When it comes to racing, sponsorship is often the difference between experiencing the races as a fan or as a driver. With the growth of the Prerunner (aka 1450) class during the last few racing seasons, sponsors are taking notice of the class' growth. The class' minimal rules are attracting a new generation of racers - a generation for whom minimal rules mean maximum fun.
Beard Seats took notice of the 1450 trend, and decided that sponsoring a shootout was the best way to find out who had built a class-dominating prerunner. The terms of the sponsorship were unbelievably savory: Simply run a pair of approved Beard stickers in a prominent place on your 1450 truck and Beard would cover your entry fee. Period. Any brand of truck using any brand of seat inside qualified for the Shootout as long as the mandated stickers were in place on the outside. The Shootout arena was the M.O.R.E. Kartek 300 in Lucerne Valley, California.
With such generous sponsorship on the table, nearly 60 teams threw their hats into the ring. Names from Anderson to Zindroski were busy building and prepping their entries. For many teams, "build time" and "prep time" meant the hours between the end of a workday until the time neighbors began to complain about noise from grinders and light from welding arcs.
Race day dawned hot and dusty. The air near the starting line hardly moved, and the main pit area became a fog of fine dust that choked visibility and made it unsafe to navigate at race speeds. Later in the day, the breezes picked up. So did the temperature.
The course was everything a desert course should be. Steep hills alternated with deep whoops and powdery sand washes, with plenty of rocks strewn about for good measure. Winter rains had washed much of the desert floor's sandy covering away from the rocks, leaving their stony faces exposed and ready to tear into tires and sheetmetal. The Shootout winner would have to worry about the terrain and weather conditions first, and treat the competition as an afterthought.
When the green flag fell, 35 Prerunner-class trucks crossed the M.O.R.E. Kartek 300 starting line. Only 10 managed to finish in the allotted time. "It's just nasty out there," commented Giant Motorsports chieftain Geoff Falzone. "My truck rides like a Caddy, but I still felt jolted." Falzone's personal truck is a veteran of many a desert race, but Geoff's focus at the Shootout was to support racers using his products. "It's a lot of fun chasing and pitting for these guys. I've driven in a lot of races, and I enjoy doing the pit support just as much as driving in the race."
At around noon, an ominous plume of smoke appeared on the horizon. The most obvious possibility was that a race vehicle had caught fire and was going up in flames with its driver and co-driver safely out of the vehicle. The truth was in fact much worse. A helicopter carrying XYZ Productions and Camburg Engineering employee Steve Kurtyka and two other men had crashed during a low-level flight while filming the race. All three survived, but sustained burns while exiting the burning helicopter. Steve's injuries necessitated a lengthy hospital stay and numerous skin grafts. As of press time, Steve has been transferred from the hospital to a recovery center. He's not home yet. His condition has improved, and he is in good spirits. He has a long physical and financial road back to full recovery. For information about how to help Steve, please see the "Strength" sidebar at right.
The Prerunner class is usually a battle between Ford Rangers and Toyota pickups and Tacomas. When the checkers flew, it was for neither of the two. Lloyd Snyder drove a GMC Sonoma to the win. The Sonoma's key features include center-mounted front control arms, a healthy V-8, and a linked rearend. Lloyd's lap times had no more than an 11-minute spread, a tough trick to turn on a 48-mile course filled with rocks, sand, hills, heat, and other competitors.
We'd like to give our thumbs-up of approval to Beard Seats for its strong support of the Prerunner class and to M.O.R.E. Racing for hosting the event. It was a day that - for reasons both good and bad - we'll never forget.
Sitting Shotgun at the Shootout
Seat time is always a good time. As the author found out, it's not always an easy time. The short version: The two laps in No. 1452 were tough, but fun. Read on for the details.
Steve Kurtyka is a class act. His friendly, unassuming nature makes him easy to like and easy to approach. A single glance at his arms makes one realize that Steve doesn't have to talk much to be noticed or to be respected. The man's arms are bigger than some people's legs! Steve is a strong guy.
Earlier in the day, Steve was in the thick of the action at the Camburg pit, and lent a hand with the No. 1452 race effort as well. He had hired a helicopter to help him film the Shootout for XYZ Productions, but weather conditions had kept the chopper grounded in the race's opening hours. As the weather changed, the helicopter was cleared for flight, and Steve climbed aboard in search of superior footage.
The helicopter went down unexpectedly - and went down hard. All three on board managed to climb free of the burning wreck, but Steve suffered second- and third-degree burns on his arms, back, and shoulders.
The accident cast a pall over the rest of the day. Suddenly, it didn't seem to matter as much who won, or whose Prerunner would be dominant. Fourteen-fifty domination was still battled for, but with the perspective that life itself is far more precious than a single race win or loss.
Steve is a strong guy, but he needs the strength of others to help him back to physical and financial recovery.
For more information about how to help Steve, please visit www.stevesfund.org.