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Baker to Vegas runners will pass Saturday through Pahrump

For 35 years, neither rain nor snow nor dark of night, or even occasional March heat, has stopped the Baker to Vegas Challenge Cup Relay. Not even major construction on Highway 160 can stop it.

But it can cause one major change.

“Down the mountain, from the top of the Mountain Springs pass down to 159, is impossible to run with the construction,” race coordinator Chuck Foote said. “We’re going to pause right there and pick up on the other side

“They’ll be stopping at a position very close to the fire station on top of the mountain. It restarts down on the other side at our Stage 17 location. What I did to correct that is add a section at the very beginning on the Baker side of the race course so the distance is still 120 miles.”

As of Monday, 285 teams of law enforcement professionals were entered in the race. Once again, a team from Queensland, Australia, will be making the longest trip to participate, according to Ruben Gonzalez, the race director.

“You’ll know where the Aussies are, because they’re the loudest,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez, a detective in “real” life, is on the board of directors of the Los Angeles Police Revolver and Athletic Club, which serves every Los Angeles Police Department officer, sworn or retired. That is how he wound up with the task of overseeing the race, although he readily admits that Foote’s acumen and experience don’t leave him with much to do.

“I’m not sure exactly what my job is,” he joked. “I’m basically assisting Chuck to make sure he gets everything he needs from the club.

“Back in the beginning, they were keeping stats by pencil, and now we have GPS in the baton they exchange. With modern technology, we’re trying to make the race keep up with the times.”

Gonzalez noted that Foote’s relationships developed over the years come in handy, including one with Aggregate Industries, which is rebuilding lanes on Highway 160.

“This year we had a huge obstacle at Stages 14, 15 and 16 with the construction Aggregate is doing,” Gonzalez said. “Chuck did a fantastic job with Aggregate and the DOT to make sure our race could continue without any hiccups.”

“We’re going to run on the part that they’re working on,” Foote said.

That stretch includes Leg 15, the longest of the race, which starts at Tecopa Road and covers 10.7 miles, gradually steepening over the final 8 miles.

Gonzalez said more than 1,000 volunteers help make the race happen, but none of it would have happened without Foote.

“I hope it continues to run this smooth,” Gonzalez said. “This is Chuck Foote’s last year with us. He’s trying to keep the limelight off of him and on the race. And that’s Chuck in a nutshell for the past 35 years.”

Fittingly, Foote will wrap up his tenure by crossing the finish line.

“He runs for a team called Old Blue, and he’s running this year what I like to call the glory leg,” Gonzalez said. “Leg 20, the final leg. Chuck should be getting the loudest ovation as he enters the convention area.”

Foote said the most time-consuming part of coordinating the race is “everything.”

“The hardest part is always getting answers back from people,” he said. “I’m an old-school guy. I call you, you call me.”

The LAPRAAC already knows who will move into Foote’s role next year, and he is already involved in the operation.

“A big part of this year is he’s been helped by the gentleman that will take over race duties from him, Tony Adler,” Gonzalez said. “I know we’re in good hands with Tony next year, but when you go from a legend — and that’s what Chuck Foote really is — you’re always preparing for a couple of minor hiccups. It’s almost like when the Dodgers went from Tommy Lasorda to Bill Russell. Tony will pick it up, but nobody knows this like Chuck.”

One thing will remain the same, and that’s what compels people from all over to gather in the desert to run a leg of a 120-mile relay race.

“This is just one weekend where we put it all aside and we’re all there together, competing against each other, but once the race is over we’re all there together, knowing that we all stand on the same side of the line,” Gonzalez said. “It’s their way to pay respects to anybody who has ever worn the uniform that has fallen in the line of duty. It’s a sense of pride, teamwork, camaraderie, not just with their division but with fellow cops from everywhere.”

The race will start at 8 a.m. Saturday, with the first runner expected to reach Stage 12 at Highway 372 and Blagg Road at roughly 6 p.m. The last runner is expected to leave Stage 13, 4 miles east of Pahrump on Highway 160, at roughly 1:35 a.m. Sunday.

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