Thursday evening, Tony Pellegrino is finally packed up and heading out to The Hammers with the #4485 Ultra 4 race car in tow. Accompanying Tony was his son, Jordan Pellegrino. At age 15 ˝, Jordan was participating in his very first off road race, the Every Man Challenge ‘Modified’ Jeep class. As Tony drove out to his 5th consecutive King of the Hammers race, he had a good feeling coming into this one. He could see the lights of Hammer Town before he even turned off of Highway 247. Once there, Tony met up with his co-driver, Bryan Lyttle from Escondido, CA and they got registered for the big race.
After receiving the GPS race course map on Friday, Tony and Jordan hopped in their race cars and started pre-running! This year both Tony and Jordan pre-ran the race in their racing rigs. Normally racers will use a different vehicle (such as Tony's YJ from last year). Pre-running in your race rig is a gamble because it adds 150 miles hard miles to the rig and increases your chance of breaking before the big event. However, nothing prepares a driver like using the actual rig and getting a feel for how the car handles the terrain. In Tony and Jordan’s case, this strategy paid off.
By Saturday, Tony and Jordan had finished pre-running the entire course with their co-drivers. Co-drivers, Bryan Lyttle and Gunnar Velasquez fine-tuned their GPS race course notes while the GenRight pit team began car preparations.
The work continued into Sunday where the crew watched what they could of the King of the Motos race and awaited news of the qualifying course.
Monday morning, both Jordan and Tony took some time to practice the Qualifying course which was absolutely brutal this year! The area had degraded since the 2013 KOH race, causing ruts to deepen and rocks to fracture with razor blade sharpness. The two had drivers meetings to attend with Tony running a triangle between the main camp, the Falken camp and the GenRight pit garage.
Tuesday, was qualifying day for both Tony and Jordan. Tony was included in the “Power-Hour” lineup, that included some of the biggest names in the off road racing industry, such as Randy Slawson, Greg Adler, Eric Miller and Kevin Sacalas to name a few. As Tony pulled forward in the starting line-up, he looked up at the Hammer town Jumbotron, just in time to see Kevin Sacalas flip his car end over end at the finish line of his qualifying run. Kevin’s car was destroyed! Car after car came across the finish line with shredded tires and severe body damage, limping back to their pit garages. Then, chills ran down Tony’s spine as he pulled up closer to the start line and the throttle cable malfunctioned and the throttle stuck wide open! Fearing for the spectator’s safety, Tony immediately threw the car into neutral and turned the engine off. Tony’s Pit Chief & lead mechanic, Darren Ruzicka was already heading out into the desert to watch the qualifying runs. Tony yells on the radio of the throttle malfunction, and within minutes, Darren returned and he and several other GenRight team members dove head first into and under the race car to find the source of the problem. Within 15 minutes, they found the throttle cable had kinked, and had a temporary fix in place by installing a couple throttle springs. Due to their quick action and ingenuity, Tony was able to complete his qualifying round.
Tony takes off the start line, but the extra throttle springs hold back the car's power. Luckily, Tony makes it through the course in good time without further damage to the car. Qualifying can prove tricky for drivers, a good qualifying time can give a real advantage over competitors by placing them at the lead of the pack in the big race, but by pushing too hard, a racer runs the risk of causing major damage to their car, and jeopardizing their ability to make it to the big race on Friday. In spite of the rough start, both Tony and Jordan had a solid qualifying runs without beating on their vehicles too badly. For race day, Tony was starting position #38, and Jordan starting position #7.
Tuesday night, it's determined that Tony's car is not running to its full potential. After reviewing all their options, Darren and Tony decide to have the engine re-tuned. At 4:30 am Wednesday morning, Darren, and a few others from the GenRight crew load up #4485 to have the car dyno-tuned in Anaheim. The tuning session was a success, and Darren and his crew return to the lake bed by 6 p.m.
With the race car off the lake bed, the GenRight crew sought out work to help out their fellow racers & teams. That morning they learned that Jessi Combs' Spec class car was not even running and she desperately needed help. Without hesitation, the GenRight crew sprang into action. They rolled Jessi's car into the GenRight garage, and within a few hours, our guys were able to identify the issues, including a fuel system issue and get it running in tip top shape so Jessi could race the next day. Happily, Jessi completed her race 1st in her class!
When Darren got back with the GenRight race car, Tony and the rest of the team were already prepping Jordan Pellegrino (#4585) and Richard Garrett's (#4565) cars for the Every Man Challenge being held on Thursday. Darren wanted Tony to try out the re-tuned race car but they didn't have enough time with the Contingency Parade. The parade pulled staff that had already been working on the UTV race and didn't end until 10:30pm, giving Tony no chance to run the re-tuned car.
Thursday, EMC Race –
Running the Every Man Challenge proved to be an excellent dry run for Team GenRight. It gave the team an opportunity to get everything dialed in time for the big race on Friday. And this gave Tony the opportunity to see what was involved with being on the “other” side of race day as part as a pit crew member. At 6 am, on Thursday morning, as they get ready for their race day, Jordan and Richard were met with overcast skies, ideal race conditions. The two had very close qualifying times and took off at the starting line side-by-side.
Just around the first corner, a driver had already flipped in the middle of the course causing Richard and Jordan to swerve left and right around the car. Jordan said the dust was extremely bad in the area, reducing visibility and adding danger to the course. The rest of the first lap went very well, which enabled Jordan and Richard to keep pace with each other, and come into the first pit close to the same time.
Jordan took off after refueling, but the team had discovered Richard's clutch was broken. Richard's spirits sank as he learned the news. Last year, Richard was unable to complete the EMC and this year was starting to look similar. Tony took off to get the replacement clutch from the GenRight pit tent, and ran back to Main Pit ready to get Richard back in the race. Between Richard, Tony, and hard work and innovation of seven other team members, they were able to pull the clutch and fix the driveline in just over two hours!
It was a huge team effort to get Richard back in the race, and get him to the finish line. When he finally took off, his spirits soared and he drove his wheels into the ground moving faster than most drivers in front of him. HHe was extremely appreciative of GenRight's help and to be racing once again toward the finish line.
Having been a driver for the last 4 years, being in the pits was a whole new perspective for Tony. Tony says it was extremely stressful as you are desperate for any information on the car you are pitting for. With this being Jordan and Gunnar’s very first race experience, they weren't calling out race miles or communicating regularly over the radio. On top of all this, Jordan's IRC tracker antenna broke off and rolled under the dashboard, causing sporadic updates on their GPS location. With little information, Tony hopped in the 'Terremoto' JK and booked it across the desert trying to beat the racers from mile 49 to Wrecking Ball hoping to catch sight of Jordan.
Once Tony got there, he found a great vantage point where he could see the cars as they came out of Jack Hammer, in & out of Chocolate Thunder, and proceed to Wrecking Ball. It was a good spot showing 3-4 miles of the race course and allowing Tony to report back to the crew on their whereabouts.
As Jordan was making it through Jack Hammer they passed Ben Varozza who had lost a radiator fan and was over heating. Realizing that Jordan's car was also overheating, they stopped to fix it and were then passed by Ben. With the car working again, Jordan was able to catch up and pass Ben Varozza in Chocolate Thunder. Because Ben was in the Stock jeep class, he was able to bypass Wrecking Ball, while Jordan in the Mod class, tackled the waterfall.