SAMCO FABRICATION MASTER PULL USA 500 RACE REPORT
The inaugural USA 500 started on the downtown streets of Sparks, right across from the Nugget Casino, and right in the stomping grounds of the Samco crew. Contingency and tech inspection were close enough to skip trailering and drive the truck from the shop and with a start / finish line in Fernley just 30 miles east of Reno, without a doubt this is our home race. However, it wasn’t all business in downtown Sparks, the festivities included rock crawling club competitions, a freestyle moto demo, and a chance to party at local favorites such as the Cantina, Great Basin, Blind Onion, Oskis, and of course the Nugget. Unfortunately, the fun would have to wait until after the race for the smart drivers.
The week before the race was also the time to pre-run the course, allowing drivers to become more familiar with the race, to know when to go fast, and where to be cautious. This year’s USA 500 is three loops, each just over 150 miles, and a leg leading to the Start / Finish line north of Fernley. The race is a challenging 529 mile course featuring a great mixture of treacherous high speed rollers, silt beds, fun washes with a few boulders on the side to “keep it real”, the “Little House on the Prairie” section, the gnarly rock garden, some very tight and slow switchback roads through the mountains and all-in-all a diverse and fun course. Fortunately the temperatures were nearly perfect, barely pushing into the 80’s for the hottest parts of the race. It is a good time of year to be racing in Northern Nevada!
Teaming up behind the wheel of the Samco 7272 with Sam Cothrun was veteran racer “Baja” Jim Anderson. Jim has raced and won for many years behind the wheel of Class 5, Class 10 and at the front of the field, Class 1. Riding shotgun with Jim is Alex Baker. Alex is familiar with the mechanics of the Samco 7272 truck and has navigated for some of the best Group T racers in the business.
The Samco 7272 drew 4th starting position in the ten truck field of Group T trucks. Jim got off the line at just past 10:40 am and settled into a groove anticipating a first lap filled with dusty “follow the leader”
conditions. Jim passed points leader Hollenback about 5 miles in and headed to Pit 1 to start the loop section. Just over a mile past Pit 1 on a high speed roller section known as “endo alley” is an especially dangerous drop-off, here the 7272 passed fellow T competitor Mike Koneig parked at the bottom with a bent and broken front end. We found out later that Mike’s co dog Mongo had broken his back on the unintended launch off the drop-off. Fortunately this serious injury was not an immediate threat to his spinal cord. Our best wishes go out to Mongo in his recovery and props to the Total Chaos team on fixing the truck and soldiering on towards the finish line.
Jim passed Povey changing a tire a few miles later and physically moved to the front of the T class, giving him clean air to run in. Through Pit 2 Povey was 12 minutes behind, and through Pit 3 Povey whittled the lead to 9 minutes. Jim ran uneventfully until the notorious rock garden where sometimes even a conservative pace isn’t enough to prevent a sharp rock from damaging a sidewall. Flat one of the day was a slow leaker and Baker jumped out and changed the flat before losing position to any competitors. Ten miles later coming out of the mountain switchbacks, Baker notes 2 unlimited machines, a Trophy Truck and a Class 1 car closing in. Knowing the fast sections were coming, and with the 7272’s limited horsepower, Anderson and Baker decided to be sportsmen and let the “faster” guys pass. This move proved costly as the potentially faster cars topped out at a less than impressive 75 mph. It took the next 50 miles to undo the misjudgment, no more Mr. Nice Guy was the lesson learned.
Jim handed the truck off in first place to Sam Cothrun and first time co-dog, “Dirty” Harry Wagner. Harry is a long time friend of Sam and is a writer and photographer who was in need of a story. Harry was fresh off the airplane from working in Alaska and suited up to be ready for action in the 7272. Sam and Harry jumped in and buckled up with topped off fuel and freshly installed light bar, ready to extend our lead.
Sam hit the fuel pump and pushes the start button to hear a less than glorious… click... nothing. The team sprung into action, checked battery voltage and then grabbed the spare battery from the pit trailer. Wilbur Cothrun jumped under the truck and with the help from the crew, swaped out the battery. Unfortunately the battery has been a spare for the better part of 10 years and not surprisingly was less than effective. Start button… click… nothing. The crew run around to fellow racers and luckily for us a Class 9 car is deceased and on the trailer, a perfect organ donor for our race truck. The sight of Steve Rudd’s young son running through the pit with the heavy battery, giving it everything he had sprinting back to the pit burned into memory the dedication and hard work that all of our pit guys give us. This third battery was the charm and Sam and Harry resumed the race 20 minutes down, running 3rd in class behind the formidable “Class 8” T trucks of Gary Hull and Don German.
Sam picked a pace to slowly chase down first place with Harry furiously calling out corners, mirrors and gauges to aid the driving. Sam had one close call in the “Little House on the Prairie” section, hitting a cross grain ditch a bit too fast and kicking the rear end up uncomfortably close to digging in the front bumper. The furious corner calling and gauge updates gradually faded an hour into Harry’s stint as co dog. The lack of horizon reference from not looking up enough combined with the recent small aircraft travel caught up to the soon to be dirty Harry. Coming into Pit 3, Harry admitted that possibly he should jump out but unfortunately Sam had not pre run half the section from Pit 3 to Pit 1 and Sam needed the navigator’s help to not get lost and loose time. As many can attest to, once motion sickness has set in it is hard to shake. The ride to Pit 1 became a living hell for Harry and, unable to remove his helmet, the sickness caught up to him. Harry soldiered on, called dangers the best he could in his disoriented state while shooting to get out at Pit 1. The ride of his lifetime instead became a merciless torture chamber.
Past the rock garden and through the twisty tight mountain pass the Samco 7272 passed German working on his truck. Running in the dust of Hull and unable to find a suitable and safe passing area Sam was badly slowed. Finally, at the top of the Tulon pass, Hull pulled over to add oil to his engine, handing the lead back to Samco.
Harry was looking for relief coming into Pit 1 but Cothrun knew this wasn’t the best place for him. Reasoning with Harry that it is “all straight roads from Pit 1 to Pit 2 where your truck and the Samco Pit and a nice shower, it will be easy”, convincing a reluctant Harry to go onto Pit 2. Unfortunately, the straight roads were a roller coaster, re-igniting the nausea. Sam radioed Pit 2 to get a new co-driver, a splash of fuel and to uncover our new Rigid LED front lights. Finally arriving at Pit 2, the crew drug Harry out and Baker resumed the co-driver’s spot for the last leg of the race. Sam was informed at this point that he was running second on the road, nine minutes down physically to the overall leading Class 1 of Jerry Wood, props to those boys for leading overall in their first race in Class 1.
With the news of second overall position, Sam picked up the pace to chase down the overall leader. There are very few chances for a limited class racer to get an overall win and Cothrun could almost taste victory but with well over 100 miles left in the race it was far from over. Sam had to borrow Jim’s helmet due to issues with his own but the approaching dusk and Jim’s amber lens forced Sam to stop for a set of clear safety glasses at Pit 3 and run with the visor up to the finish. The overall leader was a mere 3 minutes ahead, and dust was now visible. At the rock garden Wood slowed with a race ending pulley problem on the engine, handing the physical lead over to the 7272. Despite taking care through the rock garden to not get a flat Sam pushed just a bit too hard on a sharp slow speed right hand turn and clipped a boulder with the left front tire which completely tacoed the wheel and reduced it to scrap yet miraculously the BFG tire was fine.
Baker and Cothrun jumped out for a very quick tire change and got back on the course. This put Cothrun in a position he had never been in, no spare tire with many miles of desert ahead. This slowed the pace dramatically as survival became paramount and the overall win became less important. On the tight switchback roads, Cothrun ran an ultra conservative pace, and worked on radioing Don and Debbie Ohnstead who were near the top of Tulon Pass waiting for a spare tire handoff. They had handed one spare over for the previous flat and were waiting on the Pit 2 crew for a spare tire to reload on the rack on the race truck. As the 7272 made the tight right turn by the Ohnstead visual, the pit crew was still minutes away, too far to wait. Sam decided to push on to Pro Pit where he knew a tire awaited. The Rigid lights pierced the night, allowing 90 plus mph on the way to the final pit. Sam and Alex finally hit Pro Pit and an extra tire was finally back on a truck, ending a nail-biting 50 miles without a spare. The final leg down the tight switchbacks and rocky downhill to the finish in Fernley passed without drama. Samco Fabrication Off Road Racing had won its first Overall finish at the first ever USA 500, a huge accomplishment by itself, and an even bigger feat in an underpowered truck. This victory marks the 4th consecutive victory for the Samco 7200 truck as well.
To cap it off the Hall Rally Truck racing in Class 1 that was designed and built at Samco Fabrication finished a very close second place overall and first in Class 1. This is the first victory in this extremely fast new machine, without the minor rear end issues they would have won overall by nearly an hour. The Samco prepped Hummer H3 driven by Damien Michelin, Rod Hall and Mike Winkel won the Heavy Metal Production class, giving a 1-1-1 victory to all Samco machines. Congratulations to Damien on his first victory and to Josh and Chad Hall on the first victory of many in the Rally / Trophy truck, a proud weekend for sure for the entire team. It is interesting to note, the winner of Group T has a 6 cylinder, second place has a V8, and third place has a 4 banger After celebrating at the finish line, time to load the 7272 on the trailer … ignition on, fuel pump on… click… nothing.
Huge thanks go out to our Pit crew, Christine, Wilbur, Carl, Chris, Aaron, Todd, Alex, Ape, Jeff, Megan, Mark , Skeeter, Elliot, and everyone else who helped. This race was won in the pits for all three of the Samco winners!
Special thanks to our sponsors, we could not do this without the partnership we have with you all.
And thanks VORRA on an exceptional event!