The justification for this adventure was to compete in the Silver State Classic car rally in Nevada. After four previous races my wife asked for a reprieve as navigator so I recruited son-in-law Zack. Spouses formed the pit crew, making two couples and two vehicles as our small convoy. The race was really an excuse to experience new places and we started on this objective by visiting Yellowstone Park on the way down, along with Red Rock Canyon in Utah.
Our southern terminus was “fabulous” Las Vegas (at least that is what the sign said). Prior experience led us to seek alternatives to the crowded and commercial Strip so Boulder and Fremont streets were our haunts. Hidden gems included the Neon Sign Bone Yard and the Pinball Museum (never thought I’d see Joust again). We also discovered a truly fabulous casino; Main Street Station, which resembled an 1865 train station, complete with period furniture, historic rail cars, and their own micro-brewery.
Four days of race activities began with a reception, technical inspections and registration. The following day Zack was delighted to participate in a track session at Las Vegas Speedway as a requirement to one day driving the event. It was also a rare chance to see my own car from outside as it blasted around the road course. Following this, we escaped the urban chaos for a three-hour drive to the high Sierra Nevada town of Ely and the actual race venue; Highway 318. Imagine a procession of 200 or so un-muffled race cars mingled with foreign exotics and plenty of American iron, escorted by the police (for the public’s protection I have no doubt).
Another day was consumed by more receptions, a car show and a side-event called the One Mile Shoot-out which we used to fine tune our vehicle by blasting down a mile stretch of highway flat-out to see if anything breaks. When I first smelled oil, I naturally blamed it on the Corvette in front, but when I saw smoke coming from under our hood I discovered that high revs had revealed a weak gasket in the oil filler cap which was easily fixed. That was our first and last mechanical glitch, well, except for the support vehicle which started howling loudly on the second day out, until we threw fistfuls of money at a mechanic to make it stop.
Race day began early in the morning with a short parade out of town to the staging area. Vehicles were then allowed to the starting grid by class. This was a classic Time-Speed-Distance rally where participants race the clock, not each other. You chose an average speed category to drive the 90 mile course and those who arrive at the finish closest to a perfect time for their speeds are victorious. We signed-up for the 130 mph category along with eight other vehicles. Therefore, we knew that our objective was to cross the line in exactly 41.5385 minutes from our starting time. The requirement for safety equipment increases with each speed class, which starts at 95 mph up to Unlimited.
Our run went very well and the time spent beforehand measuring distances and developing our strategy seemed to work out. However, the final click of the stopwatch showed we were almost 3 seconds early, which is an eternity in these events. So we were elated to later learn that we’d placed third, and nearly had second, with a variation of 2.4828 seconds from perfect. To put this in perspective, however, a factory Buick team running a pre-production version of a new sport sedan, complete with a trunk-full of secret electronics plus their own helicopter and airplane, managed 0.0009 seconds in the 120 mph class, which I’m sure is a new record for both accuracy and gall.
We made it all the way back to Ely before learning that an Unlimited car had crashed on the course, killing both occupants. Apparently a tire blew at over 200 mph, sending the car off the road where it burst into flames. While I did not know either victim, the navigator’s mother was well-loved by all as an event staffer. Needless to say our remaining time in town was very somber. This was actually the first fatality for the event in 19 years, although every year sees some off-road incident, usually followed by serious injuries. Tires are the usual cause so the safety checks are beyond thorough. They must be less than four years old from date of manufacture and meet or exceed the speed and load rating for the class being raced. A tire expert examines each for compliance and overall condition. Finally, four course volunteers crawling alongside each car as it approaches the start to ensure that no debris or nails are embedded in the tread. In spite of this, sh*t still happens...
Our road trip continued with a jaunt west where we stopped to examine prehistoric Native American petroglyphs and a naturally-occurring 200 foot-high sand dune near Fallon, Nevada. Movie fans may recall this is the location of the Naval Fighter Weapons School called TOPGUN and we were delighted when several two-ship formations of F-5 Adversary fighters and F-18’s returned from their desert sorties.
After skirting Reno, we reached Lake Tahoe where we partook of an evening cruise on the lake and first-class accommodations at Harrah’s. This marked our turn-around point as we now aimed east and north towards home. Our next stop was the old West mining town of Virginia City, home of the legendary Comstock Lode gold mine. In Idaho we explored lava fields and the caves that formed when the molten rock cooled following several eruptions between 16,000 and 2,000 years ago. Two days were spent in a 100 year-old Montana cabin, thankfully upgraded with plumbing and electricity. We enjoyed exploring the back roads and even visited the top of a smallish mountain, which surprised the lone ATV rider we encountered who didn’t realize how capable a Mercedes M-class 4x4 really was.
The roads continued to offer spectacular views throughout the trip but we were glad to be nearing the end. As I rolled up to the Canada Customs window, the official suspiciously pointed to the back seat and asked, “What’s that?” I told her it was a roll cage and we had been racing in Nevada. Still suspicious, she peered at the car and said that it looked quite ordinary. I slipped the transmission into neutral and gave the accelerator a few healthy jabs. Her eyes went wide, and then she laughed and waved us through.
I will be spending the news few days editing our in-car video down to a few interesting clips which will be posted along with some pics of the more unusual cars and sights. Cheers, Dean