By Jon Crowley
I have chased Vegas to Reno as a media guy just a few times and it is always a challenge. Heat and dust in August are minor problems compared to the logistics of getting content as much as possible as you drive up highway 95. Assuming you are chasing one team that isn’t having issues, it is impossible to hit all the pits with one chase vehicle. Then if you do get any pictures or video, cell service is miserable. If you have to drive yourself, it is even more difficult.
A few weeks before this year’s race, Phil Blurton asked if I wanted to jump in with his team and capture his race. After I had a few minutes to sort through that request, I said yes. For one thing, not having to drive would allow me to edit and post between pits. It would also give me more access to Phil and his his program so I could give a better behind-the-scenes look into the race.
If you don’t know Phil Blurton, allow me to give you a little background. He burst onto the Best in the Desert race scene in 2017 as a privateer and a new Can-Am Maverick X3. Beau Judge was his co-dog back then, just like now. They first tried short course racing and the local VORRA series in 2016 and after some success there they decided to step it up and go for the Best in the Desert series in 2017.
First few races were big learning experiences, but then at the third race of the season, the UTV World Championship, Blurton and Judge would take the win and UTV racing has been different ever since!
After winning the UTV World Championship in 2017, Phil secured a factory sponsorship with Can-Am, then went on to win Vegas to Reno and the 2017 BITD Championship along with Rookie of the Year.
2018 Blurton honed his skills with a class championship with 1st place finishes at the UTV World Championship, Laughlin night race, Vegas to Reno and the Pahrump 250.
In 2019 he narrowly missed the class championship, but notched three more 1st place finished including Vegas to Reno.
So far in 2020, he has placed 1st at Parker 250, Silver State 300 and a 2nd at Laughlin. If you are keeping track, since 2017 Blurton has won 12 of 23 Best in the Desert Races that he has entered (47.8% if you are into percentages). And his podium rate is 69.5%! That is simply unheard of with the class having as many competitors as it does.
What I really like about Phil is he isn’t out there telling people what a badass he is. He just leaves it to the race course.
So with three consecutive Vegas to Reno wins and two class championships I was really excited about being part of Blurton’s Vegas to Reno program this year.
2020 Vegas to Reno
We met up in Dayton, NV near the finish line and I jumped in with them on Wednesday. We got to Las Vegas and Phil realized that our reservations were not where tech & contingency would be. We were at Santa Fe Station and the BITD host hotel was Sunset Station. Oops.
Next morning, we headed to Sunset Station to get registered and get through tech & contingency at 7:30. Registration was quick and COVID-19 rules were in full effect. We unloaded the No Limit / Can-Am Maverick X3 and headed to tech. It was super hot already and wearing a mask made it even worse. During COVID, BITD was letting race cars that were on open trailers go through on the trailer which was interesting.
We met up with several other Can-Am teams and had some fun with Dustin Jones.
Tech and contingency took longer than expected and the 110 degree heat was taking its toll on us. we finished up a few hours later but not before I got a quick interview from Phil and Beau.
Unlike year’s past, this year the race started 30 miles south of Beatty. Phil and Beau would be off the line about 11:30, but due to COVID, only race car could be at the start line with a pit crew nearby. Seems pretty silly to do this in the middle of the desert, but if this is what we have to do to race, so be it. Phil is typically a bundle of nerves before a race, but I was surprised when he agreed to a quick interview.
Race kicked off on time and it was obvious that the dust was bad. Phil and Beau were off the line. Video below shows just how bad it was.
Phil has two chase trucks and for Vegas to Reno, this is super important as you physically can’t get to every pit in time with one truck. We were covering even numbered pits so the first time we would see Phil and Beau was at Pit 2.
All was good at Pit 2, except they had slipped to second place physically. I believe Dustin Jones was ahead of them at this point and I was pretty surprised that Phil and Beau had let anyone by without some sort of problem. Beau isn’t one to talk much on the radio, so we had no idea that anything could have been wrong at that point. But either way, they cruised through the pits with the team just doing a visual on the car without stopping. Off to pit 4 we went and our first fuel stop.
We did get word that they wanted an air filter changed. Have I mentioned that the dust was horrible this year? The fuel stop didn’t go quite as smoothly as planned because they didn’t take as much fuel as expected. After leaving the pits, we got word that the car would not go over 60MPH and they wanted both chase trucks at pit 5 to diagnose and fix.
It turned out that the fuel regulator was running low at 40psi for some reason and it was set back up to 65psi along with an O2 sensor just for good measures. After leaving the pit, we got word that they had full power again, but the pit took some valuable time and now Branden Sims and Mitch Guthrie Jr. were in front of them. We rushed as quick as possible to get to pit 6 in time, but couldn’t get there but they were running fine and didn’t need help. At this point, Sims was working on a mechanical issue that would eventually take him out of the race and it was just Guthrie Jr. in front of them. We headed to pit 8.
Pit 8 was another fuel stop, and while it went smoothly, Wheeler got past us while we were in the pits so they were physically in 3rd now. And since Phil started first, corrected time comes into play once you get to this stage of the race. By pit 8 they were probably 5th place on corrected time as racers go off the line ever 30 seconds. Off to pit 10.
By pit 10 near Hawthorne, NV, they were still in 2nd physically with Guthrie in the lead and Dustin Jones now just seconds behind Phil and Beau. Off to pit 12.
This was another fuel stop, but they just took one can to get them to the finish. Guthrie was about 4 1/2 minutes ahead and Jones was right behind them with 79 miles to go. Severe dust was now making way to rain and darkness and this would be a crucial part of the race.
Five miles past pit 13, Guthrie hit a big rock which somehow knocked out his lights. With darkness now in full effect, Guthrie was forced to follow other vehicles in order to see the course.
By race mile 500, Phil and Beau had overtaken Guthrie and were in 1st place physically.
We raced to the finish line in Dayton and waited nervously to see if Phil and Beau could pull off a miracle. Guthrie start 7th so Phil had to make up 3 1/2 minutes on him to win.
Phil came across the line first and I started a stopwatch. Minutes passed by so slowly, then Guthrie arrived after Jones. We did some quick math in our heads and we thought that Phil and Beau might had done it. Several minutes the top three sat at the finish line while officials checked tracked and made sure of results. Then we saw Phil and Beau coming our way.
They had pulled it off! What an incredible nail-biter of a finish. Phil and Beau had just won their 4th consecutive Vegas to Reno! What an incredible accomplishment and something that was very interesting to see unfold first-hand. Phil and Beau have been racing Best in the Desert for just four seasons now and have racked up 13 wins out of 24 races!
For Can-Am, this race was quite an accomplishment with the win for Phil and Beau, a 3rd for Dustin Jones and 8 out of the top 10 finishers in the UTV Turbo class.
Phil had no flat tires no wheel issues and zero CVT belt changes. Just the fuel regulator issue that slowed him down for about 50 miles or so and took a few minutes in the pits to adjust. The top three finishers came in within 5 minutes of each other after 515 miles and almost 10 hours on course. If they had to stop on course to even change a tire or a belt it could have cost him the win. This class has become that competitive!
Vegas to Reno from my perspective was super challenging. Flying solo, it is hard to capture the race and present it to everyone in real-time, but that is what I did on Instagram. I hope this gave some neat insights and updates to race fans while the race was underway and I hope to raise the bar with even better coverage at the last race of the year where Phil and Beau will try and claim another season championship. Stay tuned!