taste victory last year but a mistake in the closing miles cost them the overall win. This year they’re looking stronger than ever with a new truck, a take no prisoners attitude, and over 30 years of experience behind them. We chatted with Zaiden to get his perspective on the General Tire Vegas to Reno race and here’s what he had to say:
Q: You have built a new vehicle and are moving from Trophy Trucks to the 6100 Class. Why make the move now and what do you see for the future of the 6100 class?
We took the same Trophy Truck we had and made some changes to lighten it up. We’ve put in the new Chevy LS3 engine and their calling the class the Trick Truck Spec (or 6100). I was asked by BITD to give input on rules for the class and what I thought would be good for the class to grow. Now, after driving the truck, it’s not that much slower than it was with the big Trophy Truck engine. It’s a fun vehicle to drive with good power and it’s affordable. I think the changes will be good because it’s going to come down to the driver, the team preparation, the vehicle, and logistics in the pits. It’s going to make it a team sport.
Q: There is no pre-running allowed for Vegas to Reno so how do you prepare for this race, especially with a new truck?
Having no pre-running is kind of bitter sweet. It gives us more time to focus on preparing the truck and dialing it in. The negative is we don’t have good notes of what’s going on with the course right now. But we’ve been on a majority of the course before and we know where the bumps are and basically how the General tires, Eibach shocks, etc. are going to handle them. The good thing is, we can’t see the course but the competition can’t either. So we’re equal in that way. It comes down to experience, which we know we have.
Q: Have you ever run this course before? What are some of the more challenging parts of the course in your estimation?
We haven’t run the exact course. However, every year the course shows the same terrain. The very beginning is challenging because your adrenalin is going. While we’re starting first in our class, the challenge comes when we start behind the slower classes and have to pick them off one-by-one in the dust. Towards the end it’s going to get challenging because it gets twisty, windy and rocky. The challenge is the rocks especially with the monsoon rains, they become really sharp. When your truck is handling well, it comes down to patience. We were leading the overall last year and a couple driving mistakes near the finish put us out of it. We have to stay patient.
Q: There are a lot of pit areas slated. How will pit strategy factor into this weekend’s race?
Pit strategy is going to change for us. The new engine gets much better fuel economy so we’re going to use our pits to test. We’ll have two main pits, one around mile 175 and another around mile 350. Fuel wise it won’t play a lot into our outcome. Strategy for us will come down more to our vehicle in the race. We’ll use our pits as a gauge since everything is so new with new engine.
Q: Camburg Engineering is known as a leader in off-road suspension systems and is a leader in technology and design in the industry. From your perspective, what goes into preparing a truck for a race like Vegas to Reno?
It’s about running the highest quality parts available, Eibach shocks and spring, KMC Wheels, General tires, and Camburg suspension. You have to have a tough truck that can handle a lot. Proven parts, that’s what it’s going to come down to. Having the best equipment and being able to push it to the extreme, that’s what will win the General Tire Vegas to Reno race.
Q: Talk about the experience level of the Camburg drivers and how that can translate into a win at the General Tire Vegas to Reno race.
Jerry Whelchel has raced more off-road races and won more off-road races than anyone out there. We’re dealing with the 2008 BITD Trick Truck champion and I believe he’s won the General Tire Vegas to Reno race before too. Whelchel is a seasoned driver with over 30 years of experience. Personally, I’ve raced four times at the General Tire Vegas to Reno race with my best result being a fifth-place finish. Having Whelchel in the truck coupled with the technology…it’s going to be great. As long as we don’t have bad luck we should be in good shape. We were leading the overall last year and 50 miles out, while passing someone else, we ended up in the dust. I think we have a great shot at a win this year.
Q: On a long road trip, most people would stop at a fast food location for a burger, fries and a soda. This is the longest off-road race in America – do you take any snacks with you?
We’re heavily stocked up on Monster Energy drink and we eat pretty healthy. There will be sandwiches and hamburgers at the main pits and in the truck we’ll have protein energy bars and plenty of Monster.
Q: What would it mean to Camburg to win the General Tire Vegas to Reno race?
The General Tire Vegas to Reno race is the most prestigious off-road race in America. There are over 300 entries and in my opinion, it ranks right up there with races like Dakar, the Indy 500 and the Daytona 500. It’s the pinnacle of our sport in the US and to win it would definitely say a lot about our team and the products that we run. A win would be a testament to the quality of the partners we have. It would be amazing!
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