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Gwinnett-based desert racing team keeps on rolling

Staff Photo: John Bohn Ted Holt, owner/driver of Peak Performance Racingl left, Tim Holt, crew chief, center, and Wesley Switzer, pit manager, right,  will be racing a Jeep in the General Tire Vegas to Reno Race in Nevada later this month. They are based in Lawrenceville.

Staff Photo: John Bohn Ted Holt, owner/driver of Peak Performance Racingl left, Tim Holt, crew chief, center, and Wesley Switzer, pit manager, right, will be racing a Jeep in the General Tire Vegas to Reno Race in Nevada later this month. They are based in Lawrenceville.

It's a triple-digit August day. Home is more than 2,000 miles away. In the middle of a desert, it's at least 50 miles to the nearest shred of civilization.

Rocks, sand and other desert debris fly off the steaming surface and head directly at your vehicle. Not to mention the rattlesnakes that must be fended off if you break down in the hot, dusty conditions.

For most people, this is far from an ideal setting. For eight members of the Gwinnett-based Peak Empire Racing Team, this scene is part of an annual summer ritual.

"It's addicting," crew chief, Tim Holt said. "You can imagine all the camaraderie with all of the other teams, getting ready before the race and then the race afterwards we've got the big banquet. It takes you out of this world that we live here, with work everyday. It's a world that's completely, totally different."

The team is one of more than 400 making a non-stop, 534-mile trek this week in North America's largest off-road desert race: Best in the Desert's General Tire Vegas To Reno. The Gwinnett team will be competing for its fifth year since its debut in 2007 Baja 1,000 race in Mexico. The team is in the classification 3,700 JeepSpeed 3 division, which has six total teams competing this year.

"We're all hot-rodder guys," team owner and co-driver Ted Holt said about the interest in this race. "We used to rock-crawl. It kind of transpired into this. In 2006, we went to Mexico and watched the Baja 1,000 race and decided we had to do it. We've been desert racers ever since. It's a need for speed."

The team, based in Lawrenceville, made a 2,300-mile trek to Las Vegas before the actual race begins today. This is the longest distance traveled of any team in the event.

"They make us feel special when we go out there," Tim Holt said. "We're from Georgia and desert racing from Georgia is kind of a strange thing in itself. When we get out there they make us feel good about it."

Before they arrived in Vegas, the Holts and their team spent many months in preparation.

"Since January of this year we have had different modifications and upgrades we try to do before each race," Ted Holt said. "We spent some time up in Tennessee. It's a long process, but a few weeks ago, when we got everything ready to go, we started road testing (the car), spending sometime with it, making sure everything feels the way we want it to."

They also have to be prepared for the pit stops. They are required to stop at them, but do not know where those pit stops will be located until they receive a final race map prior to race day.

"Once it starts, we'll go to the first pit," Tim Holt said. "They may not even go (to the first pit), but we have to be there and we try to coordinate with three other (support crews)."

Surprisingly, the group has very little nerves about race day. However, when the big day comes, it's all systems go.

"On race days, you get up early," team navigator and co-driver Gary Cann said. "You try to make sure you have everything ready, everything's in the Jeep. You get on the line, the race starts and pretty much after the race starts, it's complete pandemonium for 30 hours. It's like a 30-hour car wreck. I'm looking at a little GPS screen and all of the gauges and (Ted's) trying to keep us from flying off of the mountain. I'm yelling directions and whatnot. I'm talking to (Tim) on the radio trying to relay (the pit crew). Once the green flag drops, it's 100 miles an hour in all directions for everyone of us until the end."

"We get up and we're worried," Ted Holt said. "We put everything in the truck. Once the race starts for (Gary and I) it's constant. There's no time to reflect while you're racing. You're not thinking about anything."

This year's 534-mile course will begin northwest of Las Vegas in Beatty, Nevada, near the Arizona-Nevada border. The course will head northwest in the direction of US Highway 95, occasionally crossing over the highway. This creates another challenge in the race, according to Ted Holt. Whenever the race is on a main highway like 95, the drivers must obey the posted speed limit signs or face a penalty of added time.

The 3736 car takes off today from Beatty, Nevada, around 9:30 a.m. Pacific Time. That means they will most likely arrive at the finish line early Saturday morning in Reno. Fans can follow the race and track the Lawrenceville team's progress live at www.bitd.com. NBC Sports Network will air a highlight show of the Reno to Vegas race desert racing coverage on Oct. 28 at 6 p.m. and November 1 at 5 p.m.

"It's weird, at the end you don't feel like a lot happened," Cann said in reference to the race finish, "but then three weeks after or three hours after, you think to yourself, 'Hey, I did that.'"

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