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.
Just like that, we were off. I went all out to start, and we were quickly hurtling down the road at 140 mph...yet all was steady. The Caprice had more, but who wants to get disqualified for going too fast? I backed off to around 125, and Dominic and I started our time checks. By the time we got to the Narrows, we were ahead of schedule by at least 20 seconds and were able to take it easy (mid-80s) through the twisty section.
When we came out, however, we were behind. Doh! I got back on the gas, looking to make up time. Sure enough, within a few miles, we had made it up...and then some! We came into the last 3 miles 2 seconds ahead of schedule. I started slowing down, looking to nail that target time. Then, in the distance, I saw the finish line. And, of course, totally speed drunk by this time, I sped back up. Aarrgh! We finished with an average speed of 115.1382, which may sound pretty good, but only placed us in 7th.
At first, I was a little angry (it's that competitive nature, you know). But then it hit home: I hadn't placed among the winners, but I had piloted 4,000 pounds of high-performance Chevy over 90 miles of highway at triple-digit speeds. And that's what the K&N Silver State Classic Challenge is about...high-speed fun. I'll be back, and next time I might even slow down a bit! (Visit www.silverstateclassic.com for more information.)
From the Navigator's SeatWhen I was first approached by John to "drop everything and leave Wednesday to navigate in the Silver State," I wasn't sure what I needed to do to be a navigator, but it sounded like fun. After getting the time off of work and borrowing a car that we could all fit in, Scott Parkhurst of Popular Hot Rodding and I headed for Vegas. The jaunt to Vegas gave Scott and I time to talk "shop" about navigating. Scott has navigated, and won, twice, so talking with him proved to be educational. When Scott started explaining to me what I needed to do with a stopwatch, mile markers, and communication with the driver, I started to get scared. Scott asked if I understood. I nodded my head, when I was actually really confused.
At Las Vegas Motor Speedway, John had to qualify in the car. The time in the shotgun seat allowed me to get comfortable with John's driving style. I felt that I could trust him with my life. Hell, we were going to be hitting mid-triple-digit numbers, and people have gotten hurt, so it was essential that I had full trust. The big Caprice went through the course like a go-cart, John got his driving certificate, and we were on our way to Ely.
Scott and I went over some course notes the night before the race, planning for the big day. We used a computer program that he had used in the past to win the race, with changes for our speed class. Unfortunately, I still really didn't understand what I was supposed to be doing with these numbers or these stopwatches.
On the drive out to the starting line John and I figured out our means of communications (yelling), and the easiest way to determine if we were going too fast or too slow. Something clicked. I figured out the numbers were the times we should be hitting at each mile marker, and it all made sense.
Before I knew it, the starters were tightening up our belts. We rolled up the windows, lined up with the Christmas Tree, and we were off. I remember saying to John almost immediately, "Lets go!" He looked at the speedometer and said, "We're going 135!" John and I would both look for the mile markers-flying by at triple digits, it gets hard to read signs. (Especially when one of the markers didn't have a sign on it!)
It was easy to become speed numb. My nerves didn't start to act up until the Narrows. I trusted John's driving, but there is a difference between going fast straight, and going fast and turning. You try to shift your weight-even though it makes no difference, your body goes through the motions. After a few turns I was all right, and we got back to concentrating on the stopwatch. We were fast going in, but coming out of the narrows we were slow, so we caught up to our target time. I felt proud that we finished the race safely, and everyone at the finish line made us feel like heroes-even though we came in a little fast.
John, Scott, and I had lots to talk about on Monday morning when we returned to the office. Thanks to Lyle for "loaning" us his Caprice, to John for asking me to navigate (and not killing us both), and Scott for the navigating tips and technical support. I'm already planning my strategy for next year.-Dominic Conti
Shamoo SpecsChassisChassis prep-Allen Leathers, Big O Tires, Valencia, CARearend/Ratio-Auburn 3.08:1 Front Suspension-Moog offset A-arms installed by Chick's, Las Vegas/Energy Suspension bushings/Hotchkis sway bar/Eibach Sport Coils/ KYB shocks Rear Suspension-Hotchkis upper & lower trailing arms/EnergySuspension bushings/Hotchkis sway bar/Eibach Sport Coils/ KYB shocksBrakes-factory police package Master cylinder-stock/Stewart Brake Development proportioning valveWheels-American Racing 200S, 17x9.5 inches, front & rearTires-BFGoodrich 255/40ZR17, front & rear Other chassis items-Hotchkis Impala SS engine bay brace/four-wheel alignment by Chick's, Las Vegas
EngineEngine prep-Fred YoungDisplacement/internals-stock 350ci LT1Radiator-US RadiatorAlternator-GM heavy-duty (March pulleys)Induction-Holley throttle-body/Granatelli MAF/K&N FP-1 filterIgnition/Wires-TaylorHeaders-HookerExhaust/Mufflers-Flowmaster after-catOther engine facts-NOS nitrous system installed by Morgan Motorsports/flash memory reprogramming by Z Industries/Kavlico sensors
TransmissionYear and make-'94 4L60E Converter-Continental Converters Open-RoadTrans mods-SR7, Las Vegas
BodyBody mods-A & A spoiler Bodywork-Castor's, Van Nuys, CA Painter-Benny the Brush Graphics-Las Vegas Signs
InteriorGauges-AutoMeter Air conditioning-The Air Shop, Santa Ana, CA Upholsterer-Chubby's Hot Rods, Las Vegas Carpet-Auto Custom Carpets Seatbelts-Crow four-point harnesses Rollbar-Autopower, San Diego/ powdercoated by Powder Coating Plus, Valencia, CA/ installed by Chubby's Hot Rods, Las Vegas