This can't be the right road. I haven't seen another car in over an hour and these "Panther Crossing" signs are really starting to freak me out. What happens if you hit a panther? Would you have to get out and fight it to the death or something? Either way, I didn't want to find out. It was dark, it was 4 a.m. and it was way too eerie outside to get lost. As I drove on into the night, I began to wonder what it must have felt like the first time someone bombed down the salt flats for over a mile. I wondered what type of loon would be attracted to building a one-mile certified death machine, something capable of hitting well over 200 miles an hour in under 5,280 feet. Wait, what did that sign say? It was so small, that couldn't have been my turn; I didn't see an abandoned airport. Keep on driving. As if the salt flats weren't enough, I began to wonder what type of person thought about renting a private runway for a day, inviting all of his friends to the middle of nowhere and seeing who could go the fastest. Then I realized, that type of person was me, and it may very well be you. If you have never been to a standing mile event, read on.
The first thing you need to know if you plan on going mile racing is that it isn't drag racing. All of those "small" issues your car has in traffic, the ones you get away with at the dragstrip-they aren't going to fly out here. Racing at this level means being wide open through every gear, which means everything on your car has plenty of time to break. So, before you even think of heading out to a local mile event, you need to check all of the common but oft-neglected wear items that we normally take for granted.
I'm not saying that we are generally a little cheap, but when was the last time you bought tires based on top-speed performance and not price? Well, now is the time to check out all of your tires for wear and, just as importantly, make sure they are rated to handle your intended top speed. For the average car, this means having a tire that is both Z and 88W rated, which would clear you for up to 168 mph. If you plan on running faster than that, you need tires that are 99Y rated, or capable of over 186 mph.
Belts and Fluids
Turning 6,000 rpm for a mile means your accessories are going to be working overtime. You need to check, and probably replace, all of your belts before heading out to the mile, as we saw several cars sling belts around half-track. With new (or checked) belts installed, you should also take the time to check all of your car's fluids, especially the clutch and brake hydraulics. The last thing you want is a brake failure, especially at well over 150 mph.
If you plan on running a mile event, you will need roughly the same equipment as you would need at a dragstrip. Obviously, you need a helmet that meets the SNELL Foundation 2000 rules and is still up to date. OEM seatbelts are fine, but five- or six-point harnesses would be better, if you have them, mounted to a weld-in rollbar (not a harness bar that attaches with two bolts to the A-pillar). You don't need a fire jacket to run the mile but we recommend wearing non-synthetic clothing (long sleeves and pants with closed-toe shoes) and some driving gloves while on the course.
For our first trip to the Milemarker-1 event, we chose to bring three cars. Our main test mule was a stock 2010 Camaro SS owned and driven by Greg Lovell of AntiVenom. His orange 2SS would be a perfect testbed for proving how good a stock car could be, while also serving as a benchmark for the other two vehicles. Over the course of three runs, Greg was able to run 151 mph, which is an amazing feat for a bone-stock car. Our second car was an '09 ZR1, owned by Kevin Helmintoller, which makes just over 600 rwhp thanks to a couple of bolt-ons and some tuning. The ZR1 represents the pinnacle of GM power and aerodynamics and we expected it to be almost impossible to catch on the mile. I say almost because our third car was a 608-rwhp, 436 cubic-inch '01 Z06, which is also owned by Kevin and built by Greg at AntiVenom. The Z06 would be our variable-the most highly modified car in our arsenal and one that may have been the most problematic. After a mid-course hood carbon-fiber incident left the '01 Z06 hoodless, it still managed to run 172 mph, truly impressive when you consider just how bad the aerodynamics must have been. And, as we thought, the 612-rwhp ZR1 did come out on top, running 189 mph in the standing mile.
The Experience Mile racing starts (really) early and you normally have to get there even earlier if you don't want to sit in the tech lanes all day. For us, this meant leaving at 3 a.m., since we were 3 hours outside of the Dade-Collier airport. If you are closer to your local mile track, we envy you, but the same "early bird gets the worm" theory applies. Of course, starting so early meant we were in for a long day and that means bringing a ton of supplies. Remember, these are held on airport runways, which means concession stands and bathrooms aren't exactly priority one for the event planners. We didn't bring any food and hardly enough water and trust me, we paid for that dearly. When you head out, we recommend packing a full supply of food (breakfast and lunch), way more water than you could possibly drink and a bottle of suntan lotion. No matter how much water you bring, it will all be gone by noon anyway, so bring some money in case you are lucky enough to have some vendors on site. Chairs and some sort of pop-up tent are always a good idea, but remember that the tent may not be an option on the runway. Before you get to the event, make sure to fuel up all the way and take note of how close (or far) the nearest gas station is to the event. Depending on your car and how many runs you make, it may be smart to bring some extra fuel with you. Of course, no one has any nitrous refill stations at an airport, so if you spray, bring extra bottles and remember to keep them in the shade.
Once on the runway, we got everything out of the cars and headed over to the tech line. Apparently tech lines for these events get really long, really fast, which meant we spent over three hours in line before heading out for the drivers' orientation. Tech at the MileMarker-1 event was relatively lenient, but everyone was still checked for having the right equipment and a legal helmet before signing the safety waiver and being assigned a number. Make sure you, or the Tech, take time to write the number legibly, as we saw several runs that were not recorded due to sloppy number placement. After the tech, we lined up with a large group of cars to head down the track for the first time. This driver orientation is done at a slow speed, but is important for any driver. A mile may seem short, but in reality it is very long, something we and many other drivers found out during the orientation lap. Make sure you get a good idea of how long the shutdown area is and where the return road turnoffs are. Faster cars (200 mph +) should look at a parachute setup, it is safer and much easier on your brakes, which is a good thing after several runs.
And with that, it was finally time to start making some top-speed runs. As Greg pulled his 2010 to the line for the first time, it became even more apparent that this is nothing like drag racing. Since the tarmac is not prepped, aggressive launching yields nothing but tire smoke, so it is important to walk the car out slowly and start picking up speed as you get moving. Many experienced top-speed racers will install numerically lower gears to allow for more top speed with less low-speed acceleration, proving that gear on the back half of the mile is much more important than gear in the front. As the flag dropped, Greg was off, climbing quickly through the gears. First through Third seemed natural enough, as it is pretty normal to accelerate like that on a dragstrip (or street), but power shifting Fourth and Fifth, well, that's where you really get a new sense of speed. After Greg's first run he reported, "This is my kind of racing! Drag racing is cool and I like the road stuff, but this is my speed. It's incredible to run through all the gears like that. Awesome!" He wasn't the only one who felt this way. In fact, almost everyone we talked to was amazed at how much fun running the mile was. Check out the rest of our coverage on the following pages and make sure to contact us if you plan on heading out to a mile event anytime soon. It really is more fun than it looks!