This past weekend, the Best in the Desert series held their second to last race of the season in Laughlin, Nevada. The course in Laughlin sports a challenging dual personality with a desert section that mostly follows the same basic trails and washes and a devilish infield section changed year over year. The desert section is rough, but fast; while the infield is twisty with jumps and power robbing sand that gets deeper and looser with every lap.
No matter how many times a racer has been to Laughlin, they find something different each time. Teams can show up with a proven baseline of settings, but it’s still a matter of chance whether it will work as intended. Unlike a point-to-point desert race, the 17-mile course is run on two consecutive days. It gives competitors a second chance, but that could be good or bad. A win on day one is great, but drivers must follow it up on day two when the course is even rougher.
Those vying for championships contend with racers who are hungry for a win and might go for a Hail Mary move; nobody can play it safe. The action is intense in the dirt, in the pits, and during the Saturday night layover when teams have a chance to make changes. Even the weather can be completely different each day. It’s not uncommon to have blue skies and sunshine one day, and a raging storm the next. We’ve been racing in Laughlin for decades, but it never gets boring. Any victory is truly earned in a race with no margin of error.
The first UTV’s to hit the dirt were part of the famous Laughlin Leap held Thursday night. The Leap was instituted during the very first Laughlin race back in the 1990’s as part of the racecourse. Drivers could go off the huge jump or take a bypass. It was a big fan favorite and most of the top racers took the leap. Best in the Desert brought it back as a special event in 2018 at the UTV worlds. The winner that year was Cole Freiday with a 117.9 foot jump in his CanAm X3. This year’s UTV winner was Chris Leaming who sailed 115 feet for the top spot, but the longest leap was by Cole Barbieri who jumped 175 feet in his unlimited class 1500 buggy. There must be some advantage to being named Cole…
Races kicked off Friday with the Youth classes. Best in the Desert does a great job of getting the next generation of racers out learning their craft and having fun. Kids race only in the infield section of the course to prevent a wrong turn stranding a kiddo in a nearby state. Spectators at the kid’s races are family, friends, and race fans in general; sometimes the top pros too.
These kids are amazing and some have become top champions over the years; Seth Quintero, Mitch Guthrie, RJ and Ronny Anderson, and many others. Youth winners this year included Jacob Williamson, Declan Shields (who won two different classes), George Llamosas who is always fast, Paxton Schendel and Dexter Warren. Take note of these names because you will be hearing them in the future, possibly at a track near you.
For Saturday and Sunday UTV’s were split into two groups for racing. Group C contained UTV N/A Pro, and UTV Trophy Unlimited classes. Group D included UTV Turbo Pro, UTV Super Stock, and UTV Sportsman classes. Starting order was based on points standings after Vegas to Reno, but after the first lap everyone is in the dust of someone else. Only the lead car on lap one gets any relief. Even when they water the course, it dries out quickly due to the combination of wind, sun, and cars beating on the ground.
Wind can be great for clearing the dust, but it depends on the direction. If it’s blowing directly down the course, there is no relief. If it gets very windy, no race traffic is required to reduce visibility. The infield section conditions are usually much better, at least until the mud. Drivers get wet and muddy, then sandblasted and dusty. It’s a cycle that lasts for all 4 laps; just one of the reasons this race is tough.
Some drivers excel in the dust and somehow muster the courage to push hard; often due to a great co-driver they trust to call out the turns accurately. Drivers get most of the credit, but off-road racing is a team sport. Drivers must trust their navigators and their cars. Some perform their own race prep while others rely on their crew to get their car in shape. Either way everyone has a hand in victory and defeat.
Saturday’s winners included Brayden Baker in UTV Trophy Unlimited, Max Gordon in UTV N/A Pro, Bruce Binnquist in UTV Turbo Pro, Mitchell Alsup in UTV Super Stock, and Eric Murphy in UTV Sportsman. One championship points battle to watch was for the UTV N/A class between Max Eddy Jr. and Josh Row. Eddy came into Laughlin with a 4 point lead over Row. Max Gordon took the win, but Row was second, and Eddy third.
Their championship tally rested on Sunday’s race. The number crunchers are going to have their work cut out for them in the Turbo Pro class; Vito Ranuio was up 27 points on Dustin Jones who had only a two-point lead over Jason Murray in third. Ranuio finished fourth on Saturday, Murray sixth and Jones ninth. Second place on Saturday in the UTV Turbo class behind Bruce Binnquist was fast guy Joe Terrana; Kolton Hustead was third.
On Sunday finishing positions changed, with predictably slower times for most. One position that didn’t change was the number one spot in Trophy Unlimited class. Brayden Baker won both days to take the undisputed overall win in class and Group C. Guess who will have a target on his back at the next race? Ryan Piplic finished second, and Cody Bradbury followed up in third. Kaden Wells took the win in the N/A Pro class with Josh Row second and Max Eddy third. Max thinks the championship might be decided by a single point; we have yet to see how it pans out.
In Group D, Joe Terrana won the Turbo Pro class with Kolton Hustead second and Bruce Binnquist third. Mitchell Alsup was another perfect driver in UTV Super Stock with back to back wins for the overall in his class. Other overall winners were Josh Row, Joe Terrana, and Kaden Isabella in sportsman. However, all these results are unofficial, for now. No matter how tight the points seem, they can get tighter or even change after penalties or other calculations are factored in.
Regardless of any outcome, we are sad to see the end of the season, but we look forward to next year. There were strong runs made by virtual unknowns this year, making the list of contenders a lot longer, and bubbling up new rivalries. The championship is supposed to settle who was the fastest all season, but it was so close that the competition will likely spill over into next year to pick up right where it ended. See you in Parker in 2023.
PRO UTV UNLIMITED:
-  Brayden Baker – 02:15:03.350
-  Cody Bradbury, Corbin Leaverton, Kolby Buentjen – 02:24:07.241
-  Ken Criswell, Steve Allen, Keith Boline, Sean Criswell – 02:29:30.623
-  Chris Blais, Jeremy Gray – 02:30:12.395
-  Madeline Wedeking, Michael Lasher, Kc Blackburn – 02:30:44.868
PRO UTV FORCED INDUCTION:
- [T898 ] Joe Terrana, Jason Montes – 02:11:41.745
- [T850] Bruce. Binnquist – 02:12:07.666
- [T938] Kolton Hustead, Eric Hustead – 02:12:58.888
- [T978] Dustin Jones, Dustin Henderson – 02:17:26.373
- [T927] Justin Smith, Jason Smith – 02:17:33.084
PRO UTV NA:
-  Josh Row, Preston Axford – 02:29:05.070
-  Max. Eddy – 02:31:29.738
-  Kaden. Wells, Emma Cornwell – 02:31:58.013
-  Lucas Kassity, Lucas Johnson, James Gorman, Stphen Figurski – 02:33:21.891
-  Mikey.. Kelly – 02:25:46.971
PRO STOCK UTV:
- [S906] Mitchell Alsup, Nick Blais – 02:21:19.496
- [S951] Conner Maxwell, Cole Bassler – 02:24:07.826
- [S972] Ernie Ely, Mitch Axelson – 02:35:25.185
- [S901] Alexia Leaming, Robert Furnell – 02:41:27.419
- [S970] Jacob Zuccone, Brook Lynn Deman – 02:19:32.540