Pony Express 100 - Rick & Mary Ann's Place

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Rick & Mary Ann's Place
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Rick
The Pony Express 100 - June 8, 1997

    Open Road Race - Battle Mountain to Austin, Nevada
    WFO on a public road, breaking the speed limit never felt so good!

I'll bet you expected to see something about riders on horses delivering mail across the country, if so, go elsewhere. That was the original Pony Express. This page is dedicated to the pursuit of speed on public roads.

The speed limits on the Nevada Interstate are usually set at 75 miles per hour. Most of the two lane highways in the wide open spaces are 70 miles per hour. Wouldn't it be fun to have a highway closed down for several hours, just for you and 200 other vehicles to race 90 miles as fast as possible.

Well, Highway 305, from Battle Mountain to Austin, closes one day a year just for that reason. The Pony Express 100, sponsored by the Roger Ward Classic Auto Racing Society and the Battle Mountain Chamber of Commerce, is an open road race held on scenic Highway 305.

At the time, I was living in Salt Lake City. A friend of mine from Florida and I had been course workers for the Silver State Challenge, a similar event in Ely, Nevada a year prior. We made the decision at that time to participate in the Pony Express 100. I was about to retire in less than a year and it was now or never.


Race Prep


Our team consisted of driver Scott Lewis from Weston, Florida and myself, the navigator, from Salt Lake City, UT. We would be driving a 1996 Chevrolet Z28 Camaro 1LE (road racing version). I owned a 1994 Z28 Camaro 1LE (same color) that was similarly configured and I was intimately familiar with the vehicle. You can see my car on the right side of the driveway.

We registered for the event in the "Grand Sport" category. The car was equipped with the necessary safety equipment to pass a technical inspection to 160 MPH, OUR DO NOT EXCEED SPEED for this event. Entry fees were rather pricey and personal safety equipment had to be purchased.

Scott bought new high speed rubber and drop shipped them to my place. I used a set of extra wheels I was using for AutoCross and had them mounted and perfectly balanced knowing our intended speed.

Scott drove the car from Weston, FL to my house in Taylorsville, Ut, a distance of 2,537 miles. We prepped the vehicle and installed the 6-point harnesses and new rubber. We headed out west of Salt Lake on I-80 to break in the new tires. There was not a car in sight and we decided to check for balance and vibration. You guessed it, we got caught speeding west of Tooele with a radar speed of 102. This was not a good start to our adventure.

The next day we loaded the vehicle on my car hauler, hooked up the V10 Dodge as the tow vehicle and drove the 300 mile trip to Battle Mountain, Nevada. We arrived a day early to pre-drive the course.

The Course


The course is a PUBLIC ROAD. Note the absence of runoff, catch fences, sand traps, soft walls, barriers and emergency equipment  seconds away from an incident. Also, there is no local trauma center. There are unpredictable surface changes with wild animals crossing the course which are always a major concern while participating in this type of event. This is an excellent article from POV Magazine about the dangers inherent in an open road race. These factors seem scary now that I'm a senior citizen but didn't seem to be a concern when I was 49. I trusted the car and the driver and felt comfortable running  in the event.

We did a pre-run at posted speeds of the road the day we arrived in Battle Mountain. The rules specified that anyone who received a speeding ticket on that section of road during the month would be disqualified from the event. We were gun shy from our ticket in Utah and did not want  to be DQ'd from this rule infraction. Obviously others weren't so nervous as cars blew by us like we were standing still.



Practice Session


We entered the event in the "Grand Sport" category and  teched to 160 MPH - OUR DO NOT EXCEED SPEED. We were anxious to see how  the car performed at speed and to fix any problems that we might  encounter during the sessions.

We prepared for our run by donning personal safety equipment: racing suit, gloves, shoes and full face helmet. We didn't have window nets so we were required to run with windows UP. Damn! It was hot in June in Nevada.  

Scott ran the first session and we quickly got to speed. The car ran flawlessly with no issues or vibration from the tires. We quickly discovered that "6th" gear was useless at speed and future runs would have to be accomplished in fifth to maintain our desired speed. I drove the next session and had to lift when I got caught behind slower traffic and couldn't pass. We both felt comfortable with the car, the speeds and each other after these runs. Our trap speeds were 157 and 149 MPH. Not bad, considering the elevation was at 7,000 feet.

We didn't think to bring a cooler with water, drinks and munchies and couldn't wait to get back to Battle Mountain to rehydrate. We drove back to the hotel at the speed limit and it felt like we were crawling after the high speed runs and adrenalin

Race Day


Well this is it-Race Day! All the months of planning and preparation have led to today. We had viewed the course video at least a million times and knew the course notes by heart. The car was ready. We were ready. The weather was perfect. Our practice runs were perfect. What could possibly go wrong?

We arrived at the grid segregated by class and awaited our turn to proceed to the starting line. We coordinated with the drivers directly in front and behind us about intentions during the run and passing arrangements. Vehicles are launched at one minute intervals and actually catching up with someone is a reality.

Our time had come and we were directed to the starting line. Seat belts were checked, helmet straps pulled tight and shields down. Our scanner was configured to the correct race frequency and volume turned up to overcome road noise. My clipboard with course notes and stop watch were ready and waiting. We were given the green flag and quickly got up to speed. The starting line straight was a great place to get the car to terminal velocity, around 160 MPH.

We got into a nice rhythm with me calling out turns and warnings and Scott easily handling the big sweepers using every bit of available road. You don't want to drop a tire off the pavement at these speeds. The first 25 miles were perfect with no problems or issues. We were in the zone and flying.

WTF! Suddenly, the car developed a severe vibration. It was so bad that we couldn't even determine if it was engine or tire related. We slowed but the vibration persisted and seemed to intensify. The car was shaking so bad that we couldn't maintain speed and didn't relish the thought of an explosive tire decompression at that speed. A joint decision was made and we pulled the disabled vehicle off the course thinking discretion the better part of valor.

What was the cause of the severe vibration? We banged the rev limiter a few times and were just under redline most of the run but these conditions are normal in racing and to be expected. The engine temp and oil pressure were normal with no visible smoke. Once we stopped, we quickly determined that the tires were not the cause of our problem.

It could have been a lot worse. We were safe, the car was intact and we had a great adventure even though it didn't finish to our liking. We had a great time and met some interesting people.

I remember my wife's comment as we pulled out of the driveway on our way to the event: "Don't kill yourselves". Well, we did accomplish something...

P.S. - Oh yeah! We loaded the car on the flatbed and returned to Salt Lake City to have the car inspected for Scott's trip back to Florida, another 2,537 miles. Our issue was a known problem in the ignition system and the repair was covered under warranty. Why couldn't this part have failed a week earlier?

Epilog


W. Scott Lewis  1965 - 2005

LEWIS, WILLIAM SCOTT, 39, passed away on Wednesday, January 5, at his home in Weston, FL. How do you say goodbye to someone who means so much to so many people? He was born April 15, 1965 in San Francisco, California. "Scott" grew up in Menlo Park and Los Altos, California where he attended school. He was preceded in death by his mother Karen Lewis, stepmother Betty Lewis, uncle Lawrence Lewis, Jr. and grandparents. Scott is survived by his father, Richard, stepmother Kathleen Eshleman, sisters Kristin Lewis, Katie Lewis, stepsisters Helen Hobdy-Fagan and Kiko Fagan, brother and sister-in law Jeff and Heidi Lewis, three nieces, an uncle, William Lewis, and extended family members and friends. Scott received training at the Federal Aviation Administration Academy in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. After graduating from the academy he started at the Salt Lake City, Utah facility as an Air Traffic Controller, and then transferred to the Miami Center. He worked for the FAA for 18 years. Scott's passion in life was auto-racing and he spent the past six years as an official for the amateur and pro series racing for the Sports Car Club of America. Scott was a true outdoorsman. He loved the mountains-camping, hiking and skiing. He also enjoyed golf, diving and spending time at the gym or with friends. He was a great son and brother, loyal friend, and an awesome person with an infectious grin and wonderful personality. It won't be the same without you here, Scotty. We miss you terribly. With all our love, may you rest in peace.



Scott Lewis was a key member to the SCCA Pro Racing field staff since the late 1990s, working with the technical and pit lane staff. He was an active SCCA member since 1995. Outside of his Pro Racing activities, Lewis served as the Florida Region SCCA Chief of Tech and was the 2003 Florida Region Worker of the Year.
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