Genuine Desert Hi-Speed Race Drew Enthusiasts From Miles Away.
Editor: Eric Bewley Photo:J. Hutchison, G. Fuller, Images By You
Starvation Ridge Raceway, WA – On a track that is famous and normally used for long distance motorcycle racing, several brave souls brought there 4-wheeled machines to race in an inaugural event. Many unknowns faced the competitors and most that arrived were up to the challenge. The newly-formed ZUKIWORLD Challenge was a single class of racing that helped to fill the race weekend. There were several groups and different types of desert racing vehicles from many types of course disciplines there to race. From Trophy Trucks, Pro Trucks, Baja winning side-by-sides, trick buggies, barrel racing Jeeps, to weekend warriors, there was something for everyone out there for the weekend.
The idea of creating some sort of competition for Suzuki vehicle owners has been kicked around our offices, campfires, and trail rides for years. We have tried to dabble our feet in the water a few other times with a rock crawling competition and a couple different types of rallies. It has always seemed that there is a lot of interest in attending competitions like this but there is less enthusiasm for participating. With low participant numbers and high insurance rates, the recipe for putting on a good Suzuki only event is nearly impossible to bake. However, if we had a chance to ‘marry’ what ever event we were doing to a larger activity, we could make that fly. So when I got approached by Dave Cappell of Invincible Racing about participating in a desert race right in our own Pacific Northwest backyard, I couldn’t resist. All we needed now was a specification defining a class, some safety rules, a date and place to race, and participants. Simple…
We had announced that we were going to hold this event early in January of this year which gave about 6 months for someone to build a vehicle and get ready for the race. This seemed like a long time but for us and I think some of the other teams was no where near the time we needed to get a vehicle ready.
We received word from six teams that they definitely were going to be there and had probable maybes from three more teams. On race day, however, only three teams had shown up for battle. Team Two Dogs Ink from Washington State, consisting of Driver Jay Fallenstein and his son Brody as co-driver. Team Zukspeed from California State, consisting of co-driver’s Jason Hutchison and Kevin Dodd. Team ZUKIWORLD from Oregon State, consisting of driver Eric Bewley (that’s me folks!) and co-driver Sara Bewley which had to sit this race out because there was no time to put in a second seat and safety gear.
It seems that no matter how many people show up as long as there is more than one team, a race will break out. …and that is just what happened. A full fledged race-it-hard, scramble in the pits, fix this and then strategy that, go. go! GO! event happened right there in the middle of Washington on a grassy patch of land far from civilization.
Pre-race tech inspection was held the morning of the race. Racers were subjected to the safety rules for their vehicles and had to show their personal protective gear to the officials before they were cleared to race.
The tech inspection area was the first time that we had gotten a chance to look at the competitors’ race vehicles. It was really cool to see the different approaches we all took to tackle this race. Team Zukspeed had done many subtle tweaks to their rig such as moving the body back two inches on the frame. Team Two Dogs Ink was the only team running 4wd components and had completely removed their top was using just the cage. Another interesting note was that Team Zukspeed was running a newly available Bilstein strut specifically made for Sidekicks and Trackers. This strut is way more substantial than any other we’ve seen in the past and we look forward to trying a set of them some day soon. Team ZUKIWORLD had built a completely scratch built front end with upper and lower a-arms and had found an old Spidertrax Thorax to get some gearing back.
Once we had all passed tech and sniffed around each other’s rigs, the talking began. I don’t know if it’s genetic or what but it seems that when you get some guys around and their about to go into “battle” there is always a bit of trash talking involved. Of course, since we were and are all still friends the talk was only moderately edgy.
Next was a driver’s meeting held by the land owner Scott and we drew for our starting positions. We, the ZUKIWORLD Challenge, were racing the same time as three classes of side-by-sides were racing so the starting order had our group in the middle between stock side-by-sides and the Modified side-by-sides. It was thought that we would be somewhere in the middle range on speed and performance with the side-by-sides and I think that is probably about right as there was passing by us and by them as the race went on.
As the race began, the teams tried to settle into their rhythm and get into a pace that would get them to finish and then finish well. Pre-race banter had all of the teams saying that they were just going to take it easy and drive it conservatively because that would be the way to win.
Prophetic this may have been but we will never know because all three teams hit the course hard and drove fast and possibly a bit reckless as the adrenaline began pumping through the veins.
The course was very interesting. Having been a motorcycle venue for many years, the site was well developed and the crew that ran the operation new what they were doing but as a course for trucks and buggies, it seemed a bit too tight and had a few more turns than we think most would have liked. We suspect there were something like fifty to sixty turns in the ten mile loop. This made it difficult to really wring it out and get hauling and definitely favored experienced quality drivers which was evidenced by equal lap times by very unequal vehicles.
As the race progressed, Team ZUKIWORLD had the first major failure and was out of the race after only one and a half laps. The vehicle’s engine control module died and there was no donors within site. This early retirement was difficult to swallow because it was a part of the vehicle that was not modified, is usually bulletproof, and is almost impossible to repair in the field. What a drag… Anyway, it’s off to take a shower and watch the rest of the race.
The race was still on and team Zukspeed and Team Two Dogs Ink were going at each other hard. The first fix opportunity was when Zukspeed’s power steering lost it’s fluid and had to continually be topped off as the race progressed. I know that there wasn’t that much power steering fluid available so I’m not quite sure what they were dumping into the reservoir towards the end.
There was quite a bit of back and forth passing between the side-by-sides and our class but by all accounts the racing was clean and no one had there feelings hurt too bad.
Team Two Dogs Ink was driving hard and there had been at least one or two leadership changes in the first couple of laps. After lap two of the race, the Two Dogs Ink co-pilot had had enough pounding and volunteered to help the pit crew for the rest of the race.
Break and then fix seemed to be the order of the day as something simple would get smacked or whacked and then fixed or ignored until it got worse. I know that I personally ran over someone’s exhaust system on my second partial lap but no one claimed it as theirs. Maybe it was a James Bond style booby trap to get us? Hmmm, maybe not.
Team Two Dogs Ink had some strut tower issues as you can see from the picture on the right but continued to push on toward the finish.
Team Zukspeed had a brake line failure which ended up using all of their brake fluid and left them with only partial front brakes. In a later statement Hutch of team Zukspeed stated that this only made them faster and that they didn’t need them stinking brakes.
Towards the 3 hour mark of the race news came over the radio that team Two Dogs Ink had rolled their vehicle in one of the tight chicane areas of the track. Thankfully, the safety gear protected driver Jay and he was uninjured but unfortunately, his race day was over. Now, all team Zukspeed had to do was finish another lap and they would win.
But in a long distance race like this nothing is that easy. Team Zukspeed was made aware as they came through the checkpoint that all they needed to two was finish and they would win. After a quick driver’s change and a drink of water, they were off to finish their “victory lap” if you will.
The four hour mark came and past and there was no sign of team Zukspeed. We tried to communicate with course officials and media with our two-way radios and at first heard nothing and then we got word that the team had broken a rear wheel off of the vehicle and they were trying to get it fixed.
Time passes with no word. All of the other side-by-side racers finally make it in and I get a phone call on my cell phone. It’s Dave Cappell, an acting course marshal, asking me if I would lend some bolts off of my vehicle to team Zukspeed so they could finish. Of course I said yes and he said good because he already had them and was headed out to the course to fix them up for a finish.
As Scott the land owner was preparing to hand out the awards and award money to the side-by-side racer’s a hour after the race had finished. Team Zukspeed made their appearance and clinched first place in the Inaugural ZUKIWORLD Challenge. Hutch and Kevin from team Zukspeed were ecstatic to win and immediately began to celebrate. Second place winner Jay from Team Two Dogs Ink was equally excited in their win. While Team ZUKIWORLD accepted their 3rd place podium finish with a bit of melancholy sadness in the thoughts of what may have been if we could have taken the fight to the other teams.
ZUKIWORLD Challenge will continue and we will be adding events and want to encourage you to build a race Suzuki to join us for some of the most fun and excitement you’ll ever have in a Suzuki 4×4.
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