What was I thinking taking my Civic to speeds exceeding 100 mph on a two-lane highway that's a popular hang out for 18 wheelers, broken down cars and animals of the road-killed variety? The Silver State Classic Open Road Challenge is one good answer to that question.
K&N Filters, one of my long time sponsors, is also the primary sponsor of the SSC Challenge and through that relationship I met Steve Waldman who insisted that I bring my Si. I had already been prepping the car as a Time Attacker and I realized that it was going to be too expensive to prepare for both events. Open road racing differs immensely from Time Attack. The imperfections of the surface, off-camber turns and a 6,500ft elevation increase make the Silver State a bit different than a hot lap around Buttonwillow. A street racer at heart, I knew that the SSC was the only way to go.
Wed., 7:00 pm (four days before the race)
I picked up my boy Martin Chubb (Exercise. Self-restraint. - CJ). of MJHSound.com from LAX and then we were off to Ely, Nevada. Why did I choose Martin as my navigator for the event? I have no idea. He's never actually raced, but he's my boy and I trust him with my life. We arrived at Sam's Town Hotel around midnight and there were already Vipers and Vettes parked all around the perimeter of the hotel. We had to wake up by 5:30am to attend a mandatory rookie driving school at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Thurs., 6:00am (three days before the race)
Damn, our cheap hotel alarm clock didn't go off. We were running late for the first part of the event. Our tardy arrival for everything except free drinks became a common trend for the remainder of our trip. Once we arrived at Vegas Speedway everyone was looking at us like, "Are you sure you're in the right place?" We had the only Civic there, or, let me rephrase that-the only sport compact car there in a field filled with Roush Mustangs, Z06 Vettes, 700-plus hp Vipers and more. I passed the driver evaluation and even received an authentic certificate, and we were on our way to inspection back at the hotel.
On our way back, Martin and I caravanned with the other rookies up to the middle-of-nowhere highway 318. This was basically like driving the course backwards, since we would race back down the highway to Vegas for the awards ceremony. The drive up was painful. We couldn't speed-not in the slightest. There were cops all over the place, and the rules of the race clearly state that if you get a ticket on highway 318 within 90 days of the race, you're disqualified. This was killing me.
Friday, 8:30am (two days before the race)
We took the car to inspection before preparing for the town parade. After the parade we spent the rest of the day doing preparation and attending event meetings.
Saturday, 8:30am (one day before the race)
The town's football/soccer/baseball/ or whatever other sport they play-field was the site of the car show. At this event we were introduced to our team, the Invaders. This was the team created for cars like ours that are invading the SSC-the import cars. My man Dai Inada from JDM Option was with us, too, and he brought a big crew as well as the third version of the Option Stream 350Z. Unfortunately, Dai's streak of bad luck continued at this year's SSC with a DNF to go with his horrendous 200mph barrel roll in '03, and a relatively "slow" 167mph average for third place in the Unlimited class in '04. After another long day of hanging out with fellow competitors, we had to get serious. It was time to actually sit down and plot our times and mile markers for the race.
Being first timers on the SSC, we couldn't enter anything faster than the 110mph class. The goal in this class is to average 110mph over the 90 miles of the 318 highway that had been blocked off without exceeding the tech speed of 124 or going under 80 mph. We developed a time chart that allowed Martin to give me speed instructions. If we were at a certain mile marker, we should be at a certain time on our stop watch. If we were above, he had a speed chart, example: going 124 mph will help us gain four seconds of time per each mile traveled.
Sunday, 5:00am (race day)
We filled the tank with 101 octane, suited up, hit the camera power and rolled to tire inspection. This was a tense moment as you'd be surprised at how many people pick up nails or other things in their tires over a weekend in Ely.
All of a sudden, I hear a guy in the right corner of the car say "Hey, over here, look at this." With my heart pounding, he asks, "Can they race with this bumper zip tied?
I forgot that I had damaged a mount on the bumper over the weekend and had no choice but to repair it dori dori-style with zip ties. After some debate they let us pass. The final inspection was for safety gear. Everything was a go, so they tightened our six-point harnesses and pointed us on. Maybe I was inhaling when they tightened the straps, but I felt like I was giving Kelly LeBrock a piggy back ride (not Weird Science KLB but Celebrity Fit Club KLB). I was short of breath as we rolled up to the line. I was trying to adjust my straps and not hyperventilate as the 30-second count ticked away in front of us.
I launched straight to 8,000 rpm, chirped second back to 8k and then chirped third. Usually at this point on a public road you lift as you scan for cops, but not here. We raced up through forth, taking us up to 103 mph where we had to shift to fifth, our primary gear of the race. Cruising at 110, we went through the first bend with ease. Martin checked our first noted mile marker and saw that we were already 18 seconds behind! Our precise pre-race plan didn't account for the time it would take us to reach 110 mph. No problem for me though, as I was born to go 124 mph. We were more than halfway through the race and heading into the speed trap, where we would record our top speed of the race. I giddily set the cruise control to 124 and watched the cop hit us with the radar without any worry of a ticket.
Forty minutes into the race we entered the narrows. This is the most treacherous part of the course where the normally flat and fast Highway 318 kinks up a bit with a series of quick 90 degree turns, some of which are off camber. We had banked up some time, so we headed in there at 95. The five minutes in the narrows made the last leg of the race the most exciting. The five-foot high, narrow shoulders on both sides of the road only made it that much more nerve-wracking-we loved every second of it. We escaped the narrows and hit the final 11-mile stretch.
The stretch is all about equalizing your time. If you're too fast, you can slow down, and if you're too slow, you can speed up all in an effort to hit your target time. With only five miles left, a Corvette appeared in our rear view. We hadn't seen the guy behind us for the entire race and he shouldn't have been catching up as we were all trying to average 110mph. Apparently our calculations were off yet again, so much so that we thought the finish line was going to appear a mile earlier than it actually was. I knew there were no more speed traps, so I floored it. I don't know how fast we actually went, but the Corvette off in the distance ended up as a spec in my rear view just feet before the finish line. We finished Tenth in our class out of 17 cars. We knew we had messed up, but the pure adrenaline of it was worth the agony of defeat. Running flat out on public roads is like getting a night with Kelly LeBrock. That's Weird Science KLB and not-well you get the idea.