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Fallbrook-based bug finishes Las Vegas to Reno Off-Road Race... and it's finishing that counts

It isn’t a disgrace that the Fallbrook-based Baja Bug was the last finisher in its class in the Best In The Desert series Las Vegas to Reno Off-Road Race which took place August 20-21. In off-road racing being the final finisher is still preferable to not finishing.

“Our main goal is we really want this thing to hold up for 534 miles,” said Fallbrook’s Mike Zavos, who drove in the race along with Hawaii’s Rob Caveney. “It’s a lot of terrain that you really wouldn’t want to put a Baja Bug in.”

The 1971 Baja Bug was the fourth and final finisher in the open class. Caveney reached the finish line 23 hours and 14 minutes after Zavos took the starter’s flag. “It was definitely the oldest car out there and probably one of the least powered,” Zavos said. “There’s some ways that the Bug is a little bit out of its class.”

The Bug has a 1,915 cc motor. “We liked the fact that we had more power when we needed it,” Zavos said. “The car does 60 to 80 mph if it’s got a nice surface to move across and the wind is at its back.”

The course closed at 11 a.m. on August 21, and Caveney finished at 10:56 a.m. “We were cutting it close,” Zavos said.

The pit stops included replacing a wheel after Zavos hit a rock at night but was able to continue with the deformed wheel. “We had such a great crew,” Zavos said. “Nothing slowed us down for very long.”

The crew consisted of Fallbrook residents Jennifer Hanson and Paul Hower, Dave Robel of Reno, and Steve Fleming of Scottsdale, Ariz.

Zavos had been on the Bug’s crew in the past, but the car hadn’t previously finished any of its races. Zavos felt that more time was needed to be invested in the car. “I basically just volunteered,” he said.

The team relocated to Fallbrook about two years ago, allowing for more work to be put into the vehicle. “I guess it paid off for us this year,” Zavos said.

The team knew the Bug was overmatched and set their sights at finishing the Las Vegas to Reno race. “We said let’s take our best stab at it,” Zavos said. “It did really well.”

Unlike many off-road courses where sand and dirt are the most dominant terrain features, the course’s terrain also included deep silt. “There was a lot of who knows what else,” Zavos said.

Zavos and Caveney traded off driving duties approximately every 100 miles, or approximately every three to four hours. During the race they passed more powerful vehicles which broke down on the course. “Sometimes it just comes down to luck,” Zavos said of finishing.

The next plans for the Bug to race involve the 2011 Las Vegas to Reno race. “We’re not a team with any sponsors. We’re not a team with deep pockets,” Zavos said. “We’re obviously doing it for fun.”

Finishing this year’s race added to the fun of off-road competition. “It just makes it so much sweeter,” Zavos said.

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