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Vegas to Reno has new champion

Off-road racer Andy McMillin hadn’t gotten a win all year in the Best in the Desert series. Last Saturday he changed that by beating three-time consecutive winner Jason Voss in this year’s General Tire Best in the Desert Vegas to Reno Race.

Car problems prevented Voss from four-peating the race in this year’s 20th anniversary edition. According to 1500 Class racer Pat McCarthy, Voss had problems early on in the race.

“I saw him come into the pit at Hawthorne and he was broken down,” McCarthy said. “He was looking for his pit crew.” Voss unofficially finished 99th overall and 24th in class.

The 29-year-old McMillin, of San Diego and Brady Thompson, of Oceanside, won the overall two-day event with a time of 8 hours, 36 minutes. He was first out of 342 cars racing in the event.

“So stoked that we are the unofficial overall winners,” McMillin posted on his Facebook page. “The truck was on point, the team was on point, it all just came together and I am so pumped to give everyone involved in my program our first win of 2016!!! Special thanks to all the volunteers on the team and to my family for all the support. I couldn’t do it without all of you!”

At the mid-point of the race in Tonopah, McMillin was doing well with no car problems.

“Had a great Day 1,” McMillin posted on Facebook. “Not sure where we ended up on time, but we had a trouble-free day and just battled dust throughout the day. Hopefully we’re somewhere in the top 5. The TSCO Racing team has given me an excellent truck and we’re going to give it hell tomorrow.”

TSCO Racing is owned by the Weyhrich brothers, Gary and Mark Weyhrich, who are both known for racing in Best in the Desert series. At one time, the race was sponsored by TSCO and the brothers won the race in 2007.

According to Russ Turner, spokesman for BITD, McMillin has his own team.

“McMillin and his team race for TSCO. Kind of a hired gun situation to promote the new TSCO-built Trick Trucks,” Turner said. “TSCO now competes with Geiser Bros., Jimco and Racer Engineering among the Trick Truck/Trophy Truck chassis manufacturers.”

For the most part, the 650-mile BITD Vegas to Reno race went smoothly with one exception.

The negotiations with the BLM had the racers driving through the Basin and Range National Monument but when it came race day, 70 miles of the course had to be eliminated due to a military helicopter crash that took place overnight on the course. The change forced the racers to trailer their vehicles at pit one and transfer the vehicles to pit two where they would then unload and resume the race.

McCarthy said the transfer went smoothly for his team and was no big deal.

Voss proved that driving fast on this unpredictable course can hurt you. He has always said that to win Vegas to Reno your vehicle has to last.

Fowler Racing agreed with Voss and said the secret to winning is finishing the race.

“Got to finish by running a smart race,” Mike Sasaki of Fowler Racing said. Sasaki was the navigator. “You have to not put the truck through a lot of stress.”

As far as prepping the car, Brendan Fowler, the driver in Fowler racing, said you can never do enough.

“So the idea is to drive smarter, not harder,” Fowler said. “Anyone can go the fastest. When you go too fast you break stuff.”

He added, “You run clean and conservative and so far this strategy has got us to the finish line.”

Sasaki and Fowler did just that and finished the race at 133rd overall and 9th in the 8100 class.

John Angal was another finisher that just wanted to finish. He raced last year in a different class and finished as a Best in the Desert Champion in the Pro Production Class car.

He said he changed classes this year “to experience more”. Going into the race he felt good about his team’s prepping of the vehicle.

“I don’t think we will have any problems tomorrow,” he said before the race. “I think if we take care of the car and if we don’t drive too crazy we will be racing and crossing the line.”

He said racing at top speed will beat up the car.

“My strategy is to do the best I can,” Angal said. “Race smart and try to be there at the finish. I want to push it where I can, go slow when I have to and easy in the dirt.”

Angal’s efforts paid off and he finished 32nd, fifth in the 6100 class.

McCarthy, who was leading his class (1500) in points on day one, was one of those drivers where nothing went well for his team. On day one he broke a fan belt, but still managed to make good time and go from 47th to 37th.

Day two is when the problems became unsurmountable.

“We started the day shredding our fan belt and we thought we had fixed it,” McCarthy said. “Then we noticed at the pit that we were missing a bracket for it and we fixed that. But a new problem came up when we left the pit. The steering started acting up.”

McCarthy lost power steering and had his steering pump replaced, then lost it again.

“At Hawthorne we noticed we had sheared up to six bolts on the steering rack and that’s when I saw Jason Voss,” McCarthy said. “He was kind enough to lend us a whole steering rack, but the truck racks are too big and so we didn’t take the part.” McCarthy decided not to continue the race.

“It wasn’t safe to continue,” he said. “We were frustrated, but we still had a heck of a time in Tonopah. I got to be with all the friends I have met over the years and it was a heck of a barbecue and great time. It was well worth it despite not finishing.”

Contact sports editor Vern Hee at vhee@pvtimes.com

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