Drag racers earn their excitement in reaction times, 60-foots, and quarter-mile e.t.'s. The terminal velocity achieved over the 1,320 isn't nearly as important as the time it takes to get to the finish line. But land-speed racing is a motorsport in which speed is the ultimate goal, and competitors brag of reaching 200, 250, and even 300-plus miles per hour.
Al and Gail Phillips, a husband-and-wife racing team from Pismo Beach, California, belong to the land-speed-racer coterie, and their current weapon of choice is a heavily modified '99 Corvette.
The Phillips' love affair with the Corvette dates back to the '50s. When Al was a teenager, there was nothing cooler than Chevy's flagship sports car. But like most daydreaming young men, he had to wait until deep into his adulthood to purchase the object of his affection. In 1980, Al and Gail found a fuel-injected, four-speed '58 Vette that needed restoration. "It was one-third the cost of the Ferrari we were considering, and it had a trunk big enough to put things in. Plus, Al could do a lot of the work himself-so we bought it!" Gail tells VETTE.
The couple owned the classic Corvette for almost 20 years, during which time Gail was determined to learn as much about the marque as she could. Eventually, her own fixation with Corvettes took over, and she bought herself a Silver Blue '64 coupe. In 1994, Gail and the car were featured both in VETTE and in a popular mass-produced poster.
In 1993, NASCAR Winston Cup racer, car builder, and driver Doug Odom began constructing a land-speed race car. According to Gail, "Al told him it would be more interesting for a woman to be the driver, especially if he was going for a world record. Also, it might help get media attention and sponsors. So Doug asked him if I could be the driver."
Gail thought her husband was crazy when he explained what land-speed racing was and how it worked, but she was more than up for the challenge. Before long, she was invited to El Mirage Dry Lakes in the Mojave Desert of California to watch a land-speed competition. "It was hot, windy, dirty, noisy, exciting, exhilarating and scary. I was in," Gail says.
Put simply, land-speed events feature straight-line racing against standing records. Vehicles run one at a time and compete in certain engine and body classes. Before making a pass, every vehicle goes through an inspection to certify it for its class. The driver's suit and helmet are checked for proper ratings, and the driver is timed to be sure he or she can get out of the car in less than 60 seconds in the event of an emergency. Vehicles are then queued up on either side of the long (five or seven miles, depending on speed class) course in preparation to make a pass.
Like all land-speed racers, Gail started out by running at relatively low velocities to get her first license, then increased her speeds as her skills and confidence level improved. Land-speed licenses fall into the following categories:
(E) up to 125 mph
(D) 125 to 149 mph
(C) 150 to 174 mph
(B) 175 to 199 mph
(A) 200 to 249 mph
(AA) 250 to 299 mph
(Unlimited) 300+ mph
Gail currently holds an A license but plans to advance to the AA level. According to her, anyone can participate in land-speed racing so long as they have a car and a crew and belong to the Southern California Timing Association (SCTA) or the Bonneville National, Inc. (BNI) sanctioning body.
To build her land-speed race Vette, Gail started with a '99 coupe and added the highly modified suspension parts required to support speeds over 200 mph. She commissioned its colors in a patriotic palette to reflect her appreciation and support for the American troops fighting in Iraq.