Laughlin Leap kicks off off-road season

Have you ever wanted to tell a race-car driver to go take a flying leap?

Maybe it was after an autograph request was scorned. Maybe it was after the driver you picked to win crashed on the first lap.

Tonight, several thousand fans in Laughlin will be encouraged to tell racers to take a flying leap.

Daredevil off-road racers commonly jump hills and moguls — but not before 5,000 fans packed into a stadium setting like they will be at 7 p.m. for the Laughlin Leap.

The 85 mph broad jump off a 6-foot dirt ramp is the most unique feature of any off-road race — or maybe any four-wheel race anywhere. The low-flying objects are a fun way to start the 17th annual SCORE Laughlin Desert Challenge at Laughlin Events Park, about 90 miles southeast of Las Vegas near the banks of the Colorado River.

About 60 of the 125 racers who have entered the Laughlin race will try to break the 2-year-old record of 161 feet, 6 inches set by Larry Roeseler in a 5,000-pound Trophy Truck. They will come back down to earth to race Saturday and Sunday. Times from each day will be combined to determine event winners after multiple laps over a 6.25-mile course.

The Laughlin event is the year’s first major four-wheel race in the United States. The first one in the world is the current Dakar Rally.

Veteran off-roader and NASCAR racer Robby Gordon certainly would have liked to tell Dakar race officials to take a flying leap last Friday. A part failure on his Hummer that took too long for his team to repair led Dakar officials to disqualify him.

The upside is Gordon, who won the SCORE overall and Trophy Truck championships in 2009, won’t miss the “leap” and Saturday’s first round of Trophy Truck competition in Laughlin. The rally disqualification will allow Gordon to focus on a full weekend of desert racing and a strong start toward another SCORE title.

And the focus for all desert racing enthusiasts will be for a safe 2011 season.

Fresh in the minds of many remains the horror of August’s regional Mojave Desert Racing event held about 100 miles northeast of Los Angeles. Eight spectators died there during a poorly run regional race when fans were allowed dangerously close to the circuit and were hit by a rolling race truck.

That dark night cast a pall over the sport.

A bit of good news came a week ago when SCORE announced that Primm will host a 16th annual event there this year. But it had to be moved up by two weeks to Aug. 26 to 28, making it — literally — the hottest race of the year.

But it’s another race nonetheless.

The race was in question until about a month ago because of concerns for desert tortoise habitats.

The Mojave Desert fatalities compounded constant challenges from do-gooders and overly protective environmentalists against professional race organizers.

SCORE, Nevada-based Best in the Desert and Southern Nevada Off-Road Enthusiasts organizations put on quality races that are safe for spectators and even the coveted tortoise.

Those folks who oppose quality desert races are the ones I would like to see take a flying leap.

Provided they don’t land on a tortoise.

Contact reporter Jeff Wolf at jwolf@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0247. Go to lvrj.com/motorsports for more news and commentary.

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