How'd you like to ride in a 7-S truck at the SCORE Laughlin Desert Challenge?" The words rolled off OFF-ROAD Associate Editor Mike Finnegan's tongue and rang in my ears like unexpected music. I don't usually speak very quickly - the technical term is low verbal - but it only took 0.002 seconds for me to blurt out a resounding, "Oh, yeah!" It seemed that Bob Land had extended the offer to Mike, but a scheduling conflict prevented him from going. The deal got better. Since Harrah's is one of Land Racing's sponsors, I would also get a free room during the event.
Bob Land has been racing for a long time. He began filling his need for speed by racing drag boats. After flipping an 800hp Eliminator Tunnel boat, he left the water for the challenge of the desert. Bob has campaigned several different classes throughout the years. Beginning in a 1-2/1600 VW-powered buggy at the 1988 Barstow Fireworks 250,he moved to a Honda-powered Unlimited Buggy a few years later. Class 7 - open mini trucks - was added to his portfolio, after which he slid behind the wheel of an Isuzu VehiCross. Racing has taken Bob throughout the American Southwest, Baja California, and even down under to Australia. Anyone who has been involved with racing, even at a casual level, can attest to the monumental effort required to follow a racing series for a single season. Bob Land has been racing off-road successfully for more than a decade. The word phenomenal seems fitting.
Filling the codriver's seat during a race is much more than "get in, sit down, shut up, and hang on." A competent codriver keeps track of the navigating, engine vital signs, race traffic approaching from behind, and obstacles in front, while communicating with the pit crew. Simply stated, a good codriver allows the driver to go faster. Laughlin's short-course format put me somewhat at ease; both Bob Land and backup driver Jim Winovitch were already familiar with the Laughlin course. There was no need for a map or GPS reading on the fly. Still, between watching the gauges, keeping track of faster classes approaching from the rear, and radioing our position to the pit crew, precious few seconds were left to enjoy the view.
Our racing group included fullsize Class 8 trucks, Ivan Stewart's Protrucks, Stock Full trucks, Class 7 open trucks, and Class 3s. We were the slowest class on the track. Willing my normally slow tongue to speed up a few notches, I fed Bob and Jim the best race traffic information I could: "There's an 8 truck coming up on our right, stay left"; "Water temperature looks fine"; "Land Race to Land Pit, we're approaching Road Crossing One."
The weekend concluded all too soon. Bone-weary with a huge sleep deficiency, I still wanted more. The four laps I got to ride were an "F" ticket ride. Big thanks go to Bob Land, Jim Winovitch, and the rest of the Land Racing crew. I can only hope Mr. Finnegan has a scheduling conflict during the next race weekend.
Backup driver Jim Winovitch, Bob Land, and Cooper Tire Rep Carson Miller talk tires and racing as Bob's S-10 4x4 awaits desert action. You never thought of Cooper Tires as a competitive brand for off-roading? Perhaps you're familiar with the Pro Comp Xterrain or the Mickey Thompson Radial Baja Claw. Cooper manufactures both. "We're one of only two U.S. companies that have in-house molding capabilities," explained Miller. "That way, we can make changes more quickly. Off-road racing is one of the few niches in motorsports that the average person can get into." Throughout the event, Carson sought feedback about the performance of the Cooper Discoverer LTs mounted at the corners of Land Racing's Class 7-S Chevy. Cooper Tire has a 5-year-old test facility for off-road tires. The testing facility already includes a rockcrawling course and separate mud, sand, and gravel pits. Miller's chief task during the event was to observe the terrain on the Laughlin Desert Challenge course. Notable features will be included in a newly constructed desert terrain test course at Cooper's test facility.
As testament to Cooper Tire's commitment to desert performance, a special non-siped set of donuts was provided to Land Racing. While tire siping adds control in wet or icy conditions, the microgrooves make for more easily damaged tires on desert rocks and whoops. Guerrero and Garcia added a single 1/4-inch groove to every other shoulder lug to provide better lateral traction. Laughlin's course is a true test of desert tires. During the weekend, we encountered sandy whoops and ruts that became deeper with each passing vehicle. A healthy dose of sharp, basketball-sized rocks was sprinkled randomly on the course for good measure. Pinch flat resistance was tested as the front and rear of the S-10 were alternately slammed unmercifully into terra very firma. We're pleased to report zero tire trouble.
Land Racing team members Gabriel Guerrero and Eric Garcia put the tire grooving iron to work. Bob Land's crew is typical of most desert racing teams - a collection of dedicated enthusiasts who volunteer their time and talents to be a part of something they love. Eric, bracing the tire and trusting Gabriel not to slip with the red-hot iron, is building a 1-2/1600 VW-powered buggy in his backyard. Upon completion, expect the Garcia-built 1600 car to be in the thick of contention at future SCORE events.