One of the Best in the Desert trucks kicks up dust and dirt on the course.

One of the Best in the Desert trucks kicks up dust and dirt on the course.

After 10 years of off-road motorcycle racing and numerous injuries, Kellon Walch, 33, of Alamo a few years ago decided to switch over to the off-road trophy trucks.

He was racing on the pro circuit with off-road motorcycles when he was in high school at PVHS, and after graduation in 2001, signed a pro contract. But over time, injuries were just too much to want to put up with. He said, “The saying goes, with age comes the cage.”

Walch and over 320 other contestants, including a number of out-of-state riders and drivers, participate last weekend in the 20th anniversary of the Best in the Desert “Las Vegas to Reno, The Long Way” race, a 634-mile trip.
David Pearson of Panaca was also in the race in the Open Pro motorcycle class, though he didn’t immediately to phone calls to see how he did.

Dubbed the “longest off-road race in the United States,” the usual one-day event was expanded to be two-day event to mark the 20th year.

However, the race did not start in Las Vegas, it began in the Delamar Valley, just off U.S. 93.

After working out an agreement with the Bureau of Land Management, and with the permission of the Secretary of the Interior, after protests from several eastern groups, the race was allowed to be run through a section of the south end of the new Basin and Range National Monument, with the stipulation they could only travel on existing roads and at the posted speed limit of 35 miles per hour.

But because of the crash of an Air Force helicopter on the course Thursday night, the Air Force insisted the race course be changed to avoid the crash area. The change made it so no one had to travel through the Basin and Range Monument as had been planned. Riders and drivers all knew the course had been altered due to the crash.

Walch served as the navigator in the truck driven by former partner Justin Matney and RPM Off-road team.

“The job of the navigator is to keep an eye out on the terrain, monitor the gauges, and help change a flat tire if
one occurs,” Walch said. “It’s desert racing, you’re bound to get a flat or two.”

Normally, he teams with former NASCAR, CART, and Indy 500 racer Robby Gordon, who was unable to attend the race this year. However, Walch said they did race together in the Parker, Arizona 250 in January.

Gordon drove in the Indy 500 for 11 years, finishing fourth in 1999, and sixth in the Daytona 500 in 2003.

Walch, a firefighter for the Clark County Fire Department since 2011, said injuries were just too much to put up with in off-road motorcycle racing. “After so many years of trying to make a living and getting hurt so many times, spending time in the hospital, and if you’re not showing up at the races, you aren’t getting paid, I made the natural transition to four wheels instead of two.”

He said his injuries from motorcycle racing included “two broken ankles in the same accident. At other times, “a shattered pelvis and femur bone, several concussions and a compound shoulder fracture.”

His wife Milly said she is much happier now that he is in at least a safer environment. “He’s in a roll cage right now, seat belted and harnessed in, so it’s not quite as scary,” she said. “I feel a lot better about it.”

The 2016 Best in the Desert race, being a two-day event, started in Delamar Valley and went to Tonopah the first day, then on to Reno the following day. Walch said breaking the race up into two segments, “Makes it a little bit interesting and little bit different strategies for everybody.”

However, Dame Fortune was not on the side of Walch and Matney this year. On Friday they had a rear tire blow out going 118 miles per hour. “Justin did a good job of saving it and we didn’t crash. The back end got all kind of squirrelly and we ran off the road, but got it stopped and made the change.”

He said a bit later, “We had a water line that cracked and had to replace that, which took a while,” but they did make it to Tonopah to complete the first day.

On the second day, Walch said they “blew out the transmission just past Hawthorne,” which caused them to have to withdraw from the race altogether.