“It was pretty dusty obviously and we started 13th in position and we were behind a couple trucks which is always difficult to get around. It went pretty smooth up until mile 230 or so and we got a flat tire. I think at that time we had bumped up to about fifth place. We got out and the jack system wasn’t working right, so we ended up doing it all manually. We have the power jack but it wasn’t working right. We were able to get that fixed and then we were down like 20 minutes. A couple of the trucks that we had worked so hard to pass went by us. Now my focus was just to get it to Brendan and get it in a good position to Brendan so he could take it on home.
“I’ve been racing in the desert since 1973, so it was pretty predictable. I didn’t realize there were so many tough, bad roads in the state of Nevada but there are a lot of roads that are really rough.”
HOW DID BRENDAN COME TO MIND? – “The thought came to me at the drivers’ meeting, which was the night before. It was 8:00. My son was scheduled to race with me. He’s an intern here at the hospital. He’s going through the residency program at the hospital and I was hoping he could get off but the hospital people at the last minute weren’t going to have anything to do with an off-road race. They didn’t care about an off-road race, so he called me and said he couldn’t come. So now the drivers’ meeting is about over with and I’m realizing I might have to drive 500 miles the next day. I was sitting next to a friend of mine and I said, ‘Well, what’s Brendan doing? I ought to give him a call.’ I’ve known Brendan since he was a small boy. I’ve been friends with his dad and I’ve watched him race all these years. So I opened my cell phone and sure enough I had his number. I dialed him at 8:00 the night before and was able to get to Billy. He found Brendan on the Strip and they were having dinner or something and the next thing I know Brendan calls me right back and said, ‘Where do you want me? I’ll be there.’
“So we coordinated all that and I saw him the next morning for a minute. He signed up at the last minute right at the starting line and he met me at Mina. That gave me a little more focus in my driving knowing that I wanted to deliver to Brendan. It wasn’t just my son and myself. When you have a co-driver you never want to let the co-driver down. I wanted to give him a good car in a good position in Mina so he could take it home and win as planned. The rest is history as they say.”
WERE YOU SURPRISED AT HOW WELL TOOK TO IT? – “Yeah. I think it’s hard to move into the desert. You can take the man out of the desert but not the desert out of the man. You can take him to NASCAR but there’s still a lot of desert racing in Brendan.”
THAT REALLY WASHED A LOT OF THE NASCAR TROUBLES OFF OF THEIR SOULS – “I think so. It was a very joyous finish line. I’ve never been to a finish line having Brendan there. We hung around there for what must have been a half hour and Brendan was obviously his colorful self. It was just wonderful to share this victory with Brendan and Billy.
“There was a little history. Brendan raced with us before in Baja two or three years ago and we broke. So this was a chance to kind of show that we can win and that we’re a winning team when we get together.”
ABOUT THE CAR – “It’s a stream line fabrication. It’s actually a Penall car but it has a Chevrolet Corvette motor in it. It’s a two-seat formula car that’s prepared by Larry Jacinto Construction. They’ve taken the team over this year, so this is like our fourth race with them. We’re very excited to have our mechanic, Dave, have this win so early on. Again, it’s a two-seat formula car with a Corvette engine.
October 9, 2005
“We didn’t have GPS like most of the guys and we didn’t pre-run any of the race. Neither one of us had ever run that top end of northern Nevada, so it was all new to us. It was all new ground that we’ve never run before. Normally we have an intercom system so we can talk back and forth. Before Brendan got in the car he was putting his helmet on and he ripped the wires off the helmet. So I could hear him but he couldn’t hear me. What we did was we went back to the old-fashioned hand signals and I would kind of help him read the desert and between the two of us we put it together. We missed one turn, which we kind of screwed up on. Then we hit a pretty big hole that wasn’t marked real good but we survived it because he gassed it up right when we got to the hole. Then once we knew we were in the lead we kind of just put it in cruise mode. The only problem was we didn’t know exactly how big of a lead we had on the next car. So we didn’t slow down to a crawl but we didn’t overdrive the car either.”
SO IS IT LIKE RIDING A BIKE? DID IT COME RIGHT BACK TO YOU? – “It’s just like climbing back on a bike again. Actually it was like the last time we raced in 2003. Of course we had a little bit better success than going off the cliff like we did in Mexico. It was just like he and I racing back in 1990, 1991 and 1992. It was just like old times.”
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU TO GET OUT THERE AND WIN? – “It probably has to rank with one of the best wins I’ve ever had. Obviously just racing with Bud Feldkamp even being associated with him is more than I could ever imagine. But to win with Bud Feldkamp and help him win – I don’t think Bud has won in awhile. So it’s just huge. Plus it’s good for us. I think we’ll take that try to take that to the asphalt with us. We haven’t won on the asphalt since 2003 and when you haven’t won in a long time you start wondering. Like I’ve always told everybody, once you win one race they just start coming one after another. Hopefully we’ll have success in the Craftsman Truck Series.”
October 9, 2005
HOW DID THIS DEAL COME TOGETHER FOR YOU? – I’m at dinner Thursday night (October 6th) with a friend of mine and the phone rings and it’s Billy Holbrook saying, ‘Answer your phone. Dr. Feldkamp is trying to call you.’ I grabbed the phone and it was Dr. (Bud) Feldkamp. His son Buddy is almost done with his rounds but he has another month before he’s fully out and on his own as a doctor and they wouldn’t let him out of rounds Friday night. So he couldn’t make the race. Dr. Feldkamp and his son, Buddy Feldkamp, have been running all year.
“So he called me and the first thing that I reminded him of was the Baja 1000 in 2003 when I drove his racecar off a cliff and did everything but destroy the thing. He said, ‘Don’t worry about it.’ He asked me to show up the next day. Registration was already over and it was way late. I finished dinner, ran home to bed and woke up the next morning and unfortunately I already had plans to go with my brother John and kind of play around in the helicopter and watch.
“The next morning we went over to Pahrump and had to search to find Casey Folks owns the Best in the Desert Racing Series. Late registration was basically over and they had to really, really dig hard to get Billy Holbrook and I in this race. There were 30 seconds before the first car started and Casey Folks got armbands on Billy Holbrook and I. He’s trying to start a racecar and armband us. It was not one of those perfect situations we talk about for racing.
“From there we went and watched the race. In desert racing, unlike our NASCAR stuff, Dr. Feldkamp drove the first 300 miles and I drove the last 200. So we followed all of my brother’s racecars – all our buddies, the Collins’ and Bud. It was a point-to-point race that started in Las Vegas and ended in Virginia City, NV.
“We just kind of tag-teamed along watching all our guys and everybody was having a great day. Pat Dean, in my brother’s car, was running second all day. BJ Richardson – he and my brother drive together – they were in third all day and Dr. Feldkamp was fifth and sixth all day. He’d pass a guy and then they’d pass him and then he’d pass them back. So everybody was running good.
“We get to where we’re supposed to get in the racecar and Dr. Feldkamp gives us the racecar in perfect condition. We were in sixth physically on the race track which for us was absolutely more than we wanted. After what I did in the Baja 1000 all I wanted to do was finish the thing for the guy.
“As I jumped in the racecar we got word that the team that was leading the race had had a bad crash and was out. So that put Pat Dean in the lead, which is good for me. That’s my brother’s car. Now we’re in second because my brother’s other racecar – BJ’s car – had had an input shaft break, which put Dr. Feldkamp in second place in class, fifth or sixth overall and our only goal was to finish second behind Pat Dean and finish this dang race for Dr. Feldkamp without tearing his stuff up. We wanted to do something right for him.
“We were just cruising along the road and doing old fashioned hand signals. I had no radio. Right before I got in – a rookie off-roader again – I ripped my headphones out and broke the wire. So Billy Holbrook could hear me and Billy could hear everybody talking but I couldn’t hear anybody, which was kind of nice. So Billy was giving me the old fashioned hand signals for left, right, straight and I could talk to him.
“As we’re running Billy keeps getting relays on where people are and what’s going on. I don’t get to know. He’s just giving me hand signals telling me ‘big leads’. Nobody’s chasing us and we’re fine.
“Then we’re going down this power line road with big holes. We’re being conservative. We’re not going real fast. I’m in about fourth gear doing 80 miles per hour and I told Billy on the headset, ‘I’ve either got to slow down and hit the holes or we’ve got to crank it up a little bit and get on top of these things.’ Billy gave me the hand signal for ‘Whatever you want’.
“So I cranked it up a little bit and fortunately I did. All of a sudden a huge hole, unmarked. In the desert, people that have been fans have heard me say for awhile and it’s the old Robby Gordon theory – ‘when in doubt, gas it out’. I saw this big hole and we were doing about 85 mph and I screamed into my headset, ‘Hold on Billy!’
“I downshift to third and give it full throttle and we hit this hole. The rearend comes up and all we’re looking at is dirt. We almost did an end-over-end flip. It didn’t go end-over-end; it landed. Then we almost barrel rolled because the tail started to swing. Then we almost hit a telephone pole.
“We saved all three things. Everything’s good and we drive away. We kept on digging and slowed down instead of cranking it up another notch though.
“We got another five miles up the road and there’s Pat Dean in the pits. He had hit the same hole but hit the brakes and ripped his front end off. So that put us in the lead and Class 15 is the unlimited buggy class. It’s the big class. It’s the main class. I haven’t raced a desert race since 2003 and we’re back in the second biggest race of the year and Holbrook and I are now in the lead in the biggest class. We’re top five overall but we’re not sure where. So Billy and I high-five each other and say, ‘Let’s just be smart.’
“As we’re driving we see a Trophy truck pulled over off the side of the road with a flat or broke. We see another truck pulled over on the side of the road with a flat or broke. All we know is we’re passing people just by cruising. All I wanted to do was finish for Dr. Feldkamp. We cruise this thing into the finish line. I couldn’t run my visor down. I wore the wrong visor – once again desert rookie. I’ve got a pair of safety goggles on. I’ve got bug splatters all over my nose and my cheeks and my safety goggles. We get to the finish line and Casey Folks is standing there. He looks up and gives us the high five and says, ‘Third overall, first in class!’ We won the Class 15 for Dr. Feldkamp. His son, Buddy couldn’t be there so I got on the phone with him. All I wanted to know was did this make up for driving off the road in the Baja 1000 because the last time I drove their stuff I kind of ruined it. This was a great day.
“A long time ago I said something at a NASCAR champion’s banquet to Mike Stefanik and Gary Nelson of all people that I didn’t know who Richie Evans was and after seeing and hearing their reaction to that I promised I would never forget who Richie Evans was. But to the off-road racing world, if I told you the names Malcolm Smith and Bud Feldkamp and you didn’t know who they were, that’s as bad as not knowing who Richie Evans is. So that’s for the guys who thought I was disrespectful to the NASCAR folks. I do know who Richie Evans was but Malcolm Smith and Dr. Feldkamp were the Richie Evans of off-road. They won everything. These guys were famous when I was growing up. They drove sometimes for my dad in the Barbary Coast dune buggy. Other times they drove for themselves. These two guys were unstoppable.
“Dr. Feldkamp drove a perfect race in a great racecar. He got it to us and we took it to the finish line in great condition. And Billy Holbrook and I can add our list to the names of Malcolm Smith and Bud Feldkamp that we won with them. To us in the desert, that’s a big deal. And I drove for Walker Evans who was the Dale Earnhardt and the Richard Petty of the desert. Richie Evans is that cult hero of NASCAR guys and that’s Malcolm Smith and Bud Feldkamp to us. So that was really cool for us to do that. It was really cool of Casey Folks to let us get in the race.
“It was just phenomenal. The racecar itself – the thing I felt bad about was I gave a television interview and I had my Jasper Engines race suit on and my Jasper hat on and I didn’t know any of Dr. Feldkamp’s sponsors. So I had to turn around and ask him to tell me who the sponsors were. He just got a new one – Larry Jacinto Construction in Muscle Beach, CA. Of course Glen Helen Racway Park, which is the little short course off-road deal just outside of San Bernardino. So those are his only two sponsors and now I’ve got those down. I felt like a goober. Normally I can name my Jasper Engines and my American Racing Wheels and my Dodge and this and that. I’m sitting there going, ‘Hey Doc! Who are your sponsors?’
“A little side note to the story is Rambo Liberati was Jimmie Johnson’s crew chief and Jimmie never took him out to the desert. He never had a chance to go. So I took Rambo out there with me and Rambo got to fly around in the helicopter all day and being a former Marine he was looking for the harness so he could hang out on the skids – the nut job that he is. But Rambo got his first taste of desert racing. Most of the time people don’t get to go in a helicopter for their first race. That was kind of special. Rambo got to hang out and fly around and when Pat Dean wrecked, Tony Liberati happened to be in that pit area.
“Desert guys some days they get a little lazy and they get a little tired and they decide that once they wreck they’re out of a race and it’s done. So Rambo says, ‘What are you talking about? We ain’t done.’ So he starts cutting bars out of the racecar to fix the A-arm. He cut the bumper off. He’s taking scab metal from other places just so we can fix this thing. He found a welder starts McGuyer-ing this thing back together.
“As he’s doing it they lost a shock. They had no shock and Rambo says – and this is what was absolutely hilarious and this is what got Rambo in the racecar – he looks at Pat Dean and says, ‘Don’t be a whiner. We’ll take that tire rod and bolt it to where the shock goes and you’ll just run with a solid left, front suspension. Now there are 24 inches of travel on these racecars. That ain’t gonna happen. The definition that Pat Dean gave Rambo was he took a hammer and a screwdriver and held it up to his mouth and said, ‘Let me tell you how this is going to feel.’ So Tony kept calling him a wimp and all these names. So Pat Dean at this point told his co-driver to take his suit off and give it to Rambo. So Liberati being the little Italian fireball that he is, jumped in this race suit. By the way people have always asked how do you go to the bathroom in the desert and I’ve always said you just go. The co-driver had already just gone so the suit was a little wet when he got in it. So he also got his first taste of that part of the sport.
“Then Pat Dean was tired so BJ who was already out earlier said, ‘I’ll finish it.’ So BJ got in with Liberati and they start running down the road. This thing is McGuyer-ed together and Rambo better have faith in the weld job that he did because it’s ugly looking metal down there holding this A-arm together. And he tells BJ Richardson that he wants to go 100 miles per hour. So Rambo’s looking at the GPS and they didn’t limp it in. They did not limp this racecar in. They drove it. They got over 100 miles per hour so Rambo can say he did 100 in the desert. They hit a couple big holes and cleared them and they got to the finish line in I think fifth in class and second in this special deal called Pro Dirt so Tony getting them to the finish line might have saved the point championship for Pat Dean. He got to the finish line and he looked at Pat Dean and the first thing he said was, ‘You’re right. The tire rod idea wouldn’t have worked very well.’ So I’m afraid I might lose Rambo now to my brother’s race team. He might ditch me on the NASCAR side and it might be a little more fun in the desert.
“Rambo finished 5th in Class 15 and there’s a thing called Pro Dirt, which is a class inside a class. They finished second in that. They were going to just park it and not finish and Tony Liberati go these guys to the finish line and got them a second. Pat Dean’s in the point championship in Pro Dirt, so he might have saved their points championship.
“You should have seen Rambo. Kevin Kroyer, our engine builder for the Orleans Racing team, also does race engines for Collins out in the Desert. Kevin was at Top Gun, one of the last pits they pulled into. It’s a little town called Top Gun right at the very north point of this race track. He said when they came in he didn’t know Rambo was in the car and he looked in and all he saw was teeth. He looked and saw Rambo’s smiling face in there and said, ‘Oh my God!’ So when Rambo got to the finish line he still had a smile from ear-to-ear. We both have that crazy hair and his hair was going everywhere. He jumped out and popped the hood and looked like he could have done another 500 miles. He was just jumping up and down and so excited about doing that deal.”
“The Orleans Racing team, we do it all. We’ll go to the desert. We’ll do anything and it was our first win since 2003 so it felt kind of good again just to win anything. So it was fun.”
WHERE DID YOU SWITCH OUT? – “In the desert there are pit areas. The racecar can only go so far on fuel. The Best in the Desert does a nice job of spacing out pit areas and you pick the ones where you’re going to stop. We stopped in a little town called Mina, it’s in central Nevada. Middle of nowhere – sorry to the folks of Mina – but a ghost town. That’s where we switched out at mile marker 310 or 320, something like that and the race distance was 498. So we had a good chunk of racing left to go and there are very few lights on the racecar. We only had two or four lights, so it was dark. I was always a really good night driver. I have great night vision. So the Batman and I used old fashioned hand signals and the old crew and ran to the finish again.
“You’ve got to remember the Batman is older than I am. He was racing in the desert before I was. He’s an old school desert guy that came with us to the NASCAR side. To us this is a big deal to race. He raced in SNORE and was an overall points champion in 1991 or 1992. Those were big deals to us. Just to win a SNORE championship was big. Best in the Desert is one of the world’s largest desert racing series. That and SCORE are the two biggest and the Vegas to Reno race is the biggest race for Best in the Desert. For Billy and I to come of retirement so to speak and finish third – Billy has all his buddies that he’s been racing with his whole life. He was at the bar last night and doing the bench racing and everybody was high fiving him and cheering. Top Billy Holbrook this win means just as much to him as it does to me and to him he and I back together in a racecar
doing it – at least I didn’t take him off a cliff this time.”
DOES HE NAVIGATE? – “The co-driver has two roles. Number one he’s a mechanic. If you have a problem, if you have a flat whatever it’s his job. Some drivers don’t get out and help change a flat. I always do but that’s what he’s there for. He’s there to be a mechanic. He’s there if you break a tie rod or you break something. We’ve got tool bags in the racecar. This isn’t like NASCAR where you do another lap and you pull in. You’re out there. You don’t want to sit out there all night. You’ll fix it. It’s the co-driver’s job to be that mechanic. Number two, he is an extra set of eyes. The courses are marked with arrows and streamers but there are holes that aren’t marked and like I said, we hit one of them. There are all sorts of things like rocks that you don’t see. It’s his job to be an extra set of eyes and extra assistance. At night we’re running around in shadows in the desert and when you have these lights sometimes you can’t tell which way the race course is going. We didn’t get to pre-run. It’s not like we knew about this and got to go pre-run. I’ve never run northern Nevada. I never ran that section. Neither of us had. This was all brand new race course. If you talked to us about he Baja 1000 in 1991 and 1993, I could tell you where the rocks are and where to go. Billy Holbrook and I had never been to northern Nevada to race. So this is all new race track for us. I had a problem with my visor for awhile so I couldn’t see. Now I’m running old school with my visor up and goggles on in the silt. I was just breathing the dust. My throat is still killing me. Sometimes I couldn’t see and I was driving one-handed. I put my hand up like, ‘Which way does the course go? I can’t tell’ and Billy is another set of eyes to point left or point right to help me out. That’s what he’s always been there for. He’s there to keep me calm when I need to calm down and he’s there to tell me to get going when I need to get going. The same thing he kind of does in NASCAR. When it’s time to go he’s the one that beats on me and says, ‘Hey, let’s go!’ and when it’s time to take it easy he’s the one that says, ‘Hey, slow down now and take a deep breath.’”
WHAT WERE YOU DRIVING? – “To those who don’t understand, some might call it a Sand Rail. A really big, fast, expensive one. We call it a Dune Buggy. Class 15, Class 1 is unlimited. You can have as much suspension as you want and as much motor as you want. Dr. Feldkamp has a really, really great setup. I don’t know anybody who works on his racecar. It handled perfectly. It’s got like 20 inches of travel in the front and probably 24 inches of travel in the rear. It’s a big huge shock absorber and there are two shocks per corner. Big coil springs and big two-and-a-half inch diameter shock shaft. You could drop it 50 feet off the top of a building and it would land like you were on a pillow. It’s a really nice ride. He runs a crate motor. It’s a Corvette crate motor. It’s crisp. It’s clean. It’s fuel-injected and it runs great. No problems. No issues. It has enough horsepower and torque to push it. It’s a beautiful piece. Everything about that car was just perfect except for the fact that I had a huge pillow behind me so I could even reach the pedals.”
IT’S AMAZING THAT YOU COULD JUST GO OUT AND JUMP IN THIS THING AND WIN. – “It surprised us honestly. Holbrook and I got the call the night before and we hadn’t raced in two years. Even we thought Dr. Feldkamp was nuts for calling us. I’ve been racing my whole life. That’s what I do for a living. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do for a living since I got into this deal. It’s what I get knocked on for sometimes. People say, ‘Oh this isn’t what he wants to do.’ This is what I do. I drive. Twenty-four hour, IndyCar, Open Wheel, NASCAR, whatever. I want to drive. I’ve got a lot of respect for Robby Gordon and Kenny Schrader. They both drive anything, any place, any time and can win just about any place, anywhere, anything, any time. To be able to jump in a Class 15 with unlimited power and unlimited suspension, all the big boys are there. All the guys that race two times a month in these racecars were there and for Holbrook and I to come out there and win by over an hour…The Class 15 win was won by over an hour. To be able to do that, it even amazed us honestly. But we were smart. All we did was get in. We knew the time. We knew what we had to do. Be patient. Don’t overdrive a good racecar. There was no need to go wreck it or do anything stupid. Just cruise to the finish. That’s all we did. I wasn’t the fastest but I didn’t have to be.
“We did call when we saw Pat Dean out. There’s some famous old stories of Dr. Feldkamp. He and Malcom used to always try to be the overall winner in every race and they had lost more races than any five drivers had won by going to beat the bikes even. There are famous stories of them having two hour leads in races and they were trying to catch the last bike because that was their style. When we saw Pat Dean out we knew we were somewhere in the top three in the overall picture. I said to Billy, ‘Call Dr. Feldkamp. Tell him we can crank the wick up and we can pull a Dr. Feldkamp. If he wants us to go for overall we’ll push it and crank up the wick.’ Billy calls on the radio and I guess the radio conversation was, ‘No, no, no, no, no, no, no. Just finish!’ But that’s probably what Dr. Feldkamp probably needed to hear plenty of times in the desert back then, too. I really think we could have caught the two guys in front of us but there was no need to. So we just cruised.