Taking the Long Way

Vegas to Reno off-road race cuts 534-mile path through tough terrain

Trick Truck class driver Rick D. Johnson is among the 250 entries for the TSOC Vegas to Reno off-road race.

Casey Folks is the organizer for the TSOC Vegas to Reno off-road race.

The trip from Beatty to Reno is 331 miles, and there’s a perfectly good road—U.S. Highway 95—that will get you there smoothly and quietly while you fiddle with the radio, scan the empty desert, note the high peaks and hope you don’t run out of gas or get a flat. It should take about six hours, plus stops.

If that sounds dull, there’s an alternate route: 534 miles of dirt, rocks, sand washes, a 9,000-foot mountain, sizzling dry lake beds, a ghost town and a stop at a brothel. Instead of fiddling with the radio, you’ll be choking on dust, trying not to catch a tire on a rock and flip. It should take about nine hours, but it may take twice that if you break down or smack into a cow. Go as fast as you dare; there is no speed limit.

It’s a route that could only be laid out in Nevada, and not just because of the brothel stop. This alternate is also known as the TSCO Vegas to Reno race—even though it starts in Beatty—and it’s the longest off-road competition in the United States. Nevada is the only state in the nation with enough open land to allow such a mad dash across the hinterlands, race organizer Casey Folks says.

“This is the last frontier of the Wild, Wild West,” Folks says, sitting behind a desk in his cluttered office, a room off the sales floor of a motorcycle shop on Boulder Highway. “Every other state is locked down. In Arizona, you are lucky if you can get a 20-mile course. In California, forget it. They’d shoot you.”

Folks is one of those lucky guys who followed his passion until it paid off, one way or another. In his case, the love was racing motorcycles off-road over long distances. In 1980, he was the first rider to finish the Baja 1000 solo, and in 1995 he rode 3,000 miles during a five-day rally in Tunisia.

In 1996, he resurrected the Frontier 500 off-road race, named for the since-demolished New Frontier hotel-casino, and renamed it Vegas to Reno. The Frontier 500 was for motorcycles only, but Folks opened up his race to cars and trucks.

In the 14 years since, Vegas to Reno has gone international. This year’s race, which starts at 5 a.m. Aug. 20 in Beatty, has 250 entries from 25 states, as well as Canada, Mexico, France and South Africa. They’ll run in everything from $500,000 custom trucks that top out at 130 mph and float over bumps with three feet of suspension travel to solo riders grinding out the course on motorcycles just to say they did it.

Vegas to Reno has also gone high-tech, with racers tracked by satellite, alarms that tell course workers if someone has crashed and Internet coverage from start to finish on Best in the Desert Racing Association’s website, bitd.com.

While the California 200 off-road race ended in tragedy Aug. 15 when a race truck flipped and rolled into the crowd, killing eight spectators, the Vegas to Reno race should not have such danger since the track is not a loop, meaning there is no centralized viewing area. Instead, the race can be watched from 16 designated areas, most of which are near U.S. 95, and maps can be found on the website.

The logistics of the race are daunting, Folks says: 450 volunteers manning the course; 32 permits from federal, state and local governments; medical teams; communications teams; helicopters and a bus loaded with electronic scoring equipment and computers. Not to mention the toilets. “I’ve got $10,000 in Porta-Johns,” Folks says. “You have to have one at every pit; it’s required”

The race is run primarily on roads otherwise open to the public, and last year Best in the Desert spent $62,000 fixing them afterward. Folks says he will spend about $125,000 putting the race on, including $50,000-plus just for the permits from the Bureau of Land Management. He’s got a standing agreement with ranchers that Best in the Desert will pay for any cattle racers run into on the spot, no questions asked. “We have only had one incident where we had to pay for a cow that a truck hit,” he says.

But the question remains: Why bother when there’s a perfectly good paved road running from Beatty to Reno? If you have to ask, however, you’ll never understand.

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