Mash the clutch, slam the gear shift, pressure the throttle plate to speeds well over 100 mph, throw the car sideways in the corners, and wipe the dust from your visor. This was the three-day recipe for our built V-6 Camry engine and Fortin five-speed tranny, with a dog-ring gear box, on a 922-mile-long desolate trail. Terrain ranged from graded forest service roads to boulder-littered single-track to soft sand, silt, and dry wash; sprinkle in hill climbs, mud holes, and radiator-deep water crossings. We weren't your family's Toyota--or on your typical desert highway.
It was Day Three of the '02 Nevada 1000, the longest point-to-point off-road race in the U.S. The Groff Motorsports Team was now simply steering for a finish, since the first two days of racing had already thinned the high-caliber pack of motorcycles, ATVs, cars, and trucks, and presented the Groff/Toyota/BFGoodrich team with a wide variety of time-gobbling and drama-filled challenges that included flat tires, loss of power steering, and lengthy stucks in the mashed-potato soup of Nevada's silt. Add in 108* heat, along with making repairs in a nomex-lined race suit. It was about as far away from IRL racing, where a tow truck, pit crew, and team manager were just around Turn One.
Brothers Robbie and Mike Groff, former Indy 500 drivers who've garnered over 300 race wins, including five U.S. National Championships, joined with desert veteran Marty Fiolka to campaign a highly-visible Class-I open-wheel unlimited race car for the '02 season. Sponsored for a four-event season by Toyota Motorsports, BFGoodrich Tires, Truck Trend, and a long list of associated partners, the two-seat race vehicle was built by Jimco and is powered by a 3.2L Toyota fuel-injected powerplant, based on a Camry production engine. The powerful rig runs on 114 octane Union 76 race fuel and boasts more than 2 ft of vertical wheel travel.
Midway through Day Three, as we approached Area 51, the top- secret military base and alleged alien territory, near Rachel, Nevada, the sky went brown and our world suddenly turned upside down.