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Local racer’s passion is on desert
by Dan McGee
Feb 06, 2011 | 5369 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune/Dan McGee - Clayton Scudder stands with both the Trophy Karts his sons compete in at off-road races. The left one is driven by Colton, now 15 years old, while the right is for his 10-year-old son, Blake.
Tribune/Dan McGee - Clayton Scudder stands with both the Trophy Karts his sons compete in at off-road races. The left one is driven by Colton, now 15 years old, while the right is for his 10-year-old son, Blake.
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Courtesy Photo/Clayton Scudder - Following in their veteran racer father's tire tracks are Blake (left) and Colton Scudder. Currently both boys drive Trophy Karts in many desert events including those put on in Northern Nevada by VORRA.
Courtesy Photo/Clayton Scudder - Following in their veteran racer father's tire tracks are Blake (left) and Colton Scudder. Currently both boys drive Trophy Karts in many desert events including those put on in Northern Nevada by VORRA.
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Courtesy photo/Clayton Scudder - A few years ago Colton Scudder gave graphic proof how safe a Trophy Kart can be in a crash when his racer was rolled over after being hit by another kart. The youngster came through the incident without injury due to the safety equipment in these racers.
Courtesy photo/Clayton Scudder - A few years ago Colton Scudder gave graphic proof how safe a Trophy Kart can be in a crash when his racer was rolled over after being hit by another kart. The youngster came through the incident without injury due to the safety equipment in these racers.
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Courtesy photo/Clayton Scudder - Now bitten by the racing bug again, Clayton Scudder is once again at the wheel of an off-road buggy. Here he's wheeling his Class 1 racer through a turn during a desert race.
Courtesy photo/Clayton Scudder - Now bitten by the racing bug again, Clayton Scudder is once again at the wheel of an off-road buggy. Here he's wheeling his Class 1 racer through a turn during a desert race.
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In the local off road racing community Clayton Scudder’s name is well known, as he’s both a veteran racer and advocate for making racing safe for young drivers. But desert racing is a passion he’s followed for much of his adult life.

“It all started from the Volkswagen stuff as I got introduced to it when I was 18,” he said. “A guy told me that a Volkswagen could beat a V-8. I told him ‘no way,’ as I was a pure Chevy guy.”

A quick trip to a drag strip showed Scudder that a VW with its quick launch and lighter weight could beat much bigger cars off the line.

About that time he was introduced to desert racing by Jimmy Lawrence and spent the next three years Scudder rode as the co-driver as well as doing all the mechanical work on the race car. While some might be scared riding shotgun like this, Scudder has a different view of the experience.

“I get a lot of people tell me, ‘I can’t ride with anybody,’ and I say that you just need to sit with somebody that knows what they are doing and not somebody just showing off.” he said. “Those three years, I tell everybody, were the best years of my life because I was able to learn from this guy as he was a real good driver but not careless.”

The Lawrence/Scudder team won the Class 1 championship in the early 1980’s racing with VORRA. Finally Scudder felt it was time to be on his own, which was the same time he began his business, Scudders Performance located 630 Victoria Avenue by the 7-11.

“I got my start in the middle 80’s began to build drag cars but my passion was offroading,” he said. “We won Bugorama, one of the biggest races in Sacramento, and I’m the only one from Nevada that has ever won that drag race.”

After having success in a VW sedan he switched to an open cockpit Karmann Ghia that he’s just inherited again and hopes to be racing it again later this summer at a drag race.

After winning Bugorama in 1988 he continued to drag race while he built a 4-seat buggy to race on the desert in 1990. And he campaigned that car until 1995.

During this time both Scudder and Todd Denton found themselves racing each other in desert events. Then they decided to team up.

“The biggest thing we did is to sit down to lunch together,” he said. “We kind of looked at each other and thought, fresh drivers, which is the reason the guys in Baja win.”

So using this principle, Scudder and Denton would switch driving every lap so there was always someone fresh behind the wheel when the car left the pits. The weapon of choice was Denton’s Class 10, single seat buggy.

This worked out well and for a few years the team mowed everyone down in the VORRA events as they kept finishing first overall.

“We won every race,” he said. “This car still races and Mike Lehners still has it and will race in Class 10 this year.”

Sadly this partnership ended when Denton suffered injuries that ended his racing. After that, Scudder decided it was time to take a hiatus from being a driver.

One of the factors in this decision was realizing how a driver has to be safe even if they are testing or pre-running an event.

“There was a bunch of other factors there, because I had already sold the 4-seater and a bunch of stuff then,” he said.

Now that he wasn’t driving his attention focused on his two boys, Colton and Blake, now 15- and 10-years old.

“I think Colton was 11 when I took the family to Las Vegas for the SCORE short-course race,” he said.

That was when Scudder was introduced to Trophy Karts. These small, low cost racers were created by Nestor Bernadi with help from investor Nick Baldwin, who saw the future of getting kids into a junior program.”

Many other groups have junior programs like the Junior Dragsters in NHRA, Bandoleros in NASCAR and the Kid Kart class for go kart racing. Up to that time there were only two classes for the youngest participants in off road racing.

“Off road had motorcycles and quads but the kids were getting hurt,” he said. “This guy Nestor is a former truck builder and approached CORE, who did it one year as a promotion. And that’s when Nick invested a whole bunch of money and built a bunch of Trophy Karts.”

These racers look like a shortened truck, have fiberglass bodies and a chassis with a full roll cage, fuel cell and a suspension with 18 inches of travel so they can handle any terrain.

The youngest drivers have the same motor Junior Dragsters use and have a top speed of around 40 mph. Older drivers, up to adults, use more powerful motors and all participants are grouped by age.

The motors are sealed so they can’t be modified and drivers not only use a D-Cell harness, for head and neck protection, but also have a thick collar that runs under their helmets. And there are two sets of nets; one for each side window while another set is on either side of their racer’s helmet.

“Now the thing has taken off to every junior kart program through out the country and it’s all American made,” he said.

The class is so successful there is now a second-generation kart that even has doors like full sized trucks.

In most series a young driver has to be 8-year-old but in VORRA they can be 7 however these drivers must prove to Scudder they can handle driving a Trophy Kart. And now there are two 7-year-olds competing with VORRA.

“We went out testing with them and said, ‘show me you can drive this.’ And they had to prove they could drive these,” he said.

Scudder works with VORRA as he checks the karts and makes sure the kids can handle their karts. As a driver gets older they will eventually move into the Elite Trophy Kart class where they use a more powerful motor and can go faster.

And Scudder will make sure they are ready to move into this next class as safety is emphasized. He’s been working here in Northern Nevada as well as Northern California to develop a way youngsters can safely race.

The result is a very competitive class and at some races, usually in Southern California, there might be 100 or more Trophy Karts at an event.

“My two boys turned out to be very competitive, they love it, win, lose or draw and they have fun,” he said.

Since a youngster can’t co-drive a regular car or truck until they are 16 this allows them to do more than just be brought to the races and only ride their bicycles.

“Now they’re involved, they’ve done it and understand what their parents, uncles or others have been through,” he said.

And just like in go-karts sportsmanship and clean driving is expected.

Scudder related a situation at a CORE event where his oldest son was black flagged with another boy and told by the officials to apologize to the other driver for rough driving. He did and now both boys are best of friends.

Another positive side of having youngsters race is the incentive to keep their schoolwork and grades up. Scudder explained its settled these kids down and given them motivation to do well in school, or face the consequences, which is missing a race.

Over the past years he’s been working here and in Northern California for a way young drivers can safely do and experience what the big guys, their heroes, do out on the desert or a short track.

“No matter if it’s a Robby Gordon, Larry Ragland or the Harrahs, they can emulate them. It’s so hard in the motorcycles as if you’re not one of the best you end up getting hurt,” he said.

After being focused on his boys, Scudder has once again bitten by the racing bug. This happened a few years ago during a race in Yerington.

“On Sunday morning Mike Lehners, who owns Todd’s old car is racing,” he said. “So we’re sitting there talking and out of the blue he says, ‘Clayton why don’t you take the last lap today,’ and since I bring all my gear with me I signed up.”

Scudder added that he knows that car like the back of his hand and in the race Lehners was running fifth when he came in for his final pit stop. A half lap later Scudder was told on the radio he was second and 15 seconds off the fastest.

“That got the bug back in me,” he said. “It took a while to find the deal and get the right car so two years ago raced it once and twice last year.”

While he plans on campaigning the car, a Class 1 buggy, this season but the main obstacle to running a full season is money. Off road racing either doesn’t pay much or not at all so the racers are pretty well self-funded.

“Our biggest thing is that being self-sponsored really sucks,” he said. “Sponsors are the life blood of any racer, competitors and any kind of competition. So we’ve been very fortunate in the Trophy Karts as Ferguson Waterworks really let me take these kids down there and gave us a lot of money.”

While he doesn’t receive any financial backing from this company now, Scudder has kept their name on Blake’s kart to show his appreciation for their support.

Looking ahead to this season he knows his new car is at a disadvantage on the short courses so in those events he’s just running for points.

He’s also got plans for his oldest boy, who is now 15 years old.

“I plan a steady involvement in everything and we have a Class 11 car we’re building and most likely we’ll put Colton in it next year,” he said. “It’s a stock production Volkswagen, a bug, and it’s one of the most popular classes out there. From last year to this year, it’s called the Class 11 Invasion as all these bugs are coming back.

“And my 10-year-old is having a lot of fun following in this brother’s footsteps.”

While he might put his oldest in a car he’s building, Scudder mentioned Colton is being watched by others, who might need a driver. The teenager has put out feelers and had many compliments from others that could use a hot shoe in their racers.

Scudder is also very high on VORRA and it’s owner Wes Harbor, who is turning the series around and bring it back to it’s position of prominence.

So for this Sparks’ businessman and racer, things are looking up as he enjoys his passion for desert racing and is sharing it with the next generation.
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