This started last year when I read an article online, titled something along the lines of “7 races to do before you die”, among those named was the Dirt Nitro Challenge, in Phoenix, Arizona.
I had some American friends online already, from the internet messageboards, namely Monty Houston, the owner of Fusion X engines, and Torrance Deguzman the chief designer of HB, so I asked them about it and they said it was a very good race to go to. Mr. Deguzman told me that if I only ran one class, I would not get as much track time as I would have liked. He suggested I also run electric buggy. I decided it would be a good idea, even if I had never tried it before.
I quickly gathered the parts to assemble an electric HB D812. I have been running the D812 for some time, but as some may know they do not make an electric version.
Luckily I was able to get a custom chassis from Sandoval CNC, which is designed to bolt on various brands’ parts, he has made the holes so all this bolts straight on.
This is the list of parts I used for the electric D812 conversion:
- Chassis from Sandoval CNC
- HPI 107377 receiver box
- LOSA 4461 Losi battery tray
- LOSA 4463 Losi battery straps
- Elite RC D8 motor mount
- HPI 103668 brace & stiffener set (to get the gear cover)
- Servo mount plastics for battery stops (Miguel Zambrana, thanks for the tip!)
For the trip itself I booked my flights through Iberia, as much to my surprise this was the cheapest alternative, it came out at approx. €710.
The flight would take me from Malaga to Madrid, then on to Fort Worth Texas, and from there to Phoenix, Arizona. It was a really long flight, and it was actually flown by American Airlines, even if it was sold as Iberia, they have codeshare flights.
Going back I would fly from Phoenix, to Chicago, on to London, and from London to Malaga
Now, it might be worth mentioning, that before going to the US, you have to apply for ESTA approval, in order to be allowed into the US. They ask you various questions about anything from criminal record, if you are a terrorist, and also if you have any venerial disease, and then you have to pay a small fee for the application, I think it was €10-20 or so.
I was able to pack all my gear into one suitcase and one carry-on. I had never traveled to a race by air before, so this would prove to be a learning experience about what you should bring and what is not worthwhile bringing.
My checked in luggage contained my nitro buggy, my radio, starter box, assortment of tools, parts, charger, and some sets of tires. Mainly I had brought Impact softs and super softs. My carry-on luggage contained my electric buggy, 7 t-shirts, 7 pairs of socks, two pairs of shorts, and 7 underpants/boxershorts 😀
I would later discover I had no cables for my charger, but this would prove a great way to meet new friends!
Torrance Deguzman had recommended that I should stay in the same hotel as HB use, but after checking the price I discovered it came out at $900 US dollars, I then searched online and found a small house which I rented for only $550 for the whole week, it was in a nice area of a city called Tempe, 30 minutes away from the racetrack.
I booked a rental car which cost me $200 US for the week.
When I arrived it was late in the evening, and I immediately proceeded to go to the house, and ordered a peperoni pizza, before going to sleep.
The next day I drove to the track, and met up with Monty Houston, I would be pitting with him. It turns out he knows “everyone”, which was good for me, as I instantly found myself having many friends there.
They had a big pit area called “tent city” in between all the caravans and trailers. A lot of the US drivers had big RV’s/caravans, and huge trailers for their pit area.
Some had barbeque’s going, this was almost like a small city.
I was amazed by how many people arrived, and how many huge vehicles were there. This was a huge happening, absolutely amazing.
In fact there were so many people signed up this year that the schedule became impossible. This meant many days we would start 07.00 and finish 02.00-03.00, which meant very little sleep.
The first day was practice, you should get two practice runs of 7 minutes per class. However due to the large number of entries and a power failure during the day causing delays, this was cut to one practice run.
One thing that immediately struck me was just how difficult it was going around the track. I was used to Spanish racetracks, it’s difficult to explain it, but our tracks are mostly a bit flatter and sometimes more technical in a different way.
This track was brutal. Big, huge jumps, and there were some interesting camber in the turns – the one turn went right while the surface cambered left, and they also put in some small bumps up in some of the turns so you’d either make a jump or run a wider line around it.
Some of the jumps you would either jump as a triple or go slower and double-single. In order to clear it as a triple you had to run the previous turn perfectly and get on the throttle early.
I have heard many people comment that “US tracks are easy”, but I found that it was absolutely not easy at all. Many struggled with it, even Atsushi Hara did not do well at this track.
But it was FUN! A lot of fun, I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed going round a track as much as I enjoyed this one. It was challenging and fun at the same time.
Ahead of the qualifying groups, they sorted the groups based on your 3 fastest consecutive laps during practice.
I had not done so well in practice, so obviously I was not seeded in the top groups. However in electric buggy I wound up in the same group as Juraj Hudy, which was interesting.
After the first run of qualifying they re-seeded the groups again.
Now I think I should mention at this point, one of the things I noticed was that at DNC they have a completely different approach to rules and regulations than what we normally see at races like Campeonato Andalucia and similar.
Tech inspection is a basic fuel-capacity and weight measurement.
For the actual racing, they turn a blind eye at rear-ending and dirty driving, and the starting procedure is really different.
First everyone comes out of the pit lane, and each drive individually over the timing loop. Then we got a really short warm up. Drivers then proceeded to cut the track, drive wrong way on the track, and then everyone started circling around going back and forth just before the timing line.
This was not what I was used to at all, and all these things would get you penalized by race control in Spain, if you did them here.
This usually led to “bunching up” at the start of the qualifiers.
For electric buggy the start of qualifying was less chaotic, everyone came across the timing line individually, then went around to the starting area in the turn ahead of the timing loop, then circled around a bit like chaos, and then went off one-by-one as they wished whenever they wanted.
With the electric buggy I quickly discovered I was undergeared, I just didn’t have the pace down the straight. Now, this is when I discovered how nice everyone was. Every time I needed something someone would just give it to me.
I was speaking with Jeremy Potter and said my car was slow, and he proceeded to give me a bigger pinion gear. 21 tooth, three teeth more than what I had. Speed problems fixed! I also had a problem with my fan on the ESC. A man named “JD”, who I understood was the LRP team leader, gave me a new fan, problem solved.
All the while I was there, Monty Houston gave me free Byron’s fuel. It was great!
I was speaking with Reno Savoya and commented that I had never tried the Sweep Revolt’s he was running, and he just gave me a set of tyres and said I should try them.
DE Racing gave me some free stuff too at their booth.
In qualifying I got hit by another car after being spun round by one, and it basicly folded my shock tower flat with the shock standoffs and all. But Ty Tessmann gave me some new ones so I could run the next heat.
My qualifying runs were a bit average really, I wish I could have done a bit better, but for electric I would be running the C-main, and for nitro the D-main.
Ahead of the D-main I notified my friends in Malaga on whatsapp so they could watch, and when I had to turn-marshal after my main they asked me to wave to the camera, so that was fun!
I finished 4th in the C-final of electric, and 8th in the D-final of nitro buggy, where I was running 5th just behind the 4th placed car which could have seen me bump up if I had caught him, but in the last few laps I kept getting hit by other cars, so I dropped back a fair bit in the last few laps unfortunately. Next time I will learn from this and be more aggressive in the turns if I am defending a position, you can’t slow down and run a narrow line because they’ll hit you!
During the time I was there I met lots of famous drivers, some of them were chatty and others not so much.
Ryan Lutz was great, we spoke for 10-15 minutes the one day, and he was a really nice guy to talk to. Reno Savoya was really nice too, and Atsushi Hara was talkative.
I also had an opportunity to ask Adam Drake about his Mugen, he basicly said his idea was to continue with Mugen but they didn’t have anything nailed down yet.
I also met Mike Truhe who is another racing legend.
Saturday and Sunday were the best days for me. Torrance Deguzman came there Saturday, took me over to the HB tent and handed me Ty Tessmann’s D815, which is the new HB model which will be out soon. It was great, it has so many novelties to it, there’s too many to mention. One of the coolest ones were the shock caps with screws in them, which Torrance said was something onroad racers used to do before. Then I had a nice long talk with the Tessmanns, where Gord proceeded to tell me about how they used to take Ty to practice every day for at least one hour when he was a kid, and about how they had chosen home schooling for him. They seemed like really, really nice people.
Generally I can say everyone involved with HB seem really nice people, also the less known drivers like Austin Hauch.
Tanner Stees was a nice kid, and so very fast on the track.
One of the things I found the most awesome was the Truggy final, Ronnefalk and Tessmann dicing it out in the most thrilling race I’ve ever seen, and we were sat on haybails along the straight, so the cars passed us about 50cm away from our feet. There’s only one thing to do, and that’s to buy a truggy! We need some truggy races here, it’s way cool!
It was so much fun being there, and I enjoyed being in the US a whole lot. If there’s a heaven it has 24/7 racing at DNC.
I will absolutely be going back next year if I can, to meet up with my friend Monty Houston, who’s a great guy, and try to do a bit better in the race – and compete in the Truggy class!
I’d like to thank everyone I met who were so nice to me, Brian Mena, Mark Forbes, Monty Houston and his father Monty Houston Sr., Torrance Deguzman, the Tessmann family, John Linner, “Big Nasty”, Billy Fischer, Austin Hauch, Jeremy Potter, Gentry McWherter, and everyone else who made me laugh and helped me out during the week, it was great, and I can’t wait to come back!