Lofton takes third at 250

April 11, 2002|By AARON CLAVERIE

Staff Writer

BEATTY, Nev. — Two class 1 unlimited buggies grinded to a halt at the pit stop marking the halfway point of Best in the Desert's 2002 Terrible's Town 250.

The race was on.

Bob Lofton of Westmorland rushed to get out of his harness, out of his seat and switch places with his co-driver, Mike Julson of San Diego.

In the tight confines of a class 1 two-seater, making the switch as fast as possible is difficult but crucial, as precious seconds are wasted if not spent on the race course.


Just ahead in the other buggy, Keith Cunningham of Anaheim Hills was switching places with his co-driver, snapping himself into his Bonner-powered buggy and getting ready to motorvate.

Just after Cunningham took off toward Pahrump, Nev. — rocks spitting from his tires — Lofton revved up the Jimco Racing car's aluminum block NASCAR V6 500-horse engine and took after him.

Through tight passes, silty washes and hair-pin turns, Lofton chased Cunningham.

Talking about the race on his cell phone, Lofton said, "The dust was just terrible. In a lot of the desert events you can get off the race course and pass. Down there though there are too many rocks and ditches."

For 60 miles the two were locked in a desert duel, pushing each other at speeds close to 80 mph. Lofton would get close but have to pull back when he just couldn't see through the dust. Cunningham would pull away but Lofton would chase him down again.

"I raced him from Beatty back to the Amargosa Valley, then he pulled off into a pit and I got around," Lofton said.

He hasn't yet found out why Cunningham pitted.

But with Cunningham's buggy finally out of the way, Lofton was running second. He could concentrate on his old nemesis, Las Vegas resident Troy Herbst.

Flash back to 1995 — there's Lofton winning a class 1 championship, edging Herbst by one point.

"The next year he built the truggy," Lofton remembered.

Flash forward to 2002 — that truggy — half-buggy, half-truck, painted to look like a shark, defending champion — ran ahead of Lofton by 6 to 7 seconds.

In the final few miles of the 250, with Cunningham well behind, Pahrump loomed ahead and Lofton tried to close the gap. He almost made it.

For the second year in a row, Herbst won the Best in the Desert Terrible's Town 250, posting a time of 4:40:56 and a 56.17 mph average. Lofton/Julson finished just behind with a time of 4:45:55, 55.19 mph average, according to results posted on Lofton finished third overall in the race behind Herbst and second-place finisher Destry Abbott of Peoria, Ariz., the Team Kawasaki motocross champ. The race was sponsored by the Herbst family's Terrible's Town casino, Goodyear Tires and the Ford Motor Co.

For Lofton, getting edged by Herbst was no big deal.

He's beaten the guy a bunch of times, including recently at SCORE's San Felipe 250.

Still, if it weren't for that slow change at the Beatty pit stop, Lofton thinks he could have taken him again.

Tempering his disappointment, Lofton was the highest finisher in the race among Pro Dirt Association racers.

At the beginning of the race year, Lofton and about 20 other class 1 racers each put $5,000 into a pot, formed their own association and decided to compete against each other in five races, whether the races are sponsored by SCORE, Best in the Desert or another association.

Meanwhile, in class 7 racing at the Terrible's Town 250, Jason Jernigan of Imperial bested all comers to take the championship. He finished 43rd overall. Lofton and Jernigan were top Imperial Valley racers, others such as Heber's Steve and Matt Scaroni and Holtville's Josh Waddell had mechanical problems.

To win the class 7 championship, Jernigan beat Rick Taylor of Brawley and Shawn Wanzek of Lake Havasu City, Ariz., two racers who started before him.

Jernigan's win was impressive since his 4.0-liter V6 Ford motor was a little smaller than most of the other motors that guys were racing. Jernigan said they run 4.5-liter motors.

When Jernigan, 20, passed Taylor, the Brawley racer was changing a tire, and it was the same deal with Wanzek.

With about 20 miles to go in the race, Jernigan was leading comfortably when, "The rim just separated. It broke in two," he said.

As Jernigan and teammate Greg Seals worked to quickly replace the tire, they knew Wanzek was coming hard.

"We got the tire back on, got in and the chase team radioed. They said ‘Hey get going! They're behind you!'" Jernigan recalled.

For that last 20 miles it was a sprint to the end that Jernigan would win. Wanzek ate up a lot of time of what had been a formidable lead but he wasn't able to catch the Imperial racer.

Jernigan won the class 7 championship with a time of 6:07:09. Wanzek finished 2 seconds behind.

Jernigan gave credit to Seals for helping him get through the dusty parts of the course and he gave credit to his race sponsors who helped get the truck ready to rock. He said wasn't passed in the race.

"I gotta mention Ryerson Race Shocks of El Centro, Mad Graphix of El Centro, BJ Engineering of El Centro, Big O of El Centro, A&R Construction of Brawley, Cousins of Brawley and Imperial's Tucker Auto Body and Towing," he said.

Those companies sponsored the race truck and, "All the mechanics work is done by us, my dad, Harvey Jernigan, family and friends," he said.

The most exciting part of the race for Jernigan was those last few miles when he knew Wanzek was on his tailpipe.

He said, "Being out there in front and knowing people are chasing you … it keeps you on your toes, that's for sure."

>> Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419 or

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