2010 BITD Bluewater Desert Challenge Off-Road Race
Best in the Desert made some significant changes to its traditional schedule for 2010 that included dropping the Terrible Town 250 in Primm, Nevada, in favor of a brand new race in Parker, Arizona, the Bluewater Desert Challenge which drew 183 entries for its maiden run.
The 27-mile course was made up of 60% of new racecourse combined with 40% that is run at the Parker 425 held each February. The course featured many new landmarks including The Matterhorn, John Wayne's Gorge, the Haunted House, Course Cutter Wash and the Snake Pit.
The race would follow a format similar to SCORE's Laughlin Desert Challenge and SNORE's Rage at the River with two days of racing on a shorter-than-normal desert course, with the racers being broken up into heats of similar speed vehicles. Five heats filled each day’s racing, with all classes doing three laps of the fast, 27-mile course except Jeepspeed, Sportsman, UTV, 5100 and Stock Mini, which did two laps.
The action opened Thursday morning with a 2.8-mile Time Trial course. As is often the case, the course favored small light buggies over large trucks with a tight, technical course with lots of soft sand and silt. In addition to the Class 1500s and Trick Truck, Class 1100, Class 1000 and Class 7200 would race for starting spots on the course.
Qualifying ace Sam Berri laid down the fastest time of all and took the pole for the Class 1500 race with a time of 3:27.6, with T.J. Flores 2 seconds back and Ray Griffith just 1/10th of a second behind Flores. Andy McMillin took the honors in Trick Truck with a time of 3:32.5, with Pete Sohren 7/10th back in second and B.J. Baldwin another 1.3 seconds behind Sohren.
In Class 1100, Rick St. John checked out and left the field behind him on both Saturday and Sunday. His combined time of 3:25:44.8 handily won the class by 20 minutes over rookie driver Steve Lisa, who had his first race in the class after buying the car last week. Matt Laughlin finished 40 minutes behind St John. In Class 2000, Patrick Nirschl took the win with a time of 3:37:54.5, just 97 seconds ahead of Quentin Tucker. Ryan Mattox rounded out the podium in third.
Parker local Trent Beaver took the honors in Class 8100, also known as Stock Full, with a time of 4:06:41.6. Randy Merritt finished second in 4:19:18.1 with Tim Casey in third at 4:28:32.3. Coming into the race, Casey and Merritt were first and second in points leaving them a final shootout in Henderson for the year-end title.
The unlimited buggies of Class 1500 had their own race as the fourth of the day, and the racers put on a show that did not disappoint. Many big names from the class were on hand including the Croll's, T.J. Flores, Pat Dean, Sam Berri, Chuck Hovey, Adam Pfankuch and Steve Raskett. On Saturday, pole-sitter Sam Berri jumped out to an early lead in the clean air and was running strong before dropping out with mechanical problems on lap one. Flores then inherited the lead but he too ended his day early when ripped the left side of the car off after hitting a huge stump near John Wayne's Gorge. After more competitors dropped out with broken cars, Loren Brown took the win in his Foddrill chassis with a time of 1:28:42.7, followed by Brian McDonnell 90 seconds back and Pfankuch five seconds back in third.
Brown got the clear air on Sunday and led wire to wire to take the win with a total time of 2:55:00, two and a half minutes ahead of McDonnell and Pfankuch again third 10 seconds back. The top three were separated by only 25 seconds on the Sunday race.
The marquee Trick Truck race was the final event each day, and even with the Baja 1000 just weeks away, the top guns were still drawn to the new Parker venue. Andy McMillin made the best of his pole position and had put 50 seconds on second-place Pete Sohren by race mile five. Sohren would soon drop out of the race with engine issues, putting B.J. Baldwin in into second to chase McMillin. However, the Baldwin crew made a miscalculation on fuel loads and had added about 300 pounds more fuel than was needed to complete the three laps and the extra weight cost Baldwin significant time.
"Yesterday we put way too much fuel in the truck," Baldwin said at the conclusion of the weekend. "We made a mistake and did not find out about until after the race. In the sand, the weight slowed us way down. It was about 35 gallons over, almost full. That did not help, coming into the corners and under braking, and powering out of the corners, were all slower. We were fighting for forward traction. "
McMillin took advantage of Baldwin's error and drove an extremely fast and smooth race though the very rough course to take the win on Saturday, 2 minutes and 59 seconds over Baldwin. For Sunday's race, McMillin became a spectator as Steve Sourapas took over the driving duties of the Corona-sponsored Geiser truck, while Baldwin would continue to pilot the General Tire Stout chassis. The two started side by side, but Sourapas made a mistake on a jump just off the line giving Baldwin the holeshot and he never looked back. Knowing he had three minutes to make up to take the win Baldwin gave it everything he had as he almost drove the wheels off the truck over the three laps while increasing the distance on his competition with each one. In the process Baldwin laid down the fastest lap of the weekend with a 24:24.2.
Despite the rough start Sourapas was not giving up while trying to stay within three minutes of Baldwin. When the checkers flew all was tense at the finish as a large crowd gathered to await the official verdict from BITD. Baldwin's epic voyage would fall 47 seconds short of the mark giving the win to McMillin/Sourapas and also giving Sourapas his first win in trophy truck and his first desert win since SCORE Laughlin 2001. McMillin was all smiles at the finish when we spoke to him.
"It was fun man, we were hauling ass,” he said. “ It was pretty intense out there, like Laughlin. It was as fast as I can drive. I drove as hard as I could, all day long, on rev limiter in every gear, trying to make up as much time as possible. Steve (Sourapas) today did a hell of a job. He was 2:11 behind BJ at mile 3 but he held on. It's his first win in Trick Truck and we are so happy to get the monkey off our back."
"It started out a little rough, lap one was pretty pitiful" Sourapas said while still in the truck at the finish. "I did not do a great job. Lap two I settled down a bit and lap three was a pretty dog-gone good lap. I don't have that much time in the truck driving it really hard, so that last lap, I'm real proud of it. I did not have a chance to see the course ahead of time and BJ did and he made the most of it. He had a great start, and he ran hard." Noting the damage to the front of his truck, he said, "I hit a big rock at the bridge, I plowed right into it on lap two."
"Today we did not make that mistake. We put just the right amount of fuel in it and we will be lucky to get it on the trailer from here," Baldwin said speaking of his fueling error on the first day. "That is as fast as I can go, that is the BJ Baldwin show right there. Even though we got second, I did the best I could."
The course itself was a hot topic among drivers with its limited passing zones, massive deterioration, huge silt holes and fast corners, but despite all that it was a big hit with the majority of them and they are looking forward the race in 2011.
The BITD series resumes December 3rd with the Transwest Ford Henderson 250, which is also the season finale. For more information, visit www.bitd.com.