The sounds of gunshots and V8s ring out through the still desert air, two sounds that for me are synonymous with America. After four days in SEMA I have escaped the neon clutches of Vegas and headed out to VORE (Vegas Off-Road Experience) for some instruction on how to drive off-road at speed.
Why? Well, I come from the expedition side of 4x4s, where as slow as possible, as fast as necessary is the mantra, so to experience the other side where drifting and ‘getting some air’ are the name of the game VORE is the place to go.
The helmet fitting and waiver signing are done in a matter of minutes and then it’s straight out to the car but if the introduction seems a little perfunctory so far that’s because there is nothing about theory here, it’s all about the behind the wheel experience. In fact the program is called Arrive and Drive! This is no beaten up backyard 4×4, it’s $150,000 worth of full-blooded race truck. You can even rent them to do the Baja 1000! The only real instruction is to not be on the gas while the wheels are off the ground… and there’s a very good reason for this. If something snaps from wear and tear that’s fine because it’s expected, but if you break something from being an idiot you are liable to the insurance excess, which is perfectly reasonable when each gearbox is worth $30,000.
5-point harness done up, helmet strap tightened, radio check, window nets up, ignition and fan switches on, and then the red button for ignition. It’s not the biggest engine in the world, a 4l 260bhp Ford V6, but it’s right behind your head and blows out through competition exhausts so it’s loud! The gear clunks into reverse and the steering is very heavy… this is going to be fun.
The first thing to do is follow the Raptor around a lap of the ½ mile long dirt track behind while you’re talked through where it’s best to position the car. The bonnet is so high that I can’t see the ground so have to trust that there is nothing in front. Using the banking is apparently the fastest way to get around the corner and again there are more warnings about letting off the gas on the jumps… and then the Raptor pulls off and I am at the wheel of a pure racing car again… I drove in the Spec Class at King of the Hammers but the 112 mile course from start to finish was too rough to put your foot down. This is different.
The first lap was all lame understeer because simply turning in with the power on just unloads the front tyres and pushes them towards the outside of the corner. I also forgot about the gas pedal over the jumps a couple of times. The little straight into the last corner is downhill so the truck speeds up quickly but the final corner isn’t my favourite as it is the tightest one on the course and the outside is lined by a very solid concrete wall. Not the best thing to look at when you are struggling with oversteer… Then it’s along the front straight but before the truck is pointing in a straight line again there’s another jump and taking it at an angle flicks me hard to the side, just in time to catch the next one. But it’s quite easy to correct so I am not worried.
Pretty soon I work out that a stab of the left foot on the brake and a quick flick on the wheel drifts me into the corner and the banking keeps me there, but driving with foot flat on the floor while the ground falls away in front takes a couple of lap to get used to. And so does the big jump on table top. The range of rocky mountains looms up in front, then the ramp is all you see, eyes trained on the top of the lip. Then it’s the bright blue sky before all you see is dirt again as the front comes down from about a meter in the air, the landing soaked up easily by the hard working King shocks.
I could get a good drift into the wide 180 turn but it never seemed to stay there and I had to turn twice around the corner each time and then into the trickiest turn, no banking, just a deep rut to try and drift the back wheel in to. Get it right and you get encouragement over the radio, get it wrong and you take the jump at a bad angle and get a warning.
After 6 laps I was pulled over and told that I am doing really well and I can go faster if I want… Well, you are not here to read about anyone being careful, are you… On the first dip I let the revs race up but onto the 2nd turn I didn’t lift off, just flicked it into the corner and let the rear tyres grip and then headed full speed into the big jump. Oops, I thought as I sailed through the air. The landing felt like a long time coming because I didn’t come down on the top but on the slope on the other side and there was only a split second to stab the gas to get sideways before the big turn. The radio clicked on and I was expecting another warning. “You monstered it!” came the enthusiastic message!
Lap by lap the fear of breaking something or falling off the track diminished and the smile on my face widened in direct relation to how much longer I kept the throttle pressed to the floor. I was only out for a dozen laps but how I took the last one I couldn’t have properly imagined from poodling around the first. Perhaps you can’t learn all that much from 12 laps but this isn’t billed as a school, just an experience. And seriously, if you’re in Vegas it’s an experience that should not be missed! I might not have become a better driver in half an hour, but the knowledge that I can handle a truck like this almost at full-tilt is actually quite priceless! The next level on the learning curve is to predict the behaviour of the truck rather than simply reacting to it. I guess I’ll need another 6 laps for that!
The short course experience is only one option VORE have, if you want a real adventure you can do a 30 or even a 60 mile desert run at top speed so you will really get an idea of what a desert race is like. And this is Vegas, so if you want, you can parachute in, go shoot some big guns, blow up a car and then go racing in the desert. They also promote it as a good idea for a bachelor or bachelorette party. It might well cure the hangover but be warned, if you barf in the helmet it’s yours to keep!
Seriously, if you are in Vegas, you need to come out here and try this!