Part 6: We Take Time Out to Go FastOne-hundred-five miles per hour on a back road at 1:30 a.m. and closing on a Porsche? Uh-huh. That's the stuff really good Corvette stories are made of.
Cibie 130-watt high-beams bored a bright hole in the night as we rocketed east on Highway 119. We were about 13 miles northeast of Taft (get a Southern California road map. Look southwest of Bakersfield) and a couple of clicks west of Interstate 5.
To test "Barney," our Dark Purple Metallic '95 ZR-1, we were running "Starlite," the premier "map-type Monte Carlo" rally in the western U.S. This wasn't just any Starlite, either. It was the final event. Starlite had run annually since 1971 on the second weekend after Thanksgiving, but later this morning, 30 years of tradition would end. I was proud to have run many of them since entering my first in 1975. As usual, I entered as car number 13.
Always a ball-buster, this rally runs 14-1/2 hours, mostly over back roads through Southern California and Southern Nevada. It starts at 8:00 p.m., Friday, in Goleta, a suburb of Santa Barbara, the northern jewel of the Southern California coast.
Starlite 2000 first took us over the coastal mountains behind Pismo Beach, some of the best twisties in the state. From there, it crossed the southern end of California's San Joaquin Valley, went over the Tehachapi Mountains, across the Mojave Desert, skirted the southern end of Death Valley, and into Nevada. Most of this was at night, and it ended in the Las Vegas area about 11:00 the next morning. There were nine checkpoints for Regular Class competitors like us and another five for Expert Class cars. The total mileage for Class R-if you ran the course right-was exactly 608.6 miles.
At 105 in Sixth gear, the car's four-cam, 32-valve, V-8 was turning about 2,300 rpm. At that throttle opening, the Flowmasters weren't "purring;" a better word might be "throbbing." Even at 2,300, the LT5 exhibited raw power. Seeing the I-5 bridge in the high-beams, I lifted, maybe 10 mph, then shot over the interstate. What did a sleepy, northbound trucker think as he saw something a little slower than a meteorite flash overhead?
Down to Fifth. Up to 105 again. Then, back to Sixth. I could see we were catching other rally cars. The first was a Jaguar XJ8 sedan, loaded with a crew of three and destined to win Starlite overall-in spite of the big Jag puking its trans at the rally's end. I passed the XJ8 to find a second Jag, an S-type sedan, ahead. Didn't take too long to get around him, either.
Another quarter of a mile and we came up on a Porsche 930 Turbo rolling along at 95 or so. Like a P-51 pilot approaching an unsuspecting ME109 from six-o'clock, I dimmed my lights, slowed a bit, and took a spot about 80 feet behind. Suddenly there was a puff from the Porsche's exhaust and he picked up speed.
I shot a glance at my longtime Starlite navigator, Gary Peterson, looked back at the road and said, "Dude, I been wantin' to do this for years." I downshifted, Sixth to Third, floored it, drafted right up to the Porsche's spoiler, then pulled out to pass. We blew by the Turbo at 6,500. I pulled 7,000 in third, grabbed Fourth and held it to almost 6,000, saw 130 on the speedo, lifted and shifted to Sixth. Ain't four cams grand?
"I think we made our point!" Gary shouted.
Way ahead of the Porsche, we backed off to 105 and rolled along Route 119, across 10 miles of deserted farmland east of the Interstate. We did speed limits through little towns like Old River, Panama, and Pumpkin Center, then crossed Route 99, the second of the Valley's two big North-South highways, heading through the farms southeast of Bakersfield.