The Laughlin Leap Contest opens each year's Laughlin Desert Challenge in spectacular style. Each racing team has the option of entering the leap contest and catching as much air as possible off an infield jump that's part of the racecourse. The rules are simple: The one who flies the farthest wins.
Fans brave the chilly night air to watch their favorite trucks and buggies go for maximum air time in a quest for off-road glory and a $3,000 prize waiting on the other end. What's it like to fly the night skies in a no-holds-barred Trophy Truck? Yours truly had the extremely fortunate chance to find out.
After watching the leap the previous year, I knew I was in for an incomparably cool ride. While the 7s pickups and one-two-1600 buggies claw hard just to get within sight of the century mark, the Class 1 unlimited buggies and marquee-division Trophy Trucks easily cleared the 100-foot marker and landed at about a buck-fifty. Excited? Most definitely. Scared? Not really. I'd ridden with Coyne Motorsports into the depths of Baja ("Braving the Baja," OR March '05 issue) and had returned unscathed with some great memories in tow. We'd used Coyne Motorsports' long-travel prerunner in the Baja, but the leap would be conquered in Trophy Truck No. 5, a vehicle that offers performance on a level yet above the ultra-capable prerunner.
Pulling an official Team 4 Wheel Parts racing suit over my street clothes, I wriggled through the codriver's window into the comfy clutches of a MasterCraft seat. Crew members helped to buckle me into a matching MasterCraft five-point harness. I felt secure, since the harness wrapped my 5-foot, 6-inch frame tightly enough so that even though my arms could still flail about, my torso wasn't going anywhere. Earbud speakers in place, I strapped a helmet on and familiarized myself with my high-tech, handcrafted surroundings. My feet fumbled for what I hoped was more legroom. Guess what? There wasn't much. I ended up with my right foot planted on the floor and my left foot perched on a jack. It didn't matter. The all-business interior meant that there was plenty of room left for the pilot to perform his all-important task
Travis flipped a few switches and hit the starter button, and the Leon Patton motor came to life. Some motors purr, while others rumble. This motor roars. Despite the engine's note being somewhat muffled by our helmets, it was still loud inside the cab. Travis and I were easily able to communicate via intercom. We roared over to the staging area in front of the packed grandstands, shut the motor off, and waited our turn. A local clamored up to the bright-yellow 4 Wheel Parts TT, produced a pen and paper, and asked for our autographs.I felt anonymously famous as I scrawled my signature, which is closer to chicken scratch than script, on the paper. At least the guy could read Travis's writing.
The night was chilly, even inside the truck, so the engine's heat was welcome when Travis hit the starter button again. We crept toward the starting line, watching Scott Steinberger, Alan Pflueger, and Kyle Taylor each give the Leap their best. "How's your right foot, Travis?" "Heavy, very heavy." A SCORE official shoved a clipboard and pen through the window. He, too, wanted our signatures, but this time it was to sign our lives away on a waiver. Finally, there was nothing between Trophy Truck No. 5 and the lip of the Laughlin Leap.
The green flag dropped. We traded a high-five. "Let's do this!" Travis's leaden foot showed the gas pedal no mercy as we slammed into First, Second, and finally Third gear. We flew headlong into the night. The combination of the Robby Gordon mid-engine design and 850hp Leon Patton motor meant that the truck took to the air with nonchalant confidence. We flew nose-high, with just hood and stars visible through the front. One hundred fifty-seven feet later, we re-entered the atmosphere and touched back down with a hydraulic "goosh" as the Robby Gordon internal-bypass shocks soaked up the touchdown.
We circled around in front of the grandstands for our second jump. Hot chocolate and peppermint schnapps were sold out for the night, so the crowd kept itself warm by getting on its feet, waving its arms, and cheering TT No. 5. They were giving themselves quite a workout. Amid myriad whistles and thumbs-ups, we inched toward the starting line for our second jump. "How's your right foot, Travis?" "Still very heavy."
The second leap was within 6 inches of the first, and the truck flew level this time. The judges tallied up the distances. We'd won. Coyne Motorsports pulled off a hard-earned win in one of off-road racing's most high-profile contests. Way to fly, Travis, way to fly.