Open-road racing-also known as "regularity rallying" or "time, distance, and speed rallying"-is a sport in which the object is to maintain an average speed over a predetermined course. In essence, it combines the elements of road racing-where power, speed, and handling are king-and rallying, which demands a superior degree of precision. Events are typically held in areas of the country that offer some seclusion, as races are generally 60-120 miles in length and take place on closed public highways. With classes that accommodate average speeds of 85 to 160 mph and an unlimited class that throws timing out the window, you'd better be able to ensure that "Farmer Joe" doesn't wander onto the road and scuttle the race. Safety is paramount in this type of event, and often there are hundreds of volunteers, numerous ambulances, and eyes in the sky to alert the ground crews of any issues on the course.
One such event is the Big Bend Open Road Race (BBORR), held on an isolated stretch of Texas highway between the towns of Fort Stockton and Sanderson. The first event was held in this West Texas community in 2002, when a dedicated group of enthusiasts, in conjunction with the aforementioned towns and their respective authorities, legally closed down the state highway for a day and turned open-road racing on its ear. The event isn't just a cruise on a flat piece of highway, but rather 59 miles each way of curve-hanging fun, elevation changes, blind curves, switchbacks, and low-flying buzzards. The challenges all add up to a speed-and-handling freak's dream-one that demands driving skill and rewards pilots and navigators with a wild ride and intense competition, all bookended by a plethora of social events.
Today's BBORR is referred to by enthusiasts and organizers alike as "The Most Challenging Open Road Race in the World," and when you show up to participate, you'd better have your game face on.
Power, speed, handling, and a cerebellum that functions at a high level-was this event tailor-made for Corvette drivers, or what? Apparently it was, as about half of the field was Corvettes! All versions competed, from C1 through C6, but the sixth-gen edition was overwhelmingly the enthusiast's weapon of choice. Z51s, Z06s, and ZR1s all went head-to-head against Cobras, GT40s, Shelbys, Porsches, Lamborghinis, Vipers, and a mind-boggling lineup of other top-notch the sports cars from around the world.
Rather than just covering the event, your author was invited to participate as a navigator in an '07 Z06 owned by Malcolm Johnson of Tucson, Arizona. Brazenly disregarding our complete lack of qualifications, we grabbed a hand timer and a set of course notes and strapped into the cockpit. After all, riding shotgun at extreme speeds is a job requirement!
Hang on as we give you the flavor of the Big Bend Open Road Race and a glimpse of the fun you could have in your own Corvette, hammering down an isolated stretch of road.
The BBORR: A Celebration of Speed
There are only a select few open-road-racing venues in the U.S., but the sport is growing in popularity. Today, one can compete in such highly respected races as the Silver State Classic Challenge in Nevada, the Sand Hills Open Road Challenge in Nebraska, and the BBORR. In 2009, enthusiasts from as far away as Alberta, Canada, made the trip in to Fort Stockton.
From the first activity to the culmination of the event at the awards banquet, the organizers of the BBORR and the host cities made the racers feel like family and went out of their way to put on a safe event. Other than the Z06/jackrabbit collision, the only incident involved a turkey buzzard hitting a '93 Mazda RX-7 at 135 mph. According to driver Blue Offutt of Sahuarita, Arizona, "The buzzard left a dent in the right front fender and knocked off the passenger mirror, which beat the passenger window and door mercilessly before falling from its wires." Blue and his wife Deana persevered and took home First Place in GS 135. Buzzards are extremely dangerous due to their curious habit of lifting off the side of the road and into the path of vehicles. With wingspans that can approach 6 feet, these 5-pound projectiles are a force to be reckoned with!
From a Corvette perspective, 17 racers stepped up to the podium for awards, including all three spots in GT 105, which was won by '08 C6 driver Paula Hambrick of Rockwall, Texas, and her navigator, Tim Magrath. The duo placed Third overall and First in the hand-timed category, with an incredible time error of just 0.025 seconds. Tom Whalen of Frisco, Texas, claimed honors as the fastest Vette in his '02 C5 (at right). In addition to a triumph over a '69 Ford GT40 in SS 160, he registered a blistering 179.4 mph on the southbound leg of the event. The LS7-powered C5 was limited by the 180-mph tech speed, or else he might have topped Charlie Friend's big-block-powered '65 Corvair, an Unlimited entry that posted 207.3 mph on the northbound leg.
In addition to individual honors, two teams from Dallas's Lone Star Corvette Club (the largest Corvette Club in the U.S., with more than 1,200 members) took home Second and Third Places in the BBORR Team Challenge. As one can clearly see, Corvettes and open-road racing are a perfect match.
Although many may be hesitant to try open-road racing, there are very few activities where you can safely have so much fun. Whether it's the technical challenge of navigating your way through 59 turns and elevation changes, or having to adjust your average speed by a hundredth, no racer ever goes home without realizing that the Big Bend Open Road Race is a great event made even better by friendly staffers and enjoyable social activities. After all, where else are you going to see 70-plus Corvettes lined up to drive at triple-digit speeds, or attend a "Blender Party," where participants are encouraged to wear the most outrageous hats they can find and stand in awe as a two-cycle-powered blender churns out the world's fastest frozen margaritas?
The 2010 Big Bend Open Road Race will be held from Wednesday, April 21, through Saturday, April 24. Rookies are urged to arrive on Wednesday for Rookie School (held on Wednesday and Thursday) and practice. Last year, in addition to the 160 racers, there were 18 racers on the waiting list, so register soon!