The cool Nevada morning air was filled with the quaking rumble of the 1972 Dodge Charger in front of me. A three-week-old blue 2003 Subaru WRX edged up behind me. We'd all been waiting for this moment for days or, in my case, a lifetime, and the deliciously deserted road beckoned. The Charger, rescued from a junkyard a decade ago and painted "Richard Petty blue," roared off when the light changed. It hit 100 m.p.h. with ease and sped toward the vanishing point down Highway 93A.
Now it was my turn. The borrowed 1999 Mercedes Benz E55 AMG I was driving purred with anticipation. But I wasn't exactly purring--I'd never driven as fast for as long as I was about to. Sweat from anxiety, not heat, trickled inside my full-body racing suit. What the hell was I doing?
Before I could ponder the question, the light turned green, and I instinctively punched the gas pedal. The Benz accelerated like a Thoroughbred finally allowed to run. At 90 m.p.h., I straddled the double yellow lane divider in case I needed the whole road. I kept trying to remember what instructor Dave Golder--who had taken me for a ride at 175 m.p.h. the day before--told me is the key to high-speed driving: "soft hands and no brakes." Or was that no brains?
It took me about three miles to relax and realize this was going to be one of the best days of my life. I was taking part in the Bonneville 100--a timed race over 100 miles of closed state highway that runs inspirationally close to the Bonneville Salt Flats, site of land-speed records.
When Germans want to drive ridiculously fast, they go to the public track at Nurburgring. Italians simply get in their cars. But in 65-m.p.h. America, the opportunity to hurtle down an empty, cop-free piece of concrete under a clear sky has been limited. One day soon it may not be. Though open-road racing began in Nevada in 1988, this year will see more sanctioned events--nine in three different states--than ever. Open-road racing takes place over a prescribed distance on closed public highways and under strict safety conditions. Most races are open to all comers who can pay the roughly $650 in fees and pass the scrutiny of race organizers like MKM Racing, which sponsored the Bonneville race.
The road we raced on--93A from Wendover, in the state's northeast corner, south toward Ely--was smooth and well marked, with enough turns and hills to keep it challenging and still fast. I swept around curves at 95 m.p.h., took a moment to admire the Nevada mountains at 105 and waved at course workers at 110. I got used to scanning my field of vision miles out in front (as pilots do), to the hypersensitivity of the car, to movements of the wheel and the wind noise. I hit 120 when my co-pilot, Andy Monheiser, reminded me to slow down, since we were in danger of exceeding our self-imposed speed limit of 124.
Promoters think there is a huge potential audience out there. Indeed, on Oct. 19, the city of Midland, Texas, will become the first government entity to convene a race. "These are grass-roots events aimed at everyday people who want to have a good time and go fast in a responsible way," says Mike Borders, a retired Air Force officer who is one of the Ms in MKM Racing.