Justin Reece thought it was going to be a YouTube video, something not too big, not too intimidating, kind of like his truck.
The Toyota in banged-up yellow doesn’t scream “look at me!” at least at first glance. But even the camera fell in love with No. 4619, just as thousands of fans have at King of the Hammers, an annual race that mixes desert racing and rock crawling in Johnson Valley, California.
No. 4619, Reece and his brother, Cameron Reece, and their Rusty Nail Racing crew of family and friends will be featured in “Battle of the Badlands,” the documentary film that is much more than a YouTube video.
“Battle of the Badlands” is set to release for streaming on Amazon any day now, said Levi Comstock, who produced and directed the film from Black Flag Industries, a local production company.
The film follows the Reece brothers during their stock class race in King of the Hammers in February 2020, a race they won in 2019 and have finished in second or third place in other years. The film includes interviews with desert racing legends and other off-road racing teams.
Comstock, who is himself no stranger to dirt bikes and rock crawling, had been invited by the Reece brothers for several years to watch them race. In 2020, he finally decided to do it and thought, “well, maybe we’ll put a cool little film together.”
The film project exploded from there into a full-on crew, aerial footage from a helicopter, high-profile interviews, a bit of history and a race filled with drama, rocks and rollovers and, most importantly, the story of two brothers from western Colorado.
Justin Reece is a “humble, quite guy,” said Comstock, who also is the owner of Diamond Coat Epoxy in Grand Junction. At King of the Hammers, where 80,000 people show up just to watch, “anybody you ask knows Justin Reece.”
“Justin is one of the best drivers,” said Cameron Reece, a contract administrator at Grand Junction Regional Airport. He has ridden with his brother as navigator since 2016 and started as his crew chief in 2011.
Justin Reece, who lives in Ridgway and is a battalion chief with the U.S. Forest Service Wildland Firefighters, got involved with King of the Hammers in 2008 when he ran a checkpoint.
He has competed as a driver in the event’s stock class every year since 2009 with a Toyota truck that always gets underestimated.
“I bought it in Oregon. It was basically a junkyard reject,” Justin Reece said. “I’m a diehard Toyota person and I’m racing in a class of Jeeps and almost all of them are V8s with coil springs.”
His 1985 Toyota has a 4-cylinder engine and a leaf spring suspension. Some people originally thought he was crazy to race in it, but “there was no way I was going to drive a Jeep,” Justin Reece said. “I’ve been giving them hell ever since.”
Even now, at first glance, it’s easy to think, “how are you going to race in that hunk of crap,” Comstock said.
But on closer inspection, No. 4619 is a piece of meticulous work, rebuilt by Justin Reece each year and there isn’t an inch of the truck he doesn’t know. “He’s probably one of the best mechanics I’ve ever met,” Comstock said.
The truck also has an every-man quality about it. “Everybody loves that ’85 truck because it reminds them of what they used to drive back in high school,” Cameron Reece said.
Any rich guy can put money into a vehicle and a team and practically buy a win, Comstock said.
What impressed him was the passion for a truck that is disassembled and reassembled in Justin Reece’ garage each year, and the enthusiasm and dedication of an all-volunteer race crew of friends and family — “these guys are like world class mechanics and race experts,” he said.
The whole race was an “adrenaline rush. … It kind of was right up my alley more than I thought it would be,” Comstock said.
And now, thanks to “Battle of the Badlands,” more people can view the race and get to know the Reece brothers and Rusty Nail Racing.
Cameron Reece already has seen the whole documentary and “of course, I’m kind of biased, but it’s pretty interesting,” he said.
Justin Reece has not seen the film yet and admitted to being rather nervous about it because “I don’t like seeing myself on film.”
But he has seen clips and is amazed because there is plenty he didn’t even remember because he was so focused on the race, on driving or on fixing something on the truck.
There are plenty of desert racing videos and movies out there, but they always focus on the unlimited class of racers, “the stuff that really is unattainable for so many people in the world,” he said.
From what he’s seen of “Battle of the Badlands,” it’s not like that. Its story is more identifiable, kind of like his truck — “I think I could probably do that,” he said.