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by Ray Alexander
The Silver State Challenge is a 90-mile road rally held on Highway 318 in Nevada, which includes an “unlimited speed” class.
I left for the Silver State Challenge on Wednesday before its Sunday date. Due to flash flood damage on I-15 north of Las Vegas, the schedule for Thursday was accelerated. Truck traffic was being detoured onto U.S. 93. Smart truckers used NV 318 and U.S. 6 between Ely and Ash Springs, a much shorter route than the circuitous U.S. 93. This added to the traffic that Silver State contestants would encounter.
As usual, I waited until Friday to go to Ely because I like to play craps, which Ely doesn’t have. I went through technical inspection with the exception of navigator seat belts. I was not sure if I would have a navigator, so I wasn’t installing the belts until I knew.
The trip to Ely was almost uneventful; after I left Ash Springs, an Atomic Orange Corvette with bright white running lights caught me in Hiko, I tried to obey several miles of the 45 mph speed limit. The entire town consists of a half-dozen well-spaced farm houses, no businesses, no schools, no churches. When I cleared Hiko, I set cruise control to 75 mph and thought the Vette would blow by me. He didn’t. Seventy miles later, I pulled into a rest stop and the Corvette followed me. It was Old Fart Racing teammates Paul Donatt and Jeff Nelson. I felt partly responsible for that car. Last year, coming back from Big Bend Open Road Race, we traded cars for about 200 miles.
When I got to Ely, I checked into the Jailhouse and got the keys for cell 147. Then I went to the Stardust and was warmly greeted by the proprietor and madame, Belinda Galligan. I asked if she wanted to be my navigator. She agreed. She quickly tried on my wife’s racing gear. It all fit. I went to technical inspection and found it was already closed for the day. On to registration and added a navigator. Afterward I brought Belinda down to fill out navigator papers and sign in 63 places. Connie Gray, a staff member, told Belinda, “I want you to get this guy a trophy.” Old guys rule with absolute authority.
She was unable to attend the parade. A feature of the parade has been to give school kids an opportunity to ride along. I had always taken one, this time I got a short boy that didn’t talk much. I gave him a bag of candy for throwing along the parade route. I told him to save some for himself. He couldn’t see out the window and a lot of candy hit the inside of the car. It made streaks, like the skid marks in your shorts. He made it last the entire length, but didn’t save any for himself.
This was the evening for the “Hookers Choice” award. Mikie Evans was campaigning hard for his Boss 302 Mustang. He will never make a politician, I called “BS” to only one of his campaign statements. I had previously won this award and mentally disqualified myself. Mikie won the contest and received a one-ounce, silver coin struck specifically for this event. When I won, I didn’t get a coin, I got a bottle of J&B scotch which I would gladly regurgitate in exchange for a coin. Mikie is a younger Old Fart. We are doing our best to train him.
Early the next morning, I went to Technical Inspection and received my coveted sticker from the Chief Technical Inspector. Then I parked for the car show with my race team; we had fourteen cars for this event. Malcolm Johnson was not there, his son Danny was getting married. I told Danny, “I can find a better time for this wedding, like Monday night immediately after football.”
Mikie, his navigator, Jeff and I went to the fund raising breakfast. Mikie was in front of me and the guy flipping eggs broke a yoke. Mikie complained. The guy mashed the egg, breaking the other yoke, then started to beat the hell out the eggs, then mashed it more. He then gave Mikie two perfect eggs and gave me the scrambled, those were the best scrambled eggs I have had in many moons.
After the car show, there were several hours of free time. Mikey and Jeff were going to ride the steam train. I decided to go. A blonde girl had been stalking me and I saw her again going on the train ride. Her father was along this time so she had to behave.
He was the second oldest pilot in Utah, and he had flown in the Army, so he was pre-Air Force.
He said, “I might be the oldest now because the last time I talked to the oldest he wasn’t feeling well. ... Once I was a little bit lost and saw a water tower that was being painted, so I went down to see the name of the town. When I saw the name I knew where I was, but just for fun I flew down Main Street. The next morning the squadron commander asked who flew through that town yesterday. I confessed and said, ‘I was lost and flew down to read the town name from the water tower.’ The commander said, ‘Now that’s what I'm talking about use the resources available.’”
His daughter said, “I won’t ride with him in a car, but I will fly with him any time.”
After the train ride, we stopped at the Silver State Diner for a snack. The first raindrops arrived while we were there. When we left, I fueled, then loaded everything I wouldn’t need in the morning into my car. As the time for the drivers meeting approached I drove up and picked up my navigator. We fitted the belts, she was quick to grasp the workings of a six-point harness (I am not going there).
Michael Fine got my attention outside the drivers meeting. Same old boring meeting, except when explaining pre-grid, the announcer asked, “Who is the first 150 mph car off?” The answer came, Michael Fine. At the conclusion of the meeting, a pre-grid sheet must be obtained for your pre-gid number. Everyone is poised to sprint for a sheet, except Michael Fine. He knew that he was A1. We were B39 meaning we would be the 39th car to start and barring problems would finish by 9:20.
After the drivers meeting, the rain became more persistent. I had dinner with Patrick Cowles at the Hotel Nevada. The prime rib was very good. Patrick is another Old Fart running a new Camaro in the 145 class. He was concerned because his speed limiter was set to 155. It would take many miles to get on time, then the narrows would take time away and more correction would be needed for his speeds below 145. The 155 turned out to be speedo error, he hit the speed trap at 162.
I awoke at 2 am, and it was dry. By 5:30 it was raining and everyone was gone. On the way to get my navigator I was unable make the windshield wipers work, the car hasn’t seen much rain. We went to McDonalds, where we learned it wasn’t raining in Lund. When we arrived in Lund, Jim Weeks said, “I don’t have to tell you where to go, but I am going to tell you anyway, go to the B row.”
For the middle of the B row you needed a pirogue. There was a hole in the clouds and as time marched by at a snail’s pace, the weather looked better. At last, we were on our way to final grid. Uhh… let’s call that “race grid.”
The start time was delayed by fifteen minutes, and Michael Fine’s car was the quietest 150 mph car I had ever heard. We visited the portable facilities and began to get situated for the race.
Now time accelerated. I have never got everything correct on the first attempt. When the release lever is actuated on a six-point harness, every belt is released. The final zinger was a tire inspection. Four guys on their hands and knees crawled on the asphalt while the car was moved forward very slowly. They looked at the entire circumference of each tire looking for repairs or foreign objects. A nail in a tire here could ruin your entire day, but much better here than on the course. Once we were through tire inspection I could breathe easier. Those guys don’t get paid enough.
I didn’t know what was going through Belinda’s mind. This was her first race and 135 mph was a fairly brisk pace. Drivers must start at 110 and then run 125 before getting into the Grand Sport division. I knew in the navigators meeting, they were warned about the narrows. The narrows was cut through solid rock by the White River. About three-miles in length with six turns marked 60 mph. I had told her, “I will enter the narrow at 120 mph, the first left turn will scrub my speed down to about 110, I will accelerate back to 120 and do my best to maintain that speed until we exit.”
Our minute rolled to zero and we were off. We were on time before we reached the Nye County line. Forty miles down course we were red flagged. We were in a dead spot for communications. We heard car 454 was stopped, we tried to respond. We heard “debris field” and “car on fire” at different times. We heard nothing for a long time. During the wait, Belinda remarked, “Glad we took advantage of facilities at the start line.”
During the stop I reset my stopwatch to zero and ran it to the time we should have passed flag six, there are only two restart points — flag three and six, we were past three. I should have done the same with my recorded notes. Then “Whistler” came and told us to proceed to flag six. Whistler whistles the National Anthem at the drivers meeting.
Now, stopped at a flag station, we were allowed to unbuckle and get out of the car. Here we were told that Phil Bowser had been killed. He was an Old Fart and excellent at this sport, it hit hard. Belinda calmed me saying everything out here is hearsay.
Then Eric O’Hare, another Old Fart, came to a stop. His was white as a sheet; he had been texted about Phil. My way of shaking this temporarily was to vow to do as well as I could in honor of him. The entire 135 class was on course when the red flag was thrown, this meant everybody had to recalculate or have restart notes. We were about 8 miles from the entrance to the narrows; I wanted to be on time before entering.
When we restarted I put the speedo very close to 165, my tech speed. That is the speed limit for Grand Sport. We were on time before the narrows and other than forgetting to downshift until accelerating out of the first turn, I think I did my best job yet of getting through there.
At the finish the driver was offered an opportunity to speak words of wisdom to the throng of people, I had nothing to say. We parked and got out of our race gear. Belinda bought us lunch. She got a message that her son was coming to see her. She was coming to the awards ceremony until that call. With grandkids coming over, I assigned a very low percentage to her showing.
The classes above 150 were stopped at flag three due to severe rain and large hail. Try to imagine hitting golf ball size hail at 180 mph.
Michael Evans gave a great toast for Phil during the awards ceremony.
My wife wants me to quit, but that is not going to happen. I do not want to end up in a nursing home with some stranger changing my diaper.
Silver State Challenge, 2008 • 2013 • 2012 • 2010 • 2009
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