February 10, 2013 (Johnson Valley, CA) – With the toughest off road race for 2013 already in the books many race teams are still, literally, picking up their pieces. After wading through a sea of competitor’s parts and broken down buggies we were able to meet up with driver Mel Wade and co-driver Jim McGean of the Discount Tire Off Road Evolution Race Team to hear about their first hand racing experience at the Griffin King of the Hammers (KOH).
(Discount Tire: DT): Mel and Jim, how many years have you been Desert Racing competitively and how many years have you competed in the KOH race?
(Jim McGean) This is my second year racing at KOH and I believe Mel’s third. We have both supported Trophy Truck and Class-1 teams in Baja at least 3-4 times as chase trucks.
(DT): With this being your Jeep’s (EVO1) third time racing at King of the Hammers, what improvements were made before the start this year?
(Mel Wade) Jim will go into more detail but we realized last year that we just didn’t have enough power or enough strength to compete with the best of the unlimited class in our full bodied JK. We also had a few electrical demons that needed to be eliminated so we had our work cut out for us before this year’s King of the Hammers race.
(Jim): Exactly, Last year Mel and EVO1 ruled the rocks. Mel was routinely nerfing (aka ramming from behind) more expensive, purpose built, Ultra4 cars in the brutal rock trails. However the stock JK V6 was no match in the open desert and severely limited our ability to maintain high speeds especially on rough, whooped-out sections. This years Hemi made a huge difference. Despite our heavier and larger vehicle, we immediately started passing cars that were lighter and equally powered as EVO1. Our edge this year was the big power combined with EVO’s off-the-shelf Double-Throwdown suspension. The big torque was easily put to the ground by the new Dynatrac ProRock80 in the rear, and ProRock60 in the front. Our 40” Nitto Tires easily handled the sharp rocks, and provided outstanding traction.
(DT): A few days before the KOH race, EVO1 had a mechanical failure. What was it and how did this affect the race team last week?
(Jim): During some testing on Monday we snapped the output shaft in our 727 Auto-trans. There is no simple fix for this so we decided to truck EVO 1 back to the Off Road Evolution shop in Fullerton about 2 1/2 hours away to overnight some new parts and completely rebuilt the transmission. This was a huge setback for us as it prevented our ability to pre-run the course and shake-down a lot of new changes to the Jeep.
(Mel) The entire EVO/Discount team came together and focused on rebuilding the transmission. Our crew in Fullerton pulled some serious overtime to make sure nothing was left to chance and all final prep was complete before the race Friday. I could not have been more proud of our EVO / Discount Tire Race team. They were on top of it. At about 11pm on Thursday night, I took EVO 1 out for a final shakedown run and to adjust the lights. EVO1 was perfect!
(DT): During the KOH race, EVO1 was off to a great start, how did the new improvements affect its performance?
(Mel): We left the line with great power and heading out to the open desert. With the combination of our new 450 HP Motor, EVO Suspension and Nitto Tires we passed a number of cars in the nastiest of whoops. I estimated that we passed close to 20 rigs in the first 35 miles.
(Jim): The power difference from last year to this year was night and day. Relocating the engine 9” toward the rear of the car also made for a perfect 50/50 front to rear weight distribution. These changes and our King shocks allowed us to carry the front wheels airborne over the most severe whooped-out sections of the course. It also helped our ability to encounter large boulders at higher speeds without losing momentum.
(DT): You made it to Pit 1 at a pretty good pace. Did Pit 1 run as smooth as you wanted?
(Mel): Thanks to the help of the EVO/Mastercraft Safety Pit crew support Pit 1 ran as a champion pit should run. It was so smooth I was already focusing on the next section of the race before we even left the pit.
(Jim) Pit-1 really was a breeze thanks to our EVO/Mastercraft Safety pit crew. We have the best crew in the race. Last year, and this year, we spent extra time training the crew and establishing pit and contingency procedures. Our crew also set-up a terrific radio communication network that allowed us to constantly and directly communicate our status at all points on the 200-mile course. I radioed in as we came hot into the pit at 75-80 mph. The team got us out quick and clean.
(DT): On the way to Main Pit, unfortunately, EVO1 suffered a catastrophic failure that took the team out of the race, what happened?
(Mel) Well I don’t think anyone could have seen this coming but after Pit 1 we were off to the sand hill, as expected lots of people were broke and winching. We decided to pull out the winch line and have it handy and ready in case we got stuck. While Jim was pulling the line a spot opened up on the the hard line of the climb and we decided to go for it. Jim tossed the winch line into the cab with us and quickly jumped in. We made it right up, even passing a buggy stuck on the left. Everything was working great, we headed down the back side of the hill and over towards the main pit. A mile from the main pit we heard a loud chopping noise and the winch line zipped out, under the vehicle and snapped! We lost our brakes and the motor stalled with a strong smell of gas. We got unbelted and jumped out to find fuel flowing onto the exhaust so we quickly turned the fuel shot off valve to stop it.
What had happened was the winch line fell through a hole in the floorboard, wrapped around the driveline, and ripped off both fuel pumps, all the fuel lines, and the electrical to them. We had also ripped off the ARB lines and rear brake lines. Jim and I assessed the damage. We robbed fuel lines from vents and other locations to connect the main line to the engine. With no fuel pumps I plugged all vents on the fuel cell and tried to pressurize the tank with our on board air. It was a good attempt but we were not able to build enough pressure to fire up the Hemi. Unfortunately, our day was over. A simple winch line took us out of the race. A sad day for the EVO/Discount Tire Race Team.
(DT): Yikes! Sounds like both of you were very lucky that the winch line wasn’t wrapped around either of you in anyway.
(Jim) After I tossed the line into the Jeep and jumped in, we were already moving again and I was still trying to get buckled in. Once buckled, I then tried to get a hold of the line. I did grab part of it and I held it in my hand so it would not get sucked under the front of the car. The rest of the line was already tangled up between our seats, so I had no time to deal with it while we were racing. Apparently, the line inside the car gradually dropped into a gap in the floor that was intended for easy access to the transmission and transfer case linkages. Once the line got caught in the driveshaft, it ripped EVERYTHING out. Looking back on it, we were lucky that the rope was not tangled up in our hands or feet, or we would have definitely lost a limb.
(DT): Everyone is very happy that no one was hurt. Thank you so much for taking the time to fill everyone in on last week’s race. One last question, moving forward, how will EVO1 be prepped or improved for the next race?
(JIM): The Winch line will NEVER be brought into the car again. We will rig up a quick way to stow it on the front stinger. The Transmission will get a major overhaul and substantial improvements. Despite some issues, we will probably stick with the 727 non-electronic transmission for reliability. The suspension, chassis and axles are perfect. I only wish we could have run them longer in this brutal race. We also have a few cool tricks in mind that we intend to keep secret until next year.
(Mel): Exactly, we can’t give up all our secrets but we are back at the shop now and already prepping both of our race vehicles again, this time with some new outlook on the vehicles and a wider perspective on non mechanical things that can take you out of a race. We will be testing as soon as this weekend, our goal is to have as much seat time in the vehicles before the next Ultra 4 Race in Glen Helen in May. On behalf of Jim and I, thank you to all of our great sponsors, thank you to our race team and of course all of our fans. We look forward to competing for you again in the next race!
After a long week of racing in the deserts of Southern California the Discount Tire Off Road Evolution Race team competed in the Smittybilt Everyman Challenge as well as the Griffin King of the Hammers race. Despite not finishing either race the team is optimistic for the rest of the season.
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About Off Road Evolution
Off Road Evolution is a full-service 4×4 shop offering everything from basic parts installation to full custom builds. It was founded in 2003 by Mel and Lisa Wade and quickly grew to become one of the most revered builders of 4×4 vehicles in the nation and beyond. Off Road Evolution has been known in the industry for showcasing off the shelf products on factory base vehicles in the most demanding terrain and events.
About Discount Tire/America’s Tire
Discount Tire/America’s Tire, based in Scottsdale, Arizona, is America’s largest tire and wheel retailer. The company does business under the trade name Discount Tire in most of the U.S. and America’s Tire in Oregon, and parts of Washington and California. The company currently operates more than 850 stores across the country. In 2010, the company marked its 50th year serving customers as their trusted tire retailer in local markets across the U.S. Discount Tire/America’s Tire also sponsors NASCAR Nationwide Series and Monster Energy AMA Supercross. For more information about Discount Tire/America’s Tire visit discounttire.com or americastire.com.