Oops, I am getting a bit ahead of myself. How do adventures really begin? Mine started about 5 years ago and when I heard something about some crazy race somewhere in Nevada with cars screaming down roads at 200mph. “Not me!”, I said, “I am not crazy!” Then 3 years ago I was with a business broker and in her office I saw race car photos and she began telling me about this race she does every year, 150mph on open roads somewhere in Nevada! Crazy stuff, but not for me. I am not crazy! Two years ago I hear about this race outside of Ely, Nevada, 150-250mph, open road race, record times being set. What is this? Crazy? I begin to wonder what this is all about. One year and 6 months ago I join the SNR-PCA and met what appears (never judge a book by its cover) to be a perfectly sensible and normal human at my first Porsche meeting, going by the normal name of Deven Hickingbotham, and he races in this race outside of Ely. Tell me more, Mr. Hickingbotham, and he does — and then he sets the trap!
I get an innocent enough email about my registering for this race in Ely this February. After a bit of prodding I register, send in my money and I get a whole load of forms, rules and regulations. My wife proceeds to point out that I have never raced, never driven on a track My defense? Deven told me to. Oh, now I find out that I have to go to school to do this. What am i getting myself into? School, transportation to the school, hotels, food, this is getting expensive.
So, what do I do, tell Deven that this is not for me, but I secretly really want to do this. If I am going to be a bear, might as well be a grizzly bear. Porsche driving school in Birmingham, Alabama, reputed to be one of thee best schools in the country and hey, I own a Porsche. So off to Birmingham and what an experience, top notch, great hotel, great food, huge amount of track time and I have my first sense of how much I have yet to learn. Many $$$ later I do have a certificate and I am now legal to go to Ely as a rookie! Next shopping. Off to Sears Point (as I call the place) and a new Helmet, check. how about legal shoes, check, gloves, check, drivers suit, not required under 110mph but with advice from some experienced racers, check, and a few more items, check. More $$$ but I am just about ready for this adventure, butterflies, yes, nervous yes, questioning my own sanity, yes. Read the rule book, 3 times, watched all of the videos i can find of the event on You Tube, drive out to Ely 3 weeks early and drive the entire course with my wife, who by now is a bit worried about me but after we drive the course, all 240 miles out and back from Ely (that is not counting the 350 miles just to get to Ely and the 350 miles to get back home), she feels comfortable that I have planned, studied, gone to school and I am going to be ok, she hopes.
Car has been safety checked, brand new tires, I had a plugged tire so a whole new set was going to be required. Fire extinguisher installed. and time to go.
May 17th, 7:45 am and I am on my way. As I am driving out several thoughts go though my mind. 1.. my average speed at home is 32-38 miles per hour per day and i am going to have a target speed of 110mph average and a top limit of 124mph. Maybe I need to get up some speed on these empty roads and get a feel what all of this is going to feel like, (and find out that I was not the only soul going out to Ely that had come to the same conclusion). Wow is this car fast! Fun but I a know that I am pushing my luck a bit. 2. Next I found out that my cruise stops at 100mph. Well there goes part of my plan to be on time, on speed and shoot for a trophy by having the cruise control help me a bit on the long straights. Great idea but with 5 hours to practice speed control I got pretty good.
Thursday the drive could not have been better, driving a Porsche at speed and seeing antelope running across great vistas, empty roads. And to top it all off near Ely I saw a herd of mustangs running towards me led by a colt. Just an outstanding sight and no time for a camera. Stunning!
Arrived in Ely about 1:30pm, found registration and that all went well, then I got cornered by Rick, old hand at the event at registration and he found a new rookie, me, that he could teach all that he knew and I became his crowd of one as he tutored me on what to expect. A tried and true Corvette man at that. Seriously he was full of great information.
Got my room. Washed the car. Then had to figure out how to put my numbers on. You know that you are at a good event when total race strangers come over and help you figure out how to get your numbers on and not look like a fool. Tom and Bob Glass, brothers, Bob driving a C6 Z06 and Tom driving a C7 Z06 Hennessy 780hp monster. Great guys and very helpful and as I was to learn, all the good drivers know Deven. About this time “Malcom” shows up and I get grilled on what team I was on. Team? Well Deven told me to register for team “Invaders”, so I did. Invaders it turns out is the arch enemy of the “Old Farts”. I love it and Invaders and Old Farts have this “thing” going on and with that Malcom proclaims that he is never going to talk to me again and stomps away! I have now been in Ely all of 3 hours, cornered by a race expert in all things, befriended and now abandon because I am on the “wrong” team. Ok what is next?
Friday, 7:30am. Time to head over to Tech inspections and get in line and then at 9:30 find the location for the shoot out and drivers meeting. No issues at tech, all went well and I am officially in the event. As I was to learn, a lot of hurry up and wait.
Shoot out and I am getting nervous, just what have I got myself into, Deven! I have never “drag raced my car”, but I have watched You Tube so I know how to do launch control!!! Oh, right. I will admit, I was terrified when i took my foot off of the brake, my head snapped back into the seat and I was off, I just thought focus on the cones ahead and keep the car going straight and oh, breath, deeply. Done, that fast, done. I slowed down and was so pleased with myself and then looked at the speedometer as the cattle guard got closer and oh heck! 110mph, need to really slow down! Great, I am a hero, felt good and I have 2 more runs so I can enjoy the next run now that I know what to do, but there will be no more runs for anyone. In pilot school we are taught not to fixate on our instruments and to keep our eyes moving. Oh, well another rookie on his first shoot out missed that class and forgot to use his brakes. As I was in front of the line I watched a Corvette barreling down in the final braking zone and in the micro seconds that followed I watched the car flash by me, take out a stop sign and the concrete ball in the ground, which was about to act as an anchor and keep the car from launching as it raced through the T intersection, into the ditch, up the embankment, into the desert, and maybe 200’ later up a steep embankment and car right side up to a stop. Car totaled, driver ok, shoot out race over!
Humbled, a bit shaken up as I realized what just happened and this weekend is not going to be all fun and games and is serious business. I hear people so glibly talking about their speed class like we are talking about some pretty flowers, oh, I am a rookie and I am “only” in the 110mph division. Or better, I am in the 145 mph or 155 mph class, ho hum. My gosh I am covering @ 120mph I am covering 1,320 feet every 7.5 seconds I am covering over 4 football fields hurtling a 3,200 projectile down the road with tons of energy. Not child’s play, serious stuff. Had lunch and thought about it and realized that life goes on and you learn. If this was a drag race doing the 1/4 mile in under 8 seconds would have everyone talking.
Parade time! Yep, mandatory that we all meet, group up in our “teams” and take 130 cars and snake through the town of Ely throwing candy out our windows to the masses ready to greet us, and yes, it was fun. Now I am sorry that I did not rev my engine and make more noise. Next year.
Fun night! Great evening after a long day and nice time, I followed Deven and his group off to have dinner in a jail cell, yes, a jail cell and it was very good indeed and for $38 it! Oh, the people at this event, clearly an interesting slice of the automotive racing world. People came from around the world, very interesting backgrounds and about 1/2 the group were woman and many of the woman were participants as well. Speed and precision were clearly draws and brute horsepower was not the name of the game.
Saturday morning. My first morning that I did not have to be up and out with the rising sun. Today is car show day, meet at the park, Mandatory, and line up and shine up and be on our good behavior from 9:00-Noon. The Elks had a nice breakfast for us and the VFW did a nice lunch, no rain, warm and I saw a lot of fast cars, shocking fast cars! What am I doing here?
Saturday night. Most of us spent the afternoon getting ready to get ready to race. I re- read the rule book, went over my checklist, packed the car for my dawn call with everything laid out and ready and in its place. And then I re-checked everything again.
At 4:00pm I made my mandatory navigators meeting, I did not have a navigator, would have been nice but I was solo and so I had to be the navigator. Lots to learn. 5:30-7:30pm was the mandatory drivers meeting. Why am I getting nervous? Dinner at 8:00? What happened to the part of my plan on early to bed?
Sleep: What sleep? I gave up at 3:30 and got up and hearing the doors closing in the hallway I knew that I was not alone. 5:00am breakfast call and I just nibbled, very light and it was going to be a long day.
6:00am and off to our pre grid spot outside of Lund, Nevada about 30 miles away where we are divided into speed groups. In my case the 95mph-110mph group. Deven was way up front in the 140-160mph group. Oh the 165-180mph guys were in front of him.
Now we wait. In small groups the cars are being fed out to the final grid positions and start, another 30 miles or so away. My turn comes and we drive all of 5 miles and come to stop in a traffic jam at the official road closure sign at a cattle guard. It seems that truckers don’t like to believe in signs that say things that they don’t want to read and we all sit quietly as the sheriff turns around the trucks that have now gone 30 miles to a close road and get to turn around at a cattle guard! Watching a huge truck do a 90 point turn is not fun.
Late!!! We are now late to our final grid, in fact we are so late I am greeted by the course worker with, “get out, pee, get you helmets and gloves out, get in, get belted and follow me”. No time to ponder what is going to happen next.
Next: Cabin check, these folks are serious. Your cabin must be spotless, nothing to rattle, roll, float or fly around in your cabin and they open your doors and fling out anything they find!! You don’t like the camera they found and flung away, sure get out of line, get your camera and go back to Ely, life is full of choices. Seat belt check, then tire check, all moving along swiftly and then in line for the start. Check, check everything by memory. I have practice this maneuver for weeks, touch, check, move from left to right. all done, my position, 60 seconds to start, 10 seconds, 5 seconds, fingers poised on my trip and chronograph, 2 seconds and I start to press my start buttons, ) and I am on the gas. Tire burning acceleration is not needed but you do want to get to speed as quickly as possible. So Go!. As all start on a curving uphill section of road and I am gone and all my planning is gone as well and my primitive brain is now driving the car. Oh, may be I should check my speed? Oh, crap, 127mph and climbing (remember 124 max speed!!!). Right turn, ok settle down, get the average up to 113mph and I am flying. This is what it has been all about for the last 3 months and I am grinning inside my helmet. Things are happing fast and the curves are gone fast and the long straights don’t feel that long. Soon enough at 39 miles I see the warning flag for the upcoming off camber turn and the narrows where I will drop my speed to a planned 85mph and go through the canyon (the “fast” guys take the canyon at upwards of 110mph and more). I make it through the canyon, I can breath and I am off to the final legs, and I cannot believe how fast this is all happening. 32 minutes is my target time. Finish line in sight on the first leg, uh, where is the finish line??? It seems to not have been well marked, oh well I kept going until I saw the slow down cones and I slowed down!!! No Corvette move for me. Re-group and get ready for the return leg, rain and all but I have 2 hours to face the new challenges and time to relax and have some lunch and think about how to make the next leg a winning leg. I knew that I was really good on my time down, maybe even shot at a top 5 position?? Return trip gets interesting, reverse and it is like a whole new adventure, but now with rain. Unfortunately my great plan starts to unwind and I can tell that my dreams of a top 5 finish are quickly going away as I am not staying on target speed/time properly. But I am having such fun!
Finish line, rain, and why is that Sheriff car over there pointed at me with all of his lights on? Ok, must be there to remind me that at the finish line my pass to speed is gone, good idea. Nope that is not why his lights are on. I am going to make this short. This event has been going on for 30 years, twice a year, that is 60 times with the road closed for 90 miles from 5am to 4pm on race day. So in a small community everyone knows when the crazy folks are coming. But on this day two ranchers decide to invoke their rights to go where they want to go, when they want to go and to tend to their property, downstream of the race with cars coming up to the finish line at speeds of up to 180mph. According to the Sheriff things got very “tense” and back up was brought in to discourage the ranchers of exercising their rights. Life is interesting.
Race over, adrenaline still up and then the awards banquet. Everyone is excited, you constantly hear the questions, “how did you do?”, I even was feeling pretty good, always pays to be optimistic. So just how did we all do?
Deven, 1st place out of 6 cars in the 145 mile per hour class, did, well simply stunning, now I understand his devotion to the craft, it took him 2 days of work but 1st place in class and his variance from a perfect time was just 0.1624. Speed variance was, ready for this? -0.0079.
Doug Driver and Lee Mitchell in the 95 MPH class, a race of two cars got first!!! And a shout out to Doug for driving the 6 hours back to L.V. and return with 4 brand new tires!
The return home was a delight, I took my time enjoying the early morning light and hour and half out of Ely. Deven finally caught up with me, still on the race course, still holding 145mph and he was gone in a flash!
A great time, a great event and to all that made it to Ely– congratulations!! And to those on the fence, make it next year!