Sporting helmets painted with crash test dummy symbols, driving a car with “rookie” signs clearly visible from every angle and the warning “Rookies: Be afraid. Be very afraid,” Thomas Green, M.D., (a longtime La Jolla resident) tried his hand at navigating in the Nevada Open Road Challenge for the first time on May 19, at age 77.
The Nevada Open Road Challenge is a 90-mile rally on a closed highway in northern Nevada starting just south of Lund on Highway 318 and traveling 90 miles south. The cars leave the start at 30 second intervals and attempt to reach the finish, 90 miles later, averaging exactly their stated speed.
There are classes for every level of vehicle and driver/navigator team. In this case, Green’s team was in the popular 110 mph class — the fastest rookies are allowed to go. There are brackets for speeds ranging from 95 to 180 mph and an open class for all-out speed.
Participants come from all over the United States and Canada, and from all walks of life. The camaraderie is outstanding with many teams having competed for years. The race is headquartered in Ely, Nevada and the town rolls out the hospitality for the racers with a parade, car show and plenty of chances to eat and socialize.
Navigating involves calculating the average speed, guiding the driver along the course and reaching the finish line at exactly the right time. The best teams get within 1/10th of a second of their desired average speed at the end.
The clouds were dark and dreary at the start of the race. The race officials shortened the gap between the cars to get as many on the road as possible prior to the start of the rain. As Green’s team left the start, rain began to fall. Fortunately, the course down highway 138 headed south and quickly out of the rain.
Many of the navigators are a bit younger than Green, but he was not deterred by that nor the fact that many had rally computers, GPS, and other navigation tools. Green went old school and calculated the times the team should be at specific points on the course so they would average 110 mph, and then used a stopwatch to ensure the team was on time.
“A non-race vehicle got on the course just after we passed, so they had to close the race down for a while as the sheriff chased the driver, who then got out and ran before he was caught. Luckily, there were no other incidents,” Green said.
While Green’s team did not win its division, they did win the “Rookies of the Event” award. After his first taste of auto racing, Green said he’s planning to participate in the event again, maybe this time sitting in the driver’s seat.