OneLapCamaro DQ and too fast at The Silverstate Challenge

Written by James Shipka

The 2010 Silver State Classic Challenge has come and gone and while this remains one of our favorite events, this years outing was really disappointing. After what felt like a great run down Highway 318 in Nevada – and a day full of challenges and complications – the OPTIMA Batteries OneLapCamaro is, as it stands right now, sitting with a DQ for apparently crossing the finish line too slow. The results are under review but at this point it’s not looking good.

If you are not familiar with the Silver State Classic Challenge it is one of the few true Open Highway races left in the world. Twice a year Nevada Highway 318 is closed from Lund to Hiko – a 90-mile stretch of desolate two lane blacktop in what feels like the middle of nowhere. Cars are sorted in classed based upon target speeds – the average speed that they are attempting to maintain over the entire 90 mile run. This year the OPTIMA Batteries OneLapCamaro, with James driving and Mary navigating, was competing in the ultra-competitive 120 mile per hour class. 120 is always a packed class because (a) 120 mph is pretty comfortable in just about anything with pneumatic tires and more importantly (b) the math is pretty easy. At 120 you are covering a mile every 30 seconds so, in theory, it’s not all that difficult to calculate waypoints and timing milestones – this was a huge benefit this year as you will soon see…

During the race the entire length of the course is manned by an incredible crew of volunteers who watch out for our safety and take station at several checkpoints along the course. There are a total of nine checkpoints along the route with three of them being “major” checkpoints where the race can be restarted in the event of a red flag or other issue. Between these checkpoints, every mile or so, you’ll find a volunteer keeping watch and cheering the cars on as they make their banzai run across the desert. A heck of a way to spend your day – especially under the September desert sun.

The race starts early Sunday morning after a cruise from Ely, Nevada – the official host town of the event – to Lane’s Truck Stop out side of Lund where the cars are pre-gridded by their speed class before heading to the starting line on the other side of the small town of Lund. This year there are 130 some cars competing in speed classes from 90 mph to the truly wild Unlimited class. From 90 to 150 mph classes are divided in 5 mph increments; the 150 mph class is run first and cars head out in their respective classes in 1 minute intervals until the last 90 mph car has gone. The track is then “swept” for debris and then the Unlimited Class cars are run, followed by the 180, 170, and 160 mph classes.

This year one of the highlights of the event is the Polly Motorsports (http://www.pollymotorsport.no/) 1986 Pontiac Firebird. This 1400 HP, 252 mph monster has come from Norway to take a shot at the 207 mph (average speed) record and the odds were about even that he would leave with the record this year.

The race started promptly at 8 am and Mary and I found ourselves heading towards the starting line shortly before 9:00 AM. The OPTIMA Batteries Z06 Corvette driven by Steve Keppler and navigated by Jimi Day was one of the first cars out and was already approaching the finish line as we prepared to start our run; behind us waiting for his turn in the 160 mph class, was the third part of Team OPTIMA – Cameron Douglass and his incredible Winston Cup ARMY Car.

As Mary and I sat at the starting line we watched as the electronic timer counted down to 09:00.00. With 10 seconds to go we activated our ultra exotic Radio Shack egg timer… With 5 seconds to go I reset our Garmin GPS… at :00.00 four thumbs started four stopwatches and we were heading down the road, accelerating steadily to 125 mph – our target speed for the first 30 miles of the run. Why 125 mph?

There are really four parts to the run down that make up the 90-mile course. The first part, if you really want to call it a part, is the first mile. Since the race is from a standing start your average speed for the first mile is half of your instant speed at the end of the mile. So, using the easy math, at 120 mph your average speed in the first mile is 60 mph and at the end of that mile you are effectively 15 seconds behind – 15 seconds that you have to make up to maintain your perfect average. So you need a couple extra miles per hour to get caught up.

The second part of the race is basically a 70 mile transit to “the Narrows” – which is the third stage of the race and is a couple of slow speed miles through a valley cut that is most comfortably taken at speed below 100 mph. To make up for those two or three slow miles through the Narrows you need to have some time “in the bank” before you have to slow down (our goal was to have 30 seconds “in the bank” before the Narrows – in hind sight that’s about 10 seconds too much for us). This cushion allows you to drive through the Narrows at a safe, comfortable speed and, ideally, be exactly on time exiting the twisties. To do that you need a little bit of extra speed during that second transit stage – about 125 mph for most of it was all that was required. At least that’s the theory.

This year the second half of the 70-mile transit was going to be especially challenging… Nevada 318 has been undergoing an extensive repaving project and the mile markers – from about mile 35 through mile 65 – were MIA. There were some makeshift markers set up along the course but during our recon run the day before we could tell that they would be difficult to rely on. We had to shoot to be right on when the started and hope to maintain our speed through them and, with some luck, would be on time when we got to the next “proper” marker at the start of the Narrows. In our minds the first 30 miles were critical, the second 30 miles were going to be useless, and the final 30 miles were going to be where it all came down to business.

If you’re still following all of that, with the Narrows being the third part of the race – basically just a low speed pucker and run – then the final 17-mile stretch is the fourth and final leg of the journey. The goal in the final few miles is to methodically zoom in on your time and, in an ideal world, cross the finish line at a perfect 45:00 minutes (in the 120 mph class that is).

Anyways, the clock ticked down to 09:00.00 and we were off. Since your time is based off the clock at the start the most important thing is to have your timing equipment bang on – which we thought we hit pretty well – and you can actually start any time after you’re ready. The final stopwatch started clicking and two seconds later we were hauling ass down the highway.

The first 20 miles felt great, the weather was perfect – calm and warm – and we were cruising comfortably at 125 mph. The OneLapCamaro was turning around 4000 RPM in 6th, oil pressure was rock steady at 60 and the temperature was a constant 177. It felt like a picture perfect run until we crested a slight hill before checkpoint two and were greeted by a huge red flag being waved at the side of the road by one of those aforementioned volunteers. We immediately pulled to the side of the road and, after a couple of minutes of panicking regarding timing and what we needed to do with the four different stopwatches that we were relying on, we turned on our emergency radio to find out what was happening.

The news was bad – one of the 150 mph cars had suffered some kind of failure and had gone off course at the Narrows. The car had apparently rolled several times but the driver and navigator were out of the car and in good condition. After an hours delay to deal with their evacuation and to clean up debris we were instructed to drive to checkpoint three where our race would be restarted.

A restart is not anything that we had even remotely considered and the balance of our waiting time was spent trying to recalculate our waypoints and targets. Checkpoint three is at mile 30.1 so we had 59.9 miles to go… at 120 mph we calculated that we had 29 minutes and 57 seconds to reach the end of the course… now all we had to do was calculate our waypoints… That is about the time that we realized that we had no waypoints – at least nothing that we could 100% rely on – until we hit the Narrows. And that is about the time that we realized that we still needed our 30 seconds in the bank when we got to those same Narrows… only now we had half the distance to do it. The next ten minutes as we waited to be restarted was a lot like your first big math assignment in high school – frantic calculations and a whole bunch of “tell me if this is right”… we think we were close…

The actual restart itself was the next rude surprise… there was no clock this time, instead there was a beam and a rough count down. Unlike the start, now our official time would start when the car crossed the beam – but where would the car break the beam? Heck of a question. No time to worry about it now as the checkpoint worker counted us down and waved us through. We did our best and again we think that we were close…

We averaged 130 to 135 running up in to the Narrows. More than once Mary asked how the car felt… the calm conditions had been replaced by a stout 35 mph headwind and the Camaro was feeling just a bit loose from time to time… I told her it felt fine and concentrated on driving smoothly. When we hit our first reliable mile marker we had almost exactly 30 seconds in the bank. The run through the Narrows at 90 mph felt like a slow motion cruise around the block and when we emerged from the Narrows we were just about 10 seconds fast.

As the miles clicked down so did our excess. With 10 miles to go we were three seconds fast… 5 miles out we were just over a second fast… 2 miles out and we were right on… 1 mile to go and we were perfect.

As we tear up the last mile Mary starts counting the seconds down. She starts at 10 seconds to go and right away I see a problem… she’s just started counting and I can already see the Finish Line. When she reaches 5 seconds I let off the gas and the car is coasting towards the finish. When she reaches 2 seconds I stab the brakes, trying to scrub more speed. In a blink of an eye we’re across the finish line and, if we’re right, within about a second of our ideal time.

At the awards ceremony that night they announce that a disproportionate number of cars were disqualified for being too slow crossing the finish line and right away Mary and I seem to have the same thought. We both replay it in our heads and agree that while it’s possible we doubt it – we would have to be going slower than 90 mph at the line to be DQ’d and we were certainly going faster than that when we crossed. When the top three finishers in the 120 mph class results are announced we’re not there and again we’re thinking about the finish.

At the end of the day we averaged 120.127 mph against a perfect 120.000 target; the 0.127 mph means we were just 2.85 seconds too fast over 90 miles. Had we not been DQ’d that would have been good for 6th place in our class – not great but better than a DQ to be sure. Looking back at it now we didn’t have a choice at the end – we were fast and to win we had to slow down; as it was we didn’t slow down enough.

At this point in time the results are still being reviewed. Mary and I have in car video that shows the GPS but, unfortunately, it’s less than crystal clear (think Mr. Magoo on acid and that might put it in context) but it looks pretty clear that the speed clicks down from triple digits to double digits right as we cross the finish line. I don’t know if the video will help but it makes us feel better nonetheless. We won’t push the issue but instead will be back in the spring to take our chances on 318 once again…

As for the Polly Motorsports Trans Am… he didn’t set the record this year. Engine troubles kept his speed down but he still crossed the finish line with a 183 mph average (the highest of the event) and his trap speed was 207 mph – also the highest of the event. He too will be back next year to take his shot at the record…

Posted on Wednesday, November 10th, 2010 in news.
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