The 28th Annual Casey Folks Vegas to Reno competition in Nevada saw nearly 250 entries, with UTVs making up 71 of the total entries, take on very silty desert terrain on August 18 in hopes of conquering 521 miles of taxing topography organized by Best in the Desert.
Prior to race day, drivers in the UTV Pro Turbo and UTV Trophy Unlimited classes had the option to participate in a timed qualifier on Wednesday to secure their starting positions. Unlike some other desert races, Vegas to Reno does not allow pre-running.
Competitors and co-drivers would get their first look at the course Friday afternoon, when the first UTV driver departed from Amargosa Valley at noon to head north on the route to Reno. Following the first team, the top 20 qualifiers left one vehicle at a time every two minutes. The remaining drivers left at the rate of one vehicle every 30 seconds.
Thirty-one miles later, they reached Pit 1 at Omni Station. By the time drivers reached Pit 4 at Klondike, they already had 145 miles under their belt and were well on their way to Reno. Continuing on their mission to reach the finish, drivers would land in Blair Junction for Pit 6, just past the halfway point.
After departing from Blair Junction, drivers continued to be jostled around in their machines while navigating an additional 253 miles and seven more pit stops before reaching their final destination during dusk or darkness.
After 521 total miles and anywhere from 9.5 to nearly 15 hours in their cars, only 29 UTV teams were able to reach the checkered flag. Of those finishers, it was Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team USA’s Seth Quintero (T903) in his Can-Am, contesting in the UTV Turbo Pro class, who laid down the fastest elapsed time for the UTV category. Not only did the 20-year-old take top UTV honors, the San Marcos, California resident also finished inside the top 10 overall, in ninth, at an event that included trophy trucks, motorcycles, and ATVs as well. Quintero ended the competition with a blistering fast time of 09:33:26.982.
The next UTV across the line was Mitch Guthrie Jr. (H51) of the UTV Trophy Unlimited class. He secured a time of 09:36:14.464 in his Polaris RZR, just under three minutes behind the winner. UTV Turbo Pro class competitor Vito Ranuio (T950) captured the last step of the UTV overall podium. He tallied a time of 09:36:45.452 in his Can-Am. That would leave Can-Am’s Dustin Jones to round out the UTV Turbo Pro class podium, taking fourth overall.
Guthrie Jr.’s second place in the UTV division landed him with the UTV Trophy Unlimited class win. Can-Am pilot Chris Blais (H910) would take second in class, finishing in 9 hours 42 minutes. Las Vegas resident Ryan Piplic (2815) landed his Polaris RZR third, just under 11 minutes behind Blais.
Taking the win in the UTV Naturally-Aspirated Pro class was Ready Made Concrete’s Anthony Busico (R67). According to Busico, machine preparation, driver skills, and strategy well before race day led the team to the top of the Vegas to Reno podium.
“Car owner Paul Philips does the majority of our prep work,” Busico said. “He does full disassembly of the car, meticulously checking every aspect. Fresh shocks rebuilt by STR Suspension, new Tensor tires wrapped around Method Race Wheels, and fresh Rhino axles are key.”
A lot of planning goes into deciding who will pilot the Polaris RZR XP4 1000 throughout the race.
“We use everyone’s strengths to determine who’s driving and who’s navigating each section,” he said. “I am fast in dusty and technical sections, so I started the race with Dan Phillips as the navigator. He is fast in technical stuff and at night, while Kit Phillips is all-around fast and consistent.”
The team’s goal was to push through the first sections, try to get into a top-three position, and then stay consistent and keep the car together through the finish. With 40-year-old Busico in the driver seat, he pushed the car as hard as he could the first few miles, slowly picking off turbo cars. By Pit 3, they were running first in class.
Unfortunately, before Pit 5 they suffered a broken rear axle. Attempting to change it as quickly as possible, the team was able to get back on the course in under five minutes to maintain the class lead. This time, Kit was behind the wheel blasting across the desert.
Before reaching the next pit stop, another broken axle plagued the Polaris RZR XP4 1000. Once again, they were able to efficiently make a swap. However, a competitor was quickly making an approach only a few miles behind. Nightfall set in before Pit 9 at Gabbs, where the team made their last driver swap to have Dan take the driver seat and Kit navigate.
“At this point we were in survival mode, pushing where we could and keeping the car together,” Busico said. “Working our lead up by 20 miles, we buried the car in a mud hole just before the finish and had to be winched out by the rescue crew. But with just over 12 hours total and minimal setbacks, we crossed the finish line.”
He said the course was absolutely brutal this year with bottomless silt beds, steep climbs and descents, tight washes, rocks, and mud.
“This was a huge team effort,” Busico said. “We started the race with five new Tensor tires on the car and finished with the same five, not a single flat. We finished the race with the same belt we started with, which we haven’t been able to do all year. We had no fuel issues thanks to VP Racing Fuels, and Baja Designs turned night into day for us with their awesome lights. Thank you to our sponsors and supporters. Without you, none of this would be possible.”
The UTV Super Stock Turbo class saw Mitchell Alsup (S906) take the crown. With a finishing time of just over 11 hours, Alsup collected a significant lead over his closest competitor, finishing 23 minutes ahead. Soul Seekers Podcast’s Todd Zuccone (S930) of Colorado finished second, while West Coast Motorsports’ Bella Birchard (S904) of California finished in third.
In the UTV Sportsman class, 28-year-old Nick Shearer (M982) captured the win in his Sunnymead Ace Hardware backed Can-Am with an elapsed time of 11 hours, 47 minutes. “This year’s Vegas to Reno was one for the books,” Shearer said. “Our team faced many challenges before the race even started. We were down multiple people on our chase team, so this left us with only two people in Chase 1 and two in Chase 2. With a light crew, we knew it was important to take care of the car and drive smart.”
Starting second off of the line in UTV Sportsman but at the back of the staging group, the Californian knew dust would be a huge factor throughout the long and fast-paced day. “Off the line, our goal was to catch the car that started first, pass them, and then work on putting as much time and cars between us and them as possible.” Shearer made it happen within the first 50 miles, passing them through the silty terrain.
“Once we had the lead, we dropped the hammer and went for it,” he said. “We didn’t face much adversity until we caught the back of the Unlimited and Pro Turbo classes. Those guys and gals were much less willing to move via the push to pass.” It got trickier for Shearer as time continued to elapse. Some of the trophy trucks that had issues early on were now trying to get back around Shearer. In the shuffle, Shearer struck a rock, resulting in a front flat.
“We hopped out, changed the flat, and dropped the hammer again,” he said. “My crew chief, who also is my girlfriend, informed me the second-place car was only a couple minutes behind. In reality, the competitor was much further behind, but we didn’t know that, so of course we put the heat on, thinking they were right behind us. We kept this up until about 300 miles in, when we started having some overheating issues and had to back it down.” At this point, Shearer had developed a substantial lead. With the overheating issues now cropping up, his goal was just to take the machine to the finish line keeping a consistent pace.
Another flat around the 400-mile mark resulted in the team swapping a tire before heading into the mud bog, where they encountered some difficulty but were able to make it through without outside assistance. “This race was a blast from start to finish,” Shearer said. Following Shearer to the finish was 43-year-old Jeff Martin (M969) and 49-year-old John Williams (M952), both Californians piloting Can-Am machines.
The 29 teams to reach the finish line were surely exhausted, but relieved. Unfortunately, after race completion, the series announced on Instagram that results would not be finalized until later in the week. “As much as it pains me to state this, there will be a significant amount of penalties handed out. Additionally, multiple time credits are not reflected properly in the unofficial results. Please accept my apologies for not having sufficient time to address the official results.”
Teams are still anxiously awaiting the finalized results as they are assessing, tearing down and re-prepping their race machines for the next competition on their schedule. The next Best in the Desert event is September 22-23. The Silver State 300 is a 300-mile point-to-point race that begins near Alamo, Nevada.
- Nicholas Shearer (M982), 11:47:52.150
- Jeff Martin (M969), 13:55:49.878
- John Williams (M952), 14:57:00.685
UTV Naturally-Aspirated Pro
- Anthony Busico (R67), 12:16:37.475
UTV Turbo Pro
- Seth Quintero (T903), 09:33:26.982
- Vito Ranuio (T950), 09:36:45.452
- Dustin Jones (T978), 09:45:03.733
- Michael McFayden (T838), 09:48:10.448
- Joe Terrana (T898), 09:56:42.916
UTV Trophy Unlimited
- Mitch Guthrie Jr. (H51), 09:36:14.464
- Chris Blais (H910), 09:42:13.994
- Ryan Piplic (2815), 09:52:55.679
- Sierra Romo (2929), 09:54:13.499
- Cody Bradbury (H25), 09:57:06.839
UTV Super Stock Turbo
- Mitchell Alsup (S906), 11:06:06.474
- Todd Zuccone (S930), 11:29:26.938
- Bella Birchard (S904), 12:34:52.761
- Max Hirn (S777), 18:29:50.298