“Driving the Road Runner is like a moment of Zen,” says Dan Weishaar of his ’68 Road Runner.
How many of us can say that about the cars we drive? Consider yourself fortunate if you can. Try this experiment next time you’re driving: Look at the faces of your fellow commuters. If you’re lucky, they will actually be watching the road. It is increasingly likely, however, that they will be yapping on the phone, texting, shaving, putting on eye makeup, or eating cereal (seriously—we’ve seen that).
Real drivers love to interact with their cars. They are engaged behind the wheel—feeling the engine rev, sensing the tires grip the road, evaluating the performance of their cars, and contemplating ways to improve them. Dan is one such guy. He’s a drag racer turned road racer, and he transformed his car accordingly in the four years that he’s owned it.
Dan recalls, “A friend told me about this thing they were doing in the parking lot at Qualcomm [Stadium]. I said, ‘Autocrossing, what’s that?’” He participated just once, and it was over. He ditched the 4.10 gears and slicks for new suspension bushings and Hotchkis sway bars and subframe connectors, and he started going to autocross events. At Mopars at the Strip in 2009, he started hanging out with accomplished autocrossers like Mary Pozzi, who are always willing to offer driving advice. It was also at this event that John Hotchkis approached Dan to ask if he’d give exhibition rides to the general public. Dan was happy to do so. Eventually, Hotchkis offered to install his newly developed Mopar B-Body TVS suspension on Dan’s car and sponsor him in several Pro Touring events on the West Coast. What’s a better showcase for your suspension parts? It also helps that Dan is an ebullient and charismatic dude who is very competitive but also willing to share advice and knowledge he’s gained in the years he’s been doing this. Yeah, he hasn’t had the car for that long, but Dan just finished two tours in the Marine Corps as a supervisor of a team of technicians maintaining helicopters. He knows his machines.
Though we’d heard of him, we hadn’t met Dan until we attended this year’s Spectre 341 Challenge. Dan’s Beeper was the second oldest car in the competition (after Tech Editor Smith’s ’65 Chevelle), and it looked awesome in the sea of much newer and way more expensive cars. It was impressive watching him tackle the hill and glorious to hear the high-revving 383 echo off the mountain walls. Dan finished midpack, but he was admittedly cautious. “Unlike the autocrosses and track days I’ve attended, there is no room for error. If you blow a corner, you have two choices: stuff it into a cliff or do a Superman impersonation.” Neither was an option. He had driven the car to Virginia City, Nevada, from his home in San Diego, and he needed it to get back.
On track, the car performed as well as Dan hoped, but to make things interesting, it decided to have an ignition failure as Dan was giving Jeff a ride back from the top of the hill after his Chevelle’s transmission failure. According to Jeff, they had been discussing how his Chevelle’s charging system failed at last year’s 341 Challenge, and at that very moment Dan’s car stopped running. Dan turned to him and exclaimed, “You’re bad luck!”
Bad luck turned good, however, because Jeff had brought an extra ignition box this year as a means to stave off “any bad juju.” Jeff’s mantra is, “If you bring something, you won’t need it.” He donated the extra box to Dan, wiring it up in the staging area, and Dan was back in action in less than an hour.
Dan’s stint in the military is over, and he’s back in college working on a business degree. He is also able to devote more of his time to pursuing his passion for driving. Look for Dan to appear at more Pro Touring events. He is a force to be reckoned with.
What is the Spectre 341 Challenge?
“It’s not for the faint of heart,” says Amir Rosenbaum, owner of Spectre Performance. “You’re racing on a two-lane mountain road with no guardrails. There are no runoff areas, no hay bales, no tire walls. If you go off, there’s a very good chance that you could die.”
Some have dubbed this stretch of Nevada State Highway 341 the Nürburgring of Nevada, and Spectre’s 341 Challenge rose from the ashes of the Virginia City Hillclimb, an event run by the Pacific Region of the Ferrari Club of America. Its last event was held in 2002, but Amir brought it back as the Spectre 341 Challenge.
It worked like this: The state troopers shut down a stretch of the road during business hours for the two-day event. The 341 Challenge was open to anyone willing to compete. The entry fee was $341, but the tech inspection was especially thorough, so you needed to have a well-prepared car to be eligible, as should be the case, considering the stakes involved.
The course is 5.2 miles long. There are 22 corners and a 1,200-foot increase in elevation, so you are almost constantly driving uphill. You’re doing well if you complete the course in less than 4 minutes. You’re really cooking if you can do it in 3 minutes and 41 seconds, which earns you a membership to the 341 Club. You’d have won the event if you drove the course in less than 3:12.58. That’s the time clocked by American LeMans driver Lou Gigliotti in his ZR1 Corvette. You’d be a total rock star if you were able to do it in less time than 3:10.53. That’s the record for the road, clocked by Amir himself in 2002, driving a Ferrari F40. That works out to an average speed of almost 100 miles per hour.
Dan’s best time for the weekend was 4:01.3, averaging 77.58 mph. He was very happy with that performance, as his goal for the weekend was to challenge himself, show constant improvement each run, and not damage his car. It was his ride home after all. So by all accounts he was successful. He was up against stiff competition, too. Though these are all street cars (read: have license plates and working headlights and brake lights), he was up against seriously built Porsches, Corvettes, Vipers, two CTS-Vs, a Nissan GT-R, and even the legendary (and super-loud) Big Red Camaro.
Dan says he’ll return next year with more power and more tire, aiming to improve on this year’s time. We have no doubt he will make good on that.
Check out videos of Amir’s record-setting run, Lou Gigliotti’s winning run, and several highlight videos at Spectre341challenge.com
Who: Dan Weishaar
What: ’68 Plymouth Road Runner
Where: San Diego, California
Engine: This 383 is the car’s original engine. Dan rebuilt it two years ago using the stock crank and rods. He added KB pistons and a solid roller Comp cam with 248/254 duration, 0.576/0.582 lift, and a 110-degree lobe-separation angle. The cylinder heads are out-of-the-box Edelbrock Performer RPMs mated to a Mopar M1 single-plane manifold and a Holley double-pumper 750 carburetor.
Transmission: Obviously, a TKO-600 transmission is not original to the car. Dan finally switched to a manual trans after burning up five 727 automatics while competing in autocrosses and open track events. “It got to the point where I’d have one rebuilt and ready to go, one on the bench in the process of being rebuilt, and one out of the car waiting to be rebuilt,” Dan says. “My friends and I got really good at doing the job. As soon as I felt the one in the car start slipping, we’d swap it out for the freshly rebuilt one.” Realizing a manual transmission would be more suitable for the type of driving he wanted to do, Dan took the plunge on a new Tremec from Hurst Driveline.
Rearend: Unlike the original TorqueFlite transmission(s), the car’s Dana 60 has proven more than capable of withstanding anything Dan has thrown its way. One thing he did change was the ratio, replacing the 4:10:1 ring-and-pinion to a 3.27:1, which is a better match for the five-speed.
The headers are from Hedman and were intended for the taller-deck 440. “They were self clearancing,” Dan says. He had them coated at Jet-Hot. Dan took his car to Ed Hanson Muffler Service in San Diego for what he called the best exhaust system ever made. Check them out at EdHansonMuffler.com.
Dan says the biggest bang for the buck on his car were bigger wheels and tires, bigger sway bars, and subframe connectors. He installed them in that order, too, and each one improved on the other; better tires offered more grip in the corners, the sway bars killed the excessive body roll, and the subframe connectors tied the front and rear suspensions together to allow for more precise cornering. Plus, Dan can raise one side of the car up with a single floor jack, which he thinks is awesome. As part of his partnership with Hotchkis, Dan’s car is sporting its TVS (Total Vehicle System) Suspension kit, which includes the aforementioned sway bars and subframe connectors, plus revised geometry tubular upper control arms, upgraded leaf springs, strut rods, and better bushings. He also seam-welded and reinforced the stock K-member after seeing it flex as much as 1⁄4 inch.
Brakes: Track events and autocrosses are as hard on brakes as they are on automatic transmissions, and Dan almost wadded his car up at the Run to the Coast Pro Touring event two years ago when he “boiled all the fluid out of his front calipers.” Scary stuff. Race compound pads and ultrahigh-temp fluid fixed that problem. Dan has since upgraded to Wilwood’s six-piston front calipers and 13-inch rotors (front) and four-piston, 11-inch brakes (rear).
Wheels/Tires: Those are 17-inch Cragar D-window steel wheels wearing BFGoodrich KDW tires. Dan is eagerly waiting for UPS to deliver his new set of NewGen 18x10 wheels and 295/35R18 KDWs. “That’s almost one extra inch of tire per wheel,” Dan says.
Paint/Body: Here’s where Dan scored big time. When he bought the car, the body was rust free and the paint was in great shape.