Open Road Racing
Still trucking! 499,000 awaits tomorrow! Here’s a story of how I took my old high-miler into a competitive racing event a couple of years ago.
Bonneville Salt Flats, western Utah
Not many people would dream of taking a 330,000 mile vehicle to participate in a very competitive open-road racing event at over 100 miles per hour. Probably few people would also enter an old luxury coupe into an event where most drivers brought new Corvettes or Porsches. Well, I did.
It had always been a dream of mine to drive my own Acura Legend, flat out, on a public highway as fast as I wanted to. I had that opportunity for two consecutive events at the Bonneville 100 Open-Road Race, put together by an organization called MKM Racing. The premise of the B100 is to fly down a (closed) public highway for 100 miles (50 miles down, then 50 miles return) and arrive at the finish line at exactly your target average speed. The race is held about where the “A” on this map is located — in the barren reaches of the Nevada/Utah desert near the Bonneville Salt Flats.
In 2007, with the assistance of “navigator” and friend Branson from Salt Lake, I competed in the 100 mph class. In 2008, I competed in the 105 mph class. In both cases, very strict parameters were in place regarding the minimum and maximum speeds allowed. Had I gone slower than 80 or faster than 124 at any point during the race, I would have been disqualified. The cars were released from the start line about 1 minute apart from each other. It’s a surreal experience to be driving at triple-digit speeds and know that the only law enforcement officers you’re going to see will in fact be egging you on!
The 2007 event is discussed in greater detail with tons of pictures here on the Acura Legend forums in my post.
One of the biggest grins I’ve ever had behind the wheel was from my (required) “qualifying” class when, in order to validate that both I and my car were ready to race at speed, I had to take a professional race instructor with me and demonstrate my abilities on a 9-mile stretch of empty road, one day prior to the race. My instructor was Richard Hille, who competes in the 170 mph class in black 1996 Camaro. I learned that Richard used to have a 1991 Legend. He told me, just prior to the qualifying run, that he’d taken his Legend to 140 mph. “These are great cars,” he said. Here is a picture with the two of us gearing up for our run.
During the qualifying run, we went to grid and as we inched toward the start, I reached to turn off the A/C. Richard said, “You can leave that on, you’re not even going to be working this car hard.” With the adrenaline running through my system and Richard in the passenger seat, I turned into a total beast! The green flag came, and I blasted through the gears like I never have in my life. I also found out what my car sounds like at high RPM. I remember thinking, “Man, how come I’ve never driven like this before?!” The Type II V6 motor was singing right up until I hit 100 mph and then I leveled out the speed. After a mile or two, Richard said, “Let’s take it to 110.” I followed instructions, still in 5th gear at the time. Not long after, he said, “Go ahead and push it to 120.” I happily obliged, and passed the test with flying colors.
On race day, Branson and I got 2nd place of two cars in our 100 mph class. But the amazing thing was this: We were only 2.3 secondsoff a PERFECT time. Not too shabby for a first time racer. Here’s a video of our first leg when I was first getting up to speed and taking it to 115 mph or so.
In 2008, I came back for more grins and upped to the 105 mph class instead of 100 mph.
The day before race morning, my copilot Branson and I went over to the nearby Bonneville Salt Flats in deserted western Utah. This landmark is known for its seemingly infinite flat land which is the perfect location for vehicles to pursue land speed records.
I’ll paraphrase my experience from a post that I shared on the Acura Legend forums recapping the entire event here.
Due to the nature of the sport, open road racers take safety very seriously. In order to compete in the race, my Legend had to pass a technical inspection including wear & age of the tires among other things. I also had to install a fire extinguisher in the car. The only place I could think of that would not create unsightly drill-holes was underneath the back seat, so that’s where we put it.
Here’s my Tech Inspection certificate that was fastened to my windshield after getting the car checked out.
Quick driver’s meeting before heading out to the course.
This is the pre-game assembly at the Visitor’s Center in Wendover, Nevada. We had to line up in our respective classes and in the proper grid order.
A couple of shots at the pre-race grid with the Legend awaiting its performance.
This is the caravan to the start line on Highway 93 where the race is held. Mike, a competitor from Las Vegas in the 105 mph class and now a good friend of mine, was ahead of me in his black 2007 C6 Corvette 6-speed.
Once underway, the adrenaline pumps at full speed. Here is a picture taken by Branson while I blasted down the road at about 115 mph.
A scare emerged just shortly after getting up to speed. Antelope on the road! Pay close attention at the end of this video. Everything happened so quickly that it hardly registered in my mind. I could easily have made roadkill of this animal. At that speed, there is lethal potential!
After that near-death experience, I pulled the speed up to 120 and brought our average up to 105. Then, the next scare… we were closing in quickly on the guy in front of us. In the prior year, we’d never had to pass anybody. It looked like we might have to. This guy in a yellow Corvette was clearly not going fast enough. We tailed him at 85-90 mph through the curves when he should have been doing 100+. I thought about passing him on the straight, but somehow we were able to maintain the 105 average even while staying behind this guy – he picked up his speed in the straights.
Here you can get an idea of the somewhat primitive GPS system that Branson and I relied on during the race. Top left number is current speed. Bottom left number is average speed. This picture was taken on a 7-mile straightaway that was called the Speed Trap. The yellow blob you see up ahead is a competitor in my 105 mph class in a C6 Corvette. We were gaining on him.
We rolled into finish of the first leg and I got out of the car sweating. I was glad to be alive! I talked to the guy in the yellow Vette and told him I thought we were right on track. He was running off stop watches and was very confident that he was right and we weren’t.
It was another long hour+ of downtime until we rolled back out to run the second leg. I was worried about having to pass the yellow Vette guy, but determined to do so if I had to. We got the green flag for the second half. This one wasn’t nearly as eventful. Again we sailed to 120 until the average came up, then settled at 105 for the duration of the course. We ended up getting close to the guy in the yellow Vette yet again. I couldn’t figure out how come our GPS was reading RIGHT ON 105 mph average yet we kept catching this guy! But we followed him in to the finish.
Before starting the second (return) leg of the race. Somewhere in the middle of nowhere in Nevada!
Clearly my timing needs some work. We found out later that we had come in a full 51 seconds too early. Our GPS must have been reading wrong and we didn’t end up placing, but we sure had a great time! Here are the results:
Target Speed 105 Class
1. 0.011-mph (0:00.365+t) 402 Michael Keegan 29:firstname.lastname@example.org 28:email@example.com Corvette
2. 0.026+mph (0:00.875-t) 299 William Rice 29:firstname.lastname@example.org 28:email@example.com Corvette
3. 0.049-mph (0:01.639+t) 104 Stan Jennings 29:firstname.lastname@example.org 28:email@example.com Dodge Van
4. 0.630-mph (0:21.017+t) 351 Mark Rice 29:firstname.lastname@example.org 28:email@example.com Charger
5. 1.577+mph (0:51.531-t) 194 Tyson Hugie 29:firstname.lastname@example.org 28:email@example.com Acura Legend
The numbers are:
– How far off we were from our target average mph overall
– (How many seconds off)
– Car number
– Driver’s name
– Time for first leg @ average mph
– Time for second leg @ average mph
What this means is that we were 1 THOUSANDTH of a second different between the times of our first leg and second leg. Leg 1 averaged 106.576, Leg 2 averaged 106.577. Mike Borders, who runs the event, said he had never seen that kind of precision before. Now if only we could have had the timing right! The old Acura represented itself well and demonstrated that even an old luxo coupe can hold its own in a high-speed race.