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Silver State Classic Challenge

Confessions of an Open Road Race Convert

Photography by Marko Radielovic

There is life after drag racing. We've been straight-line kind of guys for a very long time. For us, the steering wheel has always had two distinct functions: 1) for parking, and 2) for minor directional correction. But all of that has changed now. We have attended the Silver State Classic Challenge, and we've seen the light--or rather a different light. Don't get me wrong, we're not going to run out and swap the skinny front tires on our Barracuda for a set of low-profile 18s, but this is a form of racing that is way beyond cool, way beyond exhilarating, and it's something that we've been intrigued by for a long time. When the opportunity presented itself to navigate for Mustang Monthly's tech editor, we jumped at the chance. Covering an event is fun, but participating is always better.

For those unfamiliar with the Silver State Classic Challenge, it is an open road race that takes place on a 90-mile stretch of Nevada's Highway 318, just south of the town of Ely. The race is separated into 15 categories with average speeds of 95 to 180 mph in 5-mph increments. For those with deep pockets, above average intestinal fortitude, experience, and equipment, there is the unlimited class where anything goes, so long as it passes tech. Your speed category is based on your experience level and tech speed--the speed that your car is capable of running based on safety equipment. Just because your car has a high-tech speed doesn't mean that you have to run in a very fast class. In fact, first-timers can only participate up to the 125 mph class, provided their cars are tech'd to run at these speeds. It's a timed run where you attempt to maintain your average speed over the entire 90-mile course. While this would seem simple on a flat and straight course, the Silver State is anything but flat and straight. GPS systems are the preferred weapon for serious competitors, but course notes, a stopwatch, and a navigator are all that is necessary to successfully complete the race.

If nothing else, this is an excellent place to blitz the posted speed limit on a two-lane state highway for 90 miles without fear of becoming the focus of the six o'clock news high-speed chase. And if you're really good, the Silver State people might just give you a trophy for your efforts. Where else can you do that?

Who Can Participate?

Anybody can. Obviously, without prior experience or a competition license, the 130-and-up classes are off-limits, but any of the other categories can be your playground with an appropriately equipped car. The vast majority of competitors are late-model musclecars, such as the ubiquitous Mustangs; C-4 and C-5 Corvettes; Vipers; and the late, great Camaro. Late-models make sense with their advanced aerodynamics, speed-rated tires, and powerful engines. Italian exotics are also at home at the Silver State Classic, with Ferraris and Lamborghinis quite the norm. Vintage muscle is also on hand along with a smattering of imports, and high-end German cars, and other assorted machines.

Two identical events are held each year, the Nevada Open Road Challenge in May and the Silver State Classic Challenge in September. Half the fun is hanging out in the parking lot with your fellow racers (thanks for the headache, Tim!) and participating in the big wheel races, among other unusual events. For detailed information, rules, technical information, registration, and so on, log onto www.sscc.us or call 702/631-6166. Try it. You might catch the bug, but you most certainly will never regret it.

Where Is Highway 318?

Highway 318 is north of Las Vegas, Nevada, and roughly 30 miles south of Ely, Nevada. The race begins just south of Lund at White Pine County, ending 90 miles later at Lincoln County mile-marker 7. It's a two-lane highway that was meant for driving at obscene speeds. We took the scenic route through Death Valley, and if you've never taken this drive, you're missing out on some of the most breathtaking scenery in the Western United States. So, we left Los Angeles around 6 a.m. Eight hours and one ticket later (we missed triple digits by only 4 mph and the CHP officer wasn't amused), we pulled into Ely.

Heavy Hauler

With the popularity of trucks in both stock car and drag racing, along with Detroit's obvious efforts to build high-performance offerings, it comes as no surprise that someone put one together for this race. John Hall of Tucson, Arizona, and his capable crew of friends and family have screwed together one mean Chevy pickup. The '90 Chevy was built with open road racing in mind and equipped with what was arguably the meanest-sounding powerplant at the event--especially at speed. The 355ci small-block spins a lightweight SCAT crank, 6-inch SCAT rods, and Weisco 8:1 pistons for a bulletproof bottom end. A monster Comp roller bumps the valves and fully ported Dart aluminum heads, while a BDS 6-71 blower and a pair of Holley 650s round out the top end. The huffed Mouse is good for 726 hp at 7,500 rpm and enabled the portly 3,700-pound truck (without driver!) to exceed 160 mph. Most importantly, it finished on its maiden voyage--that in itself is quite an accomplishment in the faster classes. A Richmond four-speed and 2.70-geared 9-inch rear round out the drivetrain. We expect to see them back for more next year!

American Exotic

We don't recall when or if a De Tomaso Pantera has ever graced the pages of Car Craft, but this car warrants a closer look. A joint effort by Italian car builder De Tomaso and Ford resulted in this steel-bodied exotic powered by Ford's very own 351 Cleveland through a ZF five-speed transaxle. This fine example is owned by Dennis Antenucci, a Vietnam vet and construction project manager of Huntington Beach, California. Dennis' Pantera suffered a devastating fire at the conclusion of last year's Silver State and required a complete reconstruction. Powered by a poked and stroked Cleveland displacing 393 ci, 10.5:1 compression, and a big Isky solid flat-tappet cam, Dennis' Ford is topped with ported aluminum Ford Motorsport heads, a Holley Strip Dominator intake, and a 750 Holley. Shifting is performed with an aluminum ZF five-speed transaxle with a final gear ratio of 3.77:1. The engine has posted a best of 406 hp at the rear wheels with 384 lb-ft of torque. This was enough to push the Pantera at over 180 mph.

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