DANIEL CLIFTON • PICAYUNE EDITOR
CYPRESS MILL — It’s not much to look at with its colorful outer shell removed so Jay Reichert and his crew can give the truck a thorough inspection. But don’t let the skeletal-looking frame fool you because when it all comes back together, Trophy Truck 26 can run down off-road racing competitors.“I like to describe it as a Cadillac couch that’s faster than a Porche,” Reichert said at the Texas headquarters of R&D Motorsports. He’s describing the way his off-road racing trophy truck, custom built from the chassis up, feels as it roars across desert roads.
Reichert, a 20-plus year veteran of off-road racing, formed R&D Motorsports last year when Charles Dorrance of Austin joined the team. Together, they moved into the most prestigious class of off-road racing: the trophy trucks. The duo broke in the truck during the 2012 Baja 1000 in Mexico.
The race, Dorrance’s first big-time event, gave the team a look at how the truck moved and performed.
R&D Motorsports hit the off-road venue again at The Mint 400 on March 23 outside of Las Vegas. The event draws the top off-road racers in the world. Reichert hoped the race would give the rest of the competitors a look at R&D Motorsports, Trophy Truck 26 and a taste of what’s yet to come.
He wasn’t disappointed.
“The race was a big success for us,” he said. Though he and Dorrance finished 12th in the Trophy Truck/Unlimited class, the team clearly showed the rest of the off-road racing world that R&D Motorsports isn’t just in the sport to throw some dirt around and have a good time; they’re in it to win.
“In most races, you draw for your starting position, but in The Mint 400, you qualify for your starting position like NASCAR,” he said. “So we took this brand-new truck out there and, of the 72 qualifying for the Unlimited Class, we qualified sixth. So we smoked 66 of the best off-road racing teams in the world. And the teams who qualified faster than us, they were from the Las Vegas area, so they knew the course.”
Sara Schlegelmilch, Reichert’s girlfriend, rode in the right seat during qualifying March 21.
“Since we are a new race team, we really sent a message to the other teams,” she said about R&D Motorsports’ qualifying time. “All the other teams, the best in the world, were asking, ‘Who is R&D Motorsports?”
On race day, the team didn’t just enter the Unlimited Class but also competed in the Limited Class that started at 6 a.m. Reichert and Dorrance raced a 1600-class buggy, powered by a air-cooled Volkswagen engine, to a fifth-place finish out of 20.
The Mint 400 is a four-lap race over a 100-mile course. The Limited Class race gave the two drivers an opportunity to “pre-drive” the course in preparation for the Unlimited Class race that started at 1 p.m. the same day.
While he described Trophy Truck 26 as a Cadillac couch that “floats” over the course, Reichert didn’t have as nice of things to say about the 1600-class buggy.
“It just beats you to death,” he said. “It pounds you. You know you’ve been in a race when you crawl out of this thing.”
In the Unlimited Class race, Reichert and co-driver Joe Devine pushed Trophy Truck 26 to its limits, careening through the Nevada desert. One of the advantages of a high qualifying position is dust-free (or as dust-free as possible) driving. The drivers out front don’t have to deal with near as much dust than the ones who are farther back. This allows them to take a bit more aggressive approach on the course.
This isn’t a low-speed race during which drivers take their time. It’s an all-out competition during which the trucks and buggies hit speeds in excess of 80 and 90 mph. Once the dust envelops the cockpit, it doesn’t necessarily curtail those speeds.
“There are times you can’t see much over the steering wheel, and you’re going 85 mph,” Reichert said. “Most of the time, you just keep plowing through.”
Reichert drove the first two laps, edging up into fourth place at one point. At the 200-mile point, Reichert turned the truck over to Dorrance.
“Charles went out and had a really good day for a new driver,” Reichert said. “He got off pace a bit, but I think he made tremendous leaps as a driver.”
At one stage while Dorrance was driving, another vehicle slammed into the rear of Trophy Truck 26 and knocked off the spare tire. The team lost a little time as the driver and co-driver had to put it back on.
In the end, Trophy Truck 26 crossed the finish line in 12th place among some of the best drivers and teams in the world.
“The great thing is that this truck isn’t fully dialed in,” Schlegelmilch said. “And each time we take it out, it gets closer and closer.”
Reichert’s plan is to enter a few more races this year to get Dorrance more experience and fine-tune the truck. The next race is the SCORE Baja 500 from May 28 to June 2 in Ensenada, Mexico (located south of San Diego on the Baja Peninsula).
“We’re cherry picking our races this year,” Reichert said. “The two major race series are merging and holding a world championships next year. And that’s our goal.”
Before that, the team will return to the SCORE Baja 1000 on Nov. 14-17 in Ensenada as well. Reichert said the goal there isn’t just to race — everything should be in place to make a run at the podium, even first place.
While once considered a West Coast or desert Southwest sport, Reichert said off-road racing is expanding into new areas.
“This isn’t just desert racing, it’s truly off-road racing,” he said. “We can race in the desert, in the mountains, even in the snow.”
The Lone Star State actually has a series of its own through the Texas Desert Racing Association. R&D Motorsports competed with the 1600-class buggy April 6 in the TDRA Firecracker 250 in Nortrees (just outside Odessa). The buggy’s motor blew at mile 112, ending the race for Reichert and his crew.
But the experience revealed how the sport is growing.
“There were several trophy trucks and other nice vehicles there,” Reichert said.
While people unfamiliar with off-road racing might have an image of the sport and its competitors, Reichert and Schlegelmilch said they are likely way off base.
“You’re looking at $200,000 just to get into this sport at this level,” Reichert said. “And for some of the bigger teams and those who are really serious, you’re looking at a million to 2 million dollars.”
Patrick Dempsey (yes, the “Grey’s Anatomy” star) even competes in off-road racing. He won the Class 5500 of The Mint 400.
Schlegelmilch pointed out the teams are extremely conscious about taking care of the race venue, putting down large carpets in the pit area to capture spills or drips, cleaning up the course after a event and putting crew and spectator safety high on the list of priorities.
“These teams are extremely professional,” she said.
“And we’re racing on established roads,” Reichert said. “We’re not just crashing through the desert or off the road making a course.”
While the sport isn’t for everybody (Reichert said people usually know after attending their first one if it is) there’s always room for more. R&D Motorsports draws its crew from across the country at race time. And the experience they get each time out moves them closer to their goal: winning.
“Yeah, we love just going out there and racing,” Schlegelmilch said. “But we’re competitive, too.”
To follow R&D Motorsports or to learn more about off-road racing, check out the team’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/RDMotorsports.