For a weekend in January, I became an official member of Joe Bacal’s JTGrey racing team, who are entering the 2012 SCORE off-road season with a brand new LX 570 race truck. The following is the final installment of a three part series detailing my experience (link to Part One, Link to Part Two).
The day starts simply enough — after a couple cereal bars and some butterflies for breakfast, I head down through the hotel’s ground floor casino in my racing suit to meet Joe and the gang in the parking garage.
Everyone’s still keyed up from Saturday’s second place finish, and now that Joe & Engineer Bryan have rewired the ECU, the only hiccup left is the LX shifting in automatic mode. As we head over to the race track, Joe makes it clear that he’s going full on for the win.
The competitors in our Stock Full class are both Fords — Wes Bevly and his silver #860 F-150, and Mark Stein with his #861 F-150. Bevly was yesterday’s winner and the 2011 Champion, so he’s the one to watch. He’s also first off the starting line — fifteen seconds later, we’re next to launch out the gate.
As scary as it may sound to be running full-bore over giant sand dunes in a huge SUV with no windshield, the experience is surprisingly peaceful. Even with so many trucks racing the course at the same time, there’s little in the way of traffic, and any passing is done in a mostly polite manner. The first lap goes by in a blink of an eye, and with it, my nervous energy fades into the background.
For our second lap, we focus on catching Wes Bevly, who started fifteen seconds ahead of us but now appears to have stretched the lead, his Ford a silver speck in the distance. Joe weaves through the track trying to avoid the deep ruts left by the previous day’s Trophy Truck race, and we continue to close in on Bevly — but in a particularly difficult corner, Mark Stein and his #861 F150 slice past us to take second place.
Exiting the turn, it’s clear that Stein is driving at his limit — where Joe is balanced and careful, Stein weaves erratically, just trying to keep us behind him. As soon as the track evens out, we blow past him easily, and thus begins my first racing dogfight, with Stein & Joe trading position back and forth. Then, as we enter in the third to last corner of the second lap, Stein disappears from our rear-view mirror — soon enough, we see the #861 Ford pulled off to the side and out of the running. “You don’t win if you don’t finish,” Joe tells me over the radio.
It’s not until the middle of the third lap that we spot Bevly and his silver #860 Ford. The time separating us (which I now calculate to be roughly forty seconds) looks insurmountable, but we keep steady and maintain our composure — soon enough, Joe has chipped away at Bevly’s lead and we’re now staring at his Ford’s taillights.
It’s at this point that luck smiles on us — as we pass the start line for our fourth lap, Bevly pulls off to the sidelines, his #860 truck overheated and unable to continue. Joe’s patience has paid off, and we are now in first place.
We ease up in the fourth lap, with Joe pacing the LX to ensure that we complete the race — that is, until we see Bevly back in the race and closing in on us. With one lap to go, the race is back on.
At first, I try to talk logic — after all, not only does Bevly need to pass us, he also has to make up his fifteen second head-start at the beginning of the race — but Joe isn’t listening, and the radio chatter between us goes silent as he focuses on maintaining his lead. For the first time during the race, I think back to the crashing truck video Joe showed me the day before.
In the end, it’s not much of a contest — we set the fastest time of the day in that last lap and take first place, winning the Stock Full class by exactly forty seconds over Bevly.
Even as a passenger, I’m extremely proud of the victory – to go from such a low point on Friday to winning the race on Sunday doesn’t just make for a good story, it shows the dedication of Joe and his team. Even on a relatively short course like Laughlin, off-road racing is all about endurance, and that’s something both Joe and his LX have proven to possess.
“We worked so hard on this new build, and this weekend made it all worth it,” he tells me after the race, “I wasn’t really sure we would even finish on Saturday or Sunday, but we persevered. The LX charged like a freight train.”
My eternal thanks to Joe, Teresa, & the entire JTGrey team for giving me this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, to Brian Gill for more than just putting this together, and to Lexus for making it all possible.