Silver State Classic Challenge: 25 years of Open Road Racing


by Jake Conlee

I have learned over the years, that my favorite part of Las Vegas is leaving it. Not in the sense that I dislike Las Vegas, because I don’t. The city itself is a gateway to whatever you would like it to be. For me, Las Vegas is home, so I have to make sure it is a little bit of everything. Two things that stir up my inner core are auto racing, and nostalgia. Las Vegas is full of both things.

Since 1988 I have been reading about the most astronomically insane road race that take place on public roads known as the Silver State Classic Challenge. Usually coming in the form of a blurb or one page write up, this event has seen minimal exposure and is full of interesting stories. Back in 1988, I remember reading about the businessman from Austin that flew up, rented a (then awesome) Taurus SHO and averaged 139 mph for the 92 mile race. For the past 25 years, a 100 mile stretch of NV318 is shut down twice per year for the most incredible exhibition of speed, and recently it was bestowed with Guinness World records: Fastest Road Race and Fastest Speed on a Public Highway.

What is most remarkable about this twice yearly event (May and September) is that it takes place in the first place, and secondly, hardly anyone knows about it. I don’t think it’s public apathy that deters interest in this race, I just think it’s lack of press coverage. First of all, it is definitely for the hearty. Even attending as a volunteer takes huge commitment; making the trip up to Ely for the weekend, then attending safety briefing meetings on Saturday and waking up at 4am on Sunday, to make the trek out to your specific checkpoint that you are attending to. But, if you are willing to either take the plunge and take part in the race festivities, or as a volunteer, you will be rewarded with a lifelong memory of a remarkable weekend in a very remarkable town.

For those of you that haven’t been to Ely, NV, you MUST go. Sitting at a crossroads in East Central Nevada, where US 50/6 and US 93 Converge, you can literally drive anywhere in the country from here. It sits at 5000 feet in elevation and it is a city stuck in time. Ely is a mining town and transport town. The Nevada Historic Railway goes right through town as well, making it a good destination to bring the kids. Surrounded by towering peaks in all directions, Schell Creek Range sits ominously above town with peaks soaring above 11,000 feet, and 30 miles to the southeast is Great Basin National Park and Cave Lake State Park. Peppered throughout town are tiny hotel/ Casinos, Historical Hotels, little cafes and shops. It is a very interesting Nevada destination in itself.

Twice yearly, it is transformed into an exhibition of horsepower and speed. A congregation of elite marques: Lamborghini, Ferrari, Porsche, Audi, Mercedes, Vipers, other exotics, Camaros, Mustangs and the weapon of choice: Corvette. In the area of 140-175 racecars come to the area in May and September to show what they can do in either 1/2 mile, 1 mile or the 90 mile race itself. The racers come from all around the world to participate. There have been racecars shipped from Norway and Japan, among other countries. At this race, there was a group of enthusiasts from Vancouver Canada that hired a convoy of trucks to ship their cars to Las Vegas. The race cars can be seen all throughout town during the weekend and on Fridays, they hold a Parade of Cars from White Pine High School into the Main drag on Ely. The whole town turns out to stand on the side of the road while the racers and participants show off their cars and throw candy to the townspeople. It is a really awesome sight. I forgot my candy last time.

Click here to view photo gallery.

On Friday of the weekend, there is the half mile and one mile shootouts. This is exactly what it says it is: you have either one mile or one-half mile to drive your car as fast as you possibly can. There is an Orange Lamborghini in town that is the hero of the weekend. Owned by a normal seeming doctor from Idaho, this little orange Lamborghini Gallardo Superlegerra is a 1000+ horsepower beast. His half mile records and one mile records are difficult to comprehend. In a mere 1/2 mile (with an adjusted altitude density of 8500 ft), the little orange blur achieved a peak speed of 205.6 mph. That’s from a standstill to 205 mph in 2620 feet. In one mile, with a massive crosswind: 230.9 mph. That is shorter than driving from Flamingo to Tropicana.

The actual race is a 92 mile time trial with the touring classes starting with 95 mph, all the way up to 180+ Unlimited Class. Each class is given a specific target time to complete the race, down to the then thousandth of a second. It is amazing to see some of the 150mph and 160mph class entrants within three tenths of the exact second… Over 90 miles, that’s nothing short of amazing.

Sunday, Race Day begins dark and early. The little town rumbles to life at 4am. this is when all the course workers make the convoy to their respective checkpoints. We are equipped with a yellow and red flag, 2 way radios, reference card and directions to our checkpoint. It has to be exact, because we will be getting to our places in the dark. My specific checkpoint was 36.6 miles past the starting line, and is also the opening to Kirch Wildlife Management Area. It was a great vantage point to see the cars at full throttle.

The first cars start at exactly 9:03 in the morning, and within 15 minutes, I am seeing the first of the runners. And then, depending on the class, it would be 3-5 minutes between cars. It was a great tour de force, as all makes and models howled across the desert floor. The race went without major incident, save for some broken down racers on the track; in which case, they exit their vehicles and join the course workers until the race commences. Which is about 2 in the afternoon. Concluding back at Sams Town that evening, it proves to be a test of many things this weekend: Your willingness to step back in time, and enter a town and area where there is no 4G. A town with a median population of about 4500 people. Your willingness to begin your weekend at Sams Town in East Las Vegas, drive 235 miles north to Ely, where you spend your time and enjoy festivities until Sunday, where you race or volunteer on Highway 318 and then head back to Sam’s Town for the awards ceremony.

It is a true hidden jewel in the treasure hunt that is Nevada. To witness this race and participate in one of these weekends is taking part in a historic and significant race. The Silver State Classic Challenge and Nevada Open Road Challenge are brought to you by the efforts of Steve and Gail Waldman, who in collaboration with the Governor’s Office, Nye County, Lincoln County, White Pine County, NVDOT, The Sheriff’s offices and NHP, made it happen. There are also Major Sponsors involved (Optima Batteries, K&N Filters and these private race events wouldn’t happen without the support of these organizations and participants.

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Jake ConleeJake Conlee is a California native that has been blessed with the gift of restlessness. With an undying fervor and passion for what he does not yet know, life is a constant adventure. Truly fearless in implementation of wandering down less trafficked roads, this has led to many ordinary days turning into a treasure hunt. Emblazoned on his arm, the self photographed sign of this incredible City of Sin. He loves this city so much, a mural of Las Vegas is currently under development on his arms. If you need to know about anything in Las Vegas, if he doesn’t know the answer, he will find out for you. He loves Las Vegas, the good, the bad, but mostly the nostalgic. He’s also a sucker for a good hunk of meat. He is, most of all, a father of two girls, 12-year-old “Vern” and 18-month-old “Chuck”

twitter: @JakeInVegas @luckyhuelv @iknowvegas

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