On the outskirts of Las Vegas is a dedicated race track where locals and tourists alike can drive a range of the latest supercars. But the Lamborghinis and Ferraris are not the reason we made our way to SpeedVegas today. We are here for the baja truck driving experience on their mile-long off-road track which features half a dozen jumps.
The name baja truck comes from the famous Baja 1000 off-road races held each year on the Baja California Peninsula in Mexico. The race was founded by Ed Pearlman in 1967 and allows various types of vehicle classes including cars, trucks, motorcycles, ATVs and buggies.
On first sight the baja trucks at SpeedVegas look a bit like a Ford F-150 truck but that is just the lightweight fibre glass body. Underneath the shell is a tube frame with the rear mounted 4.0 liter V6. This purpose prepped baja truck has an automatic gearbox with three gears. There is no clutch paddle but you select the gears manually with the gear lever in the center console.
The thing that makes baja trucks different from any other vehicle is their extremely high suspension travel and absence of struts and anti-roll bars. Put your foot down and it leans back on its rear wheels, brake and the weight shifts forward providing the needed traction on the front wheels to get around a bend. It is not the fastest and most ideal car to go round bends but it has an ace up its sleeve; it can jump like nothing else.
The track features a range of jumps, drop-offs and angled bends. A water truck sprays the track before we go out to keep the dust within the limits of the Nevada State law. As soon as the truck is off and the safety officer gives the green light it is time to go!
Climbing into the baja truck is quite easy and the racing seats are quite comfortable even for a tall guy like me. It is not as cramped as most race cars I have driven. My helmet is connected to the in-car communication and oxygen that feeds fresh air into the helmet. Once my instructor is in we are off for an instruction lap – slowly build speed up to the jump and as soon as the rear wheels are off the ground lift the throttle for a smooth landing.
There are a few technical corners that require some guidance. Keep your foot on the throttle and the truck likes to go straight so lifting or braking at the right moment is key to getting around the bend. Having navigated my way around lap 1 it is time for five laps of adrenaline packed baja action. I put my foot down heading towards the first jump and the sensation of pointing the nose towards the sky and just wait to see what happens is second to none.
Two jumps in a grin builds on my face that will not go away any time soon. I follow Trevor’s pace notes and confidence builds to carry more speed through the corners and towards the jumps. By lap three I feel like I’m getting proper air and the pictures are not lying. “Yeehaw! This is fun!!” I scream to Trevor through the headset. He returns my enthusiasm by upping the pace notes and fires commands like “Full throttle”, “Lift”, and “Full throttle” again in rapid succession.
After five thrilling laps we return to the make-shift dirt track paddock. This is true bucket list stuff for every motorsports and car enthusiast. A trusted Ford F-150 Raptor takes photographer Philipp and me back to their modern club house where we reflect on the unique experience. More details on the baja driving experience can be found on their website.