Seat Time With Fun-Haver Off-Road
Vaughn Gittin Jr. and Loren Healy Talk Racing in 2021
By Carr Winn
When SEMA News caught up with Vaughn Gittin Jr. and Loren Healy via video conference, it was their first chance to catch a breath in weeks. Both drivers were dusting off from King of The Hammers and couldn’t wait to start sharing comments about the race, the new Bronco and the SEMAification of electrics.
The dynamic duo also now represents a new brand, Fun-Haver Off-Road, and it’s their rally cry in 2021. In fact, they were set to have more fun off-road just after our interview, packing up their families and heading to Easter Jeep Safari in Moab, Utah. Below are a few excerpts from our seat time with two of off-road racing’s fiercest pilots.
SEMA News: Let’s talk King of The Hammers. What was the experience like this year?
Vaughn Gittin Jr.: King of The Hammers was incredible this year. Loren and I both have new race trucks in the hopper right now, but we weren’t able to get through durability testing to debut them, so we raced our trucks with new Bronco bodies. My co-driver got injured, and so—fortunately for me—Lauren’s co-driver Jesse Amyx was not racing 4400 and hopped in with me. We had an incredible race, very clean. We were on pace, and Loren and I went back and forth a few times. I’m not going to lie. He was certainly faster than me, but he kept destroying drive shafts. It was really cool to be there with not only my teammate but also someone who has been helping me excel in this world so much. It was a lot of fun talking smack on the radio with each other. We ended up finishing fifth, my best finish yet. Already thinking about next year.
Loren Healy: It was definitely a fun week. One of the highlights was Ford having Broncos out on the lakebed for everybody to go for some rides. The excitement of people as they got out of the Bronco was really neat to watch, and I had a little bit of the same experience. That was my first time actually to drive the Sport in the off-road community, and the Sport continues to wow me.
Also, this was the first year for the electric vehicle class. There was only one vehicle running in it, and they’re kind of catering to it a little bit, making the course doable with battery life. It was only about 75 mi., but the truck finished the race, which to me is really, really neat. Hopefully, that will drive some of the OEMs to get involved with it as well, and we’ll see a handful of electric vehicles out there racing King of The Hammers in the years to come. I know it’s piqued our interest, and with Vaughn’s experience with the Mustang Mach-E, we would love to be involved with that.
SN: What are fans most excited about for the 2021 season? And what’s got you excited to go to work as drivers?
LH: I think the fans are just excited to be back out and part of it, especially the off-road community that thrives on being outdoors. We’ve really seen that at the events that we’ve been getting to go back to—like almost twice the attendance of the spectators—because they can’t go to the movies, and they haven’t been able to go out to dinner and do that type of stuff. They need something right now. They’ve been just so excited and so passionate, even more so than they were. Maybe they took that stuff for granted, and now it seems like the excitement is really high, being able to get out and be a part of it.
VGJ: At the end of the day, what we’re doing is entertainment. We’re entertaining, creating a show for people. We’re behind the wheel racing and working our butts off trying to make magic. They’re enjoying the entertainment, the show that’s a result of that. The time behind the wheel is what we earn through the effort of the business and all the things that are required to make it happen. I can honestly say that any day behind the wheel is very fulfilling to me personally, and it makes the travel away from the family and the other normal life compromises that you make all worth it when you get behind the wheel and just kind of get to let loose.
I can’t say that it’s the same for everybody, but I think I can say for Loren and myself, this is what we are meant for. This is our purpose and what we do and we enjoy it. I think that comes through in our driving and in our content.
LH: Definitely lucky to be able to turn our passion of what we love into our jobs and wrap our whole lives around it, and there are days that you’re like, man, this is brutal. Working 20-hour days, getting ready to go to the races, no days off for months at a time—it’s not all roses all the time, but we’re so lucky.
SN: Any special moments this season that really keep you focused when it’s one of those “brutal” days?
VGJ: I’m a professional fun-haver, right? But part of that is sharing fun and bringing joy to other people. It’s a huge fulfillment to me personally. It really, really fills my cup and my heart. All last year, the nonstop DMs and comments and when we would see people in person [we’d hear], “I love what you’re doing, keep it up. You don’t realize how big of an impact and how much of an inspiration you are.” I don’t do it for that, but that stuff feels good. It’s just crazy. It’s humbling that you can do something that you love so much and make such an impact on other people, so there’s not one thing that stands out. It’s just a constant, and I’m grateful to have those reminders of people reaching out and sharing their feelings on that.
LH: We had an event about October, the Off-Road Expo, where they typically get 5,000 or 10,000 people through the gate during the weekend. When we got there Saturday morning, there were 20,000 people lined around the gate who had just been missing this and needing it so bad. Unfortunately, the show actually ended up getting shut down because they just didn’t feel comfortable, but to me, that was really eye-opening and made me really miss it as well.
It’s one of those huge things with those 20-hour days, to get that fan who DMs you and just tells you how grateful he is for the things that you do and that they’re living their life vicariously through you, dreaming of getting to do that someday. It fuels our fire for sure.
SN: If you were trying to convince someone to give an electric vehicle a chance, what would you say?
VGJ: I would just tell them to go drive it. Like the Mustang Mach-E, for instance. A lot of the Mustang community is mad that the car has a pony badge on it. If anyone, I should be mad. I’m a Mustang guy to my core, but the acceleration is unbelievable. Because of the low center of gravity, the handling is something like you’ve never felt in an internal-combustion car except for super cars. The battery is in between the axles, inches from the ground, and the car just turns. It feels unbelievable.
I was that guy. I was that guy like—whatever—let me go here to my 1,200hp V8, that makes awesome sounds and bad-ass acceleration. I’ve been shifted. I’ve been swayed, and my increased love and passion for electric and these technologies is just a result of that. I got a taste of it, and now I’m like, “Oh, what can we do next?” It’s just like getting in a stock car.
We’re SEMA, right? This is a SEMA conversation, and what we do is take what these manufacturers do and make them more fun and exciting and personalize them. For me, I’m just as excited about doing that with electric vehicles as I am with the internal-combustion vehicles I’ve been playing with for the last 20 years.
LH: That definitely got me excited and thinking, “How can I tune it? What can I do to try to make that vehicle more fun on the streets? Or how I take it off-road?” You have to kind of convince people that sometimes new technology isn’t exactly the way they see things, but once we can start making it cool and show them that they can do fun stuff in their vehicles, they’re going to want to do it. The way technology is changing is for a reason, because it’s better. As people are educated and learn that, they’ll get more excited about it for sure.
For more information on Vaughn Gittin Jr. and Loren Healy, visit www.rtrvehicles.com or www.fun-haver.com. Check out their social media at:
@vaughngittinjr or www.facebook.com/officialvaughngittinjr and @loren_healy or www.facebook.com/lorenhealy67.