Established in 2011, the Texas Desert Racing Association (TDRA) has grown into a formidable presence in off-road racing, proven by the 38-car turnout for last weekend’s race: the Texana 180 Race-to-Midnight. TDRA’s biggest race yet, the Texana 180 was a spectacular success, not only for the teams and spectators, but also for putting a stake in the sand for desert racing in the Lone Star State. On July 18-19, people came from all over the mid-west to participate. Some came from Eastern states such as Tennessee, and one team drove 1,300 miles from Mexico City to compete. A Robinson R66 chopper provided air coverage for this weekend of exciting racing.
The Perfect Location
The 5,000-acre Texana Ranch is located south of Abilene in Blackwell, Texas and boasts a 43-mile baja course. For the Texana 180, competitors made four laps of the rugged terrain to reach the checkered flag. Starting at 6pm, drivers had a few hours of daylight before the light bars came on for night-racing action.
John Clark, a well-known racer and promoter, has been instrumental in track development for TDRA races across Texas. Trey Palreiro (TDRA V.P. and the owner of Texas Raptor Runs) said, “John Clark has been a huge asset in this project, bringing a great group of Texas racers, volunteers and landowners to the table for the good of the group.”
Clark explains, “Off road racing is about finishing in one piece and driving your vehicle right to the edge of its ability.” According to Clark, a good course has “variation in terrain, from high speed, to silt, to rocky terrain, and a technical section.” The Texana 180 did indeed have a great course! Competitors not only faced a challenging circuit, but also exotic animals and wild game on the property while they were night-driving.
When the Texana Ranch isn’t hosting a race, it’s a hunting park, so exotic game including buffalo, antelope, elk, zebra and various kinds of exotic deer and sheep roam freely. The Beal family operates a ranch which is unique in the entire country, with an outstanding baja course, camping and RV hookups, on-site recovery teams and excellent support. Participants frequently expressed their appreciation to the Beal family for allowing TDRA to use the course.
Despite Thursday’s rain for setup day, volunteers and staff had everything in place for the teams to arrive. Thankfully, the weather was comfortably cool on Friday as the teams went through tech inspection in the afternoon and then from 8-10pm, the drivers test-drove a short section of the course for basic pre-running and to ensure their lights were calibrated and functional for the night race the next evening.
Saturday held more temperate weather before things heated up to the 90s. The teams had access to the full 43-mile course for pre-running between 11am and 4pm to test and tune their cars. After a two hour preparation break, the competition began at 6pm when the first cars launched across the sand from the starting line. Waves of cars followed in thirty second intervals across the VP Racing Fuel start/finish line.
The Texana 180 wasn’t only a race against other cars, but against time. From the moment each competitor’s car left the starting line, the driver had six hours to drive 180 miles of untamed Texas countryside, making this race have a high attrition rate. Of the 38 cars who began the race, six of them finished by the midnight deadline.
First place overall finisher went to Scott Schavosja, driving his C1 car, number 1541. He was followed by Randy Watson’s number 3013 piloted by Steve West and in third place, Allen Englebert in number 1075. Watson is a team member of TPM Racing, a branch of Toki Poki Motorsports – an off-road racing business based in San Antonio. In response to Watson’s success on the track, Duane McCreary, another member of TPM Racing, commented, “What a night! Total team effort. We couldn’t be more excited!”
“Thursday’s rain meant we got a free car wash for car 3013, so after gallons of WD-40, all systems seemed ready to go,” explains team owner Randy Watson. “Steve Tyo from TPM Racing had managed the race-prep for our car, with awesome tune and suspension setup. The onsite service was excellent, so we were fully ready by the 6pm start time on Saturday. We picked Steve West to pilot the 3013 this time around, and we started mid-pack in a field of nearly 40 cars. This was Steve’s first time in the car so as he passed the pits at mile 23, I could tell he was taking it easy. By the time he finished the first full lap, however, it was obvious he had the car figured out and he is hauling butt, in sixth place overall.”
“The rain from the previous day had knocked out our radio, so communications were down and we lost intercom after lap two! Our early plan was to splash gas at the end of lap 3, and by this time we were 3rd overall. For me as the car owner and normal driver, the next hour took forever! Finishing second only 10 minutes behind the Class 1 leader was amazing! New driver, no radio, no comm and a great finish. Thanks to Steve West and Joe Dixon for being my brothers in dirt!”
The community spirit of desert racing is clear. These Texans are all about making the race happen, and sometimes that means filling multiple roles. In addition to working for TPM Racing, Duane McCreary also serves as the TDRA tech director, and Steve Tyo Walker, owner of TPM Racing, worked on many of the logistics to set up the Texana 180.
The Association that made it Possible
The Texas Desert Racing Association’s goal is “to organize, promote, sponsor, endorse, sanction, and conduct off-road motoring activities including tours, rallies, races, social events and activities.” All of which means, “we want to see every kind of off-road racing continue in Texas because it’s fun!” TDRA president, Race Richie, explains the association’s founding: “The TDRA was not formed by any individual race promoter or person but by a group of racers for racers.” That theme – by racers for racers – is what keeps TDRA going.
The Texas Desert Racing Association is volunteer-based, powered by those who simply love racing. Even after setting up mile markers and arrows on the course before the race, helping with recovery and race ops, and tearing down equipment afterward, volunteer Grayson Harrist says it best: “Another adrenaline pumping, sweaty, exciting, sunburnt, action packed, almost worn out, flying rocks stuck in the fence, exotic game in the dark, eyes wide open weekend with cold salty beer, great friends and a dash of drama. I’ll do this till I die.” People like Harrist make it possible for everyone to enjoy the sport they love so much, be that the Baja 1000, the upcoming Vegas to Reno, or a TDRA race like the Texana 180.
In addition to the volunteer force, the Texana 180 was made possible by support from VP Racing Fuel, P.C.I. Race Radios, KarTek, TPM Racing, Texana Ranch, KC Hilites, and the Ross Creek Trail Riders.
The Texana 180 is not the beginning or the end of the Texas Desert Racing Association’s activities. Earlier this year, TDRA held a race in Notrees TX, just outside of Odessa, and another will be held there in September. Dates are still to be announced, but be assured that there is more to come from this group of Texas racers.
1st Michael Gilliland 1922
2nd Christopher Saen 1623
3rd John Sutton 515
1st Brandon Gully 1455
2nd Roger Lollar 776
3rd Shaun Smith 899
1st Doug Jackson 61
2nd Toby Harrell 4469
3rd Walter Scheid 333
1st Randy Watson 3013
2nd Allen Englebert 1075
3rd Race Ritchie 1061
1st Scott Schavosja 1541
2nd Van Damm 1558
3rd Robert Johnston 1299
Article compiled by Makayla Schultz, Five Oaks Motorsports Media
Photography provided by Christy Myhre and David O’Conner.