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By Ray Alexander
This was the 25th anniversary for the Silver State Classic Challenge, held on State Route 318 between Lund and Hiko, Nevada. The Nevada Department of Transportation changed the name of the highway to Silver State Classic Challenge Highway, but “Three Eighteen” is so much easier to say. The lady at the finish is known as “The Queen of 318.” The new name simply refuses to roll off your tongue combined with anything that denotes female.
In May, a new course record for average speed was set at 217.5 mph for the 90-mile length. This was in a retired 2006 Dodge Charger; its previous life was as a Kurt Busch Blue Deuce. We were shown some video of the run, along with exclamations from the people doing the filming. I have heard his top speed was 257 mph. Yes, a dragster is faster, but you see this through your entire field of view in clear desert air.
The event started with rookie school at 6:00 Thursday morning. As I was leaving for the school, I crossed a line of Canadian cars; they turned right on Russell Road. I thought, “I know where you are going, and you should follow me.” I beat them to school by 30 minutes. Some rookie(s) made it known they objected to being identified as a rookie. They prefer first timers; I thought first timers were virgins.
At school, Robert Armstrong’s snake-green Challenger was easily spotted. There were also a Barracuda and a twin-turbo Viper waiting to torture the track. I never saw either of these guys again, but they were a couple of Mopars doing a good job of representing.
Other non-Mopar cars worthy of noting: a long sleek V12 XKE Jaguar and an early ‘60s Corvette with a roll bar. A comment from the Corvette owner: “It’s my car and I want to drive it.” I found later that the roll bar is bolted in so it can be removed. Another strong competitor, Clay Hansen, fabricated and installed the roll bar. Clay drives a detonator yellow Challenger; he mentioned that he brings a different Dodge to Mopars at the Strip. I will be looking for him with my newly acquired 526 rwhp.
More detailed descriptions of the actual event can be found in my earlier Silver State articles, such as the 2008 event when I drove my SRT8 Charger. The technical inspectors were very nice people and will go far out of their way to assist you in meeting the safety requirements. This event drew 33 virgins ... first-timers ... rookies. On the forum, I noticed three people who were experiencing their inaugural event and making plans to return at faster speeds. This could easily prevent making changes in the future.
The participating cars were paraded through Ely. Even the non-street-legal cars could run. Candy, trinkets, or power balls were tossed to the children. Some children, maybe Boy Scouts, were given the opportunity to ride in a participating car. I was going to let one ride with me. The kid that rode with Malcolm Johnson at the May event wanted to ride with him again. I knew that Malcolm had his son with him as navigator; I let it be known that I would take Malcolm’s son so that he could take the much younger boy. Before we were ready to roll, the boy decided he wanted to ride in a Porsche, a sweetheart wanted to ride with Malcolm, but I was still stuck with Malcolm’s son.
There were some busy pranksters this year. Ron Lea, the president of Old Fart Racing, the team that I belong to, had “Wanted” posters for him virtually everywhere you looked. Ron has stayed in the same hotel room ever since I became an Old Fart. Every business in downtown Ely had one or more poster taped on their windows, so I carefully removed one and placed it on the door to his room. On Saturday morning an official Silver State car was wrapped in crime-scene tape. The owner carefully got in the car and drove it with the tape on. The White Pine County Sheriffs did allow us some leeway.
At the car show I spoke with Don Hoffman, who owns a beautiful black and red ACR Viper; I believe he also raced Texas. He told me there were 13 of these cars made, and his was the only one that got driven regularly. People pay to have their horses exercised, but they are so uptight about a car. They let it sit, getting stiff and brittle. Bill Bagshaw has a beautiful ’08 Viper, crystal red with silver racing stripes, but it was not at the car show.
There were Ferraris, Audi R8s, Lamborghinis, and the XKE Jag, but the car that received the most attention was a 1969 AMX owned by Jimi Day of Grafton, Wisconsin. The car currently puts 550 hp to the rear wheels. The car won the “Hooker’s Choice” contest and was awarded most exotic car by the Silver State judges. Kelly gave us some history of the Hooker’s Choice contest; incidentally, he won the first contest with an Aston Martin DB9.
One of the Lamborghinis ran the half-mile and mile shootout. It ran more than 250 mph in the mile. This was at 6,000 feet. Someone should make a record attempt in a Lambo.
Bob Leier had a ’71 Coronet that is a beautiful F3 medium green poly. His grandfather bought the car new. No Chevy engine sneaked in here; it had a 440-cid engine capable of digging trenches in asphalt. His brother Ray navigated for him, and they were required to make a trip to the podium for a trophy. He acquired the car in 2000 and has done a rotisserie restoration. He learned many things; right-side marker lights are right side only, and it has many parts that are ’71 only.
Bob had a trunk full of cleaning equipment, and he was parked close to my car. His car was spotless; mine had the requisite amount of Ely dust on it. I tried to get him to lightly dust my car – no dice. Ely has more dust than any other town with paved streets.
The last car I am going to give verbiage to is a Nash Rambler. Ironically, the DJ was playing the Rambler song; for the youngsters, a Rambler chased down a Cadillac, and at 120 mph asked the Caddy driver, “How do I get this car out of second gear?” This car was running in the 145-mph class, driven by John Ciacitto. John has a brother that runs an early Ford pickup, perhaps a ’36. John said the first time he navigated for his brother, he came home, cut the front end off the Nash, and extended it 3 feet as a start for getting it race ready. The work was flawless. The transformation was likely slowed by a move from southern California to Iowa. Unfortunately, John experienced fuel pressure issues about 10 miles from the finish.
The 25th anniversary event suffered a malfunction that probably has not happened before and probably will not happen again: the portable generator at the start line failed. This brought the yellow arch denoting the start line crashing down on Caren Sutton and Gerry McFaull. Caren’s husband, Stan, already had his horsey car (Ferrari) at the finish, and when no cars made it to the finish line in the time window they should have been in, he had those horrible thoughts, “Oh no, what did she do now?” There was a nine-minute delay while a manual timing system was initialized.
While at rookies’ school, I noticed one of the previous-generation Camaros from Texas with “Escorpion” written on the side. I had needed some help with the Texas race, and Escorpion had answered my questions. I noted his appearance as he left rookie school; I wanted to thank him for his help. Later, I introduced myself and he backed up a couple of paces and looked at me then said, “30 years ago I worked at NCR with an engineer named Ray Alexander.”
I replied, “I am that Ray Alexander.”
I will not include his name because he prefers to be anonymous on the forum. Now, I have not changed in 30 years, but it is obvious his eyesight is gone.
One can view this event any number of ways; if you view your entry dollars as spent in return for race time, it’s expensive. If you view your entry money as spent in return for four days of hanging with cars that cause you to salivate and their drivers who will become your friends, it is very reasonable.
It is now more than two weeks after the event, and preliminary results have yet to be posted. The safety requirements for going to the next level cause three classes to be heavily populated and very competitive. The 150-mph class is extremely competitive; to go faster, a lot of pure racing equipment is needed, such as a fuel cell and a 10-pound fire suppression system. Moving above 110 mph and 125 mph classes each have a set of requirements.
The following was taken from race day tabulation, there can be mistakes.
This was another great event with the exception of the starting line problem. Thanks to all the course workers, staff personnel, radio crew, pilots, and the members of Vegas Vettes. I apologize if I missed anyone, but if you helped, I thank you. I especially appreciate the four guys that crawled on the asphalt to inspect tires one last time before the start.
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