CHAPTER ONE: NEBRASKA
A cruelly decaffeinated 5:00AM buzzbomb flight from Medford, Oregon dropped me at Portland, where I transferred to a Phoenix jaunt that released me into 113 degrees of desert splendor. From Arizona, I blasted straight into the heart of America’s Heartland: Omaha, Nebraska. My brother Wayne (AKA Rocky) lives there and picked me up in the company car – his Chevy HHR delivery. We paid regards to the usual suspects, like Jimmy Vaag and Dar Borchers, but we were bitterly disappointed to have missed By God Tom Allen and Ol’ Beck.
Our first stop was Speedway Motors in Lincoln, where we spent two days shooting photos for the new top secret Cartech book. This was Wayne’s freshman day as my loyal and faithful assistant. He worked like a dog and was a huge help. Special thanks to Damon Lee at Speedway for making the ordeal comfy and fun. Damon and his dad John are both grizzled veteran photo journalists and hot rodders. These guys definitely know what time it is.
Employeemobiles in the Speedway lot. The mammoth structure in the background is the sales and warehouse building. The other end of it is two blocks away.
Our business would be conducted in Speedy Bill Smith’s colossal Museum of American Speed (AKA The Smith Collection). Damon Lee (reflected in glass) tossed us the keys and we had our way with the joint. 99% of our photos were for the new Cartech book, but we did click a few tourist snapshots to share with you.
While most everything in the museum is vintage, this Northstar powered prototype Cadillac racer provided a taste of modern juxtaposition.
Speedway built this clone of Iowan Tiny Lund’s ’56 Pontiac NASCAR bomber. The dual quad 316, 3-speed, and ’57 Poncho rearend were right on. Before he was killed at Talledega, Tiny teamed with Speedy Bill and Johnny Beauchamp on an Indy quest.
I skinned my chin on the floor upon entering this room. You wouldn’t believe what I’ve been through over the last nine months, trying to get pix of these three cars for a certain book project. Both end cars are the originals, while Mark Moriarity’s clone of Ed Roth’s Outlaw takes center stage.
Thought you toy collectors might get a kick out of this glimpse of Billy’s toybox.
These shots weren’t book worthy, so here ya go. #303 was named for its punched out flathead. Built in ’52, its home track was Santa Ana, where it ruled, big time. It also soaked up ink from Hot Rod, Motor Trend, Hop Up, Motor Life and Speed Age.
Impulsive snapshot, on our way out the door. But this wasn't the last we'd see of the Wee Eel...
With the Speedway shoot in the bag, we connected with Wayne’s son Jerm (AKA Jeremy) for a sleep deprivation run to Arnold, Nebraska and the Sandhills Open Road Challenge – a series of three driving events contested over one weekend in this remote farm town of 600 people. The town was in danger of blowing off the map until thirteen years ago, when local speed freaks alerted hot shoes nationwide to the sprawling deserted roads around Arnold. Since then, the SORC race has resuscitated Arnold’s economy and paid for a new Community Center, fire protection, and somebody said they even built a schoolhouse there. 160 racers decended on this one-motel town (the motel has five rooms), but part of the deal is being taken in by the locals, who fed and sheltered racers for the weekend. Amazing.
Last year, Wayne and son Jerm took the GBR ZO6 Corvette to the Texas Mile, in search of 180 MPH. Despite their best efforts, neither could coax the Tupperware bowtie across the 180 threshold. This plaque has been the sour carrot on their stick ever since. They’d love to replace it with something in a size eight…
Blood on the highway. Two semis trying to occupy the same space equaled at least one fatality - a local gear jammer from the Arnold area. The other driver’s fate was still uncertain when we left town, days later. Heads up out there, kids.
Later that evening, we arrived at Jim Holman’s place in Arnold. What a host! 85 year old Jim (on front porch) gave us the rock star treatment, along with a dozen other racers. More on him later...
We instantly hightailed it to a nearby farm, where Tech-in was underway in a tin building normally reserved for jumbo farm machinery.
Local high school kids were enlisted as support workers all weekend. This guy’s job was applying the numbers to our entry. He was digging it.
We passed inspection with no problem (great preparation, Jerm).
Ride Tech owner Bret Voelkel couldn’t escape his shop, so he posted a contest online: Tell me why you should take my place and I’ll gift you my entry. Sean Fling, who works at Procharger in Kansas City, had the best sob story and won his way into the SORC mayhem. The ’63 Fairlane longroof runs a D1S Procharger on a 4.6 mod motor. He had a blast, to put it lightly.
Spotted outside the Tech building, this entry was the Gosson Bros. Racing pick of the weekend, though it never turned a tire. Drivetrain was stock, but colorful tales of area test runs made it our early favorite.
The Lingenfelter Camaro already has a legacy of “firsts”. The streak continued at Arnold, with Top Fuel shoe David Grubnic in the seat…
Early the next morning, I used the HHR to follow Rocky and Jerm as they refreshed their memories of the road course (they last ran here in 2008). I managed to keep them in sight until I crossed paths with this guy. To the best of my memory, this is the first time I’ve been pulled over on a race course by the Highway Patrol. After the standard begging and pleading, we all received written warnings and orders to inform our fellow racers that exceeding the 55 MPH limit would not be tolerated before race day. We exceeded that by, um, a bit.
Back in town, both watering holes were jammed with bench racers. I wandered around and caught some local color.
Ray Bernhard from Casper, Wyoming is still being razzed about scattering his engine at the 2008 event. Ray and his posse are tuning on this side street, in between runs on a chassis dyno set up there, while Rocky supervises. Thanks to this info, he picked up 35+ horsepower. And the Gen 1 smallblock (a rarity among LS motors at the SORC) held together all weekend.
That night, the locals threw a killer steak dinner at the city park. I snapped cars in between courses.
Very, very, very early on Friday morning, we all caravanned about 30 miles to the outskirts of Gothenburg for the ½ Mile and 1 Mile Shootouts. The “race course” was extremely narrow and rough (locals call the oiled road, “The Oil”). Spectator
seating standing was roomy,
but perilous, as we shared a field with annoyed cattle that were apparently
bred for fertilization purposes. Watch your step… No one cared, as a street
race adrenaline vibe filled the air with giddy energy.
We got three runs in the 1 Mile: A 176.6, and FINALLY, a 180.3, backed up with a 180.2!!!
Saturday was road course day – our return to the scene of the crime. Once again, Wayne was Jerm’s navigator (which also means keeping track of the timed checkpoints on his hastily scribbled notes, because “That GPS just distracts me”. That’s our roommates (and newlyweds), John and Linda Sandahl, getting into their race jammies and cruising their Ol’ Yeller Vette to the “staging lanes” (AKA 3rd Street, I think).
Clicking staging lane pix while waiting our turn.
Dig the 12-volt Christmas tree. The GBR entry broke out (ran too fast) on the run to the next town (about 30 miles) where lunch was served (not a timed event, but you wouldn’t know it by watching these guys eat), then they scrubbed off some time on the return run to Arnold. Rocky: "Slow down, man!" Jerm: “Hey, I came here to go fast!” We didn’t place, but had a blast not doing it.
We returned to Jim’s place to clean up for another dinner in the park – part of the awards ceremony.
The people of Arnold fed us like Kings, then we kicked back to digest the awards. John and Linda bagged Fastest Street Car for their 198 MPH performance on the 1 Mile. Optima’s Jim McIlvaine shot Grubby accepting the prize for blowing Lingenfelter’s Camaro to smithereens on the 1 Mile finish line. Jerm and Rocky even scored a plaque for most consistent speeds on the 1 Mile. We were satisfied and tickled, too.
Sunday morning breakfast at Jim’s. He’s a retired certified welder, who’s flung sparks across the globe over 85 years. Most of that work was done inside steel structures, so his hearing is junk. But he still welds, and edits multiple newsletters for various welding organizations. Mainly, he’s a great guy. His daughters Pam and Brenda did the heavy lifting all weekend at the house. That’s Pam at the breakfast table. These people, and their fellow Arnoldians, made a great event even greater by reminding us of what “community” really means. We can’t thank them enough. Consider Arnold, Nebraska for your next vacation destination. It’s an experience that will stick with you like none other.
NEXT TIME: BONNEVILLE!