One blast down Highway 318 during the '00 Nevada Open Road Challenge (NORC) was all it took to get me hooked on open-road racing. While navigating in a '96 Corvette, I'd seen 167 mph, brought home second place in the 140-mph class, and just plain had a darn good time. I was ready to do it all the next weekend.
It actually took longer than that to make a return, but the wait ended when Lyle Larson, a former drag racer and current automotive consultant, offered me the chance to drive his car in the NORC's sister event, the '01 K&N Silver State Classic. Needless to say, I jumped at the opportunity. Larson is an open-road racing veteran, so I knew his '94 police-package Caprice would be up to the test. Would I? We'd certainly find out.
Finding a navigator proved to be slightly problematic, but walking around the office asking, "Who wants to ditch work and go racing?" turned up McMullen Argus Tech Center Manager Dominic Conti. A little one-stop shopping with RCI (Racer's Choice Inc., 12440 Hwy. 155 So., Dept. SC, Tyler, TX 75703; 903/939-1908, www.rciracing.com) netted the necessary gear (helmets, suits, gloves, and shoes), which, happily, all fit as it should.
Once in Vegas, Dominic, Lyle, and I headed out to the Motor Speedway for the rookie qualifying session. I'd recently spent a pair of days driving Corvettes and Camaros at the Bragg-Smith Performance Driving School, so I went in feeling prepared. But driving "Shamoo," as Lyle calls his Cop-rice, was an entirely new experience. Saying the big Chevy is heavier and physically larger than a Corvette is an epic understatement. Following the sharp lines taken by the instructors in their BMW Z3s was tough. And yet, I quickly found that this big boy can turn. Body roll was non-existent, the shocks and springs were dead-on, and the stock police package brakes worked great. After a few laps around the tight track, I hit a rhythm and was able to hustle Shamoo around in pretty fine style. I didn't realize how well the car was working until the second lead/follow session of the day, when we caught up to the group of Corvettes in front of us. The track time was fun, but more importantly, I was cleared to race.
Friday was caravan day. The participants headed to Ely, Nevada, where the race would start on Sunday. It was a good chance for Dominic and I talk about navigating and to see the course. I'd forgotten how twisty the "Narrows" section of the course is...and about all those big rocks just off the road. We turned around and drove it twice, just to have a second look. Once in Ely, Saturday was taken up by the car show, tech inspection, and driver's meeting. We had decided to run the 115-mph class-but the car was tech'd to run up to 140 mph, thanks to the Chubby's Hot Rod-installed, Autopower-built rollbar and the Crow harnesses, meaning we'd have even more fun than planned.
Sunday morning came quickly, and we were up at oh-dark-early to gas-up the car and get something to eat. We found our grid spot, parked, and waited. Dominic arranged his clipboard and watches to his liking and reviewed his notes. I, on the other hand, couldn't sit still. Walk, walk, trip to the Porta Pottie, walk, walk...you get the idea. Then, seemingly all of a sudden, the cars ahead of us were starting, and it was time to go. We quickly pulled on our helmets and got strapped in. As we approached the starting line, the harnesses were tightened at least two times...we were very well strapped in by the time it was our turn to go.