Highland Lakes man finds speed, thrills in off-road racing

DANIEL CLIFTON • PICAYUNE EDITOR

BAJA PENINSULA, MEXICO — Standing in the Mexican desert on a November night and learning your chances of finishing the 2012 Baja 1000 off-road race just went end over end several hundred miles to the north of you wasn’t how Cypress Mill resident Jay Reichert envisioned this trip going.

PHOTO 1: Cypress Mill resident Jay Reichert stands in front of his 2012 Jimco Racing trophy truck that’s capable of reaching 149 mph. Reichert and Charles Dorrance make up R&D Motorsports, which races Trophy Truck No. 26 in international and national off-road desert races in Mexico, California and Nevada including the prestigious SCORE International Baja 1000. Photo by Vincent Knakal-Mad Media

R&D MotorsportsPHOTO 2: Cypress Mill resident Jay Reichert (left) and Marble Falls High School junior Nick Cano wait for Trophy Truck No. 26 to come in so they can take over driver and navigator duties for the second-half leg of the 2012 Baja 1000 in the Mexican Baja Peninsula. Courtesy photo

His teammate and other half of R&D Motorsports, Charles Dorrance, had just called in to report that, while racing through the desert about 225 miles south of the starting line, he had flipped the team’s new Trophy Truck going about 80 mph.

“He told me it looked like we were out of the race,” Reichert said.

Reichert wasn’t upset despite the fact the truck, which cost $600,000, was sitting in the dirt with pieces scattered about or that the hopes of finishing and possibly winning the world’s toughest race had been smashed with it. Instead, he just shook his head and accepted it.

“That’s racing,” Reichert said several months later when asked what was going through his mind. “But then I called Charles and told him, ‘Let’s wait until we can get a crew out there before we decide we’re out (of the race).'”

Texas isn’t exactly known for producing world-class, off-road desert racers. Though he’s a Lone Star State native, Reichert discovered the off-road racing bug in the 1980s while living in Albuquerque, N.M., where his father taught physics at a university.

It was something he set out to do on his own because Reichert doesn’t come with a racing birthright.

“I just thought it would be fun, so I drug some friends out with me,” he said.

The New Mexico desert gave him and his friends a great place to develop a passion for this style of off-road racing. Reichert fashioned one of his first racing trucks from a Jeep CJ7.

“We just worked our way up through the buggy ranks,” Reichert said.

A “buggy” is one of the desert racing staples with large tires, beefy suspension, an open cockpit and a tubular frame.

With Albuquerque seated in the center of the United States desert southwest, Reichert found himself in a great place to develop his off-road skills. But for the big races, he had to go farther west.

“The top professional races in the United States are pretty much in Nevada and California,” he said. “And this sport is huge in California.”

In 1993, Reichert entered the granddaddy of desert off-road racing: the Baja 1000. The race gets its name from the fact the course cuts across about 1,000 miles of desert on the Baja Peninsula in Mexico. It starts in Ensenada and heads south to La Paz. In between is some of the wildest racing in the world.

“To put it in perspective, it would be like you getting in your car here in Marble Falls and driving to Denver,” he said. “Only, we do it off road.”

Not exactly a trip a person would want to take his or her Ford Escort on.

The race punishes vehicles and drivers. The constant pounding pushes drivers and machines to their limits.

In the 1993 race, Reichert finished fifth in his class.

He continue racing, hitting many of the big U.S. races as well the Mint 400 in Las Vegas.

One of Reichert’s biggest accomplishment came in 2000 in Baja. To commemorate the new millennium, SCORE International added 1,000 miles to the race, transforming it into the Baja 2000-A Race For The Ages.

Competing in the Pro Truck/SS class, Reichert and teammate, Scott Steinberger, won their class while finishing 17th overall.

“I don’t know how we won it, but we did,” Reichert said.

In 2002, Reichert put his desert racing behind him when he moved back to Texas to take over his family’s property management company. But he never shook the feeling of racing through the desert, so, in 2009, he bought another buggy “just to have some fun.”

Eventually, over the next year, Reichert met up with Dorrance, who had no desert-racing experience. His first real introduction to the sport came during the 2010 Baja 1000, when he served as Reichert’s right-seat navigator in the 1600 Buggy class.

“We were leading the 1600 class when the buggy pulled in (for a driver and navigator change), and Charles and I jumped in,” Reichert said. “I just hit it and go ripping through the course, hitting some bumps. Charles, he was just holding on. But he fell in love with it.”

The two formed R&D Motorsports.

In 2012, the team decided it was time to move into the most prestigious class of desert racing, the trophy trucks.

“If you looked up the word ‘macho’ in the dictionary, you’d find a picture of a trophy truck,” Riechert said.

Think of a stock pick-up truck bought at a local dealership as, say, the average American male. Now, the trophy truck, well, that’s Baltimore Raven’s linebacker Ray Lewis.

“Every piece of it is hand-built,” Reichert said. “Even the engine.”

Reichert and Dorrance turned to Jimco Racing in California for a trophy truck. Jimco Racing has developed a reputation as building some of the most advanced off-road racing vehicles in the world. And the company’s latest trophy truck design shaved weight off the vehicle while improving handling and performance.

The engine, built by Kroyer Racing Engines, generates 850 horse power with a top speed of 149 mph.

“It will beat a stock Corvette in the quarter-mile,” Reichert said.

The team took delivery of the truck in October 2012 and headed for Mexico soon after. While Dorrance and Reichert are the drivers, it takes a small army to keep the truck going. R&D Motorsports’ team consist of about 30 people who make the races.

The team relies on about seven other vehicles to support Trophy Truck No. 26. Several of the support trucks are capable of driving the course as well, though not nearly at the speed of the race vehicles.

On Nov. 15, Dorrance and his navigator, Craig Brockman, hit the gas at the starting line and raced into the Mexican desert. But trouble struck a little more than 220 miles into the race when Trophy Truck No. 26 flipped end over end.

A team of R&D Motorsports technicians and mechanics arrived at the broken vehicle, but instead of throwing in the towel, the crew was able to repair the truck. With the fixes made, Dorrance and Brockman raced off.

At the 531-mile mark, Trophy Truck No. 26 pulled in for the driver and navigator change. Reichert and his navigator, Marble Falls High School junior Nick Cano, jumped in and raced off.

The duo made it to the 981-mark before the gas tank fell off the rear of the truck because of the chassis damage from the earlier accident. But after lashing the tank back on using 25 crank straps, Reichert and Cano raced off again.

They stopped about 40 miles later at a BF Goodrich pit stop, where Goodrich technicians welded the tank back on and sent the Trophy Truck No. 26 team on their way.

At 3:30 a.m. Nov. 17, about 30 hours and 15 minutes from when the truck left the start line in Ensenada, it crossed the finish line in La Paz.

“It wasn’t has good as we had hoped, but we finished,” Reichert said.

With the 2012 race season behind them, the R&D Motorsports team is turning its attention to 2013. The next time Trophy Truck No. 26 hits the desert will be March 21-23 at the Best In The Desert General Tire Mint 400 followed by the 45th Tecate SCORE International Baja 500 on May 31-June 2.

The team plans to break out the buggies and compete in one of the Texas races coming up in April. Though not as big in Texas as it is in Nevada, California and Mexico, Reichert said it is gaining steam here thanks to the expanse of private land in the western portion of the state.

Then in November, the team heads back to the granddaddy, the Tecate SCORE International Baja 1000.

“Our goal is to win the 1000 overall,” Reichert said.

For more on Reichert and R&D Motorsports, go to www.reichertracing.com. During races, people can track the team or other teams through www.race-dezert.com.

To learn more about off-road desert racing, go to www.bitd.com, www.score-international.com or www.bajaracingtexas.com.

daniel@thepicayune.com