Hurtling down Nevada Highway 318 at 160 mph, wrapped in safety gear from head to toe--not to mention 3,570 pounds of fully caged '66 Chevelle--almost everything becomes a blur. It's like being encased in a huge, manned bullet, the full metal jacket express, slicing the bordering landscape into at smear of brown and green. The pavement ahead might as well be a gray haze with a yellow streak right down the middle. And reading mile markers, like a good navigator is supposed to? Good luck. Those little road side signs disappear almost as quickly as the hordes of bugs that spatter their innards across the windshield; unlike the bugs, the signs leave no trace.
This wild ride at breakneck speed took on something of a dual personality. On the one hand, I'm traveling 150-plus miles per hour down an open highway, and suit, belts, helmet and HANS device aside, something tells me I should be more than a little scared. On the other hand, I can't deny what I'm feeling from the chassis and suspension around me--a totally planted, rock-steady ride that handled high speeds, off-camber curves, hills and dips, and whatever the course threw at us with hardly a shrug. In a nutshell, that's what my ride was like during the recent Silver State Classic Challenge, acting as navigator in the Hotrods to Hell-built '66 Chevelle From Hell, a schizophrenic ride through butt-clenching triple-digit speeds paired with road-gripping, nerve-soothing manners that made the thing seem like a warp-speed cruise through the badlands.
Right off the bat, this ride would be much different from my other trips to the Silver State (www.silverstateclassic.com). For those who aren't familiar with this event, the Silver State is essentially a time-speed rally held on 90 miles of public highway conveniently closed for the festivities by the Nevada Highway Patrol. Speed classes run from 95 all the way to 180 mph--the goal is to average as close to the target speed as possible.
Then there's the Unlimited class, where the idea is to cover the 90 miles as quickly as possible, no speed limits whatsoever. The record for the class is a blistering 207.43 mph average. I was there the year the record was set, and I have to admit that I looked up when the car passed by, thinking it was a jet out of nearby Nellis Air Force Base.
How strong does this lust for speed on a public road run? Of the 133 entrants for this year's run, 31, or almost a quarter, were first-timers. According to event president Steve Waldman, this steady infusion of new blood keeps the Silver State Classic and its sister event, the Nevada Open Road Challenge, healthy and in business.
This wouldn't be my rookie run. My first time out, navigating in a '96 LT4 Corvette in the 145-mph class, I had a hell of a wild ride and even managed to bring back a Second Place trophy. My second time out, I drove a Hotchkis-suspended police package Caprice in the 115-mph class and again had an awesomely good time, though I managed to prove that as a driver, I make a good navigator. I also illustrated how competitive most of the speed classes are, as my 115.138-mph average sounded pretty good but in reality was only good for Seventh Place in the class. Make no doubt about it; this is a competitive and dedicated group that comes out for this open-road speed fest, and they take their racing seriously. My third outing, five years in the works, would definitely take the ride down Highway 318 to a whole other level.
With all due respect to the many enthusiasts who stick the same handle on their A-body creations, I've seen the Chevelle From Hell, and better yet, I was even gonna get a chance to drive this witch's brew of NASCAR technology and street-going acumen. According to creator Steve Mcclenon, "The car was done like an early '70s stock car, when teams still had to use the stock frame."