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AF Reservist accomplishes racing dream in Mexican desert

Tech. Sgt. Brent Renholm, 302nd Operations Group life support technician, races his ATV March 13-15 through the desert sands of Baja California in Mexico during the 23rd ANNUAL TECATE SCORE San Felipe 250 all-terrain motor race. As first-time racers, both Sergeant Renholm and a friend placed 10th in their division during the race. (Courtesy photo)

Tech. Sgt. Brent Renholm, 302nd Operations Group life support technician, races his ATV March 13-15 through the desert sands of Baja California in Mexico during the 23rd ANNUAL TECATE SCORE San Felipe 250 all-terrain motor race. As first-time racers, both Sergeant Renholm and a friend placed 10th in their division during the race. (Courtesy photo)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- One dream born out of tragedy, another raised in the sands of Kuwait both came to realization for both a former U.S. Army veteran and a 302nd Airlift Wing Air Force Reservist March 13-15 in the deserts of San Felipe, Baja California, Mexico.

The 23rd Annual TECATE SCORE San Felipe 250 all-terrain vehicle motor race was something Tech. Sgt. Brent Renholm, 302nd Operations Group life support technician and former Army Spc. 4th Class Sam Fuson had been working toward ever since the two played flag football together in 2002.

They finished the 232.4 mile course 10th in their race classification which, by many standards in all-terrain racing, is almost unheard of for rookie racers competing for the first time. All together, 263 racers started the event with 181 finishing.

Though their objective was to compete and finish the event where trophy trucks, motorcycles and ATVs all competed on the same race course, their motives and desires for entering the event were quite different.

Mr. Fuson began his love affair with motor sports and auto racing at an early age growing up and later dreaming of racing opportunities while serving his country in Kuwait after Desert Storm. On the other hand, Sergeant Renholm wanted to compete as part of a tribute to a fallen friend who had fought a courageous fight against an inoperable brain cancer.

Sergeant Renholm met Jeremy Davis while serving on active duty from 1996-2000. The two were like inseparable brothers, highly competitive in anything they did together.

"It was hard to see him go through [the brain cancer]," said the technical sergeant. "I wanted to do something in memory of his name and to fight a battle for him. His family meant a lot to me."

"We named our youngest son after him," added Caryn Renholm, who supported Brent from the time he and Mr. Fuson decided to focus on competing in the race.

Armed with encouragement from their wives, the racers went about the business of securing what few sponsors they could gather in a limited amount of time. Soon after, they began preparing for the race of their lives with practice runs throughout the nearby hills of Colorado Springs, Colo.

"They told us we needed to start out a little smaller than the Baja 1000," said Mr. Fuson. "Then eventually work our way up."

It only made sense for the two competitors. "You can't climb Mt. Everest," said Mrs. Renholm. "Maybe you can climb Pikes Peak first."

The suggestion hit home, and the two racers knew they had all the support they needed to proceed.

"Racing is a family affair," said Sergeant Renholm. "It's not something you just do on Sunday. It's something that affects the whole family."

Mr. Fuson couldn't help but agree with the assessment and went a step further. "With me and Brent, its friends and family," he said. "We also had camouflage uniforms made because I really wanted to do something to support our troops overseas that were giving me the opportunity to have the freedom to do this race."

But the family theme didn't stop there. Caryn's father, Richard Wroblewski, affectionately called "Papa," a Vietnam veteran and tunnel rat during that war which earned him three purple hearts and a bronze star to his credit, agreed to serve as the crew chief for the race.

"Everything went smoothly," said Mr. Fuson. "We went down there with a lot of camaraderie and a plan for everyone to stay focused on the same goal. We were prepared for the race."

Once in place, though, Mr. Fuson recalled how a few of the veteran racers of the SCORE Desert Racing Series sneered when the two rookies showed up at the event prepared to race with American made ATVs.

"Everyone else had Hondas and Suzuki made vehicles," said Mr. Fuson. "But I was determined we'd race ATVs with American made parts."

SCORE off road racing is similar to NASCAR from a racing fan's perspective only in that it's not on a track, but rather under austere conditions. Trophy trucks begin the race three hours after the motorcycles and ATVs have started the event. Motorcycles and ATVs leave in 30 second intervals. Races include the Baja 250, 500 and 1000 and have been conducted in the Mojave Desert and around the coast of Mexico.

"It was our first race and we'd only been riding for two years," said Sergeant Renholm. "There's a $50 membership and $800 entry for the race. You don't need to have race experience to compete in the SCORE races."

Championship Desert racing was established in Calabasas, Calif., by famed auto racer Mickey Thompson in 1967 and its immense popularity continues today.

"This race is the toughest thing I've ever done in my life," said Sergeant Renholm. "I want to prepare differently next time and make sure I have more time for my family. They didn't come with us this time, and the next time I want them with us. It's a family affair, and I think not being there to be part of that experience may have taken a little quality time away from them."

The 2009 TECATE SCORE San Felipe 250 was run within a race time limit set at ten hours.

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