Mad Hops! King James Has Nothing on These Dudes in the Desert Classic!
Words and photos by Mike Ingalsbee
LeBron James wishes he had the hops of the racers in the Laughlin Desert Classic! It was there in the desert that a battle for supremacy among the two unlimited classes went down featuring awesome aerials. Desert racing courses are known for being extremely arduous and this one was no different.
Typically filled with rocks, deep holes, and loose dirt, the unlimited Trick Trucks have a big advantage due to their rear suspension and live axle design. The solid rear axle allows the driveshaft and four-link rear suspension to cycle somewhere around 36 inches. When coupled with a similarly stout front suspension, and 600 to 800 horsepower, the combination has ruled supreme in the desert classic for many years.
The big trucks simply overpower the terrain.
Their closest competitors for top speed, the unlimited open-wheel class 1500 cars, have a rear transaxle design. The travel of their rear suspension is limited by the maximum operating angle of the CV joints found on their independent rear axles. While their lower center of gravity is an advantage in the turns, the unlimited cars cannot keep up with the Trick Trucks when the course is rough and the holes are deep.
When left to its natural state, desert race courses develop undulating bumps of random frequency and size known as whoops. It’s unknown how the term was initially coined, but some say it was because of the outcome when hitting the bumps too fast; the result would be a “whoops”.
The practice of grading the race courses in the Best in the Desert classic series has changed the game over the years. Because of the short 16 mile length of the race course in Laughlin, very little natural terrain remains. Even the turns have evolved into banked, sweeping curves, instead of sharp corners. The result is a Hot Wheels track that favors flat out speed instead of the Trick Trucks’ long travel suspension.
The track is smooth and fast, but it’s not flat everywhere. There are several spots on the course where it follows the hills and valleys typical of the desert floor. With a fast and smooth take-off and landing, the cars and trucks were hitting these natural jumps at speed and quite literally flying. When combined with the man-made jumps in the infield area, competitors spent a lot of time in the air all weekend.
The heat race format further pushes the drivers to run flat out. Only four laps per heat on Saturday, and then again on Sunday, leaves no time for strategy or patience. If you have to stop in the pits, your chances of a podium go out the window at the desert classic.
With the unique set of conditions, the class 1500 cars were looking to make a statement, and they did. Not only did Pat Dean run the fastest time in qualifying in his open wheel car, but the overall fastest time in the race was captured by Harley Letner in his class 1500 car.
The Trick Trucks take both of those positions on a regular basis. Defending Trick Truck Champion Jason Voss put another race in the win column, but top speed bragging rights went to Dean and Letner.