Big Bend Open-Road Race - Flat-Out Fun In Texas
Corvettes Spread Their Wings AT The '09 Big Bend Open-Road Race
From the June, 2010 issue of Vette
By Randall D Allen
Photography by Randall Allen
Open-road racing-also known as "regularity rallying" or "time, distance, and speed rallying"-is a sport in which the object is to maintain an average speed over a predetermined course. In essence, it combines the elements of road racing-where power, speed, and handling are king-and rallying, which demands a superior degree of precision. Events are typically held in areas of the country that offer some seclusion, as races are generally 60-120 miles in length and take place on closed public highways. With classes that accommodate average speeds of 85 to 160 mph and an unlimited class that throws timing out the window, you'd better be able to ensure that "Farmer Joe" doesn't wander onto the road and scuttle the race. Safety is paramount in this type of event, and often there are hundreds of volunteers, numerous ambulances, and eyes in the sky to alert the ground crews of any issues on the course.
Registration opens annually...
Registration opens annually in January and closes when the target number of racers is met. This year, 160 racers from across the country migrated to Sanderson, Texas, where they were greeted by BBORR Race Coordinator Kenda Furman (right) and Marissa Hall. Registration fees are based upon the division and class entered, and range from $400 to $900, plus a membership fee of $50.
One such event is the Big Bend Open Road Race (BBORR), held on an isolated stretch of Texas highway between the towns of Fort Stockton and Sanderson. The first event was held in this West Texas community in 2002, when a dedicated group of enthusiasts, in conjunction with the aforementioned towns and their respective authorities, legally closed down the state highway for a day and turned open-road racing on its ear. The event isn't just a cruise on a flat piece of highway, but rather 59 miles each way of curve-hanging fun, elevation changes, blind curves, switchbacks, and low-flying buzzards. The challenges all add up to a speed-and-handling freak's dream-one that demands driving skill and rewards pilots and navigators with a wild ride and intense competition, all bookended by a plethora of social events.
Today's BBORR is referred to by enthusiasts and organizers alike as "The Most Challenging Open Road Race in the World," and when you show up to participate, you'd better have your game face on.
Power, speed, handling, and a cerebellum that functions at a high level-was this event tailor-made for Corvette drivers, or what? Apparently it was, as about half of the field was Corvettes! All versions competed, from C1 through C6, but the sixth-gen edition was overwhelmingly the enthusiast's weapon of choice. Z51s, Z06s, and ZR1s all went head-to-head against Cobras, GT40s, Shelbys, Porsches, Lamborghinis, Vipers, and a mind-boggling lineup of other top-notch the sports cars from around the world.
Rather than just covering the event, your author was invited to participate as a navigator in an '07 Z06 owned by Malcolm Johnson of Tucson, Arizona. Brazenly disregarding our complete lack of qualifications, we grabbed a hand timer and a set of course notes and strapped into the cockpit. After all, riding shotgun at extreme speeds is a job requirement!
Hang on as we give you the flavor of the Big Bend Open Road Race and a glimpse of the fun you could have in your own Corvette, hammering down an isolated stretch of road.
The Terrell County Courthouse...
The Terrell County Courthouse Square in Sanderson was the sight of early registration and technical inspections for the racers, and it served as one of the many gathering places for enthusiasts to talk about the upcoming race. The Z06 on the right was driven by Dave Carpenter of Parker, Colorado, while Scott Cardwell of Erie, Colorado, piloted the red '06 coupe. Both competed in the GS 150 category. In the middle is an '09 Nissan GT-R, the class winner in GS 140.
After registration concluded...
After registration concluded on Thursday, the Sanderson Chamber of Commerce threw a welcome party in Bicentennial Park, just across the street from the Square. In addition to some great home-cooked food-including BBQ and all the fixings handed out by Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts Troup 160 of Sanderson-the adults found time to sample a cold beer or a chilled glass of wine. Whether you arrived in a Corvette, a Mustang, a 'Cuda, or a Lamborghini, you felt like you were among friends.
Les Myrah of Flower Mound,...
Les Myrah of Flower Mound, Texas, and his '03 Anniversary Edition C5 competed in the GT 120 class and placed Second, losing by a mere 0.076 seconds to a '99 Camaro. Myrah's time delta of 0.318 was outstanding, especially since he flew solo, minus a navigator. The C5 wears Michelin tires and C5 Z06 sway bars to slice up the corners, while auditory bliss comes courtesy of a Corsa Tiger Shark exhaust.
On Friday afternoon the BBORR...
On Friday afternoon the BBORR had mandatory driver and navigator meetings and also presented rookies with licenses after they had successfully completed the rookie school. Rookie school includes classroom and qualifying/practicing with in-car instruction. The focus of the meeting was to prepare the racers for the event to be held on Saturday, and to reinforce the stringent rules of the race, which are necessary to ensure the safety of racers and volunteers alike. This part of the country boasts some of the largest buzzards in the country, and wild buffalo to boot.
Bruce Parmelee of Binghampton,...
Bruce Parmelee of Binghampton, New York (left), and Dick Archi of Washington, DC, flew to Las Vegas, where this '04 Z06 is stored, and drove in to compete in GT 135. On the way they hit a piece of shrapnel on I-40 outside of Flagstaff, Arizona, breaking the rear cradle and damaging a header and the exhaust. After the car was fixed in record time at a Flagstaff Chevy dealership, they made it to the event an hour before tech closed, only to be disqualified when they hit 171 mph (three mph higher than their tech speed) while attempting to make up time coming out of the curvy, uphill section. As former class winners of the seven-day La Carrera Panamerica-in which they drove a purpose-built '65 Sting Ray-they still enjoyed the journey and look forward to next year's event.
On Friday evening a car show...
On Friday evening a car show was held in Zero Stone Park in Fort Stockton. Not only was it a great place to mingle, but the town turned out in force to see the cars and thank the racers for coming to town. Nebraskans Bruce Younglove and son David (in the passenger's seat) displayed their modified '05 C5, which competed in GS 130. The team is anchored by Bruce, who is a veteran driver of more than 25 open-road-race events and was a driving force in the formation of the Sand Hills Open Road Race (SORC) in Arnold, Nebraska, in 2001. The open-road-race community is a tight-knit group, and there was tremendous cooperation between all of the racers amidst a family-friendly atmosphere.
The car show had tremendous...
The car show had tremendous variety, but the biggest draw may have been the '64 Lincoln Continental Racer built on TLC's Monster Garage. David Cudd of Montgomery, Texas, entered the SBC 427-powered car in the SS 155 class but was unable to finish due to mechanical issues. With a T-100 four-speed transmission and a NASCAR chassis, the car weighed just over 3,400 pounds. Jesse James and the crew made a low-slung rocket that embodied old-school racing and creativity.
Marcia Graves and Tom Vines...
Marcia Graves and Tom Vines of Pierre, South Dakota, co-drove Marcia's '07 Z06 in the GT 115 class. The Z06 is mighty potent, with twin nitrous bottles, and has run as fast as 189 mph in the standing mile at the SORC. Although nitrous is not allowed for competition purposes at the BBORR, the tanks were easily removed for Saturday's competition.
At the conclusion of the show,...
At the conclusion of the show, the attendees drove though town throwing candy to children who lined the sidewalk. This is one of the most popular activities of the event, and the children and their parents love it. It was like Halloween without the costumes, as candy was raining from the cars. Frank Suttles of Midland, Texas, and his '63 "Grand Sport" competed in the GT 105 class and made some children very happy.
On the morning of the event,...
On the morning of the event, the racers met in Rooney Park at 6 a.m. and caravanned to the course at 7:30 based on their predetermined grid number. Between 7:00 and the start of the race at 8:00, the course was swept for any debris that might have enticed the buzzards, while the volunteers, EMS, and aerial support got situated. Two lines of cars were formed, with the fastest cars in the left lane. A diverse group of Corvette owners came in for the event, including Mike Mann of Auburn, Indiana, and his '08 C6.
Before taking the starting...
Before taking the starting line, drivers and navigators were inspected to make sure all safety equipment was present and properly secured. Although Race Director Randy Archer is waving the green "Go" flag, there is actually an electronic Christmas Tree that ticks off the required time between cars and starts the official count. Here, Ted Hughes of Seward, Nebraska, and his navigator, Stan Mifflin, launch their '00 C5 in the GS 150 class. The duo not only won its class with an outstanding time deviation of just -0.174, but also placed Fifth overall.
Malcolm Johnson of Tucson,...
Malcolm Johnson of Tucson, Arizona (left), is the owner and driver of this LeMans Blue '07 Z06. Handling navigation was the author, hailing from Flower Mound, Texas. Competing in GT 125, the duo took Second place in class, 25th overall, and 10th in the hand-timed category. The class winner was Mike Black of Garland, Texas, with a 0.372-second differential. Although it would have been fun to come in First, simply placing at such a prestigious event with some of the country's best drivers can be considered a victory. Kudos go out to Malcolm-a first-rate pilot!
The first leg of the race...
The first leg of the race went from Fort Stockton south to Sanderson, where the racers congregated around the park and grabbed some food and fun while they waited for all the cars to clear the course. As one would expect, Corvettes flocked together. Cynthia Caracciolo of Flower Mound, Texas, drove solo in her '07 Z51-equipped C6 (right) and competed against her husband Clement in his '99 C5 in the GT 145 class. Cynthia took home Third place, while Clement garnered Second place behind an Audi R8.
Tom Bagnetto and navigator/wife...
Tom Bagnetto and navigator/wife Dawn, from Wichita Falls, Texas, competed in the GT125 class in their '08 Z06. Unfortunately for the pair, a Black-tailed jackrabbit decided to sprint onto the course, separating the lower fascia and damaging the rear splitter. Tom came prepared and used duct tape to effect repairs and run the return leg back to Fort Stockton. He was mercilessly ribbed with rabbit jokes at the awards ceremony, especially since his cap read, "I Didn't Come Here to Lose." Of course, the rabbit might have agreed.
Both 59-mile legs of the race...
Both 59-mile legs of the race were replete with the scenic beauty of the area. Sanderson, Texas, is a mere 25 miles from the border of Mexico, and there are 1.5 million acres of land occupied by only 1,000 citizens in Terrell County. While it's great to get a fast time for a speed certificate, it comes with risk, as running just 1 mph over your tech speed earns you a disqualification. And yes, Corvette racers won the dishonor of the most DQs, with GS 145 and GS 150 racers clicking off three each. With a 168-mph tech speed in those classes, exceeding the limit is no mean feat.
The BBORR: A Celebration of Speed
There are only a select few open-road-racing venues in the U.S., but the sport is growing in popularity. Today, one can compete in such highly respected races as the Silver State Classic Challenge in Nevada, the Sand Hills Open Road Challenge in Nebraska, and the BBORR. In 2009, enthusiasts from as far away as Alberta, Canada, made the trip in to Fort Stockton.
From the first activity to the culmination of the event at the awards banquet, the organizers of the BBORR and the host cities made the racers feel like family and went out of their way to put on a safe event. Other than the Z06/jackrabbit collision, the only incident involved a turkey buzzard hitting a '93 Mazda RX-7 at 135 mph. According to driver Blue Offutt of Sahuarita, Arizona, "The buzzard left a dent in the right front fender and knocked off the passenger mirror, which beat the passenger window and door mercilessly before falling from its wires." Blue and his wife Deana persevered and took home First Place in GS 135. Buzzards are extremely dangerous due to their curious habit of lifting off the side of the road and into the path of vehicles. With wingspans that can approach 6 feet, these 5-pound projectiles are a force to be reckoned with!
From a Corvette perspective, 17 racers stepped up to the podium for awards, including all three spots in GT 105, which was won by '08 C6 driver Paula Hambrick of Rockwall, Texas, and her navigator, Tim Magrath. The duo placed Third overall and First in the hand-timed category, with an incredible time error of just 0.025 seconds. Tom Whalen of Frisco, Texas, claimed honors as the fastest Vette in his '02 C5 (at right). In addition to a triumph over a '69 Ford GT40 in SS 160, he registered a blistering 179.4 mph on the southbound leg of the event. The LS7-powered C5 was limited by the 180-mph tech speed, or else he might have topped Charlie Friend's big-block-powered '65 Corvair, an Unlimited entry that posted 207.3 mph on the northbound leg.
In addition to individual honors, two teams from Dallas's Lone Star Corvette Club (the largest Corvette Club in the U.S., with more than 1,200 members) took home Second and Third Places in the BBORR Team Challenge. As one can clearly see, Corvettes and open-road racing are a perfect match.
Although many may be hesitant to try open-road racing, there are very few activities where you can safely have so much fun. Whether it's the technical challenge of navigating your way through 59 turns and elevation changes, or having to adjust your average speed by a hundredth, no racer ever goes home without realizing that the Big Bend Open Road Race is a great event made even better by friendly staffers and enjoyable social activities. After all, where else are you going to see 70-plus Corvettes lined up to drive at triple-digit speeds, or attend a "Blender Party," where participants are encouraged to wear the most outrageous hats they can find and stand in awe as a two-cycle-powered blender churns out the world's fastest frozen margaritas?
The 2010 Big Bend Open Road Race will be held from Wednesday, April 21, through Saturday, April 24. Rookies are urged to arrive on Wednesday for Rookie School (held on Wednesday and Thursday) and practice. Last year, in addition to the 160 racers, there were 18 racers on the waiting list, so register soon!