Road Stories

Pony Express Open Road Race Report, 2003

Pony Express Open Road Race Report, 2003

We had a great time this weekend. I finally got to drive the ex-Callaway turbo car at speeds it was meant to be driven! I wasn't able to stay for the dinner and awards, but apparently I finished even closer than I thought! No navigator, no GPS and NO SPEEDOMETER!

That's right, my speedo wasn't calibrated correctly. I had some work done to it the week before the race, and re-installed it the day before I left. On the drive to Battle Mountain I discovered it indicated about 12-18 mph fast between 70 and 85 mph. As I drove faster, the error got larger. At 135 mph actual speed the guage indicated 170 + mph! I was able to borrow George's GPS the day before the race to get a rough idea of what the indicated vs. actual speeds were, and also calculated the speeds according to tachometer RPM's. I had little notes taped everwhere!

Anyway, practice session was on Friday. After tech inspection I waited for my instructor, Roger Green (Porsche 996), to ride with me. The first two groups drove down and back, then a huge rain-storm blew in. I was the first car on the grid after the rain stopped, so I decided to limit my speed to 120 mph because of the wet conditions. Roger gave me few pointers after the first leg, so I was able to drive the corners better for the second leg. After that, Roger gave me a passing grade and I was on my own. 2 more runs for practice, got the speed up to 137 mph on the dry road. ( I was limited to a max speed of 140 mph for my class)

Saturday was an informal car show, then in the afternoon George, Bill and I drove the course to familiarize ourselves with the route. This course is a bit easier than Bonneville. The Pony Express is typically a long straight followed by a a long sweeper turn followed by another long straight. The tricky part is the Canyon and House Curve area just past the half-way mark. There are some very sharp turns in succession that demand your attention. I decided to play it safe, drive that whole section at 105 mph. That meant I would have to average 130 mph up to the canyon, run the canyon at 105 mph, and hopefully come out the other side close to a 125 mph average. After that just maintain 125 mph to the end.

Race day started early. Everyone arrived at pre-grid by 7:30 am. The first group of cars ( 135+ mph racers) was led to the start line around 9:00 am and actually started at 9:25. My group was then led to the line around 9:45. I talked to the car ahead of me and behind me to let them know my strategy and vice-versa. I was behind a blue Camaro and ahead of a maroon Pantera. About 10:00 it was my turn to start. The lights came down, I cliked the stop-watches and started off. I accelerated up to 5000 RPM and just left it there. I figured that was slightly more than 130 MPH, and had 44 miles to go to the Canyon. The car handled perfectly (DEVEK aligned it and set the ride height for me...Thanks!!). The temp guage stayed just below the top white line, while the overcast sky kept the outside temp reasonably cool. I went through the speed-trap before the half-way point and read 133 mph on the sign....just right. Entered the canyon and slowed to 105 mph. Just before the House Curve the course workers displayed a yellow flag...something coming up ahead. The House curve is a sharp left into an immediate blind decreasing radius right. I slowed to 100 mph because of the yellow flag, rounded the corner, and saw waht looked like rocks in the road. These turned out to be animal parts....yuk. Several cars (including George) hit a group of quail. The first corvette hit 6 of them, breaking the trim on the front of the car and cracking his windshield...blood and guts all over that car!

Anyway, I exited the canyon and was quickly catching up with the Camaro. I could smell his exhaust, so I figured something was keeping his speed down. As we approached the last 3 miles I didn't want to be too close to him, and didn't have enough space to pass. On the last turn I saw a BIG poof of smoke from his exhaust and figured he had big problems now. I backed off, looked at my countdown watch, and only had 8 seconds to go! Holy cow, I was paying attention to the guy in front of me and hadn't noticed the finish line. I mentally counted down from 5, hit the brakes, and looked for the line. As I crossed, I reached up and clicked the stopwatch, which indicated I finished 1 second early. Not too bad without a navigator, without a speedometer, and a smoking Camaro in front of me. As George posted above, I guess I did better than I tought, officially averaging 125.016 mph and finishing 0.300 seconds early.

At the finish lot, Dan (smoking Camaro) said he was burning LOTS of oil, saw me coming, and was trying to keep up enough speed to stay out of my way. That was thoughtful on his part, thanks Dan.

Everyone had a safe race, no incidents, and we made it back to Battle Mountain by 2:45. I couldn't stay for the dinner and awards, so I packed up, checked out, and then drove 360 miles home to Sacramento. A total of over 1300 miles, several hundred of them in excess of 110 mph, and didn't burn any oil! Wow, these cars are awesome.....but we already know that!

Sorry for the long post...


Richard Sanders
79 A/T
80 5 spd

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