Overall, the state of Nebraska is a pretty quiet place. In fact, it’s where people from Kansas go to “get away from it all.” But in the town of Arnold, it’s far from peaceful when the annual Sandhills Open Road Challenge (SORC) takes place. Since 2001, this yearly festival of petrol-fueled mayhem has turned narrow ribbon roads and cornfields into one of the coolest racing venues we’ve come across. In the first year, 34 drivers showed up for the party, but today the grid of 120 spots sells out in just a few days. Why? Because its mix of Americana and automotive culture is unique and very addictive.
The main event is the road rally-styled race held on Saturday, which consists of 55 miles broken up into two legs. The idea is to run each section in a given time with the two legs added together to get the combined time. The team closest to “perfect” in their class wins. It sounds easy, but trust us, it’s far from it. The other speed event is a one-mile and half-mile shootout. There’s also a car show, a burnout contest, and a few BBQs. The place is just overflowing with hospitality.
Given the event’s popularity, it’s actually pretty hard to land a spot on the grid. Luckily, Optima Batteries presented us, and more than a dozen others, the chance to haul our rides halfway across the country to see what all the excitement was about.
Now the town of Arnold is small, real small, so there are no motels. Instead, the townsfolk open their homes to the competitors, which is something you don’t see in the “big city.” The event is a big deal for Arnold with all the proceeds going into the town. Since 2001, the SORC has donated over $350,000 to the local fire department and community center. We call that a win-win for everyone.
As event newcomers, the Optima group would have normally been assigned to the 90-mph class, but to make it fun, we were all put into a special 91-mph group. The target speed was 91, but the drivers could go as low as 71, and no faster than 120. Our tech editor Steven Rupp was there with our ’68 project car, but no navigator. As luck would have it, Shane Wagner, owner of Proven Wicked Motorsports, was at the event as a volunteer and was happy to jump into the passenger seat. Now, 91 mph may not seem fast, but the road is narrow and windy with more than a few blind hills. Combine wildlife with the road's utter lack of shoulder, and the pucker factor ratchets up a few notches. It’s also hard to get used to the idea of negotiating blind curves in the oncoming lane at 100 mph.