McMillin Earns Vegas to Reno Victory in Tight Battle
The Great Basin desert of Nevada, a place so barren, discouraging and isolated that the U.S. Government thought it would be a great place to build top secret bases and develop and test experimental aircraft and weapons systems. Sounds like a great place to have an off-road race, right?
Long billed as the longest off-road race in the U.S., the Vegas to Reno enters its 20th anniversary this year, and to celebrate the milestone Best in the Desert made it 100 miles longer and created a new two-day format. The course traverses through some of the harshest and driest terrain in the U.S., passing through long abandon ghost towns where people once thought they’d find their fortunes, rock infested hills and silt-laden valleys. There is no reason you’d ever want to visit these places unless you do so at a 100 mph!
This year’s Vegas to Reno story is not only about the 20th running but also of the undefeated champ Jason Voss, the return of the prodigal son Andy McMillin and the sting of defeat, something that nearly half the 342 entries dealt with.
The first day of the race was basically treated as a 295-mile qualifier for day two. The top five moved around quite a bit, with BJ Baldwin coming out on top followed closely by Jason Voss, Andy McMillin, Bryce Menzies and Rob MacCachren. The stacked top five meant anyone could win should the others have the slightest problem.
From the start of day two through the first quarter of the race the positions stayed as they started. The first to fall out of contention was three-peat V2R champion Jason Voss with a mechanical problem.
It was up to McMillin to chase down Baldwin, who had set a fast pace for the finish. 2016 marked McMillin returned to racing full time this year after having taken off a few years, and he’s been in the hunt for the win in every race he’s entered. Narrowly missing out on the win at the Mint 400, he was determined to pull out all the stops. Before the end of the day, McMillin worked his way into the lead and was the able to secure the overall victory in the Trick Truck class.
"We had a pretty uneventful day one,” McMillin sad after the race. “[We were] battling the dust behind Voss and Rob Mac pretty much the whole day. We had a clean run and that's what we wanted to set ourselves up to be in a good position to charge and get the win on day two.
“I started third behind Voss and BJ. Voss had a puncture right after pit 1, and I set my sights on trying to close the gap on BJ. Unfortunately I suffered a puncture about 80 miles in and Bryce got by me. We kept charging hard knowing we had a long ways to go. Before Pit 10 in Mina, Bryce had a puncture and I was able to get him back. BJ was out front but came into Mina with a puncture, and we were able to close the gap pretty good on him.”
McMillin knew he was playing catch up with Baldwin on day two, and he not only needed to pass him but also put some additional time on his lead in order to win.
“We did a full fuel stop at Mina and took off trying to catch BJ,” McMillin said. “Because he beat me on Day 1 by 3:32, I had to pass him and put 1:33 on him in order to win. We caught up to him and then he suffered a double puncture and then we were first on the road with Bryce still 45 seconds behind us. We suffered another puncture just after Pit 11 Hawthorne, and Bryce got by, but then a half-mile later Bryce suffered a puncture and we were first on the road again.”
Once McMillin took the lead he stayed on the gas to the finish line, being mindful that one more flat could end his shot at victory.
“I put the hammer down from there all the way to the finish wanting to run fast but smart, he said. “It's my first win with my own team since 2011 and it feels amazing. Winning is difficult these days with such a talented field of drivers and teams, and when you do win you can truly say you are a top-notch team and that's a great feeling. To be able to get TSCO Racing their first win with their in-house built T-1 truck at the longest race in the U.S. and for all my new sponsors it is an unbelievable feeling. Now we have solid momentum going into the Baja 1000 and I can't wait to battle in November."
Coming in second overall was fastest qualifier Rob MacCachren, who admittedly doesn't like being on the pole and would rather run his opponents down then set the pace. Starting fifth on day two, MacCachren drove a solid race and brought his Geiser Trick Truck home for a spot on the box.
Josh Daniel, in his twin-turbo-equipped Trick Truck, took the third spot on the podium. It seems like Daniel has worked out all the bugs that plagued him early in the build and now has a solid platform that’s competitive. It looks like it’s only be a matter of time before he’s on the top of the box.
First in Class 1500 Unlimited and fourth overall was Cody Parkhouse in his Jimco buggy. One could say Cody isn't the flashiest driver out there but he is fast, steady and always in the hunt for the win. Starting third on day two Cody drove around both Harley Letner and CJ Hutchens for the unlimited buggy win.
"Other than fighting the dust on day one we had zero issues," Parkhouse said after the race. "Harley and CJ both broke on day two, and I was able to just drive to the finish and manage the splits behind me."
Following Parkhouse in Class 1500 was veteran racer and ironman driver Sam Berri who drove from the 18th starting position to 8th overall to earn second in class.
Jon Walker from Tamuning, Guam, took the third-place honors in Class 1500 in his Kreger built buggy.
The 20th Vegas to Reno is now in the books and it’s safe to say it was, as always, as tough as it ever. The Nevada desert isn’t something to be taken lightly, and the same goes for racing across its terrain. There is a good reason it’s used as training for the military, since it’s the harshest environment we have, and 345 racers tried their best to conquer it. Some did, some will come back next year and try again.