LAS VEGAS, Nev. — On their 30-year anniversary of racing together, Mitchell Motorsports celebrated with a respectable finish at the Best in the Desert Vegas to Reno race Aug. 16. In a time of 10 hours 48 minutes, the team crossed the finish line eighth in class and 19th overall out of 98 vehicles that completed the longest off-road race in the United States.
Owner and driver of the #1514 unlimited buggy Mike Mitchell began the milestone race weekend at time trials Aug. 14 where he qualified 23rd out of 57 unlimited trucks and buggies.
“We ended up around where we wanted to be for qualifying,” said Mitchell. “It was a good place to be for that long of a race.”
The team’s race day strategy was to run fairly conservative for the first half of the course and then race the second half hard. Everything was going according to plan until about half-way into the course when the car started to develop a fuel pressure problem that would negatively impact their speed for the remainder of the race. It took a few pit stops and servicing a couple fuel filters before they realized the fuel pressure regulator was the cause of the problem.
“Until the fuel pressure problem first occurred, we were running about fifth in class and 11th overall,” said Mitchell. “The issue stopped us one last time about 12 miles form the finish. We just couldn’t get up that last rocky hill and that’s when we figured out what was really going on with it. We did a quick fix with some vice grips and were able to still finish in the top 20 overall.”
Despite the fuel pressure issue, it was a nice, easy, flat-free day for Mitchell who drove the entire 543-mile course; his first competition in the car known as Bad Betty in over 10 months. Dennis Silvers started in the navigator seat and turned it over at pit 7 to Mike’s son Clay Mitchell who completed the race.
“No matter how much time away from the car, it only takes about a mile for it to all come back,” Mitchell said. “The focus and concentration needed to race return pretty quickly once you get behind that wheel.”
It didn’t hurt that Mitchell and Bad Betty’s return to racing was supported by an experienced, talented and knowledgeable crew that executed both the normal pit stop routine and the plan to tackle the fuel pressure issue flawlessly.
“All of the guys in the pits did a killer job. The fuel stops were fast, smooth and efficient. The issue with the fuel pressure was handled as swiftly as it could be. We could have lost more positions had we burned up more time during our pit stops,” he said. “The beauty of it all comes from us racing for so many years together. You don’t have to wonder if someone knows what to do, they just know it.”
Those many years of racing together for teammates Mitchell, Silvers and Jon Lee began at the 1983 High Desert Racing Association Frontier 500 which would later become the Vegas to Reno race of today. Lee’s class 7S truck was used to compete in that first race. Since then, they’ve also raced a class 7 4×4 truck, a Baja bug, dirt bikes, a 7200 truck and an unlimited buggy for the HDRA, La Rana, BITD, Bonneville Off-Road Association, SCORE International and American Motorcycle Association series.
It was those earlier class 7 trucks of the 1980’s that helped earn the team the attribution “Never say die team.” When it came to finishing a race, this group did whatever it took to make it happen – even if it meant harvesting parts for the race truck from the vehicle that transported them to the race. During a number of races, a crew truck or two would be left, disabled, on the side of the highway in the middle of the race only to be put back together in time to travel home.
Today, there may be some newer, and younger, faces working with this band of brothers, but the team mentality and drive hasn’t changed. And, the details of that first race may have grown murky in 30 years, but returning to and conquering the race that began it all shows that this group of long-time friends and racing partners is not slowing down anytime soon.
Photo by Brian Binkert