“Race 2993 to pits: Something’s wrong, again. We’re losing power. Sputtering to a halt.”
“Pit 2993 to Race 2993: Alright. Stay put. We’re sending the Raptor back out to tow you back in again. Hang tight — it’ll be a while.”
It’s not the radio exchange I wanted only 50 miles into the longest off-road race in the United States, but it’s the one I got. We set off from the Best In The Desert: Vegas to Reno starting line with so much promise. 550-plus miles of Nevada Desert lay in front of us, we were starting first in the Sportsman UTV class with our brand new Polaris RZR Turbo S. The newest and most powerful entry in the category piloted by myself and Till Bechtolsheimer — arguably the most inexperienced off-road drivers in the race despite Till’s on-road resume. So ‘promise’ can easily be exchanged for ‘cautious optimism.’ Everything was going fine until we left the first pit stop after doing a driver swap and set out across the silt beds at full speed.
After a few miles, we came grinding to a halt, pulled off the track and tried to troubleshoot the problem with the mechanics back in the pits. Was it the drive belt? I unbolted the cover, checked it out. Nope, the thing looked brand new. After a few more back and forths on the radio, the team sent the Raptor out to get us, and the only way to where we were was the way we’d come: tire swallowing silt, surprise boulders ready to snap a steering arm and off-camber turns begging to flip anything on wheels — all in under a cloudless sky and 98-degree heat. 45 minutes after the call a plume of desert dust rises over the horizon and under it the Raptor, easing over the terrain like it was on a Sunday drive.
After being towed back to the pits, the mechanics diagnose the problem as vapor lock — when the fuel pumps and fuel get so hot, air starts to build in the lines and seizes the whole system. After some wrenching, we think we resolved the problem. They send us back out. This time through one of the most difficult, boulder-laden terrain of the whole course. We make it ten miles.
Ten miles doesn’t sound far, but considering the terrain and the speed we were going in a purpose-built off-roader like the Turbo S, we covered decent ground in respectable time. That’s when the fuel started cutting out yet again. Now we were in a valley, on the part of the course even further from the access road, watching towering dark clouds and a wall of rain make its way towards us. When it rains, it really does pour.
This time we waited an hour for the Raptor to come get us, but just like the first rescue, the pickup looked hilariously sure-footed coming over the ridge. And knowing it had to wrestle the same terrain we did boggles the mind. A street-legal pickup truck was rescuing a purpose-built off-roader.
Again, we got a tow back to the pits, which took another hour heading back through the same gaunlet of rocks and mud. This time the sun was nowhere to be found when the mechanics descended on our racer with their wrenches. This time they figured out it wasn’t vapor-lock, but a malfunctioning mass airflow sensor screwing with the fuel injection. Our race was over 11 hours and 50 miles after we started. It’s a terrible feeling to end a race that way, but knowing there might be a next time brings back some of that optimistic hope. And, next time I head out into the Desert, you can be damn sure I want a Ford Raptor in my corner.
Ford completely redesigned their Raptor pickup to be many magnitudes more badass in every way. Read the Story