News & Media

From the notebook: Drivers have fun in the desert

March 03, 2011, Dave Rodman,

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- While Bayne receives new hardware, other drivers spend time around a campfire

What are the odds -- considering NASCAR's arrival at Las Vegas this week -- that top-10 drivers in a couple of the sport's three national tours would camp out in the same place?

The fact that two of the three current championship leaders shared a campsite -- that's right, not a hotel suite or spaces in a trackside coach lot, but around the campfire -- at the famed Glamis dunes in Southern California provides a true jackpot.

David Gilliland has some fun at Glamis dunes.

That was the case for Camping World Truck Series leader Matt Crafton, who's at the top of his standings for the first time since June 2009; Sprint Cup championship leader Kyle Busch and their buddy, 10th-place Sprint Cup driver David Gilliland.

Only the onset of NASCAR's new point system, employed in all three series, keeps it from being a group of leaders, since Busch won the Nationwide Series race at Phoenix and would be leading that series as well, if he hadn't declared for the Sprint Cup championship.

Crafton, who shares primary instigator status for the latest trip with Gilliland, said fellow competitors Kurt Busch and Greg Biffle were also in the area, which Robby Gordon described as "a 30-square-mile sand mountain range" outside the remote Southern California desert community where visitors ride four-wheelers and sand cars during the day and camp out at night.

Both Crafton and Gilliland claim to have spent about 30 days around Glamis this season, which Crafton says runs roughly from late September to early March, when it starts to get unbearably hot in these parts. Crafton came to Glamis the morning after the Phoenix Truck race and spent five days plying the dunes.

"It's just awesome and honestly, I think it's the most relaxing thing that I could do, because you just get away from everything and go have fun," Crafton said. "I've been coming here for 24 years, since my parents started bringing me, and I've never missed a year. On the big holiday weekends, like Thanksgiving or New Year's, I'll stay for seven to 10 days at a time -- and on the big weekends there will be a couple-hundred-thousand people out here, though there's only about 500 people here, now."

Gordon, who's become a regular competitor in the annual Dakar Rally currently held in South America, would've fit right in, if he didn't have other commitments.

"I grew up playing in that desert [and it's a] fun place for all," said Gordon, who's competing in the full 2011 SCORE off-road Trophy Truck championship series. "The hills are about one-third the size of the [Atacama Desert] dunes in Chile [on the Dakar]. It's a lot of fun to play in."

"I tell everybody it's a lot like racing but with no stress," Gilliland said. "There are no rules, no time limits of where you need to be and when you need to be there -- but it's the same adrenaline rush and the same feeling you get from racing. I wouldn't trade it for racing, but it's definitely my second-favorite thing to do.

"I think everybody's kind of got the same feeling on it as far as the rush you get from doing it and the relaxation from being there and being able to get away from everyday stuff. Cell phones don't work 100 percent out there, so that's kind of nice at times, too."

"It's like driving a race car -- because that's what these things are -- with no pressure," Crafton agreed. "You just go out and have fun, jumping things and running the dunes, which are like something you'd see on TV -- as far as the eyes can see -- and you just fly through them."

Gordon said he didn't join the party this week because he has a SCORE event the weekend after Las Vegas in San Felipe, Mexico and "I didn't want to hurt my race car," but he knew what you'd see around Glamis was a range of vehicles "from older three-wheelers and older Corvair-engined buggies to today's modern Razors and twin-turbo buggies like Kyle Busch and David Gilliland have, to the extreme Trophy Trucks that show up on occasion. And people camp in everything from tents to pusher diesel motorhomes. It has all ranges of cars and people."

Gilliland, who grew up in nearby Riverside, Calif., said, "this will probably be [the last time] I'm there for a while -- I'll probably cry when I leave. I had a lot of fun out there in Glamis over the winter ... playing and just letting loose."

Crafton said the group's wives and his fiance were all together.

"It's very much a family-oriented deal," Crafton said. "There's a ton of families out here and on the big weekends, it's not just a bunch of guys acting like idiots -- there's a bunch of families riding around in their buggies and playing."

Bayne's new hardware

A lot of people made a big deal out of TNT talk show host George Lopez buying Daytona 500 champion Trevor Bayne a new laptop computer because, when he went on Lopez's show in the week following his upset win, Bayne responded that his first purchase with his "newfound wealth" would probably be a new laptop, which he said had expired on his flight west.

What those same people conveniently forgot to mention was that Lopez was compelled to get Bayne the laptop because Lopez appreciated the 20-year-old's support of his buddy, former Nationwide Series chaplain Lonnie Clouse's missionary work in Mexico.

Nationwide title contenders

After just two races, the Nationwide Series championship chase has the potential to be one of the sport's most intriguing as, for the first time since 2005 when Martin Truex Jr. won his second consecutive Busch Series championship, a series regular will win the crown.

Reed Sorenson, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Jason Leffler have already created a 20-point margin between themselves and fourth-place Danica Patrick, who is only running the first five races of the season before her IndyCar slate opens.

The most intriguing aspect of the new point system, in which drivers racing for the Sprint Cup or Camping World Truck championships race for wins and owners' championship points but don't claim drivers' points; is that by finishing in the highest places in the races, they'll also keep Nationwide Series competitors from cutting too big a margin off the leaders' gap in any one race.

At Phoenix in the most recent Nationwide race, non-championship drivers finished in the top-four positions and five out of the top six. It remains to be seen what that will mean to the long-term championship.