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Best in the Desert

Troy Vest heads to Nevada for the longest off-road race in the U.S.


Two hundred horse power and a lot of competition. That's what Troy Vest gained upgrading to unlimited class from pro in desert racing. His new truck can pull more than 800 horse power.

He and his pit team are going to Nevada next week for Best in the Desert's "Vegas to Reno," the longest off-road race in the U.S.The point-to-point race stretches through 550 miles of desert.by: CORY MIMMS - Troy Vest stands next to his truck, which he and his team are preparing to take to Nevada.

Prepping for a race like this is incredibly intense. The team has to pull the transmission, differential, shocks—basically the entire truck is torn apart and put back together. "The only thing left in it is the dash and the engine," Vest said. "It's very labor intensive, but that's just what it takes to win."

And Vest has snagged a lot of wins since his first race season, in 2009. With his protruck, he took the 1200 class first place trophy in the Las Vegas to Reno race three years in a row, along with multiple other firsts.

Trophies and plaques clutter a break room inside his garage. A stack of plaques he hasn't gotten around to displaying collect dust on a table. It takes a talented driver and talented team to stay in this game.

Ford sent Vest through driving school in New Hampshire last July, and his 20-person pit crew moves fast and knows desert-racing strategy.

They're taking five vehicles with them to Nevada. They'll break into teams and jump from pit to pit ahead of Vest.

The truck can do 131 miles an hour with the hood on, which creates a lot of drag. With the hood off it can do more than 140 mph. Drivers "walk a fine line" at those speeds, Vest said, as getting traction becomes difficult.

Navigator Geno Licitra is riding with Vest again this year. His job as copilot is to watch the GPS and call corners and rocks. "His job is really intense," Vest said.

Drivers and copilots lose pounds of water during the race, and the dust sometimes gets thick enough they can't see more than a couple feet in front of them. Oxygen is piped into their helmets so they aren't sucking dust for hours on end.

The truck is also set up with practically two of everything (ignition switches, etc.) This way, the driving team isn't reliant on a single part. "You could be out there a while if something goes wrong," Vest said.

They carry water and other supplies with them, in case of a break down, but Vest stays hydrated by guzzling water in the pits.

The race is on Aug. 16. Vest is shooting for a time under the 10-hour mark this year.

He's raced the new truck three times. The first, during a Parker 425 qualifying run, Vest and his copilot got a bit of a scare when they rolled the truck five times.

"It wasn't our fault," Vest said. "The suspension wasn't quite right." Hitting a nasty portion of the course, the back end bounced up and the truck turned over. "Very violent," Vest said, describing the crash.

The team set to fixing the truck practically right away, as they only had a few days between the wreck and the race. Vest's team ordered replacement parts from San Diego and worked vigorously rebuilding the truck in time for the race. "That's team work," Vest said.

On top of jumping to a higher race class, he's accumulated quite a few sponsors as well. Before the economy turned down, he said, the big sponsors for the unlimited class were casinos. Most of them have been replaced by energy drink companies.

The economy was also part of the reason he moved out of pro. As sponsorship money fell, some of the competition dropped with it. The unlimited class still has plenty of expert drivers though.

Keeping up with the competition means leaving little downtime between racing and prepping. "It's very, very competitive," Vest said. "As soon as we get back, we'll be ripping and tearing for the next one.



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