On January 31 in Johnson Valley, CA., the desert racers showed up to kick up some sand!
The Toyo Tires Desert Invitational Presented by Monster Energy kicked off an action-packed week of racing featuring the biggest purse in desert racing. $270,000 in prize money was awarded across T1, T2, B1, B2, B3, and Class 11 vehicles.
Saturday kicked off with qualifying for all classes before the B2 vs B3 Grudge Match. Confused by the alphabet soup? T1s are unlimited desert racing trucks, while T2s use a sealed crate engine to keep costs down and level the playing field. B1s are unlimited class buggies (B for buggy, T for truck) but unlike the T1 trucks the B1s typically use a rear engine and a transaxle. The exception is 4WD vehicles from the 4400 class, such as Paul Horschel’s Bronco buggy. B2 buggies use rear mounted four-cylinder Ecotec engines and B3 buggies are UTVs such as Can-Am Maverick X3s.
Racing on Saturday consisted of the B2 vs B3 Grudge Match, which stems from UTVs having to start behind the B2s in most races, even if they qualify faster than the B2s. Despite a greater number of B3 entries, four of the top five qualifiers were B2 buggies, with Chase Warren setting the fast time over the five-mile qualifying course. These results proved to be foreshadowing for how the main race would play out over 304 miles of punishing terrain in Johnson Valley OHV Area. Only seven of the 39 entries in the B2 vs B3 Grudge Match finished before the eight-hour time cutoff. While they did not have to contend with the boulder strewn Hammers trails, there were still enough punishing rocks and whoops to give an advantage to the B2 cars, which benefit from taller tires and additional shock absorbers. The 4WD capabilities of B3s give them an advantage in situations where traction is limited, such as silt beds, but those were a non-issue after heavy rains pummeled the Mojave Desert in the week prior to the race.
The first three vehicles across the finish line were single seat B2 cars, with Wheeler Morgan taking home the victory and a total of $60,000 for his efforts. “We ran flawless today, no mechanical issues,” Morgan reported. “We had one tire change scheduled on the end of lap three. And yeah, it was a clean day just kind of kept finding ourselves moving forward and had a lot of fun doing it.” Kyle Cheney was the top finisher in B3 in his Can-Am Maverick X3, finishing 45 minutes behind Morgan and earning himself $10,000 for being the top B3. “I really wanted to win that fifty grand for the overall,” Cheney confessed, “but I’ve never raced like actual desert and man those B2 buggies freakin’ rip so I’m like, okay, I’ll just try to win the UTV race so I will just forget about winning the overall. But man, my Can-Am did awesome today!”
EMPI Class 11 Showdown
The racing wasn’t over after the sun went down, it just moved from the desert to the short course, where the EMPI Class 11 Showdown Presented by Baja Jerky played out under the lights of Hammertown. Class 11 VW Bugs were a big hit with the fans on the lakebed and at home following on the live show. A dozen full-bodied Bugs with minimal modifications took part in a shotgun start on their way to making 25 laps around the short course, complete with jumps, banked turns, and plenty of paint swapping. Blake Wilkey took the win and went home $20,000 richer, holding off 4400-class racer Bryan Crofts and his Off The Grid-sponsored Class 11 car.
Bryce Menzies Takes Back To Back Wins In His AWD Mason Truck
Sunday’s T1, B1 & T2 Race
Bryce Menzies was the fast qualifier for Sunday’s Toyo Desert Challenge and led flag to flag to take the win in his Toyo-equipped Mason Motorsports 4WD T1 truck for the second year in a row, earning him $50,000 in the process. “It was insane out there this year! This course was so rough, it threw everything at us and to come away with a back-to-back win is unbelievable.” While Menzies won handily, Cameron Steele finished second only 14 seconds ahead of Kyle Jergensen, who physically finished ahead of Steele but finished third by the slimmest of margins on corrected time. Steele lost all oil pressure the last 20 miles of the race but refused to give up, an instinct that will serve him well when he participates at four more races throughout the week.
“I think it definitely helps kick us out of the gate, second place, you know, puts a lot of energy into the team, all those long hours that everybody has to put in,” Steele shared at the finish line.
Cody Parkhouse was the fast qualifier in B1, putting him second off the line at the start of the race. Mechanical issues sidelined Parkhouse early on though, opening the door for Ray Griffith to take the class victory in B1 for a $10,000 payday. Casey Currie finished second in B1 in the same 4×4 vehicle that he plans to race in the unlimited 4400 class race on Saturday. “We broke a sway bar but otherwise the car is still in good shape,” Currie reported. Adam Lunn rounded out the podium in the B1 class, sharing driving duties with RJ Anderson in his new Racer Engineering buggy.
Despite running sealed crate engines with limited horsepower, the top finishers in T2 beat all the B1 buggies, largely due to the increased rear wheel travel possible with a solid rear axle. Dustin Grabowski edged out Pierce Herbst and Brad Lovell to take home $10,000 for the class win. “We had a flawless day, the Herbst Smithfab truck worked great,” Grabowski revealed after taking the checkered flag. Third place finisher Brad Lovell is no stranger to King of the Hammers, having won the Legends class in the Every Man Challenge four times, including last year. “I feel bad for me and everyone else who has to run this course in the EMC race,” Brad confessed. “It is going to be a rough one out there!”
Complete results and news can be found at https://www.ultra4racing.com